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Heritage 50: Preservation Becomes Profession

San Francisco Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary all through 2021. Each week we will share a short chapter of our history.

Heritage’s PLTAP Saved Affordable Housing and Professionalized Preservation

Early 1980s view of PLTAP members reviewing plans for rehabilitation of the Arlington Hotel at 480 Ellis Street. It remains a 154-unit affordable housing community today. (Heritage Archives)

by Woody LaBounty

In 1982, San Francisco Heritage created the Preservation Loan and Technical Assistance Program (PLTAP) to build off its successful, but exhausted, Preservation Loan Program.

After the loans for the earlier program were completely allocated, the San Francisco Mayor’s Office reached out to Heritage for support to neighborhood housing development corporations and other nonprofits in rehabilitating low-income housing.

Heritage’s early activities had already included education on sensitive restoration of historic buildings, interest of which boomed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A young architect named Jay Turnbull produced an early publication on the subject for Heritage entitled “Directory ’77, Rehabilitation Advice and Useful Sources for Owners of Vintage Buildings.”

PLTAP assisted St. Anthony’s Foundation in repairing the facade of “Covenant House” at 818 Steiner Street, which the foundation ran as a transitional home for people in recovery. (Heritage Archives, circa 1985)

Respected preservation architects and founders of some of the city’s most venerable and respected preservation firms got their start in Heritage’s Preservation Loan and Technical Assistance Program, providing the preparation of architectural design and working drawings; work specifications; construction supervision; historical architectural research; and advice concerning federal tax incentives and other potential sources of funding for the rehabilitation of older buildings.

PLTAP’s notable and innovative residential projects included the Cadillac Hotel, the Arlington Hotel (480 Ellis Street), St. Anthony’s Covenant House (818 Steiner Street), and the Gran Oriente Hotel.

Within three years of its creation, PLTAP had been directly involved in the design and rehabilitation of 55 structures representing over 600 affordable housing units in San Francisco. The structures included large single-room occupancy hotels, moderate sized apartment buildings, and single-family residences throughout the city. This preservation work included consulting on tax incentives and National Register programs to assist in the retention of low-income housing and provide stability to a number of community-development target neighborhoods.

Heritage leveraged community development grants to secure thousands of dollars of pro bono professional consulting and secure additional grants from Chevron, and the State Office of Historic Preservation, tripling in one year the funding for the city’s Community Development Program.

Out of the PLTAP’s work, a Heritage-created rehabilitation task force was formed to advise architects, developers, planners, and economists working in the field, influencing the rehabilitation of the Lurie Building (417 Montgomery), the Federal Reserve Bank, the Cogswell College building, and the Hills Brothers factory.

Examples of the partnerships the Preservation Loan and Technical Assistance Program created can be seen in the 1983–1984 restoration of the John McMullen House (827 Guerrero Street) as a group home for low-income adults with intellectual disabilities. Architects Arne Lerner and Didier Repellin provided architectural services. The Victorian Alliance of San Francisco helped designate the building a city landmark. Rehabilitation specialists from the Mission Housing Development Corporation worked on interior details. Independent Housing Services gave accessibility expertise, and the house’s owners, Leroy and Kathy Looper, enlisted the San Francisco Conservation Corps to tackle the landscaping. The entire project won a California Preservation Foundation Design Award in 1985.

PLTAP team on the steps of the award-winning project at 827 Guerrero Street. (Heritage Archives, circa 1984)

Through the Preservation Loan and Technical Assistance Program, both nonprofit housing agencies and downtown developers grew more sophisticated in incorporating preservation into projects. New firms were created to assist them, many started by former Heritage staff, and preservation became profession in San Francisco.

Heritage 50

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