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Heritage 50: Demo Runs

1006 Dolores Street in 1998. Saved from demolition, the building is one of the oldest in the area.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Heritage staff used demolition permit applications to “windshield survey” hundreds of buildings for historical and architectural significance before they were lost. Many times Heritage was able to persuade property owners to drop development plans completely, as with the 1878 Italianate rowhouse at 1006 Dolores Street (right) in 1998. In other cases, Heritage worked with the owner to modify plans to preserve most of the historic structure and still accomplish development goals, as with 2247 Turk Street (below), which was raised for a garage and rear addition.

Former Heritage staff member Donald Andreini shared a special memory with us of carrying out this survey work:

When I signed on as clerical support staff at Heritage (January 1987), one of my tasks was opening mail. I became aware of the large number of notices of demolition permit applications we received from the City. Before long I was gathering what information on each subject property was available through resources at the office–e.g., date of construction, architect or builder, whether the building appeared on any list of significant properties, etc.

The next step took me out into the field to view the candidates for demolition and photograph them. This was all before we had Google Streetview and similar aids. I rode shotgun while Gary Goss–well-known font of all information architectural in the city–drove from address to address. I recall him, en route, calling off architect or builder, date of construction, building cost, etc., as we drove past buildings that particularly interested him. When we arrived at an address for which we had a notice of a demolition application, I’d hop out with Heritage’s small Polaroid camera and record the site.
Above: 2247 Turk Street in 1995 and in 2021.

In those days, the Inner Richmond District was hard hit. Targets were typically small vernacular cottages, often with small front gardens, dating from the early days of the district’s development. Spec builders were buying them up and replacing them with multi-family dwellings, with, for the most part, little thought to design or materials. This focus on the Richmond continued, until Heritage undertook to survey the district

As sites of opportunity dried up and Heritage had evaluated the resources in the area bounded by Arguello, Fulton, Lake and Park Presidio, the Inner Richmond ceased to be the principal destination of our demolition reviews. Other city neighborhoods came into focus–the Excelsior, Outer Mission, Visitation Valley, Sunset. By the time Charles Chase became executive director, our demolition circuits became veritable tours of the city. Charles drove, and I called out directions.

The day before taking to the streets, I would plot our route–no Google Maps for this boy, I used a plain old fold up street map and my native son’s knowledge of how the city was laid out so we could adopt the quickest route from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Charles would pick me up at my place first thing in the morning, and we’d start with closest addresses in and around the Mission and move into the southeast, then cross over to the Parkside/Sunset, on to the Outer Richmond, where we’d stop for lunch, and head home to the Haas-Lilienthal House, picking up any stray subjects there might be en route. 

I think Charles learned a lot about San Francisco on those trips.

In those years, our street reviews occurred maybe once a month, whereas when I started out, Gary and I were going into the field every week or ten days. In my retirement, as I walk the city, I often see residential buildings undergoing “rehab” or “renovation”, but in fact being blown out and reconstructed without (I suspect) regard for the building’s original design or character. You don’t need a demo permit for those, I guess.

In 1998, the Heritage newsletter declared that the solution to the continuing threat to neighborhood resources was a citywide survey. In 2021, the Planning Department of San Francisco finally began the effort (pushed from 2020 due to the pandemic).

AdvocacyHeritage 50demolitions1980s1990s

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