San Francisco Heritage came into existence in 1971, in the wake of the redevelopment frenzy of the 1950s and 1960s when entire neighborhoods were being leveled in the name of “urban renewal.” The city had no comprehensive inventory of historic resources and the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance was still in its infancy. The possibility of saving Victorian houses slated for demolition in the Western Addition inspired SF Heritage’s formation and the upstart organization stepped in to rescue twelve structures as part of the largest building-moving project in the history of San Francisco.
SF Heritage had a remarkably swift and dramatic impact, not only staving off threats to individual buildings, but presciently surveying large swaths of the city to inform future planning efforts. The greatest success in this effort was SF Heritage’s survey of Downtown’s “Splendid Survivors.”
As San Francisco’s leading preservation organization, SF Heritage soon was looked to whenever the city’s historic buildings, public artwork, or legacy businesses were threatened.
In the early 2010s, threats to popular San Francisco businesses like the Gold Dust Lounge, the Eagle Tavern, Tonga Room, Tosca Café, and Sam Wo called into question the role of traditional historic preservation protections in conserving community anchors that may not be eligible for landmark designation. SF Heritage responded by launching the Legacy Bars & Restaurants initiative in 2013. The program includes an interactive online guide, logo and window decal program, and a free printed pocket guide. In 2015, SF Heritage and Heyday Books released the acclaimed book High Spirits: The Legacy Bars of San Francisco by J.K. Dineen.
With the city’s local businesses, nonprofits, and other cultural institutions increasingly imperiled by skyrocketing rents and property values, encroaching new development, and incompatible adjacent uses, SF Heritage released “Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History: Strategies for Conserving Cultural Heritage Assets” in 2014. The 52-page report proposed solutions for stabilizing San Francisco’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage assets. In 2015, “Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History” received the prestigious Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.
SF Heritage frequently partners with the city’s Cultural Districts to assist in community-strengthening initiatives and to continue to expand the work of preservation to recognize historically overlooked historic resources. The creation of the Heritage in the Neighborhoods program in 2020 contributed to a new focus by the fifty-year-old nonprofit to center its work on equity and extending its mission to all corners of San Francisco.
Posts on SF Heritage history
Heritage 50: The Alaska Commercial Building and Downtown Architecture
The Alaska Commercial Building shortly before demolition in the late 1970s. Notice…
Heritage 50: Desiree Aranda on Landmarking the Great Cloud of Witnesses
Exterior of Ingleside Presbyterian Church. The Great Cloud of Witnesses inside Ingleside…
Heritage 50: Splendid Survivors, Part 1
San Francisco Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary all through 2021. Each…
Heritage 50: Designating the Port of San Francisco
A view towards the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero from the San…