With 65 percent of the 34 surveyed property owners within the district in support, 29 percent opposed, and 6 percent indifferent, San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission is moving forward with plans to establish the Duboce Park Landmark District and the Article 10 Landmarking of 87 residential buildings along Waller, Carmelita, Pierce, Potomac and Steiner Streets.
The buildings within the district were built between 1899 and 1911 with nearly two thirds constructed in 1899 and 1900 due to the contentious history of the district’s development.
The district’s buildings display similar massing, materials, and uniform front yard setbacks that provide a cohesive streetscape of Victorian- and Edwardian-era residences. Generally speaking, the buildings fronting Carmelita, Pierce and Potomac Streets are single-family dwellings, while flats dominate the lots facing Waller and Steiner Streets. A few mixed-use properties are found in the district, such as the three-story flats-over-store building on the southwest corner of Waller and Steiner.
Buildings in the district range from 1 ½ story-over-basement to four stories in height, with two and three stories predominating. Mid-block buildings are typically smaller than those constructed at the corners or on Waller and Steiner Streets. These buildings are more likely to draw from Victorian-era form and massing such as prominent gabled roof forms and asymmetrical massing at the primary façade. The district’s largest single-family residences and flats were built on corner lots directly adjacent to the Park. These buildings are typically two- to three- stories in height and feature consistent detailing on the primary, park-facing, and rear façades.
Supporters of the [Landmark District] were asked to rank the reasons behind their support of the district. 96% of respondents indicated that protecting the visual and architectural character of buildings in the district was very important. Protecting the midblock park entrances was important or somewhat important to 87% of respondents. Providing “clear expectations and guidelines for myself and my neighbors in the review of future exterior alterations to the district” was very important to 70% of respondents and somewhat important to 30%. Bestowing neighborhood recognition was very important to 65%, somewhat important to 26%, and not important to 9% of participants. Improving property values or taking advantage of the Mills Act was very important to 39% and somewhat important to 52% of participants.
The top three ranked reasons for opposing the proposed designation were “opposition to any additional fees or review time for myself or my neighbors in the review of future exterior alterations” (93% of participants found this very important); “I have experienced or know of past negative experiences with the Dept. of Building Inspections or with the Planning Department” (85% of participants found this very important); and “I am opposed to government oversight of my property” (65% of participants found this very important, while 21% indicated it was somewhat important).
A bit of history for how the tract of land upon which the Duboce District ever came to be developed and the way in which the contested nature of the tract impacted the District’s physical appearance and connection to Duboce Park:
The tract (formerly known as the Public Reservation, Hospital Lot, and Marion Tract) was subject to a decades-long series of court battles over legal ownership, with the City of San Francisco losing half of its claim to the land to the German Savings and Loan Association in the late 1890s. After acquiring title to half of the tract, the bank subdivided the land, carved out interior block streets, and sold lots to builders who developed the residential portion of the tract. The lots sold quickly and a handful of builders immediately began developing the parcels.
Due to the delay in development caused by the litigation, construction dates for the vast majority of contributing resources within the district range from 1899 to approximately 1902. This short period of development and limited number of builders resulted in a remarkably uniform streetscape of Victorian- and Edwardian-era houses and flats of similar design and proportion. The contested nature of the tract, its history as a debris dump, and neighborhood activism and development of the adjacent civic park are key themes linked to the Duboce Park Landmark District.
One important visible manifestation of this interrelated history is found at the park’s northern border – specifically the lack of separation between the park and residential buildings. The district represents the best example of San Francisco’s handful of municipal parks that directly abut residential buildings, without any separation of a street or sidewalk. In addition, the historic stone steps and rock retaining walls at the three interior block park entrances – Carmelita, Pierce, and Potomac Streets – reflect the transformation of the City-owned portion of the contested tract from a dumping ground for Serpentine rock rubble to a picturesque, landscaped civic park. Serpentine rock rubble is also found in the foundations of many district buildings.
If approved by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, the Duboce Park Landmark District would become the twelfth landmark district within San Francisco, the eleventh of which is the Dogpatch Historic District which was designated in 2003.