Gilbert Plov, Little-Box Builder

The strange dominance of really small single-family homes in San Francisco, with its roots in pre-Quake planning and post-Quake building, has come at last in this century to bite the city in its housing-supply backside. Density doesn’t match need now and it is difficult to see how it ever can. It is as though San Francisco, to personify for a moment, never expected to become a real city. So it allowed builders to fill the thousands of residential blocks with one-story-over-basement structures that cannot reasonably ever be transformed into multi-unit, multi-story buildings—unlike, say, a Mission-District Victorian or a Brooklyn brownstone. And should you be inclined to try, zoning and/or neighbors will prevent you from rebuilding one as a four-story wart on the smooth skin of row-upon-row of SFHs.

In their vast inertial numbers, the Little Boxes will always win. The march of those attached four- or five-room homes, on their narrow 25×100 foot lots, across hundreds of city blocks can only ever be disrupted here and there—a few corner developments, a few big structures on old gas station lots, a few scattered replacements, or the odd added story or ADU.

The die was cast—getting on for a hundred years ago now—and the pattern will persist.

Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com
Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com

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High on a hillside, the Sunnyside sign

1912. Sunnyside hillside. OpenSFHistory.org

Recently a marvelous panorama taken about 1912 came my way. Sunnyside can be seen in the distance. The image reveals a feature from the neighborhood’s past–a giant hillside sign in the style of the one in Hollywood that was also placed as a real estate advertisement. However, Sunnyside’s sign preceded the more famous one by at least ten years–though of course ours didn’t last.

1912-crop_wnp15.1592
1912. The Sunnyside sign, on hillside near Mangels and Detroit. Detail from panorama image below. Western Neighborhoods Project wnp15.1592.

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