Parkmerced

152 acre site in southwestern part of San Francisco
Developed between 1941 – 1951
Buildings and site plan by Leonard Schultze & Associates; landscape by Thomas Church

Brief History

The Parkmerced rental complex was constructed between 1941 and 1951 as the first all‐rental community in San Francisco, as a response to the continued demand for housing the United States during and after World War II.  The buildings and site plan at Parkmerced were designed by Leonard Schultze & Associates for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife), while the landscaping of the open space and interior garden courtyards were designed by Thomas Church and other landscape architects from his office. It displays many of the design concepts that made Church’s work unique and influential, including the use of abstract and organic forms.  It is believed to be one of the largest Church projects remaining intact.

As an example of a planned development, Parkmerced represents an early example of large scale garden apartment design.  It was one of similar four apartment developments funded by Metropolitan Life Insurance, which include Parkfairfax in Alexandria, Virginia, listed on the National Register because of its significance as an early planned development.  Of the four complexes, only Parkmerced has a notable landscape design.  Most of the complex’s features retain a high degree of integrity from MetLife’s period of ownership and, taken together, its collection of buildings, landscapes, and associated elements reflect Parkmerced’s original design and functionality as a planned residential community.

Parkmerced was found eligible for inclusion in the California Register of Historical Resources as a historic district under Criterion 1 (Events) and Criterion 3 (Design/Construction).

Current Project Background

The owner of Parkmerced has submitted applications for the long‐term comprehensive re‐design and re‐development of the site. The project, which would be implemented over the course of three decades, would raze the entire site except for the eleven existing towers, which will be reused for housing. The density will increase from the existing 3,221 residential units to a project total of 8,900 units through new towers scattered throughout the site. The plan also aims to provide new commercial and retail services and transit facilities. All the landscapes and courtyard buildings would be demolished.

On May 24, the Board of Supervisors approved the project proposal in a 6-5 vote.

Heritage Position

The DEIR determined that the site is eligible as a historic district on the California Register, and identified an alternative that would preserve the historic central core as the environmentally superior option. Heritage agreed with these findings, and suggested a modified preservation alternative that allowed for some infill development to enable the project sponsor to further reach their goals. We also urged the city to carefully consider the sustainability benefits of the preservation alternatives.

Heritage also joined the National Trust for Historic Preservation, California Preservation Foundation, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the Northern California chapter of DOCOMOMO-US, and the Northern California chapter of Historic American Landscape Survey to in signing a letter to the Planning Commission protesting the destructive impact of the proposed Parkmerced Project. The six organizations united in urging the Planning Commission to adopt  an alternative that maximizes preservation of the Parkmerced Historic District and retains its eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. The letter challenges the consistency of the proposed project with the City’s Planning Priority stating that  “landmarks and historic buildings be preserved,” while noting the inadequacy of the proposed mitigation measures to meaningfully compensate for the loss of the Parkmerced historic district.

On May 24, the Board of Supervisors approved the project proposal in a 6-5 vote.

Heritage Comments

Heritage DEIR comments (7-12-10)
NTHP et al letter to Planning Commission (1-28-11)

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