If the six Victorians on Steiner between Hayes and Grove streets are the Painted Ladies, the block of live-work developments at the southeast corner of Dogpatch can be rightly called the Tennessee Street Thugs. A cute little yellow-and-white Victorian -- one that begs comparisons to a cupcake and makes even me go ahhh -- sits on the southwest corner of 18th and Tennessee, cater-corner from the Gang of Thugs.
"How can they allow something like that next to that?" Anderson asks.
Dogpatch residents have good reason to be worried about their neighborhood. The area is the new ground zero of the live-work development boom that has eaten up large parts of the city, notably the South of Market area. With the advent of the Tennessee Street Thugs and the Minnesota Mint Monster, Dogpatch is seeing only the beginnings of a live-work orgy that promises to erase much of the neighborhood's character.
Here's why: Dogpatch sits at the southern end of Mission Bay, the huge minicity being built by Catellus Development Corp. at China Basin. Mission Bay, which eventually will include a second UCSF campus and associated biotechnology research facilities, is set to break ground this year. Ergo, the surrounding area is much desired by real estate developers and speculators. People who will work in the university, the biotech labs, and the millions of square feet of Mission Bay office space will also need a place to live.
In an odd San Francisco twist, Dogpatch's industrial designation makes it particularly attractive as a site for residential building. Dwellings built there don't necessarily have to meet the size and density rules that govern development in residential neighborhoods. The approval of live-work developments is up to the discretion of the Planning Commission, whose members are appointed by Mayor Willie Brown. And so far, the commission has been very, very good to live-work developers, all but a few of whom are members of the politically powerful Residential Builders Association, run by a fellow named Joe O'Donoghue, who has an inordinate amount of access to and influence with our mayor.
The RBA is responsible for most of the live-work monsters in the city, and O'Donoghue and his brethren are busy as bees in Dogpatch. On the other end of the neighborhood from the Tennessee Street Thugs, which were built by RBA members, other RBA developers have bought up almost all the land in the quadrangle between Indiana and Minnesota and 23rd and 25th streets. They plan on building 400 units of live-work condominiums there.
In the South of Market area the impact of the live-work binge has been softened by two factors: The area is huge, and it never had a definable architectural or historic character. To be sure, the live-work buildings created there were too big, ugly, and Los Angelean to fit appropriately in S.F. But the neighborhood was a mishmash of styles and land uses, so if the live-work boom made parking and other problems worse -- with new yuppie condo dwellers fighting established nightclubs, one after another -- the developments didn't create the kind of intense change that can make someone who loves a neighborhood's unique character cringe.
Such will not be the case in Dogpatch. If what a high-ranking Brown administration official recently told Dogpatch activists is true ("You are standing in the way of a steamroller, and you have 10 seconds to get out of the way"), that steamroller will be paving over significant portions of San Francisco's past. At a time when the city is rapidly losing touch with its roots, and, much to my personal alarm, beginning to resemble L.A. on too many levels, defending the architectural and historic integrity of neighborhoods like Dogpatch should be a top priority.
As it turns out, there's quite a bit to protect.
For the last several months, Christopher P. Ver Planck, the architectural expert for S.F. Heritage, one of the city's premier architectural heritage and historic preservation groups, has been documenting the design significance of Dogpatch. Eventually, he will go to the city's Landmarks and Preservation Board and ask that Dogpatch be deemed a landmark area.
Ver Planck warms quickly to the subject of Dogpatch's history; he wrote his master's thesis on one of the architects who defined the area. Shipyards and related businesses were the dominant employers, he says; and between 1887 and 1888, a politically inspired architect named John Cotter Pelton Jr. designed Victorian cottages for the Irish and Italian immigrants who worked on the waterfront.
"The buildings were part of the progressive movement to get the immigrant working class out of shitty tenement housing," Ver Planck says. "They thought tenements encouraged vice and immoral behavior."
Pelton Jr. was so intent on seeing as many working-class immigrants moved out of tenement housing as possible that he published the plans for his cottages, free of charge, in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, a progressive newspaper, so anyone could build them. Thirteen Pelton houses still line portions of Tennessee and Minnesota streets in the heart of Dogpatch. Many are in excellent condition. "You never see a concentrated group of significant houses like this in San Francisco," Ver Planck says.