Having been recommended for Landmark Status by San Francisco’s Planning Department last year, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors just unanimously approved the landmarking of the Art Deco Doelger Building at 320 Judah Street out in the Sunset, soon to be San Francisco Historic Landmark No. 265.
Purchased out of probate for $1,450,000 this past September, the building is planned to be used as a new location for Mission: Cats, a family-owned cat hotel.
Once again, a bit of history on the namesake, and somewhat eccentric, Henry Doelger and as Doelger’s building looked when it served as his headquarters, warehouse and sales office for the San Francisco developer extraordinaire:
For two decades, beginning in the mid 1920s into the 1940s, merchant builder Henry Doelger constructed thousands of single‐family houses atop the sand dunes in San Francisco’s emerging Sunset District neighborhood. Pioneering mass construction house building techniques such as assembly‐line production, Doelger’s Sunset District houses rapidly transformed large swaths of southwest San Francisco.
Designed for middle‐income home buyers and built to Federal Housing Administration specifications, Doelger’s houses share near‐identical massing, floor plans, materials, and form, with differentiation provided by a profusion of facade styles. Doelger is widely considered San Francisco’s most prolific and significant merchant builder active during the pre‐War era. In 1946, the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed Doelger “the poor man’s Frank Lloyd Wright,” and his residential tracts are often affectionately referred to as Doelgerville and Doelger City.
Doelger’s financial success allowed him many personal luxuries and stories about him abound in the society pages of local newspapers. He collected cars, yachts, toupees, shoes, ties, and custom‐made sport coats. On Sundays the Doelgers often invited 10 to 40 of their friends to join them on their yacht. Nearly everyone knew Doelger, and some — especially columnist Herb Caen — derived some pleasure from hearing gossip about the millionaire.
Caen opined about a Doelger purchase in November 1954 writing, “Henry Doelger’s ’54 Cad El Dorado has 4,500 miles on it, so naturally he’s turning in the old wreck on a ’55. Gets it Wednesday.” He reported again three days later, “Henry Doelger not only bought the first ‘’55 El Dorado in town, he got a new Fleetwood, too. ‘For the nighttime,’ he explains patiently to the peasants.”
The Doelgers were known for their extravagant lifestyle and eccentric hobbies. Henry’s wife, Thelma, had a heart for stray animals and was drawn toward the exotic. The San Francisco Examiner reported in 1940 that the Doelgers’ pet deer, Timothy, had escaped and was wandering around 15th and Taraval Streets in the Sunset District. Construction workers employed by Doelger recognized the animal and he was returned home, where he was “welcomed by three Great Danes which [were] his constant playmates.”
The Doelgers also had pet monkeys. In 1949 one of the monkeys, Chichi, “broke several dishes and glasses in their home before biting Thelma, requiring her to get stitches.” Following the incident, the family donated the monkey to the San Francisco Zoo.