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Better Late Than Never? - By Nuala Sawyer - October 4, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Better Late Than Never?

(Daniel Kim)

For decades, the flat stretch of land on the eastern edge of San Francisco was home to hundreds of immigrants, coming from Ireland, Germany, and Italy for jobs in the city’s iron and shipyard industrial industries. But growth was small: Between 1900 and 1920, the population increased from 700 people to more than 1,000. Approximately 50 percent of all households in the Dogpatch worked at the shipyard — mostly through jobs at Union Iron Works.

The neighborhood appeared to be on the up-and-up, but in actuality, it was experiencing a peak. Historian Christopher VerPlanck noted in a 2001 essay about the neighborhood (written for the express purpose of helping it receive historic status) that by the time 1930 came around, most of the land in the Dogpatch was filled with factories, limiting where housing could be built. Automobiles became mainstream and more affordable, which allowed workers employed in the neighborhood to live farther away, and commute in.

The construction of Interstate 280 in the 1960s exacerbated the decline by demolishing a number of homes and making it even easier for those who lived elsewhere to drive in. For 30 years, the neighborhood remained largely stagnant, but in the 1990s, amid the first tech boom, live-work lofts began popping up on empty lots. With them came UCSF buildings, new offices and homes in Mission Bay, and AT&T Park, which opened in 2000. The T-Third Street Muni line opened in 2007, providing Dogpatch residents with a quick route to and from downtown.

Recognizing that the neighborhood was undergoing a massive transformation, residents launched the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association in 2008 to “encourage thoughtful and visionary urban planning that respects, celebrates, and preserves the character, integrity, and quality of life of the area as it evolves for the 21st century.” In the years since, the group has worked closely with developers to manage the boom thoughtfully — and ensure that between all the buildings there are parks, local businesses, and other resources that make a neighborhood a neighborhood.

And the group couldn’t have taken on a bigger task. By 2015, nearly 2,000 residents occupied the Dogpatch. With several large-scale housing developments in progress, a report released by the Planning Department and the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association predicts that by 2025, around 8,000 people will live in the area — nearly four times the current population.

This summer, 116 apartments opened up for rent on Indiana Street. Seventy-one homes are set to open at 2290 Third St. next year. And Avalon — which controversially charged $8,000 per month for two-bedroom apartments at its Hayes Valley location in 2015 — has a 326-unit, three-building project in the works on Indiana Street.

In what appears to be the ultimate irony, an old Iron Works building will soon be replaced by a Restoration Hardware — which, despite its industrial-sounding name, actually sells $6,000 leather sofas.

The neighborhood even got its own New York Times article in 2016, noting that “Dogpatch has lost many of its rough edges,” and highlighting that “a chocolate maker, a roboticist, a bookbinder, a sex-toy inventor, a messenger-bag manufacturer, and an organizer of cooking parties” had moved in.

Gentrification and the housing boom are not new stories for San Francisco, but they are fairly new for the Dogpatch. For now, it’s still possible to get a coffee and a table at Just For You Cafe without waiting in line, and to grab a seat on the T on the way to work. But as thousands move their purebred dogs and designer strollers into their industrial-chic condos, the neighborhood’s days as a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco may be numbered.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Dogpatch here:

YIMBY-Land: Change Comes to the Dogpatch
But it has to be done smartly to keep the neighborhood livable, according to one activist who champions high levels of growth.

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Where to Eat in the Dogpatch
This industrial quadrant is heavy on the artisans and dense with dining options.

A Dog By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
Of all the city’s neighborhoods, the Dogpatch may have the weirdest name origin story.

Urban Freeways in Question
City planners weigh whether S.F. might be better off without Interstate 280.

What’s In A Stub?
Dogpatch holds the ever-quieting ghosts of Irish Hill’s raucous past.

A Knotty History
Hella rope was made in the Dogpatch back in the day.