Unofficial Historic Buildings Indentified in Dogpatch

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The Dogpatch Historic District was officially designated by the San Francisco Planning Department in 2003, becoming the City’s eleventh such quarter. Roughly located between Indiana and Third; 18th and Tubbs streets, it consists of residential, industrial and commercial buildings, the oldest of which was built in 1870. 

Historic districts impose stringent design guidelines for new developments, and restrict the modifications property owners can make to buildings that have been deemed historic resources.  However, not all properties within a historic district are considered historic resources, and thus protected. Buildings can be “contributing” – possess historical significance and architectural attributes that are integral to the district’s historicity – or “non-contributing” – modern, or inconsistent with the district’s historic resources criteria.  Property values typically rise more rapidly in historic districts than elsewhere.

Several Dogpatch Neighborhood Association members are identifying non-contributing buildings that may be worth preserving as historical resources. For these structures, future developers are presently free to determine whether or not to preserve their overall footprint and other aspects that are reminiscent of the community’s past.

“There are a number of buildings we consider to be essential to Dogpatch,” said Bruce Huie, DNA president. “The intent is to recognize that they contribute to the distinct character of the neighborhood. The list is of properties with historic value compiled by neighbors. They’re not officially designated as historic resources, but were suggested as examples of properties that have historic value that neighbors want to see preserved in the context of ongoing development.”

With a torrent of development washing over the neighborhood, Huie hopes that existing buildings will be reused to preserve the structures’ footprint and historical character. The initiative is in its inception; it hasn’t been decided whether a historic preservation consultant will be engaged to study the edifices and pursue official historical resource designation, a costly process.

Huie cited the Minnesota Street Project as an example of good historic preservation that maintained the original structural footprint. The Project was founded by Andy and Deborah Rappaport; designed by Jensen Architects. The property consists of three warehouses that provide affordable space for artists and nonprofit organizations. Though voluntarily preserved by their owners, both 1275 Minnesota and another Minnesota Street Project edifice, 1240 Minnesota Street, are on the DNA’s list of structures that lack official designation as historical resources. Others include the old Potrero Police Station on Third Street, two American Industrial Center buildings, and the Dogpatch Saloon, 2496 Third Street.

DNA member, Charles Smith, added the brick building housing the Potrero Square Lofts, 701 Minnesota Street, to the list. The structure was built in 1906 as a warehouse for bottling and storage of liquor and wine, and converted into a loft building in 1993 by the Minnesota Development Company and Pyatok Architects. According to Smith, Pyatok Architects won a Golden Nugget Grand Award at the 1994 Pacific Coast Builders Conference for their rehabilitation work.

DNA member, Katherine Doumani, believes historic preservation is important, but that determining what protections to give to which buildings can be a confusing and slippery process. She advocated for greater understanding and recognition of historic buildings and the value that historic designation offers.

“Just because a building is old doesn’t mean that it doesn’t tell a story,” said Doumani. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Not every building needs to be preserved, but if you remake an entire place and you lose all traces of what was there, then you lose a sense of place. That unique sense of place is what makes Dogpatch so popular and so coveted by those who want to develop it. It’s a ‘catch 22’, which makes it even more vulnerable.”

According to Topher Delaney, artist at Delaney + Chin, based at 600 Illinois Street, it’s important that DNA engage professionals to help guide criteria for determining what’s of historical value, recognizing that there’s a profound difference between protecting personal taste and safeguarding history.

“This is a restrictive movement to the enormous amount of development, and there are some really thoughtful people that want control,” Delaney commented. “So, it’s a question of whether it’s community control or personal control. We’re in the middle of an extremely complex shift, and no one is bad here, but there needs to be more coordination. I think it’s an issue where organizations become podiums for people’s personal points of view, and we need to be very careful about this. We need to honor these people who devote their time to being active in community organizations, but we also have to be wary of personal interests.”

Many Dogpatch Historic District buildings are residential.  Dogpatch resident and San Jose State University professor of architecture and design, John Loomis, believes that the neighborhood’s wealth of industrial buildings was gerrymandered out of the District. “The Historic Resource Evaluations (HRE) for these industrial buildings are created by consultants for developers wanting to tear them down, and the consultants do their best to deliver to their client,” Loomis said. “This system of evaluation is rife with lapse of ethics, conflict of interest and outright corruption. Hence, we lost the Bowie Switch Company factory, which actually met all three criteria for the National Register of Historic Places criteria, which the HRE consultants ignored.” Loomis, along with Janet Carpinelli, Green Benefit District board member, are identifying historic buildings in Dogpatch that were overlooked by the HRE process.

“The beauty of Dogpatch is that people — including the Potrero Archives Project — are coming together to uncover and preserve these stories about the neighborhood,” offered Doumani. “It’s important to collect these stories and recognize our past before it’s lost forever, so that we don’t go into the future blindly.”

Greg Markoulis, AIC manager, thinks that historic preservation should be evaluated on a case by case basis; if no one wants to put money into restoring a building, then the structure is not worth saving.

“Every time I see a building crumbling before my eyes I feel sick to my stomach,” Markoulis said. “The old police station has been sitting vacant for the last 20 to 25 years and has had at least three fires plus ongoing vandalism. It’s an eyesore, and I would rather them tear it down and put in a parking lot than have it just sit there in the current condition. If you want to keep it there, then restore it and repurpose it. Don’t let it just decay; anything is better than that, whether it be residential, retail, commercial or a parking lot.”