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Should There Be Historical Preservation of Deeply Ugly Buildings? 

Wednesday, May 11 2011
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Last week's high-decibel hearing on the state of city preservation proved it once and for all: One thing San Francisco doesn't need legislation to preserve are high-decibel hearings on the state of preservation.

Battles between those who build things and those who'd prefer things not be built are not necessarily a San Francisco specialty. In many a Bay Area burg, a homeowner must wade into city bureaucracy to install a garden gnome in front of her home, then deal with the preservation committee when she wishes to remove it. But in San Francisco — a city where, as former longtime Residential Builders Association president Joe O'Donoghue notes, "You have to put in 14 sets of plans for a change in your fucking facade" — we have had our share of head-scratching preservation issues.

• The years-long battle over the fate of the North Beach library — a structure that is, literally, built like a brick shithouse — was the inspiration for last week's meeting. Less well-known, however, is that landmark status is being sought on four other Appleton and Wolfard "mid-century modern" libraries: the Eureka Valley, Excelsior, Marina, and Western Addition branches. If ever you wanted to know what a library would look like if it were constructed by the builders of Eastern European factories — now you do.

• Efforts to preserve a 70-year-old pine tree on Telegraph Hill resulted in city crews laboring for months and racking up a bill in the neighborhood of $110,000. The heavy construction disabled the street's fire hydrant. While fixing that, workers inadvertently knocked out power to 500 homes and businesses in the area.

• Regardless of your position on the Tonga Room, the city's official historic review of the Fairmont Hotel's kitschy tiki bar is worth a read. The floating bandstand, indoor rain, and other cartoonish Polynesian fare are deemed "historically relevant," and the Tonga itself represents "a rare remaining example of a distinct phase of post–World War II popular culture, and includes a substantial number of distinctive characteristics."

• A 2004 ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors prevented owners of historic theaters from altering their marquee signs. Unfortunately, the ordinance also prevented the restoration of those signs — leading to owners being unable to repair their crumbling marquees. When the marquees became so decrepit they had to be removed, the ordinance prevented them from being replaced, as this would create "noncomplying structures."

• In 2008, the supes landmarked the "shipwright's cottage" in Hunters Point. The 500-square-foot shack, built in 1875, formerly housed the builders of wooden sailing vessels. Now, however, it's a crumbling wreck. Its inch-thick walls enclose no kitchen, restroom, or running water. To the best of anyone's recollection, it has stood derelict since the 1960s. Former owner Joe Cassidy says a vagrant was squatting in it when he bought the land a decade ago — but that man soon left, as the "cottage" was growing too dangerous and run-down for his liking.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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