Parkmerced: Cultural Landscape Foundation Marvel of Modernism

As a plugged-in tipster notes, San Francisco’s Parkmerced has been named to the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s 2008 “Marvels of Modernism” list. From the Foundation:

Parkmerced was designed as “a city within a city” by architect Leonard Schultze and Associates with planning and landscape architecture by Thomas Church with Robert Royston.

Today, it is one of this country’s four remaining examples of large-scale, post-World War II residential developments. Unfortunately, there are numerous threats to the design, including plans by the current owners to subdivide portions of the site and make changes to the property’s pioneering landscape design.

From our tipster: “preservation = green + sustainable.” We’ll let you write your own equation. Bonus points for proof of work.

30 thoughts on “Parkmerced: A Cultural Landscape Foundation “Marvel of Modernism””
  1. Huh. The nice fellow I had a conversation with at the Que Syrah wine bar in West Portal who pays $140 a month or so to live in Park Merced, should be pleased at this obstacle to development. He had been attending all of these meetings, along with a lot of his neighbors. They are all understandably very worried. But what’s fair?

  2. It will be interesting when something built in the 80s will be argued as having historic value. Vibrant cities change.

  3. Parkmerced is a possible “national landmark candidate” and if you have stayed abreast of national issues, housing is a critical one, with the majority of home owners in crisis, and the need to provide basic shelter to the masses, the requirement is the have a balanced approach to development per the SF General Plan, and keep 50% rental and 50% for-profit. The lack of adequate rental housing development, at affordable base prices gives rise to sprawl in all of its negative environmental results. Adequate planning requires density, however without the transportation and basic infrastructure, there is a need to review such large scale “demolition” plans, and see the unsustainable issues involved in the total-tear-down of all the low-scale units. The landscape is the key feature, and the need to promote a compromise in terms of the density and proposal(s) on the landscape design is required to achieve a balanced approach. And not just the profit driven solution.

  4. I thought that the “demolition” plan involved building several thousand new units over 20 years or so, along with a new Muni station? I don’t remember every detail, but it sounded like the opposite of sprawl to me.

  5. Aaron – why do you describe the general plan as looking for 50% rental and 50% for-profit? Most rental units are for-profit. I assume you meant “for-sale”?
    Also – you can’t make an investment in transportation and basic infrastructure to support higher density unless you’re going to build higher density – so your “we can’t have higher density because the transportation and infrastructure” argument doesn’t work very well.

  6. I agree with Brutus. Aaron, are you off your rocker? There is no logic in your statement. I agree that there should be more rental apartments built in this city. Maybe the city should streamline the permit process and reduce developer fees to incentivise developers to build rentals. The city makes it difficult for developers. Just look at Bayview. It is taking forever to develop that huge parcel of land, which should have happened years ago.

  7. It’s hideous, blow it up and build more units at a more consistent height and make sure it’s served by MUNI and other alt. forms of transport.

  8. “It will be interesting when something built in the 80s will be argued as having historic value.”
    I think it will just mean we are getting old.
    I hope there can be a reasonable compromise with this land marking.

  9. a) every sprawl and pud development is another 10-20 units that eventually is 100-200 and than 1,000-10,000 over 10-20 years. The need to look at the quality of the spaces developed is a critical issue. The majority of developments currently in SF, lack open space, ammenities and adequate infrastructural growth and development.
    b) rentals provide profits, developers just refuse to build them, and when they do they are marginalized and minimalized in design and quality. Parkmerced was the opposite of this originally, and still retains for many a semblance of community and open space seldom seen in the towers being built downtown or the sprawl in the valley.
    c) the density and transportation work should occur, the question is where? on the laps of the most densley designed neighborhood in SF? or should we be looking at the suburban sprawl model, and the other single family home areas to share in the density requirements for “density-equity” in the development of cities?
    d) as to “hideous”, many tenants, immigrants, students, and longer term families that have raised multiple generations in Parkmerced would see differently. The issue is whether the landscape and design layout should be preserved, or the masterplan of SFSU and Parkmerced revised to respect the existing design. A question the recently approved Historical Preservation Commission should resolve, not a postee on a real estate website.

  10. Aaron, how in the world are you arriving at the conclusion that Parkmerced is the “most densely designed neighborhood in SF”? It’s one of the least dense neighborhoods in SF (by population density), in large part because it was designed to accomodate the automobile as much as the human.
    Developers refuse to build rental units? Is Trinity not building 1900 units on Market? How about the dozens of condo buildings that are now being converted to rental buildings?

  11. Araron writes: “rentals privide profits, developers just refuse to build them” There is no way to buy land, get permits and build a rental apartment in SF and make any kind of decent profit (I wonder if Aaron has any idea how much it costs to build an apartment unit in SF)…

  12. Location,
    I totally agree. That should be the tag line for San Francisco. For a city viewed as “progressive”, it is not very progressive, when it comes to real-estate development. If CA or SF built a BART/MUNI stop in the Marina in my backyard, I would welcome it. I would love to be able to hop on a train and be at SFO, or Walnut Creek, or Sonoma (if they built a train next to 101 North, which finally got passed by “progressive Marin”).
    Coming from Boston and CT, I am so unimpressed by the amount of public transportation in the bay area. Anyone whom says there is not enough density, just try to drive on 101 North or South or over the Bay Bridge at pretty much anytime of the day of the week. SF needs to become more progressive, if it wants to be a “green” city. FYI, NYC has the lowest greenhouse gas emission per person in the world. Maybe it is because few people, (none of my friends), have cars in NYC, while many people in SF own a car (75% of my friends in SF have cars, and could not get to work on time without one).

    1. Park La Brea is not “identical” look at the aireal views… Parkmerced was dispersed towers in the landscape, Park La Brea is central towers and surrounding low-scale…. big difference in planning, and beuax arts street grid, vs. the typical grid of SF…..

  13. MarinaRenter, while I agree with your tone, it is worth noting that the ONLY major city in the US with lower auto-ownership rates than SF is NYC. Boston, Chicago, DC, Philly, etc, are all MUCH higher. Also – the only major city in the US with higher per capita transit ridership than SF is NYC. Again, Boston, Chicago, DC, Philly, etc, are all MUCH lower.
    It just proves that auto ownership rates and transit usage are much more closely related to the ease/cost/availability of PARKING, not how good the transit is (as all of those cities except perhaps Philly have much better transit overall, but also much more/cheaper parking overall).
    Projects like this that have a light rail line close by – where the developer is going to PAY to re-route and build a new stop – should be an ABSOLUTE no-brainer. We can discuss how the extra units are built in the area, but they absolutely should be built. (Investigation of a Muni light rail connection to Daly City BART should be looked at as well)

  14. Fluj,
    The hyperbole seems to roll off of your tongue with little effort. Much surprise there. How’s 219 doing?

  15. Developers in San Francisco do continue to build rentals. Given the City’s hostility towards landlords, it is shocking that they do so. And, obviously, they don’t just “refuse to do so” — but they only do so when it makes economic sense.
    In any case, it is really tough to make an argument that San Francisco must have more rentals; as the percentage of rentals is already very high compared to other major cities. Why do we need more? (the comment about rents creating sprawl just makes no sense).
    As for Park Merced, Aaron really fails to make any case for why it should be preserved — other than that it has been there a long time and lots of people have lived there (but how is that different from any old building). I suspect he is just someone who is benefitting from the City’s rent control laws and feels entitled to continued subsidies. (But, of course, don’t expect him to explain why he or any other renter is entitled to be subsidized by others).

  16. NoeNeighbor, he deserves the subsidy because of Prop 13 which subsidize long term home owners, and their children/grandchildren.
    You can abolish rent control when you abolish Prop 13.

  17. Jorge at 10:04 p.m. said,
    The hyperbole seems to roll off of your tongue with little effort. Much surprise there. How’s 219 doing?”
    Jorge, I asked you to please stay away from me, and said that I would do the same. Here, you are out of context badgering me in a personal manner. The listing is doing fine. We got an offer, and countered. Feel free to email me with any problem you might have. I’m truly sorry to have said something that offended you if I did so.

  18. bdb,
    ” he deserves the subsidy because of Prop 13 which subsidize long term home owners, and their children/grandchildren.
    You can abolish rent control when you abolish Prop 13.”
    whatever you say. both help landowners and landlords at the expense of new entrants to the market…

  19. SF,
    Wow, you are quite mature with your comments. I would love to see you make those comments to someone in front of their face. It is easy to post degrading comments on a blog, when you pay no consequences for your language.
    I enjoy Socketsite for the intelligenet conversations from people with a variety of backgrounds, from finance to real-estate agents, from owners to rents, etc. One thing that I do not enjoy is when people badger one another with insults, such as yourself.
    I am aware of those statistics, and I do believe that the cost of parking influences people’s driving habits. SF does have a major advantage to Boston, Philly and DC, in terms of non-driving transportation…pleasant weather and great biking lanes (I know that they could be improved, but they are better than most cities in the US, kudos to SF Bicycle Coalition). Many of my friends (“douchebag as referred to by SF”) are able to walk or even bike to work in the dead of “winter” (I can’t even call SF weather in Nov-March a winter, haha). This provides a great advantage to SF in terms of statistics related to car ownership.

  20. Aaron, Park Merced is nowhere near the densest neighborhood in the City. As other posters have mentioned, rentals are getting built and flipped from condo in the City as well.
    Morgan, Park LaBrea in LA was the same designer/developer, there’s another one (or two?) elsewhere that I can’t recall.
    NoeNeighbor, the City’s hostility to landlords that you cite does not apply to new rentals for all practical purposes which are exempt from both rental and eviction controls so that, in part, explains how new rentals are developed.
    SF, grow up. Editor, you should remove this comment.

  21. a) Park La Brea (lacks the landscape outlay and design integrity of parkmerced)
    Peter Cooper Stuysevant Town (NYC)
    Park Fairfax Virginia (already on the National Landmarks list)
    b) the site mentioned downtown lacks open space and ammenities and probably will be the most dense building site when completed. Parkmerced due to the integration of towers and town-house units contains the largest units, and the most dense area planned unit development in the city. It could be considered one of the first bay area Transit Orientated Developments.
    c) as to why it should be preserved, visit, than visit, and than do a google map of SF urban areas, and look for open space and green park-like integration in communities of renters and home-owners. (non-existent). The Presidio is nice but non-accessible, the Golden Gate Park is great if you can afford the proximity and inflated rents, and parkmerced due to the lack of new rentals being built faces consistent pressures of a lack of new units being built citywide, and SFSU overcrowding which pushes out families.
    d) As to my rent-control status, I have lived here 3 years, my rent is 1705/month and similar units now rent for 2300+ in the area… (increase occured in the last year +/- due to construction and refurbishing of units. The majority of the issues of rent control surround the lack of new affordable base units being built, I would be willing to pay $2000 per month but not more for a 2 bedroom. The need to have a somewhat affordable alternative for ALL families working in SF is required to have a semblance of development-equity and balance.
    e) yes I know the expenses of building construction, yet the lack of “pied-a-terre’s” exhibits why we should be building rentals and not just housing for the elite… The critics mostly live outside the city and have a nice home with lots of agricultural land and a lawn. The need to change the rules and game is required to balance the needs of the many vs. the few…

  22. …and the most dense area planned unit development in the city. It could be considered one of the first bay area Transit Orientated Developments.
    What in the world are you talking about? There is no way, shape, or form that ParkMerced could be considered the most dense of anything in the city. Numerous planned developments are much denser than Parkmerced – all of Mission Bay, for example. All of the northern parts of the city, for example (those streets and lots were planned, even though they were developed by different people – they didn’t just pop up randomly). Even if you’re saying it’s the most dense “big” development managed by one entity, you’re wrong there – The Gateway downtown is MUCH more dense:
    And there are numerous “transit oriented developments” in the city, like you know, MOST of the city. The city was built along cable car and street car lines radiating from downtown. DEVELOPMENTS were ORIENTED along this TRANSIT for decades before Parkmerced was even conceived.
    On your point “C”, the vast majority of neighborhoods in SF have open space in the form of backyards, in addition to parks sprinkled throughout. You named two large parks, but forgot the Marina Green, Lafayette Park, the Panhandle, Alamo Square, Dolores Park, all of the open space around the Ferry Building, Buena Vista, McLaren Park, Lincoln Park, etc, etc. Google it and see.

  23. Aaron, have you been to Park LaBrea? The two complexes, LaBrea and Merced, are not identical but certainly very similar and with roughly equivalent amounts of open space. I visited the site you mentioned and found it completely un-compelling. There can be such a thing as “wasted” open space that does not contribute to the landscape or pedestrian experience whatsoever. Park Merced with it’s Corbusian towers in the park design has lots of nice grass for viewing from your auto, but its not exactly the kind of place that a pedestrian would enjoy. Some of the most dense and crowded urban neighborhoods in SF and elsewhere have very little open space and far greater density but are places that are far more interesting vital and urban than the sterile monotony of Merced. What open space exists becomes celebrated, well-used, and a community gathering spot, not a pristine suburban greenbelt void.

  24. No way anyone would approve Parkmerced being developed in this pattern in San Francisco today, nor should they. It represents the worst of the post WW II suburban development pattern – a land use pattern that has absolutely nothing to do with San Francisco; abstract pattern making that might look pretty to seagulls but is baffling to the human on the ground; extremely low density; tiny townhouse units; very poor construction of the townhouse buildings that are now leaking and harboring mold; complete dependence on the automobile; large amounts of relatively unusable open space broken into little bits and pieces, single land-use pattern with no retail services; “architecture” that looks like a 1950s public housing project; etc. etc. If we are going to get serious about stemming climate change, redevelopment of this suburban development is a great place to start.

  25. “a city within a city”??? You are calling Parkmerced a city? What a joke. Can you find any decent grocery store in this “city”? The only truth in this label is that Parkmerced is so isolated that it is not really an integral part of the San Francisco city.

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