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Heritage 50: Receiving One of Our First Easements


[Alioto ceremony 1083 Dolores, October 24, 1973] Mayor Joseph Alioto cutting ceremonial ribbon with oversized scissors. Home owner Bill Dodge in top hat. Dodge had restored former Matson house from stucco modernization. OpenSFHistory / wnp25.10371.jpg

#ThrowbackThursdays: In 1973, Heritage began a new program to expand the use in San Francisco of the facade easement as an innovative means of historic preservation. William (Bill) Dodge, the owner of a beautiful and expertly rehabilitated Queen Anne Victorian at 1083 Dolores Street, transferred a facade easement on his home to Heritage at a ceremony on October 24, 1973. Mayor Joseph Alioto joined the festivities, leading the ribbon-cutting and presenting a special award to Dodge for his contribution to the preservation of historic San Francisco.

A preservation easement is a legal agreement between a property owner and Heritage to preserve and protect the building’s character-defining features in perpetuity. This legal instrument ensures the protection of architecturally and historically significant structures by limiting the owner’s right to demolish the building or to make destructive alterations.

A clipping from the San Francisco Examiner on October 24, 1973, showing the dramatic restoration of Dodge’s home on 1083 Dolores. After five months of restoration work, the home, previously stuccoed over, was “un-modernized” and brightly painted.

The basic premise of the preservation easement agreement requires the owner to seek pre-approval from Heritage for any significant change to features protected under its terms. Through the receipt of a facade easement such as the one donated by Dodge, Heritage accepts an obligation to review proposed changes to the building, and the owner, in return, can take a significant charitable deduction.

The home of Bill Dodge at 1083 Dolores Street in October 1973. Man waving in window from corner tower. Red, white, and blue bunting over entry after rededication. OpenSFHistory / wnp25.10484.jpg

Heritage has one of the largest preservation easement programs in the West, and is one of very few organizations in San Francisco with a program to receive, administer, and enforce preservation easements. To read more about this program, visit sfheritage.org/easements.

Landmark Tuesdays: Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park

floor plaque memorializing the spot where Mary Ellen Pleasant lived

Floor plaque memorializing the spot where Mary Ellen Pleasant lived, on Octavia near Sutter. Heritage photo.

#LandmarkTuesdays: While the corner of Bush and Octavia Streets in San Francisco is home to the city’s smallest park, it is dedicated to a larger-than-life figure: Mary Ellen Pleasant (1817-1904). Many details of Pleasant’s legendary life are open to question (including her date of birth), but what is certain is that she was a tireless worker for civil rights and a great entrepreneur. Known today as the “Mother of Civil Rights in California,” she funded John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, assisted escaped slave Archy Lee, and helped desegregate street cars in San Francisco. The latter fight and victory against the Omnibus Railway Company made her the first to win equal rights for African Americans to ride public transportation, almost 100 years before Rosa Parks.

Mary Ellen Pleasant at 87 years of age (San Francisco History Room, San Francisco Public Library

Mary Ellen Pleasant at 87 years of age. San Francisco History Room, San Francisco Public Library

Born into slavery, she became a Gold Rush-era millionaire and a powerful abolitionist. Pleasant’s 30-room Italianate mansion, which she designed, built and furnished, stood on the spot where the park is today. In 1974, the city of San Francisco designated the six eucalyptus trees that she had planted here before her death in 1904, as a Structure of Merit. This designation recognizes and encourages the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of resources that are not officially designated as landmarks and are not situated in designated historic districts. Pleasant’s home no longer stands, but the trees remain, along with a round floor plaque in the park placed by the San Francisco African American Historical & Cultural Society. It reads:

“Mother of Civil Rights in California. She supported the western terminus of the underground railway for fugitive slaves 1850-1865. This legendary pioneer once lived on this site and planted these six trees.”

The Eucalyptus trees planted by Pleasant right before her death in 1904. The trees were designated a Structure of Merit by the City of San Francisco in 1974. Heritage photo.

The Eucalyptus trees planted by Pleasant right before her death in 1904. The trees were designated a Structure of Merit by the City of San Francisco in 1974. Heritage photo.

Octavia near Sutter in the 1870s, showing Pleasant's mansion (the

Octavia near Sutter in the 1870s, showing Pleasant’s mansion (the “Bell Mansion,” where she lived with Thomas Bell) (OpenSFHistory / wnp71.1598.jpg)

In the following clip, Chris Carlsson of Shaping San Francisco contextualizes the harsh legal environment faced by African Americans in California, in which Pleasant carried out her role as a successful “conductor” of the western terminus of the Underground Railroad:

A virtual exhibit of the book 62 Heroes of the Western Addition, created by the African American Historical & Cultural Society and undergraduates at the University of San Francisco, communicates Pleasant’s legacy: “Mary Ellen Pleasant shaped Black entrepreneurship through her ability to establish a variety of businesses ranging from restaurants to investments all of which she used to financially support people of color; she forever changed the narratives of Black women by highlighting that Black women can be in positions of power and possess financial success.”

Here is bonus Drunk History segment on Mary Ellen Pleasant (starring Lisa Bonet):

Read an introduction to Pleasant’s extraordinary life in the New Fillmore, and visit the site yourself dedicated to Pleasant and her achievements: https://bit.ly/30l1Dzd

Composer Ben Juodvalkis Moves into the Doolan-Larson Building


After the successful launch of our inaugural artist-and-residency program at the Doolan-Larson Residence last fall with Jeremy Fish, we are pleased to announce that a new artist is continuing the program this year. Soon to collaborate with San Francisco legacy business Joe Goode Performance Group on a special Heritage-supported piece called “Time of Change” (to debut in fall 2021), composer Ben Juodvalkis will create and install a multi-room audio documentary to support future public tours and events at the Residence.

Since 2007, Ben has composed for more than 50 organizations, ranging from avant-garde museum installations to corporate keynotes. Additionally, he has released five albums and toured extensively with his rock band Battlehooch. With a background in classical piano and percussion, his compositions are grounded in melody and rhythm. Listen to a sample of one of his pieces below:

At the Doolan-Larson Residence, Ben will combine interviews with original music. Spoken content will come from existing and newly-recorded interviews with counter-culture participants who have a personal connection with the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The musical portion will be composed onsite and will respond to the unique qualities of selected rooms in the Residence, with each composition varying widely in composition and texture.

Of this opportunity, Ben said: “Thank you and everybody at Heritage for allowing me to make this project. I’ve been fascinated with the Haight-Ashbury counterculture ever since I was a little kid growing up in New England. It’s a dream to immerse myself in present-day and historical movements of peace, love, and psychedelia.”

We are excited to follow Ben’s creative journey, and we will continue to share updates throughout his residency. This program will further Heritage’s goals of making this special site a hub a creativity in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. By bringing historic sites like the Doolan-Larson Residence alive through art, we hope that this will help people interact with historic preservation in new and exciting ways.

Heritage 50: Preservation Loan Program


San Francisco Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary all through 2021. Each week we will share a short chapter of our history. Read the previous post about the Haas-Lilienthal House.

by Woody LaBounty

In 1977, Heritage devised a program to help lower-income San Franciscans preserve or restore the architectural character of their houses. The Preservation Loan Program (PLP) was established with a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the city with intent to make or guarantee below-market-rate financing for low-income borrowers. The CDBG funds were leveraged to obtain other grants and create a more than $300,000 preservation loan pool. Partnering with Crocker Bank, Heritage would guarantee 60% of the loans, and use the repayments to replenish the program.

Staircase and windows rebuilt and restored with help from the Preservation Loan Program.

The late 1970s was a very different financial landscape than today. The prime rate at the time was almost 9%. Crocker Bank initially offered loans at 8%, but after negotiations, agreed to 6%. The annual income of applicants could be no more than $10,750 for a one-person household and $15,350 for a family of four.

Rick Masseno, Heritage’s program administrator, publicly announced what the San Francisco Chronicle called “old home-repair loans” in 1978. Dorothy Berry, who lived at 940 Page Street with her four grandchildren, was the first recipient, taking out a $10,000 loan at 6% interest to make repairs on her 1888 Victorian.1

Rick Masseno and Dorothy Berry at 940 Page Street at the Preservation Loan Program’s public launch. (Heritage News, July 1978)

PLP was more than a loan guarantee. Heritage assisted in planning a work program for each project, doing historical research and preparing architectural drawings, specifications, and bid documents. Heritage also helped locate qualified contractors and monitored construction. The pro-bono consulting secured equaled an estimated $380,000 in construction fees by 1984.

Some of PLP projects were dramatic, such as the façade restorations of a stucco-smothered Noe Valley cottage, while others were new paint jobs or simple and sensitive repairs to staircases.

But successful preservation sometimes requires simple work. Peeling paint and wobbly staircases (along with a good deal of institutional racism) tagged much of the Western Addition as slums in the 1950s and justified the subsequent redevelopment that demolished thousands of historic buildings and dispersed entire communities.2

Facade of a Noe Valley cottage restored with help from the Preservation Loan Program. Guidance for the re-created detailing came from an archival photograph.

After PLP’s first year, rehabilitating houses in the Western Addition and the Bayview District, applications for the loans and assistance more than doubled. Heritage offered information on other loan programs and home
improvement in general to inquirers who didn’t meet the program’s qualifications. The California Council of the AIA recognized the program with an award citing “the impressive and influential effort which has inspired a widespread participation in historical preservation.”

But this inspiration soon tapped out the innovative program’s resources at the same time the financial world radically shifted. The prime rate began to shoot up, reaching an astonishing all-time high of 21% in 1980, making 6% loans impossible to secure. Heritage quickly responded not by retreating from the mission of PLP, but by finding ways to adapt and expand the program.

Instead of preserving historic and affordable living spaces house-by-house, in 1982, Heritage’s new Preservation Loan and Technical Assistance Program began partnering with nonprofit agencies to use preservation as a tool to save larger buildings with dozens of units.


1. “Home Loans,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 1978, page 11.

2. Redevelopment was often described in newspapers as a “slum clearance project.” See “No Cause for Delay,” San Francisco Examiner, October 18, 1952, page 12.