807 Franklin Street: 2015

If you have ever crossed San Francisco on Franklin Street, we’d be willing to bet you’ve noticed the rundown Italianate at 807 Franklin, on the west side of the street just after Turk.

Built for the Englander family in 1880, the home’s carriage house burned to the ground in 1950, leaving half the home’s 75-foot-wide lot empty to the north.  And in 1982, the property was bequeathed to the First Baptist Church of San Francisco.

Sold to a private party in 1991, the then-owner subsequently filed for bankruptcy and the property hit the market in 2013 listed for $2.2 million and sold to Brown & Company for $2,650,000. As we noted at the time, “while the existing house is protected [as a historical resource] and in need of “major repairs,” with a lot that’s zoned for 80 feet in height and high density development, the listing touts “tremendous potential for high rise condos” to rise on the undeveloped half of the lot.”

Having sat mostly undisturbed for the past two years, save a squatter or two, a reader has noticed a little activity on the lot, is hopefully the aforementioned “major repairs” are about to take place, and wonders if we know what’s going on. So here’s the scoop:

Plans to renovate the Italianate are in the works, but as foreshadowed above, plans to build an 8-story building on the northern half of the lot are in the works as well, a development which shouldn’t catch any plugged-in readers by surprise.

As proposed, the 80-foot tall building will consist of 51 apartments over a basement garage, a garage which will extend below the Italianate as well. And 807 Franklin will be turned into a six-unit building, with a new third-floor set back from the historic front façade.

In terms of timing, the proposed development is currently under review by the Planning Department and the project has yet to be approved. But permits to fix the existing hazardous stairs and seal up the building have been issued, which is why there is a bit of activity on the site today.

As always, we’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    I get the point of preserving historical buildings but in this case it just seems a bit… I don’t know…

    • Posted by Serge

      Why not? Looks like a fine house to save. If we didn’t lose thousands of homes during Mr. Herman’s urban renewal, maybe we wouldn’t be pressed to save what we have left.

  2. Posted by friscan

    In this case, preservation seems worth the extra effort. It’s an especially fine Italianate, and right on the famous (and surviving) dividing line of the dynamited homes along Van Ness to stop the ’06 fire. I am a big fan of high-density infill on Van Ness …but I think integrating this rehabbed building as an anchor feature in a larger construction project could make it an immediately, uniquely and appealingly distinctive presence on Van Ness.

    • Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

      But if you’re gonna preserve, then preserve for real. The north facade will be barely visible with a condo building a few feet from it.

  3. Posted by BobN

    Six units? That’s too bad. It was a grand single family.

    • Posted by Orland

      Yeah, when built Franklin was probably conducive to such a grand SFH, but now multi-unit seems to make more sense.

      • Posted by BobN

        If the developer snagged the gas station, too, they could move the house around the corner. (Pointless day-dreamy musing.)

        • Posted by BTinSF

          And it would then become just that much harder to buy gas in this part of San Francisco. I’ve been using that station for 30 years and watching the alternatives disappear, one by one. If I live long enough, I expect I’ll have to drive to the suburbs to fill my tank, but for now I’m glad your idea is absurd.

          • Posted by BobN

            “Ridiculously unlikely” I’d be OK with, but “absurd”? Humph.

          • Posted by Jake

            If you have been driving for 30 years, then you have already bought most of the gas you will use in your lifetime, unless you dramatically change your driving habits or vehicle. If you live long enough, you will probably buy an electric car and never use a gas station again.

          • Posted by Ep

            If this remains a gas station forever, it’ll become that much harder to buy housing in this part of San Francisco. I’ve been using the city for housing for almost 10 years and watching the alternatives disappear. If I live long enough, I expect I’ll have to move to the exurbs to find a place to live, but for now I’m glad your idea of preserving high value land for suburban-style gas stations is absurd.

          • Posted by moto mayhem

            Ep. if you own, why would you have to move? If you rent, why havent you saved to own?

          • Posted by BTinSF

            Indeed moto mayhem. I bought shortly before I started using that station (33 years ago to be more precise) because it was convenient and I certainly haven’t regretted it. The Van Ness corridor is one of the city’s denser areas and so the suggestion there’s no place for people to live there doesn’t even come close t being factual. But here’s an idea: Let’s close this station and put up an econobox for Ep to live in, then we can bulldoze a replacement station out of a block somewhere in Noe Valley or the Haight. The trade-off would probably be at least 4 to 1; 8 generic modern homes crated for maybe 2 with character sacrificed.

  4. Posted by alfonso ribeiro breaking board

    too bad they cut down the bougainvillea which used to grow along the northerly wall. that thing was bestial + awesome

    • Posted by Serge

      My thoughts as well. It looks quite drab as an empty lot now. Back when the bougainvilleas were overgrowing it made for quite attractive lot.

    • Posted by Binky Brown

      I looked every time I passed and was sad when it was removed several months ago.

    • Posted by Lisa

      Yes a green space. And build condo’s in abandoned buildings around the city.

  5. Posted by sassyboyfrisco

    Finally…good use of xtra land lot so let’s build build build…and restore restore restore that lovely old home.

    • Posted by 4th gen SF'er

      I hope they paint it a better color. The building is gorgeous. It just needs a better palette.

  6. Posted by Britta

    This is a neat house; I’m glad some of it will get preserved. I collected some notes about it on LocalWiki after I walked by it a few months ago.

    • Posted by Futurist

      Very nice history. thanks for sharing.

    • Posted by Conifer

      I too met the owner years ago, and he certainly did not allow its deterioration willingly. It is unfortunate that the interior will not be preserves as the single family house it was created to be. As I have suggested before, the ongoing destruction of great SF interiors — whether by the white shoebox crowd or as part of a large development as here — will someday soon be regretted, a lack of cultural sophistication in a city that used to be the more sophisticated part of California. It really is a pity.

      • Posted by Britta

        Yeah, after doing some web research out of ordinary curiosity about a beautiful isolated house in disrepair, I ended up with an extra affection for it because the previous owner clearly loved it very much. I wonder if there’s any hope in figuring out whether there are any public planning review meetings and showing up there to ask for at least some interior preservation.

      • Posted by alfonso ribeiro breaking board

        the chopping up of Victorian interiors is hardly a new phenomenon

      • Posted by Serge

        +1 to this. One day we’ll have no more stunning interiors left and be left with drab, cold and soulless “remodels” that belong in an IKEA catalog. Perhaps properties designated a historic resource will one day require that the interiors be left intact. Much like our national parks and other cultural treasures must be protected, it may require gov’t intervention (that this free market capitalist is not the biggest fan of).

    • Posted by Serge

      Thank you for this! Love reading up on the provenance of historic homes.

  7. Posted by redseca2

    Of all the negatives a property in San Francisco can have, being next to a gas station is near the top. For that reason I think the Italianate victorian may best serve as a buffer between the new tower and the gas station.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      Doesn’t compare to being near a fire station. We could ban those . . . and emergency rooms and bars. Actually, when you rank noise sources in a city, gas stations are quite low. Filling your tank is usually a quiet affair.

  8. Posted by inclinejj

    Not to mention the 24 hour noise from the gas station but I bet the dirt under the house is toxic as well!!

    • Posted by BTinSF

      The noise from the gas station doesn’t compare with the noise from traffic on Franklin (comparable to other new construction on Market, Octavia Blvd, Geary, Gough, Folsom and so on) and the house has no windows on the side facing the station. I see no issue here. Do you think any toxic substances in the soil are going to leech into your dinner 2+ floors up?

      • Posted by redseca2

        Just so your kids wear hazmats suits when they play in the backyard.

        When they built the Kaiser MOB on the north side of Geary in the 1990’s, an entire stratum of soil had to be removed and taken to a containment site. The pollution came from a gas station that had once been on the southwest corner of Geary and Divisadero, 8 lanes of traffic and 100 yards downhill from the MOB.

        • Posted by alfonso ribeiro breaking board

          the lot is uphill though

  9. Posted by Wm.C.

    Please note that 807 Franklin was in the final scene of “Days of Wine & Roses” starring Jack Lemmon & Lee Remick ( about 1962 ). Lemmon’s character is shown as finally leaving his wife ( Remick ) as he walks out the door & past the gas station.

    • Posted by Notcom

      Since this building is again in the news, and perhaps people are interested in it, I should point out that “Wm.C.”‘s claim appears to be incorrect (of course one might cry “he said vs. he said”, but the linked info provides a number of seemingly irrefutable observations.)

  10. Posted by daved

    Happy to see that this lovely building will be preserved in some form. And moving homes in SF does have a long tradition, back to the times when drayage and property were cheaper than lumber and skilled carpenters. And I’d much rather have a larger building along Franklin and take this Italianate to Hayes Valley where it might get more sun and less road dust.

    I can’t help but wonder, though, could this be a foreshadowing of a new kind of urban renewal? Will historically significant “resources” be transported to museum/theme park neighborhoods? I have a mixed feelings if this the trend. It’s great that we’re saving buildings and maximizing the use of land by creating more housing in a city that desperately needs housing. I also think it would be strange to live on a block of 100+ year old buildings many of which were newer to the neighborhood than me.

    It may be that that is the new reality (and there are so many realities that are far worse). I guess it begs the question, “How do the buildings (and their provenance) create and sustain the character of a neighborhood?”

    • Posted by George

      The Ohlone natives may have asked a similar question, had their medicine man conjured, chanting over his ritual firepit at what is now 807 Franklin, a shimmering vision from 250 years in the future.

      Each successive incarnation of a site, no matter how iffy the currents that drive it, adds to the evolving character of a spot, and eventually becomes the new thing to be preserved – or not. Curiously, each successive generation of people who interact with it have also evolved, along with the landscape, to vibrate with the contemporaneous zeitgeist. Life goes on.

      Meanwhile, this town is an astonishingly nourishing mix of heritage.

      Alas, minus the Ohlones…but maybe they bequeathed some felicitous foundational energy resonance that has been a grounding, enriching influence on the evolution of this extraordinary city’s vibe.
      Will the same be said of us?

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