CFAH

802-808 Setiner: Revised Rendering
Amongst the items on the agenda for San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission this Wednesday, a review of the revised designs as rendered above for three new homes to rise along Steiner down the street from San Francisco’s historic Postcard Row.
802-808 Steiner Revised Rendering
Once again, the proposed project would demolish the non-historic portions to the north of 940 Grove (which would be renovated for single-family use) and build three new four story single-family houses to be known as 802, 804 and 808 Steiner.
802-808 Steiner Design Revised
The original massings for the project and as the block and buildings currently appear:
802-808 Steiner Existing
Whiter Than The Colgate Mansion (But Not As “Improved”): 940 Grove [SocketSite]
The Designs For Three New Houses Below SF’s Historic Postcard Row [SocketSite]
A Future Postcard Row: Three Houses That Don’t Yet Exist [SocketSite]
Historic Preservation Commission Agenda: December 7, 2011 [sf-planning.org]
940 Grove Street And 802-808 Steiner As Proposed [sfplanning.org]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    These need to be painted in Playskool primary colors to complete the effect.

  2. Posted by Snark17

    Boring yet tacky 1980s’s style– what a waste of a prime parkside location.

  3. Posted by anon$random

    those are awful looking homes and should not be allowed on principle.

  4. Posted by LD

    Embarrassing how low the level of design has sunk. Just when I thought it could not get any worse here in San Francisco.

  5. Posted by lol

    The devil will be in the detailing of the surfaces. How the flat renderings will turn out in terms of texture and relief.
    They could do something really beautiful with these masses.

  6. Posted by roos

    Saying it’s better than what’s currently there is damnation by faint praise. This is one of the most photographed sites in all of SF and any architect who would consider this their best work should be ashamed to attach their name to the project. And any developer who would value engineer this as their best bet to go in front of the preservation committee needs to learn that they have bad taste.

  7. Posted by midcentfan

    These look like lame ski condos in Incline Village.

  8. Posted by futurist

    Maybe the best approach is to confront the architect, Louis Felthouse at 1663 Mission St. and ask him why these proposed new homes are such
    pieces
    of
    crap.

  9. Posted by James

    no, the best approach is to acknowledge that the architect has his hands tied from the outset by the planning commission. Take your complaints to the ones actually making the decisions.

  10. Posted by futurist

    NO, you’re completely wrong. There are good buildings that get designed and built in this city by talented architects who ALSO have to work with the Planning Dept. and Planning Commission.
    Blaming poor design on the public officials is purely an excuse and a very weak one at that.

  11. Posted by Oy

    Someday, when the vics have burnt down in the Great Conflagration after the 2??6 earthquake, and these are the only three structures to survive, preservationists will rally to ensure that nothing be rebuilt around them and that they serve as a reminder to generations of tourists of San Francisco’s legendary Age of Timidity.
    Granted, the tours won’t be as titillating as the current tales of debauchery and eccentricity that describe our City’s origins, but like many in middle age, we are what we are and we are boring…

  12. Posted by Legacy Dude

    Maybe one of you architectural masters out there could show us what you would do differently? Let’s see some of your divinely sublime transcendental genius (feel free to choose your own meaningless design buzzwords, of course).

  13. Posted by sf builder

    All,
    My first reaction is that I agree with all the negative comments — these are boring, somewhat ugly, etc etc etc. But, then I gave it some more thought, and realized what a trap this project is. (ANd, we’re just discussing the facade here as it relates to “postcard row”, not the interiors at all.)
    First, the architect is dealing with a 25 foot wide by approximately 40 foot high facade. That is all they have to work with. The first ten feet is already destined to be a garage door and a staircase. The top ten feet is 99% pre-determined to be a peaked roof.
    That leaves VERY LITTLE for any designer to work with.
    My personal vote would be for either newly built Victorians, or outstanding modern design, but my understanding is that SF Planning won’t allow either of these choices. So…the design we see above is about all anyone can do. For all the haters out there, I don’t like them much either, but what else can really be done here given the rules in SF?
    ‘lol’ has it right – devil is in the details of the surfaces.

  14. Posted by sf

    DISGUSTING.

  15. Posted by futurist

    @sf builder: Most SF lots are very similar to this with very similar requirements within the 40′ height limit. Entry stairs and garages are pretty much given for any similar residence.
    But:
    That does not mean they have “very little” to work with. Again, another weak excuse by someone not trained as an architect.
    And it’s also not true that SF Planning will not “allow” modern design. Simply false. Patently false. As an outstanding example go look at the high end residence at the corner of Broadway and Divisadero. Exemplary example of a very modern (and very expensive) single family residence. That design comes from outstanding talent and expertise. The design did not come from the Planning Dept.
    To this project, I would ask: What about flat roofs? Workable and not to slavish to the standard peaked roof houses adjacent. Vary the materials. Vary the window shapes. Get rid of the glass gables. Vary the stair rail designs. Get rid of the Home Depot garage doors.
    These houses do have potential, with much re-design by a more talented architect.

  16. Posted by lol

    sf builder,
    Thanks.
    I agree this is a challenge considering the prerequisites.
    Also, the genuine Postcard Row is more 1 block South. I do not see many tourists snapping pics of the lower segment of the row, probably because of the current cheapo whitewashing of the 2 existing boxes and their mothership. Maybe that will change once these units are built, who knows? If they’re planning to market high end clients looking for a trophy pied-a-terre, I am sure they’ll do something pretty amazing.
    Anything else would be a real shame because this is where you could get the most bangs for the bucks, imho. The price they got on the property was really reasonable. If they have a good hold on building costs, they have a lot to play with.

  17. Posted by shza

    To this project, I would ask: What about flat roofs?
    One of sf builder’s points was that there is zero chance that flies before the commission in this location. Obviously.
    What you dismiss as “slavish to the standard peaked roof houses adjacent” (rightly, as a matter of aesthetics), the commission views as historical conformity and a requirement.
    For the record, I also find these places underwhelming and ugly but if you’re going to make suggestions, make them halfway realistic.

  18. Posted by Oy

    “the architect is dealing with a 25 foot wide by approximately 40 foot high facade.”
    Presumably, the architect who has been consulting with the developer from the beginning had some input into creating the 27 1/2 lots (IIRC). Also, these new homes are shorter than anything else on the block and 90% of the structures around the park.

  19. Posted by futurist

    And what I say is this: SF builder is offering pure speculation that the roofs will be 99% peaked. Not true, and not required. There are many examples of well designed new homes, modern in character with flat roofs and no visible peaks at the front elevation. Some voices in the Planning Dept. “may” desire peaked roofs, but there is no specific code requirement. Again NO SPECIFIC REQUIREMENT.
    In many ways, by pursuing a very modern exterior with flat roofs is a stronger approach to acknowledging that these new homes are from this time period, than pretending to “blend” them in with peaked roofs akin to the adjacent Victorian properties.
    There is ample precedent for inserting modern facades into historical neighbors such as the Larry Ellison white and stainless steel house on outer Broadway, and the house I previously mentioned at the corner of Broadway and Divis.

  20. Posted by lol

    ^^^ I was surprised also that the roof lines wouldn’t be aligned with the first 2 neighbors to the north. Looking more widely, the roof line of the new structures does continue the general line started at the north end of the block. Kudos for that nice touch. It softens the break the 2 outsize buildings made.
    Also, if you look at the leftmost building compared with its existing neighbor, its first floor is lower which is kinda odd but understandable when you consider the garage starts also lower. With the big windows, these high ceilings will offer a fantastic view and access to light.

  21. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “Maybe one of you architectural masters out there could show us what you would do differently?”
    Facades all cut from one giant welded slab of 1″ cor-ten steel. Victorian era gingerbread detail laser-cut through the steel plate. Glass and non-slip industrial steel entry staircases. Garage doors surfaced with “will never lose its glow so long is you oil it forever” tropical hardwoods.
    Oh and bay windows.

  22. Posted by James

    Futurist is right that there is no specific code requiring peaked roofs, but he ignores that this is something of a “sacred” location in San Francisco. As we know, the planning & historical commission is as much about site-specific *de facto* regulations as they are about *de jure* codes. Does Futurist know that the architect did not present or advocate for flat roofs or other modern features?

  23. Posted by sparky-b

    Futurist leaves out the fact that you do not only need to design to the planning code, but also to the Residential Design Guidelines as well. He is a quote from it:
    Roof lines
    GUIDELINE: Design roof lines to be compatible
    with those found on surrounding buildings.
    Predominant rooflines found on buildings in San Francisco include front gabled,
    multi-gabled, hipped, or flat. In some cases, a building may have a parapet at the
    front that obscures a flat or gabled roof behind it. Within a block, the collection
    of roofs create a “roofline,” which is the profile of the buildings against the sky.
    When designing a project, consider the types of rooflines found on surrounding
    buildings. For example, if most buildings have front gables, adding a building with a
    flat roof may not be consistent with the neighborhood pattern.
    In some situations, there may be groups of buildings that have common rooflines,
    providing clues to what type of roofline will help tie the composition of the
    streetscape together. In other situations, it may be more appropriate to consider the
    entire block face to determine the broad pattern of rooflines.
    After that there are some pictures to show this exact situation with a caption say “the roofline of the subject property is not compatible because it is flat” (page 30)

  24. Posted by futurist

    Yes, I am aware that the planning and historical commissions quite often simply apply their own particular rules and biases to an “historical” district. That’s what they do. Unfortunately.
    To me, that thinking and approach STILL keeps a lot of new San Francisco architecture very conservative, not very innovative and very safe. I’m certainly not advocating we disregard and destroy our current historical buildings, Victorian and otherwise. They are a piece of our history and character and known around the world.
    What I am saying is that we need to move forward and allow more modern work to co-exist side by side with Victorians. There is no inherent failure or tragedy to have flat roof modern homes next to peaked roof Victorians. Look toward Amsterdam and Copenhagen as examples of that approach working, without destroying the existing character.
    I assert that we simply have gotten “used to” every new building having to relate to the existing Victorian character of many of our neighborhoods and are afraid of change. That goes for many citizens, SS commentators and the Planning officials alike.
    We have gotten used to that, and it’s safe and so we continue that way of thinking.

  25. Posted by sparky-b

    Should say “Here is a quote”
    and
    a caption “that says”
    in the above post

  26. Posted by R

    “What I am saying is that we need to move forward and allow more modern work to co-exist side by side with Victorians.”
    I don’t think anyone’s arguing against that point. But what people are saying is that within current guidelines, rules, and the amount of input from various other sources, there is very little likelihood (i.e. none) of that happening here.

  27. Posted by futurist

    @ R: Well, I would still disagree. Despite the guidelines and code language, the Planning Commission, Hist commission and Planning Dept. still has the “discretion” of making any decision they want, for and against a specific ruling.
    They don’t HAVE to follow the guidelines. They often do, but not always.
    And I have cited two specific examples of new very contemporary, modern buildings inserted into very traditional “historic” districts. There are other examples as well.

  28. Posted by Snark17

    Regardless of the roof shape, having little ticky-tacky variations between the houses, ie pastel color splotches and slightly different window shapes picked out of a lego box is especially offensive somehow. Blech.

  29. Posted by conifer

    Was the new modern house, referenced above twice, on the northeast corner of Broadway and Divisadero, constructed without any special exceptions, conflicts, or secrecy?

  30. Posted by sparky-b

    conifer,
    yes that seems to be the case, although it was a ’99 demo permit. But the thing is the city isn’t against new modern houses, sometimes. Both the areas futurist is talking about have houses with flat roof and similar bulk/shape to what was built. So, in those instances you can submit that style. You just can’t do it wherever you like; or really you can and then you can redesign to the requirements.

  31. Posted by eddy

    Anyone have the back story on said house on Divis/Broadway?

  32. Posted by futurist

    @conifer:
    The new modern house at Broadway/Divis was not done with any exceptions, conflicts or secrecy? Secrecy? what do you mean? no, it wasn’t. You can see all of the permit information and data for public view at the Planning Dept. website under “find my zoning”.
    The same can be said for the Ellison modern home on Broadway. Both of these home are near and adjacent to ALl kinds of architectural styles and periods, including peak roofs.
    My point is that it IS possible to design and build very modern, contemporary homes in classical/historic districts IF it is exceptionally designed and documented. Both these homes I referenced had that quality.
    Too many people, quite frankly, settle for mediocrity and are fearful of challenging the status-quo at the Planning Dept. That results in “just accepting” the peaked roofs on the subject properties we are discussing as “ok”, and what the codes allow.
    Pushing the envelope, so to speak, can result in better design, and more interesting design.

  33. Posted by sparky-b

    The fact those houses are on blocks with all kinds of styles was a benefit to the architect and the homeowner. That’s the point you can make great modern houses you just can’t do it wherever you want.

  34. Posted by sf builder

    Futurist — to address your latest post, no it is not possible sometimes. Look up the history of 2404 Broadway, between Pierce and Steiner. The owner wanted to tear it down and build a modern house. He had the taste, and the bank account, to do an exquisite modern house. The neighbors objected, long fight ensued, and the compromise was to “keep the facade”. It placated the neighbors AT THE TIME. However, the result is AWFUL. The owner spent over $20 million on a “modern” house, and is stuck with 1920’s massing and proportions on the facade. Beyond that, the owner essentially did what he wanted anyway, and when the house was done he rebuilt the facade to have it integrated as much as possible with the new house behind it. However, it is still stuck with the basic massing and window pattern.
    Luckily, the whole thing is mostly hidden behind a wall of plants.
    I was a neighbor during the construction, and I can say without exception every one of my neighbors wished they hadn’t objected and just let him tear the house done when they saw the final result.
    And, futurist, watch your assumptions in life — as for your earlier post, I have an Architecture degree from an outstanding school — so I am well trained as an architect and have been designing and building for over 20 years.

  35. Posted by sf builder

    Oh yeah, one more thing — congrats to MOD for the best contribution to this thread — some original ideas, which if they could be executed would be absolutely stunning.
    Sadly, we all know no such thing is going to happen…

  36. Posted by futurist

    ok sf builder: so you get a little indignant. Big deal.
    I was not talking at all about 2404 Broadway. That’s your issue not mine. You may not like 2404 Broadway for personal reasons, but basically it appears to be a very unobtrusive background building. What’s the problem?
    My specific references were to two other significant modern residences located in very classical, historical neighborhoods. They got built because they were OUTSTANDING modern designs. And, I personally believe, that 802-808 could be outstanding modern designs, in the hands of a different and, in my opinion, more talented architectural firm. The Planning Dept and Commission will, in fact, support high quality modern design.
    But for you to actually support “newly built Victorians”, as an architect, is, to me, really selling out. There is no such thing as a newly built Victorian. However, there are terribly designed, cheesy facsimiles all over our lovely city. We hardly need more of that on Steiner Street.
    I’m glad you have an architecture degree and have been designing for over 20 years in the city.
    So do I. and for over 28 years. But I would never suggest designing “newly built Victorians”. Ever. I am an architect with some sense of integrity and respect for the present, with no desire to replicate the past.
    BTW: I do hope you are taking and understanding what MOD said as playful sarcasm. He often does that. Read what he said again. It’s basically one big joke.

  37. Posted by inmycountry

    On the site of the Broadway-Divisadero House, was a modern design by Gardner Daily, that was demolished to make way for the current house.
    The Ellison house on Broadway is a remodel of a modern house designed by William Wurster. It was a late work built in the 1960’s. The remodel obliterated the restrained Wurster modernism.
    Both houses had flat roofs.

  38. Posted by Denis

    Speaking of new facades… How about 2786 Broadway? Yawn.
    2690 Broadway cracks me up. They’ve been working on that house for almost 10 years. I’ve never gotten the entire story on that place, but mostly I hear the owner is pathologically indecisive. I’m not sure what her problem is… 10 YEARS! The previous home was in extremely poor condition, so even though I know a lot of people hate the current home, I’m fine with it.
    Also, there was a MAJOR demo project over in Presidio Heights on Pacific. I’m not sure how that got through planning either. I need to do a drive by and see what’s happening over there.

  39. Posted by Kurt Brown

    MOD for Planning Commission Chair.
    All in favor?
    * sees a quorum of hands raised *
    Motion carried.
    Next item of business…

  40. Posted by jlasf

    The right architect is the answer. It should be someone who can relate to the Victorian influence, yet make it fresh and modern.
    The right guy is Hugh Newell Jacobsen, He takes an American idiom – here the Nantucket shingle house – and makes it new.(http://www.pushpullbar.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=6760&stc=1&d=1131742212)
    I think he would be fascinated by the challenge. If the builder wants, I will contact Mr. Jacobsen.

  41. Posted by fancy rental

    I don’t understand why people care so much about all of this. they are houses. if you don’t like it, don’t buy them and don’t live there.
    why do we have to get all in each other’s business about what houses should/must look like. I think all this historical preservation stuff is dumb. let the market decide which houses are worthy and which are not.
    victorians bah rip em all down.

  42. Posted by sparky-b

    so jlasf you want flat white faced victorian shaped houses with small square windows?
    Plus he does lots of small connected volumes that won’t work at this spot:
    http://cdn.cstatic.net/newsletters/assets/blogs/cdn.cstatic.net/lead_stories/cache/gallery/6185/6120881859_0b6b49b3cb_o.jpg

  43. Posted by Chris

    I guess I’ll be the outlier here and say that I like these.
    Here’s why:
    1) I hate the “painted lady” look of SF victorians – grotesquely gaudy and ornamental, and the fact that so few people actually maintain them well makes them look even worse. (nothing pains me more than victorians with paint peeling off)
    2) That said, these houses capture the spatial elements and distinctive, row-house look that I do like about SF houses – bay windows, brownstone-style stairs, etc.
    3) They blend in well in a neighborhood where that is important – while I generally appreciate a more modern and architecturally unique design, I suppose special consideration has to be paid to this particular street.
    4)I’ve never actually seen any architects actually try to build any “classic” SF homes using modern materials and with more modern sensibilities. I find it refreshing to see a mix of “old” and “new” on the same street – it lends a sense of energy.
    [girding myself for the backlash now now…]

  44. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Welcome back neo-noe futurist-arch.
    You’re mostly right that my ideas were in jest though there’s a hint of sincerity in both. The second idea about the cor-ten facade was riffing off of lol’s assertion that the surfaces can make a difference. It would be great to use some modern materials but I expect the standard cheapo clapboard and stucco cladding to be eventually used here.
    And the first idea was triggered by that Playskool-like variation on the bay windows, each a section of a basic prismatic solid (rectangle, circle, triangle). Where have I seen those prismatic solids before? … oh yeah: that plastic ball covered with different shaped holes that kids are encouraged to cram the right shaped blocks through. Make a house patterned off of a section of a star prism to complete the effect. And a RGB primary color paint job of course.
    If the architect wanted such a basic geometric theme he should have gone full-Memphis despite that look harkening back to the early 1990s. It would be laughed at but it would be cool. I swear.

  45. Posted by jlasf

    sparky-b, you don’t know enough of his work. He also did renovations of the US Capitol and the Renwick Gallery in Washington. He can be a classicist with a modern sensibility. It would be a more sophisticated take on the Victorian style.

  46. Posted by sparky-b

    Sure, He done a lot of stuff (and your example are big institutional projects). He does what I mentioned on homes a bunch. He probably would do a very good job, he’s a world renowned architect after all. But would his renderings look way better than these renderings (I linked to a rendering)?

  47. Posted by Me

    So where do all of YOU live?
    Let’s get some photos of your humble abodes (interior and exterior please) and start commenting and critiquing.
    That would be loads of fun.
    There appear to be enough opinions to go around so no one will be spared!

  48. Posted by inmycountry

    Everyone is focusing on the facades. The real problem with these houses are the floor plans. Absolute Garbage. Dysfuctional small rooms are going to be a tough sell.

  49. Posted by jeremy

    @inmycountry – just reviewed the plans myself, and they really are terrible. Two stairs and an exit hallway where only one is required. Two bedrooms facing a lightwell without an exit, so they’re not legal bedrooms. Main floor has multiple dining and living areas, all chopped up. The garage has no interior connection to the rest of the building, and the bottom floor is clearly going to become an in-law unit, violating the “rooms down” policy in Planning.
    I know that the interior will change after the Planning Commission is done, but this stuff is straight up awful.

  50. Posted by futurist

    Yes, the floor plans are pretty awful, very dysfunctional, among many problems with the design, both interior and exterior.
    As for suggesting that Hugh Jacobsen would be the right architect for this project; that’s pretty out there and hilarious.
    He is an an east coast society architect dealing with very rich clients who give him extremely free reign. I don’t think he would be successful at all in dealing with these very small zero lot line houses.
    As for who would be more appropriate, I don’t know yet. I’m thinking.

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