CFAH

740 Washington Site
As 740 Washington currently looks above, and as is (roughly) proposed below.
740 Washington Proposed Design

The proposed project would involve the demolition of an existing vacant, 41-foot high, three-story-over-basement, 13,500-square-foot building constructed in 1907 in the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco. It would include the construction of a four-story-over basement with mezzanine, 50-foot-tall, 17,336-sq.ft. building, which would contain a new institutional use, a ground-floor senior center (4,450 square feet), 18 affordable senior residential units in the upper floors (9,578 sq.ft.), and storage and building service space in the basement (3,308 sq.ft.).

A fair number of Conditional Use authorizations, variances and approvals would be required to proceed (height, bulk, coverage, shadows, etc.). And yet all of which might seem trivial as compared to the following:

The Historic Preservation Commission will review and comment on the Draft EIR, including preservation alternatives and building design, because the site is located in the National Register-eligible Chinatown Historic District.

In fact, the building is listed on the California Register as a contributor to the District.
740 Washington: Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) [SFGov]
Landmarks Preservation: Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire? [SocketSite]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by archrival

    I lived for a time in Washington DC and that city did a great job preserving historic facades and building modern buildings behind. Why isn’t this building’s facade being preserved?

  2. Posted by The Drizzler

    Well, one reason they might not want to preserve the facade is because it’s ugly. Seriously, what exactly would make you want to preserve that? Just the fact that it’s brick?

  3. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    archrival wrote:

    [Washington D.C.] did a great job preserving historic facades and building modern buildings behind. Why isn’t this building’s facade being preserved?

    Well, that could be one of the options recommended by The Historic Preservation Commission when they “review and comment on the Draft EIR, including preservation alternatives and building design.” The applicant here looks like a non-profit (“Self Help for the Elderly”), so this will probably be resolved one way or another without a lot of sturm und drang.

  4. Posted by BT

    In this rare case, my initial reaction is to go with the preservationists. Yeah, “the fact that it’s brick” has something to do with it, “real” brick being an increasingly rare building material in SF and giving a solidity to a street wall.
    But the new structure is to be only 9 feet taller. It seems to me a way should be possible to keep at least the facade and still achieve the desired uses and before it’s torn down I like to see what architects can come up with.

  5. Posted by Jeff

    I don’t think the facade is ugly. It doesn’t look modern, but just you wait – all that stained fir siding that you see these days will end up being the exterior equivalent of the “avacado fridge”.
    There’s a lot to be said for building something new behind the facade (like a new SFH for yours truly ;-).

  6. Posted by jlasf

    Here’s an example from DC of what archrival is suggesting:
    http://encyclopedia.gwu.edu/gwencyclopedia/images/9/9f/Gw62.jpg
    It’s a bad picture and not a great example, but just trying to clarify the point. And, in this case, I agree.
    btw, since archrival is recommending preservation perhaps there should be a name change to “archival.”

  7. Posted by rubber_chicken

    Preserving an unreinforced brick facade in a seismic zone is an extremely expensive proposition and should not be inflicted on anyone unless the original is a real gem. Merely being old isn’t enough of a reason.

  8. Posted by Live Smart

    Let them build it – it is an ugly brick building with no real historical significance. They are replacing it with safe and affordable senior housing managed by a reputable non-profit, Self Help For The Elderly. It isn’t some seedy slumlord SRO, or market-rate luxury condos.
    Do we really want to destroy a community by letting another vacant dilipidated building not being put to its highest and best use?

  9. Posted by lolcat_94123

    18 units from 9578 sqft seems cramped – a bunch of 532 sqft studios?

  10. Posted by noearch

    The brick building facade offers no special historical contribution to the neighborhood. Tear it down and build the new facility. It looks fairly handsome and appropriate for the street scale.
    The Historic Preservation Commission has too much power.

  11. Posted by hhatmm

    A breath of fresh air. It’s nice to see this building replaced with clean buildings. I’ve eaten here before and nothing architectural significant or redeeming inside or out. Nearby was a similar building, a relative ask me if he should purchase around the corner. The building was fire trap, seismic hazards and health hazard (rats)that I told him to run for life away from the deal as it’ll cost him a bundle to bring to just to code excluding the bells and whistles to modernize cosmetically. His pre-bid estimate came in at $2 mil just for the sprinkler and structural upgrade of a UMB. That put the nail to the coffin on that deal. Some of these buildings in chinatown are so incredibily worn it’s not worth keeping unless it’s truly historical redeeming. For the health and welfare of the community, in this particular situation, I rather see a safe and clean new building that honors the past than forcing the owner to kow tow to nonsensical politics and economics.

  12. Posted by Signica

    We should acknowledge in Chinatown of all places that the streetscape is significant, people come from all over the world to see this historic neighborhood. This is not only about the merits of this particular building, but also about the visual continuity of the area, a continuity that would suffer if this building were replaced by a nondescript contemporary structure such as the one proposed.

  13. Posted by hhatmm

    I think the new building won’t be nondescript. It’s actually has bit more detail than the existing. What’s shown is just a flat graphic rendering. Once built, its textural quality and form will come through better…unless they mess up royally by poor detailing and material choice. I’m not too alarmed and would let them go forward with a leap of faith. As it ages, it will patina and if in…not like the Holiday Inn…now that’s a mistake.

  14. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    “We should acknowledge in Chinatown of all places that the streetscape is significant, people come from all over the world to see this historic neighborhood.”
    They come to see boarded up windows on a vacant, non-descript, brick building???
    Seriously, take a long hard look at that building. The street level facade has clearly been redone numerous times, most recently late 70’s early 80’s by the style of it. The second floor has a giant boarded up hole on the right hand side and the windows on the third floor are all boarded up from the inside.
    I know Chinatown has it’s character and I will admit there may be a case for perserving this building but if there is no one willing to perserve it and the area can get a new senior center to keep it’s long term residents in the neighborhood isn’t that the greater good?

  15. Posted by diemos

    Dammit! That’s historic plywood!

  16. Posted by OneEyedMan

    Is Chinatown about tourists, or long time asian residents? If you look above street level on 90% of these *historic* buildings you’ll see a bunch of sh!t hole SRO’s. Getting 18 local seniors out of these fire traps and into decent housing is well worth sacrificing an already ravaged facade on a vacant building.

  17. Posted by Toady

    It’s a neighborhood. Let. It. Evolve.
    If we are so concerned about historical “streetscape,” why aren’t we kicking out the Latinos to preserve the Mission’s historical Irish roots?

  18. Posted by marvinsnephew

    I think the design is cool. It is modern, yet still picks up on the character of Chinatown with the glassy street level, windows above and what appears to be some kind of a cornice in the same place as the one on the existing building. I agree with OneEyedMan that we ought to be paying attention to the people who live in SF and know that the tourists are coming to see everything, not just Chinatown. And how many tourists have you seen hanging out at Portsmouth Square. Seems like its all locals – the same Chinese seniors who will live in this building!

  19. Posted by Signica

    At the very least the facade should be preserved, better yet, the whole building. There is a lot of discussion here about green building practices, but we tend to overlook the idea of reuse. The owners shouldn’t have acquired a building in a historic district if they viewed it only as an empty lot. With the design of the Square itself, the parking structure below it, the Hilton and its bridge–Portsmouth Square has lost enough. How soon until this appears as an extension of the Financial district rather than Chinatown? This is not only about aesthetics–preserving the character of the area does help tourism, which in turn helps the residents. Its clear that in Chinatown, and in San Francisco as a whole, we depend on tourism and we should take it seriously.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles