Thirty Years of Dogpatch Advocacy

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Nestled between the San Francisco Bay and Potrero Hill north of 23rd Street, Dogpatch is often described as edgy, eclectic and unique among the City’s neighborhoods. Its flat elevation and industrial nature, among other characteristics, have charmed its historically small but diverse population.

Located adjacent to the Central Waterfront and its associated trades, laboring people have been drawn to Dogpatch for decades.  Industrial uses endured until after World War II, when factories and shipyards closed, resulting in employment loss for many. In the 1970s, an influx of artists who took advantage of available, albeit derelict, real estate sowed the seeds of change that’d sweep across the neighborhood, ultimately resulting in today’s stronghold of citizen-activists and a rising population.

Gentrification in the 1990s brought architecturally sterile live-work lofts, which threatened the existence of historic buildings and working class residents. In an attempt to slow the proliferation of the new structures, community members began to fight to preserve the neighborhood they loved.

“I moved to Tennessee Street in the beginning of 1997,” reflected Susan Eslick, Green Benefits District (GBD) board member. “Around that time, in ’98 to ’99, the Dogpatch community was small and the live-work lots began coming into the neighborhood. We started organizing and fighting those developments, as they weren’t sensitive to issues around height and massing. Today we have 300-unit buildings coming in, but back then they were much smaller. We were a young neighborhood. We didn’t have a community organization or anything, but people began asking themselves, what if our interesting, industrial, rough-and-tumble vibe neighborhood goes away?”

Despite the displacement that occurred during this period, Dogpatch’s mixed-use character continued to attract creative artisans and makers; demographics that remain in the neighborhood in the form of a recent proliferation of breweries and shops where people create things using their hands.

According to Eslick, in 1999, when the City reinstated district elections for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, members of the fledgling Dogpatch Neighborhood Association saw the importance of learning about the neighborhood’s architectural history, particularly after an 1886 historic one-story duplex was demolished in 2000.  They educated the new District 10 Supervisor, Sophie Maxwell, about the area’s resources. Over four years, Eslick and others worked with Chris Verplanck – a preservation consultant who initially worked for San Francisco Heritage, then the architectural firm, Page & Turnbull – to conduct a study of Dogpatch’s history. The research identified 120 contributing properties – structures that bolster the significance of a historic district from an architectural or cultural standpoint – and cost the activists $35,000.

The efforts paid-off. The U.S. Department of the Interior named Dogpatch a “historic district” in 2002, listing the neighborhood in the National Register of Historic Places. Being on the Registry adds a layer of protection to contributing properties and the district’s historical aspects.  And it marked an important step in the emergence of DNA’s influence. “We would have DNA meetings at my house, Watermark Press and local cafes,” Eslick said. “We got branded very quickly and easily. We worked with Muni on getting light rail, as it wasn’t here yet.”

Eslick served as DNA vice president from 1999 to 2002.  John Borg, who still operates a business from Illinois Street, served as president.  In 2002, Eslick became president, a post she held until 2009. Today, Eslick continues her involvement as a DNA member and an elected board member of the Green Benefits District, a green space advocacy group for Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill.

“We created the GBD; I was on the formative committee of that,” explained Eslick. “You can’t keep putting people in an industrial area with no green space. That’s why GBD is so important.”

Janet Carpinelli has lived in Dogpatch since 1981, before the neighborhood was called “Dogpatch.”  In 1983, she purchased a fixer-upper Victorian on Minnesota Street.  Shortly after she bought her property she decided she wanted to help “…make my surroundings and neighborhood a more pleasant place to live and work and seeing other neighbors do the same,” Carpinelli said. She helped resurrect the Lower Potrero Hill Neighborhood Association in the mid-1980s, to provide Dogpatch residents with a greater voice in local politics and neighborhood issues.  When that effort dissipated, she joined the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association. 

Carpinelli became a DNA member in 1996.  In 1998, she helped develop a neighborhood plan for the Central Waterfront, and worked on efforts to create the Dogpatch Neighborhood Historic District. She also suggested that Friends of Potrero Hill Nursery School approach the San Francisco Unified School District to lease part of the historic Scott School yard for a new nursery school and teaching garden, which was completed in 2012.

After a six year term Carpinelli was ousted from her position as DNA president in 2015 by Bruce Huie in a hotly contested race.  A 23rd Street resident since 2001, Huie’s community involvement was sparked by concerns about the health and availability of open space near his home, which evolved into efforts to create Progress Park on Indiana Street.

“The spirit of what we’ve been doing is to transform what’s around our homes,” explained Huie. “So we’ve been creating small spaces where we can walk between. It’s like an emerald necklace of green spaces. My focus began with Progress Park; it was a labor of love. Mayor Lee made it an official City park in 2012.”

Huie explained that as Dogpatch moves from industrial to mixed-use residential, residents have become passionately engaged in topics such as the use of open space and parking changes. In addition to helping create Angel Alley, a street park near the Central Waterfront, and Dogpatch Playground, on 22nd Street, Huie was part of the three-year process to organize the GBD.

According to Huie, he vied to become DNA president because of a desire to get more people involved in the association. Hoping to engage the growing population in a purposeful way, he’s working on a survey about residents’ priorities for the neighborhood this fall. He expects Dogpatch’s population to double within the year, and triple within three years. Already DNA membership has doubled since 2015. There are now 150 members registered online.

Dogpatch merchants, Mark Dwight, owner of Rickshaw Bagworks, Patti Quill of Industrious Life, Michelle Pusateri of Nana Joes Granola, and Adam Gould of Dogpatch Capital, launched the Dogpatch Business Association in September, with a goal to create a more viable and cohesive business community in the neighborhood.

Gould, who rents an apartment on Indiana Street, and has lived in Dogpatch since 2009, launched his business in 2014, and began meeting more community stakeholders. He joined the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association, and has been a board member for more than a year. He’s DBA’s membership chair, focusing his efforts on outreach. According to Gould, DBA advocates expanding service for the E-Embarcadero Historic Streetcar Line, which begins its route at 25th and Third streets but doesn’t pick up passengers. Gould said that retrofitting the 25th Street platform to accommodate travelers would be a boon to Dogpatch’s retail and hospitality businesses.

“It’s the Dogpatch ethos, the feel that appeals to my personality,” commented Gould. “It’s edgy and industrial. I love that this neighborhood has such diverse subsets and still retains a bit of an edge. There are architects, chocolate makers, 3D printers, a whole range of people are here. This brings more people to the table and makes my life more interesting. People from other neighborhoods, like Sunset and Mission, have a good association with Dogpatch. I named my business after Dogpatch because I think it aligns with the spirit of the neighborhood itself.”