Transamerica Pyramid (Image Source:
San Francisco’s Planning Department has recently completed a comprehensive Historic Context Statement for Modern Architecture and Landscape Design in San Francisco between 1935 and 1970 in order to provide a “framework for consistent, informed evaluations of San Francisco’s Modern buildings and landscapes.”

The Period of Significance 1935-1970 was chosen because it best represents the evolution and zenith of Modern design in San Francisco.

The mid-1930s witnessed a confluence of events significant to the development of Modern architecture in San Francisco. In January 1935, Architect & Engineer published a photo spread of the first Modern residential building constructed in San Francisco – the Cowell House designed by architects Morrow & Morrow in 1933. Pioneering International Style architect Richard Neutra designed the first of five buildings in San Francisco in 1935. The Golden Gate and Bay Bridges were nearing completion, opening up downtown San Francisco and solidifying its role as the region’s financial, corporate and industrial center. The Federal Housing Administration’s “Modernize Main Street” campaign was in full swing in San Francisco, spurring construction of Streamline Moderne commercial storefronts. By 1937, master builder Henry Doelger had introduced Streamline Moderne styles in his residential tract developments.

By the late 1960s, Modernism had largely peaked in San Francisco, although some sub-styles, such as the Third Bay Tradition, were just emerging. During the 1960s, Modern architects and landscape architects designed iconic skyscrapers, urban landscapes, and master-planned developments such as Diamond Heights. However, a growing backlash to the perceived sterility of Modern design and concerns about the energy inefficiencies of Downtown’s glass-clad buildings dampened public enthusiasm for Modern architecture.

The era’s final dramatic Modern design – the Transamerica Pyramid – marks the end of the exuberance and innovation that characterized San Francisco’s Modern Age.

With approximately 51,000 buildings constructed between 1935 and 1970, more than a third of San Francisco’s total building stock and 97 percent of which were residential, the report is well worth a read even if you’re not an architecture or design buff.
The Context Statement will be presented to San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission tomorrow with the Planning Department’s recommendation to adopt.
Modern Design Historic Context Statement Report []
San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission Agenda: 2/2/11 []

One thought on “San Francisco’s Modern Era Of Design And Development”
  1. Incredible piece of work. Hat tip to the authors. Socketsite got the photo credit for 270 Castenada Avenue. 🙂
    Glad I’m not an architect as I would be pouring over this document. Lot’s of great content and insights. I like the full register of Thomas Church clients. Man, that guy was busy.
    Thanks for posting this link.

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