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Heritage 50: Richmond District Survey

May27th

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

500 block of 8th Avenue in the Inner Richmond District, surveyed by Heritage in 1989-1993.

by Woody LaBounty

The formation of Heritage and its first successes inspired new efforts to identify buildings of historical or architectural significance in outlying San Francisco neighborhoods. Anna Thompson and Edwin Williams at Inner Sunset Action Committee, Earl Moss in Noe Valley, and Ed Bielski’s “Richmond Architectural Heritage,” a subcommittee of Richmond Environmental Action, all contacted Heritage for help in planning surveys as early as 1973.1

Survey sheet from 1991 for the old Richmond Hall building (built 1898) on the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and Clement Street. (Heritage Archives)

In the mid-1980s, the Richmond District became an attractive neighborhood for lucrative in-fill developments, with contractors demolishing nineteenth-century houses and cottages for large flats and apartment buildings. The Inner Richmond, where Heritage led walking tours of potential historic districts beginning in 1977, was of particular concern.2 Whereas the traditional building pattern of the neighborhood was for multi-unit buildings to occupy corner lots, new hulking “Richmond Specials” with featureless facades were breaking up mid-block rows of single-family homes. In 1987, Heritage produced a special eight-page insert in its newsletter on the history and development of the neighborhood and the new threat to its character.

In early 1989, Heritage launched a survey of the Inner Richmond with two main goals: to identify significant structures and protect them from development pressures, and to create procedures for surveying all of the city’s residential districts. More than 30 volunteers were recruited to help with photography and research. Professional architectural historians conducted the fieldwork. Survey coordinator Lauren Weiss Bricker evaluated each building. An initial reconnaissance survey was done between Arguello Boulevard, 6th Avenue, Fulton Street, and the Presidio wall to help understand development patterns and general architectural character while identifying stand-out structures of merit.3

Survey photo from 1991 of the old Richmond Hall building (built 1898) on the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and Clement Street (with the venerable Burma Superstar restaurant visible on the west). On the cornice today the faint outline of “Richmond Hall” can be read from Clement Street. (Heritage Archives).

In 1991, the survey entered a second phase, extending west of 6th Avenue to Park Presidio Boulevard.4 The Inner Richmond Survey was a major project for Heritage. More than 30 volunteers participated; the work was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), San Francisco Beautiful, the Columbia Foundation, and Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR); Michael Corbett, Paul Groth, Jean Kortum, Jeremy Kotas, Katherine Whitney, Ann Aguilar, David Bricker, William Beutner, and survey director Lauren Weiss Bricker put in many hours.5

On its completion in 1993, the Inner Richmond survey provided data on thousands of buildings to the San Francisco Planning Department and advanced survey methodologies for residential neighborhoods, including the concept of group or “cluster” evaluation and ratings.


Notes:

1. “Consultation Service and Community Liaison,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume I, Number 2, Summer 1973, page 2.

2. “Walking Tours,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume V, Number 1, March 1977, page 5.

3. “Volunteers Sought for Inner Richmond Survey,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume XVII, Number 2, Spring 1989, page 7; “Richmond Survey to Start,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume XVII, Number 3, Summer 1989, page 11.

4. “Richmond Survey Advances West of 6th Avenue,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume XIX, Number 4, July/August 1991, page 1.

5. “Richmond Survey Completed,” Heritage Newsletter, Volume XXI, Number 5, October/November 1993, page 8.

Landmark Spotlight: Grabhorn Press Building

May25th

Grabhorn Press Building, located on the south side of Sutter Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Streets in San Francisco. The period of significance for the building is 1942-1965, from the time the Grabhorn family purchased the building until the Press was disbanded after the death of Edwin Grabhorn.

One of the last fine bookmaking facilities (a type foundry, letterpress printing, and bookbinding) in San Francisco has its origins in a temple-style building at 1335 Sutter Street. The Grabhorn brothers, Edwin and Robert, first established their press in 1916 in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1919 they moved to San Francisco and called themselves The Press of Edwin and Robert Grabhorn, and were soon printing some of the finest books in America. In 1923 they changed the name to its definitive form, The Grabhorn Press.

Each Grabhorn edition is a unique product, like this copy of The Tragedie Of Iulius Caesar (I.E. The Tragedy Of Julius Caesar) with pictures designed and cut by Edwin’s daughter Mary Grabhorn. A typical Grabhorn piece is described this way: “The paper is heavily textured, and usually interestingly edged. It is inked nearly through rather than simply on the surface. Margins and spacing are generous. Ink may be black, or red, or some other color, sometimes with initial letters of a contrasting color. The type face is chosen to suit the content often the type has a flavor of calligraphy or very early hand printing. If the work is bound, the binding also reflects the content, the cloths or boards are special, and the spine is often leather or a textured cloth.” (Excerpted from the Grabhorn Press National Register nomination (#97000349), March 14, 1997.)

In 1942, the brothers moved Grabhorn Press to 1335 Sutter Street. Built in 1918 and designed by Alfred Henry Jacobs, the building originally housed the temple school of Congregation Emanu-EI. Tall Doric columns on a modern glazed ceramic tile base divide the facade into three bays. The center and east bays are filled with plate glass display windows, and the west (right) bay is a pair of oak doors with glazed panels and a granite doorstep. The second story appears behind a standing seam copper mansard roof with a shed-roofed dormer in the center and two skylights on either side.

Photo of Edwin Grabhorn (seated) and Robert Grabhorn at the staircase of The Grabhorn Press Building, San Francisco, with the pressroom and the bank of west windows in the background. Photo c. 1965, by Skelton Photography. Photo courtesy of Book Arts and Special Collections Center of the San Francisco Public Library.

When the Press was in the building from 1942-1965, most of the main floor was occupied by the pressroom, with a small area set aside for typesetting and a small front anteroom with the fireplace and stairs. Upstairs were the bindery and the office. Paper was stored in the basement. Although the Grabhorn Press earned its international reputation for fine printing long before moving to this building, here the brothers created nearly half of all the Grabhorn Press items, including typographical masterpieces such as their Japanese prints (Edwin’s daughter Mary supplied skillful colorful woodcuts) and nine Shakespeare plays. They assembled an unmatched collection of American type still used by Arion Press, the descendent of Grabhorn Press.

The Grabhorns “were ranked not only as the finest and most imaginative printers of California, but among the truly great printers of their time” (James D. Hart, Fine Printing in California, Tamalpais Press, 1960). Significant dates are 1942 for winning the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts; in 1963 for receiving honorary doctorates of Fine Arts from the University of California, Berkeley; and 1965 for donating their collection of 1,600 rare books to the San Francisco Public Library.

In March 1997, 1335 Sutter was recognized for its significance and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When the Grabhorn Press closed in 1965 due to Edwin Grabhorn’s failing health (he passed away in 1968), Robert Grabhorn partnered with Andrew Hoyem. Hoyem had been working with Dave Haselwood at the Auerhahn Press in San Francisco to publish the avant-garde literature of poets identified with the Beat Generation. Together, Grabhorn-Hoyem preserved and utilized the Grabhorn Press’s vast and distinctive holdings of type and equipment.

In 1974, Andrew Hoyem renamed the company Arion Press and launched a series of limited-edition books, printed by letterpress and bound by hand. Many of them were illustrated by prominent artists; some were accompanied by separate editions of original prints. To this day, the list of Arion publications is characterized by its diversity, with titles that range from ancient literature to modern classics.

To preserve the Grabhorn Press’s important legacy, The Grabhorn Institute was founded in 2000. Its mission is to perpetuate the use of two unique San Francisco businesses as a living museum and educational center: M & H Type, established in 1915, which is now one of the oldest and largest continuously operating type foundries in America, and Arion Press. Today, the three branches are co-occupants of a letterpress production facility in the Presidio of San Francisco.

Journeyman Chris Godek and Apprentice Sam Companatico working at a Monotype Composition Caster. Photo courtesy of Grabhorn Institute/Arion Press.

Books on display at Grabhorn Institute/Arion Press’s reopening party in May 2021, including a recent edition of The Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts.

Designated an “irreplaceable cultural treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Institute houses an extensive and historically significant collection of metal typefaces and associated ornamental cuts, and supports the only paid apprenticeship program in typecasting, letterpress printing and bookbinding in the country. It also sponsors a series of free public talks, demonstrations, and exhibits, in addition to weekly tours of the Press (see below for updates on their tours during Covid).

San Francisco Heritage has supported and promoted the living legacy of Arion Press and M&H Type in recent years. In 2019, Heritage awarded an Alice Ross Carey Preservation Grant to Arion Press to fund a new paid apprenticeship in typography, typecasting, and Monotype composition at M&H Type. That same year, through the Landmark Fund, Heritage helped add Arion Press and M&H Type (as the Lyra Corporation) to the Legacy Business Registry. The film below, created for Heritage’s 2019 Soirée by filmmaker Andy Kawanami, goes behind-the-scenes at three important legacy businesses in San Francisco, including Arion Press:


Right now, tours of Arion Press/M&H Type’s facilities are available by private request. Email arionpress@arionpress.com with inquiries about tours. To support the Grabhorn Institute, purchase Arion Press’s latest broadside of Chun Yu’s poem “The Map” or donate at this link.

Heritage 50: Moving a Zig Zag Moderne Gas Station

May20th

A 1931 Zig Zag Moderne gas station at its original location at Larkin and Pacific Streets (Heritage Archives). Zig Zag Moderne was highly decorative, with building façades adorned with geometric ornamentation. It was a distinctly urban style that flourished in large cities, and was primarily used for large public and commercial buildings.

In 1990, Heritage’s efforts to conserve a 1931 Zig Zag Moderne service station at Larkin and Pacific brought us, according to that year’s Spring Heritage News, “face to face with some important philosophical questions concerning issues which the preservation movement has never fully resolved.”

Was moving a building historic preservation? Was too much authenticity and significance lost in a relocation across town? These are questions that we are still asking today.

The saga began when an apartment house developer purchased the site of the long-closed Union Oil gas station in order to build housing. Heritage took an interest in the building because of its distinct Zig Zag Moderne motifs, an Art Deco style rare in contemporary filling stations. When the apartment developers resisted the idea of saving the station at its original site (Heritage wanted it incorporated into the new apartment building’s entrance), moving at least part of it downtown was, though not ideal, an option preferable to demolition.

Heritage was convinced that, at a minimum, any new site must be urban and located in San Francisco and that the structure’s new use be practical. “Park or highly landscaped locations would distort the truth about the building’s traditional purpose and use,” Heritage Executive Director Mark Ryser wrote at the time.

The gas station on move on Polk Street. Galileo High School in the background. (Heritage Archives) Our April 2021 Heritage News focused on a more recent high-profile house-move — the Englander House — and former Heritage board member Stewart Morton describes how little fanfare the gas station received in comparison: “Heritage moved an Art Deco gas station at Pacific at Larkin to Howard Street in the ’80s; the funny thing with that move was that it was on the back of a small truck, and we walked behind it, but people weren’t even paying attention. They were so blasé, unlike with the Englander House.”

The Planning Commission got the owner to agree to contribute $34,000 to the moving costs if another property owner claimed the station. And so, in April of 1990, it was put on the back of a truck and transported from Nob Hill down to what then was an empty corner next to a freeway on-ramp on Beale and Howard Streets, kitty corner to a new black office tower (301 Howard St) built by the station’s new owners (Continental Development Co.). The station would remain in an urban and automobile-oriented environment.

The station at its second long-term home on the corner of Beale and Howard Streets in 2015. (Photo by John King, SF Chronicle)

For 25 years, the shell of the former gas station took on a second life as a hot dog stand, surrounded by a pocket-size park. However, in an area popular with developers, Chicago developers paid $179 million for a new glass office building at the site. According to John King, a deal was worked out where the development team of Golub & Co. and John Buck Co. purchased the land “and the snazzy shell.” And so by 2016 the station was gone, put into storage while the developer works with the Planning Department to find it a new home. With their five-year time requirement pretty much up, we’d are curious to know if any plans for the structure (or structure itself for that matter), have surfaced in 2021.

The station just prior to removal in October 2015. (Google Street View)

…And gone by February 2016.

The station’s saga reinforces how the work of preservation is never done. Though Heritage managed to save the structure once, the uncertainty over its future proves that it still needs saving.

Do you have any leads on the structure’s whereabouts? Let us know at kyoung@sfheritage.org.

AAPI Heritage Month Legacy Business Spotlight: New Delhi Restaurant

May18th

New Delhi Restaurant at 130 Ellis Street.

Ranjan Dey first opened New Delhi Restaurant in 1988, and the restaurant has since become a gathering place for colorful San Francisco locals and a hub of the Bay Area Indian community. It is located in the ballroom of the former Hotel Ramona (two blocks from Union Square), built in 1914. Though the restaurant boasts grand surroundings —ornate pillars, exposed brick, handmade Italian tiled floor— New Delhi offers a wide variety of affordable menu items to choose from that will satisfy your craving for delicious Indian food.

Interior of New Delhi Restaurant, the former ballroom of the historic Hotel Ramona. Photo courtesy of New Delhi Restaurant.

Ranjan started his career in the food business at the age of 14 at Calcutta’s Park Hotel as a vegetable cutter. After finishing high school, he graduated from the Institute of Catering Technology, Hotel Management and Applied Nutrition. After working as a chef for many years in luxury hotels in Calcutta and New Delhi, in 1984, Ranjan opened the first New Delhi Restaurant in Hong Kong. Following the birth of their first child, in 1987, Ranjan and his wife Kodi decided to settle in the United States – Kodi’s home country – where they consolidated their businesses into one restaurant in San Francisco.

Cutting the ribbon at the New Delhi Restaurant opening, November 8, 1988. Left to right: Karen Singh, Mayor Art Agnos, Sarah Dey, Darshan Singh, and Ranjan Dey. Photo courtesy of New Delhi Restaurant.

Ranjan and New Delhi were proud to join the #SFLegacyBiz Registry earlier last year. The restaurant was the first Indian restaurant and South-Asian owned business to be included.

Ranjan Dey speaking to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) on behalf of New Delhi Restaurant, January 15, 2020. As part of the process to become a legacy business, business owners are invited (but not required) to share support for their nomination at both an HPC and final Office of Small Business hearing.

New Delhi has a long history of giving back to the community, and this work continues during the pandemic. On Tuesday, May 25th, 50% of New Delhi’s food sales will be donated back to The American India Foundation’s COVID relief efforts in India to protect frontline workers and lives most affected by the pandemic.

Visit newdelhirestaurant.com to make a reservation or to browse their menu for takeout.