A request to approve the Planning Department’s recently completed South of Market (SoMa) Historic Resource Survey is another of the items on San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission agenda this afternoon.
The survey of 2,141 properties in the area bounded by Mission and Townsend and 1st and 13th Streets (click image above to enlarge) identified 282 potentially significant properties, 151 individually significant properties, and an additional 630 properties that together contribute to five (5) new historic districts:
1. The Bluxome and Townsend Warehouse Historic District: “Contributors to the Bluxome and Townsend Warehouse Historic District are all industrial warehouse buildings that were constructed in brick masonry or reinforced concrete.”
2. South End Historic District extension: “The contributing resources included in the appended area appear to be compatible with the “warehouse architectural form” theme of the South End Historic District.”
3. Sixth Street Lodginghouse Historic District: “The Sixth Street Lodginghouse District is a group of 33 low-budget residential hotels, or lodginghouses, built from 1906 through 1913, and a few low-rise commercial buildings.”
4. South Park Historic District: “Contributors to the South Park Historic District are industrial, commercial, and residential buildings that feature wood frame or concrete construction. The district has associations with both the Japanese and Philippine communities.”
5. West SoMa Light Industrial and Residential Historic District: “[This] Historic District is significant under Criterion A (Events) as a representation of a noteworthy trend in development patterns and the establishment of ethnic groups in San Francisco. It is also significant under National Register Criterion C (Design/Construction) as a representation of a group of properties that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, and as a representation of a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.”
South of Market (SoMa) Area Historic Resource Survey [sf-planning.org]
The Scene Of The Accident (And Proposed Liberty-Hill Alteration) [SocketSite]
SoMa Historic Resource Survey Findings [sf-planning.org]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Q

    With the possible exception of South Park, really? Really? Flop houses and warehouses?
    Why not just blanket the entire city with “historic” designations?

  2. Posted by Wai Yip Tung

    Sixth street lodging house historical district! I guess we are going to keep the Defenestration building forever. Viva sixth street!

  3. Posted by noearch

    The entire city is becoming one big Disneyland main street of historic facades.

  4. Posted by Conifer

    A dream come true for Chris Daly!
    Plenty of historic buildings, frozen in time, so that drug dealers and prostitutes have a place to live forever and ever Amen!
    Stop Gentrification however you can do it!
    “Progressives” are the least progressive people.

  5. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Well historical preservation can get out of control but there’s nothing wrong with protecting ancient flophouses, workshops, stores, and warehouses. They’re also part of the city’s history.
    A city is made up of a lot of different building types. Residences only tell part of the city’s story.
    Not everything old needs to be preserved, but enough to tell a complete story should be left behind. From the looks of SOMA today you’d hardly know that it was once home to thriving industry. Most of the factory buildings are already gone.

  6. Posted by midmarketresident

    San Francisco never ceases to amaze me. I’m all for history but Sixth street? Preserve a bunch of dilapitaded warehouses and crack infested SROs? What possible benefit can ever come from this, other than making it even more difficult to reconstruct or build anything new in SOMA. I guess the “historic” commission must not want these neighborhoods to ever be humanly inhabitable.

  7. Posted by invented

    Lodginghouse Historic District??? OMG Historic Preservation gone awry. But, if Gotham’s patterns can be applied to our Candyland, then it looks like those areas will be smarter and richer!
    “In 2000, people who lived in historic districts in Manhattan were on average almost 74 percent wealthier than people who lived outside such areas. Almost three-quarters of the adults living in historic districts had college degrees, as opposed to 54 percent outside them”
    From this month’s Atlantic piece (which is needlessly long btw).
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/how-skyscrapers-can-save-the-city/8387/3/

  8. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    midmarketresident – Where are you reading that the dilapidation and drug crime needs to be preserved? My understanding is that the survey addresses structures of interest though doesn’t dictate that they cannot be cleaned up.

  9. Posted by Joe

    This commission is OUT OF CONTROL.

  10. Posted by midmarketresident

    milkshake – from a practical point of view, what happens when we designate something as being “historic” is that we are adding more obstacles to go through when someone wants to clean up a building or build a new one (more permits, more hearings, more $). One reason why midmarket has never changed is precisely this type of bureaucracy that restricts change and development.
    Don’t get me wrong, I understand the logic for it when the building really has some historic value, like in the case of the old mint building for instance. But there is literally NOTHING on that part of 6th street that is of any historic significance. Designating it as being “historic” is just adding more red tape for anyone interested in changing the landscape there for the better.

  11. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Yes, historic status raises the bar for renovation. But so do increasingly stringent building codes. Though better construction criteria raises costs (and inhibits redevelopment as you point out) it creates a greater good. We need to strike the right balance.
    I denial of historic status to these “less loved” buildings swings too far in one direction.

  12. Posted by midmarketresident

    That’s not comparing apples to apples. Building codes improve safety, energy efficiency, and provide other actual benefits. Historic status only preserves the look of the building aesthetically and therefore should be used very sparingly.
    In fact, I’d be willing to bet that many of these “less-loved” buildings you mention are full of violations of those building codes.

  13. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Well of course older buildings violate current building codes. For better or worse their status is grandfathered in. And that is irrelevant of historical status. Something built in 2001 is probably already violating current code.
    I think that where our views differ is on whether or not the existence of older buildings provides a benefit to the community. But I do agree that preservation should be used prudently and not just applied to anything that is old.

  14. Posted by sfrenegade

    “Most of the factory buildings are already gone. ”
    There are enough of those types of buildings to know that there was industry South of Market. Look at the number of loft-type buildings or buildings that have what appear to be loading dock-type entrances.
    My reaction fits well with noearch’s and conifer’s. I can’t believe we’re trying to maintain this crap.
    The 6th Street example is why we still have the Tenderloin — because “progressives” want to keep it that way. In addition, why would we keep brick masonry buildings?
    Is it that we have no real culture here so we have to maintain those of yore?

  15. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    sfrenegade – I think you’re looking at warehouses rather than factory buildings.

  16. Posted by noearch

    The trouble I have with the Historical Commission and other who “fully” support them is this: They seem fearful of “modern” and “contemporary” architecture replacing all of our treasured older buildings.
    Not every old building, Victorian, Edwardian or even Mid-century modern is worthy of full preservation. Some are functionally obsolete, and some are visually minor.
    The danger is that when these older buildings fall under the rule of the preservationists, the costs rise tremendously to re-use them, re-make them, re-model them, etc. Many owners choose to do nothing and leave them to continue into ruin, thus leaving neighborhoods with no vitality, growth or change.
    In the long term, this can kill the spirit and future of a city. There should be a more balanced approach to preservation and the inclusion of new architecture into the urban fabric.
    I don’t think we have that now.

  17. Posted by tNOB

    noearch,
    I agree completely. Cities grow organically, which involves consuming older parts of the city to continue to grow. Where would NYC be, if 75 years ago they decided that “this” is the moment to draw a line in the sands of time to say this is what NYC should look like? There might have some great older stone and brick buildings around the city, but it would not be the NYC of today.
    The physical nature of a city is but one component to be evaluated. Few try to preserve the spirit of a neighborhood that made it historic.

  18. Posted by flaneur

    I never thought I’d agree with Joe…

  19. Posted by Rincon Hill Billy

    When all of the urban development money goes to China…SF will be begging developers to take over these “preserved” buildings.
    Short sighted, as is the rest of the USA

  20. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “Not every old building, Victorian, Edwardian or even Mid-century modern is worthy of full preservation.”
    Who said that every building was worthy of preservation ? Cities can both preserve history and encourage vitality. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  21. Posted by Brian

    Potentially significant properties? Baloney. Most of these are rundown dumps.

  22. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Ostia Antica was a run down dump too. I’m not saying that SOMA is anywhere near as historic or significant but some of you guys are confusing the current state of dilapidation with historical significance.

  23. Posted by diemos

    meh. Where’s the west folsom street leather cruising historic district?
    There’s some actual history that deserves to be preserved. Not a bunch of flop houses and old warehouses.

  24. Posted by A.T.

    And I want the 6th Street Heroin Whore Alley historic district. Without such preservation, where are married guys with only 5 minutes and 20 bucks to spare supposed to go?
    Maybe the “Lodginghouse” district takes care of this, but I’d like to see it explicitly preserved in case those flophouses go upscale on us.

  25. Posted by lol

    I’d like to see it explicitly preserved in case those flophouses go upscale on us.
    To go upscale they’d need to provide accommodations to the dwellers. The city is broke. Your cheap supply is safe.

  26. Posted by Jimmy C

    I’m surprised they didn’t create a “bathhouse district” or a “assless chaps” district to celebrate the history of SOMA.

  27. Posted by joe

    That’s the most confusing map I’ve seen in a while… North is not North and there’s no north arrow.

  28. Posted by lol

    Now the BIG BIG issue is:
    How are they going to pour the amber.
    - I suggest they use ORH to spray suspended fast-hardening liquid amber from the rooftop. That should take care of the “South End Historic District”.
    - The Lodging House Historic District is already one big solid block of gray amber.
    - The Intercontinental will take care of most of the rest.

  29. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Crimeny folks. Just because something occurred before our lifetimes doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting, important, or historical.
    Before assless chaps (are there any other kinds?) went from a riding accessory to a fashion accessory, before the Reagan administration released the residents of our mental health institutions onto the streets, before the CIA conspired with the Contras to introduce crack cocaine as an affordable addiction – SOMA was a thriving industrial area.
    At the turn of the century SF was the most important industrial center in California. No make that the largest industrial site on the west coast of the entire COMBINED NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICAN CONTINENTS. Combined with its large natural harbor this put San Fransisco in a position to supply the entire West with manufactured goods. And remember the Panama Canal had not yet been constructed so SF was also in a unique position to supply the entire Pacific Rim. The rest of the industrialized world had to ship all the way around the horn (either one) to reach east Asian markets.
    SF would have an entirely different nature had it not been for the economic power generated by SOMA’s industry. Think of that the next time you’re admiring a beautiful old preserved residence : it probably wouldn’t be there had there not been industry to generate the funds to build it.
    And enough with the assertions that nothing will be allowed to change in SOMA. Absolute preservation was never a goal. That ship sailed long ago when most of the old industry was torn down to make space for KFCs, freeways, and ballpark parking lots. The amber will be poured precisely and sparingly.

  30. Posted by noearch

    I disagree with you completely, MOD.
    The “amber” as you call it will be poured over EVERYTHING, whether it has architectural and historical merit or not. that’s what I feel.
    It will also raise costs tremendously for renovating, or re-using a building or space. It will inhibit new, innovative design..and it will slow down responsible urban growth.

  31. Posted by Joe

    I agree completely. Anyone who states that historical designation wont inhibit reasonable responsible growth is very very new to SF.
    We do not yet have a new north beach library because the 50 year old shelves in the current one have been designated historic.

  32. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    noearch – Are you saying that nothing in those newly proposed districts will be allowed to change ? That doesn’t sound realistic. And sure any constraint placed on development whether for historic or other interests will increase the cost of construction. Those constraints and their costs should be balanced against their benefits. As for historic based constraints the benefits are very subjective opinions are all over the place.
    Joe – Yeah, I disagree with the HPC’s opinion on the NB library too. Fortunately their decision was overridden.
    Though the HPC hands down some bad decisions sometimes it doesn’t mean that the whole concept of historic preservation should be damned. Fix the committee, adjust the guidelines, but don’t abandon the process.

  33. Posted by sfrenegade

    Milkshake, I appreciate the history of all of this territory and some of the southeastern part of the city, but I take issue with the following statement:
    The amber will be poured precisely and sparingly.
    Since when has that ever been the case in San Francisco? We must preserve EVERY earthquake shack, no matter what. We must preserve EVERY Victorian, no matter what. We must preserve EVERY Edwardian, no matter what.
    When has historical preservation in SF ever been precise and sparing? Joe’s North Beach library example is just one of many for overbroad use of historical preservation and frankly abuse of the process in order to save a few parking spots.

  34. Posted by noearch

    hey MOD: just look at some of the past comments and you will see my stance, and my strong skepticism that the HPC will be doing The City a favor.
    And no, I never said that “nothing” will be preserved. I commented about the need for balance between preservation and responsible new growth; architecture of this time and place.
    Sfrenegade and Joe both have added great thoughts to this discussion. I agree with them. I have seen examples of projects on hold here in Noe V for several YEARS while debating whether to demolish a “potential” earthquake shack, in order for the owners to build a modest 2 unit building.
    That’s NOT balance. We don’t need more of that.

  35. Posted by ironic

    Ironically the areas covered by the proposed extension do include at least one site of a former bathhouse. So the full history of SOMA will be preserved, not just flophouses, brothels, warehouses and factories.
    Seriously, there is already an existing South End district, the one that skirts by South Park and fronts the ballpark. The modest extensions down by that existing area seem to be a more rational discussion as opposed to the large proposed new area near the western end. And, don’t get me started on the unintentionally humorously-titled “Lodginghouse Historic District”.

  36. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    sfrenegade – I overreached on that comment and have no way to know whether or not the current HPC will or won’t apply their authority precisely. Thanks for calling me out on that. I was expressing my hope that the HPC will wake up to the realities of their obligations to protect historical sites rather than allow their ears to be bent towards people with ulterior motives. If the HPC doesn’t distance itself from being influenced by the influential then it risks a backfire that could destroy historical sites.
    As for earthquake shakes I’ve made comments here in the past that I don’t support protection to to just any EQ shack. I’ve even supported demolition of some.
    Historical surveys have been going on for a long time so this is not anything new. Check out the doc reference few days ago here : http://www.socketsite.com/archives/2011/02/the_scene_of_the_proposed_valencia_street_renovation_an.html and you’ll see copies of a survey done in the 1970s back when carbon paper and crude B&W prints were the state of art. At least we have document of what was lost, right ?

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