San Francisco Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary all through 2021. Each week we will share a short chapter of our history.
Directory 77 Committee members Jan Beecherl, Bruce Bonacker, Charlotte Schmiedel, Burton Edwards, Jay Turnbull, and William Walters. (Photo by Linda Jo Fitz.)
by Woody LaBounty
In the 1970s, fueled in part by Heritage’s preservation work, the city experienced a surge of interest in old-house restoration. As each new Heritage initiative received public notice, calls and letters would pour in for advice. In an era without the Internet, in a specialized field that was still new, finding someone to restore a stained glass window, replace an ironwork gate, or recast a plaster molding meant paging through the telephone directory. It was often guesswork on whether “ABC Lighting” knew anything about antique sconce fixtures, and many of the specialty suppliers were out of town or even across the country.1
Heritage solicited its membership for recommendations and references to assemble a directory of craftspeople and suppliers with specialized knowledge, skills, and materials. In those days before easy access to computer spreadsheets and databases, the names, addresses, and numbers were memorialized on index cards. As the entries and cards piled up, and the demand from design professionals and enthusiastic amateur restorers continued to rise, Heritage decided to produce a publication.
Cover of the third edition of Directory 77 with 1979 update included.
In the fall of 1976, Heritage staff architect Jay Turnbull assembled a volunteer committee consisting of Jan Beecherl, Bruce Bonacker, Burton Edwards, Charlotte Schmiedel, and William Walters to work on the project. Rather than just a list of references—some sort of specialized mini-Yellow Pages—the committee decided to try to answer many of the other restoration-related questions Heritage commonly received.1
Also to be included would be checklists, a bibliography, research advice, a summary of architectural styles, and simple definitions of anything or anyone one might encounter in a restoration or repair. A sample from the finished publication: “Architect. An architect is a licensed professional who can advice you what to do on any building project and can prepare a series of drawings, models or documents which (at first) will help you visualize what needs to be done and (later) will direct others to carry out the work.”2
Page from the Styles section of Directory 77, with illustrations by William Walters.
Determined to meet a deadline for inclusion in a local American Institute of Architects seminar, the team worked nights around their various job, school, and family responsibilities to compile and update the card file material, write narrative sections, and create illustrations. The final product, Directory 77, Rehabilitation Advice and Useful Sources for Owners of Vintage Buildings, ran more than fifty pages and the first edition of 500 perfect-bound copies was published in March 1977.
At $4.00 (plus 50 cents postage and handling if mailed), the initial printing sold out in a month. A second, expanded edition was quickly created, printed, and offered for sale at the new price of $5.95, including postage and handling. In 1979, a supplement with new listings and address corrections cost $1.25.
Four decades after publication, Directory 77 is more a nostalgic diversion that a useful guide. Some of the dozens of businesses listed still exist, but I know “Prairie Dog Emporium” isn’t selling lampshades at 2124 Union Street anymore. Much of the advice is still valid and, in places, aphoristic. Today, when 75% of paint jobs are a technophilic variation of blue-gray, it’s interesting to read that “Nothing more bespeaks a period than its attitudes about color.”
Directory 77’s insistence on what it was not applies equally well to the Internet that has made publications like it obsolete: “This booklet is not a shortcut and will not perform any work for you. It is a guide.”
1. “Directory 77 Helps Owners of Vintage Homes,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume V, No. 2, June 1977.
2. Directory 77: Rehabilitation Advice and Useful Sources for Owners of Vintage Buildings, (San Francisco: The Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage, October 1977, third edition), page 2.