Deemed a historic resource, the façade of 421 Arguello Boulevard was saved while the building behind was razed to make room for 8 new housing units to rise. It’s the same approach that’s being proposed for the six story project at 1335 Larkin Street.

We’ll let you debate the effectiveness of the approach and 421’s execution.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by soccermom

    This is exactly the sort of franken-tragedy I imagined after reading about the Larkin site. I couldn’t bring myself to comment after I mouth-caught my vomit reading, ‘Automotive Support Structures’ historic survey.
    What’s next? There are some amazing(!) junkyards in the Bayview. ‘Historic Resource Management Facilities?’ Maybe we can leave a 20′ deep junkyard in the front setback behind corrugated metal fences on some of the properties and build condos behind.

  2. Posted by Futurist

    NO, I disagree. You’re being a drama queen. It’s not a tragedy.
    While I find it pretty silly to call these buildings “automotive support structures”, I find it appropriate, on a case by case basis, to re-use and re-build the existing structure for new retail AND to allow for new construction to rise above it. Makes sense to me.
    No one, to my knowledge, has talked about saving 20′ deep fenced junkyards. You’re just fear mongering and creating drama.

  3. Posted by wc1

    What is the architectural and historic significance of those facades?
    Not against the concept necessarily, but just curious.

  4. Posted by JL

    The gray walls make it look unfinished, like it’s missing siding. Just painting it a different color would make 421 look better.
    The Arc Light project is one that turned out better, I think:

  5. Posted by deedee

    I live nearby and watched as this went from a brick building car repair shop to just the facade to Frankenbuilding… to say it is ugly and does not add to the neighborhood is an understatement.
    This integration could of been done with more thought and architectural integrity (I liked the old building!) but instead truly looks like an ugly addition from the 90’s behind a cool brick front.
    Yet another example of SF needing architectural review vs rubber stamps…

  6. Posted by Futurist

    There are varying degrees of architectural and historic significance: some relate to the history that took place in the building; others to the original architect, or “style” such as International Style; and some just to the fact that this particular façade reflected a time period of attentive architectural design to a rather mundane and ordinary purpose: An ordinary garage devoted to servicing cars can take on a “grander” image than just a block of bricks.
    @JL: the issue of the color is purely a personal opinion and very subjective. Ok, so you don’t like gray. Big deal. Your definition of “unfinished” is yours to hold on to, if you wish.

  7. Posted by Mark

    The gray’s a bit drab, but beats any cheap siding that will buckle or rot (depending on material) in a couple years. I’ve seen plenty of new construction in the city with siding that doesn’t hold up well. In this day and age of homebuilding advancements I’m sure there are other products out there that are more durable, yet aesthetically pleasing.
    @soccermom: you’re always quick to bring on drama or criticism, but hardly ever offer a solution or constructive alternative. Debbie Downer.

  8. Posted by hmmm

    While I agree it is vomitorious to call such structure historic resources, the beautiful brickwork on the old facade was certainly worth going out of the way to preserve. A city is much more interesting as a constant layering of all and new. The artistry and detailing on the old brickwork is something that we could never get today with the shlock standards we have and the costs involved. The building inserted behind is proof pudding. As a neighborhood resident of this project who is also pro-growth, I am glad this ended up the way it did.

  9. Posted by tahoejoe

    I’m not an architect, but I think a better integration of the facade could have been accomplished by placing the ground floor door and window openings flush with the actual facade. If that had been done in a period correct manner it would not look like the old brick facade was just floating in front of a new building.

  10. Posted by around1905

    The could have been a much nicer result if the three bays in the front of the building had been closed in a more period-appropriate manner. Those commercial aluminum windows and the gray in-fill were poor choices.

  11. Posted by R

    I agree this is poorly done. I also agree it’s kind of silly, but it could be done well and I generally don’t have a problem with it. Why not keep the cool old brickwork? Just hire an architect who’s a little better than this one.

  12. Posted by soccermom

    Here is why I don’t like the process which resulted in this building:
    1. Designation of this building as an ‘Automotive Support Structure’ was arbitrary. Some preservation planner rolling around town for a couple of weeks came up with a list of buildings she thought fit the category. They did some research to authenticate that it was indeed used for automotive purposes in the past and voila, the potential uses of the building get hemmed in substantially. There was no vote representing the interests of the people directly involved. Appointed Planning Commissioners do not reflect the will of the people.
    2. When the owner wanted to respond to market demands suggesting that a location in Laurel Heights might be better suited to high quality housing than an automotive use, the preservation planners required a design as follows: The architect had to submit a ‘sight line’ drawing demonstrating that if a 6′ person on the opposite side of the street could not see the appendage on the back of the building, then the historic automotive nature of the site would be preserved.
    We are left with this box of housing mounting the ‘historic portion’ from the rear, condos in heat.
    3. So, instead of having a good, honest design for housing, residents get to walk into their homes through a side entrance to an old garage and then back to their homes. Why not focus on requiring a good facade that works in the context of the neighborhood as it currently exists.
    As for preserving junkyards, I was using hyperbole to make a point. I live in the Richmond and we have a number of local green grocery markets. Right now, they serve the local population but at high prices in part because we don’t have a viable grocery alternative. What is to prevent these buildings from being landmarked on historic use as grocery stores? Who should get to decide?
    Many times old buildings are pretty buildings. Should we preserve them all?
    How about the following analogy: I think the 1957 Chevrolet is a beautiful car. It represents a zenith of a period in American design. Why don’t we pass a law in San Francisco that says anyone who owns a car produced in America between 1952 and 1959 must register the car and not be allowed to junk it. We see cars every day. They affect our experience and many are pretty. Who should decide which cars are preserved?
    In the absence of some exception to the process, the Larkin project will turn out the same way.
    Designating a property as a historic resource should require the affirmative written consent of the owner of the building and a majority of the owners and residents within a 300′ radius of the building.

  13. Posted by redseca2

    There are plenty of older, much more successful conversions of buildings like this that you do not even notice in San Francisco.
    You don’t notice them unless you look for them because the cost basis was so much lower at the time that they had no need to expand beyond the original volume to recoup costs.
    In fact, I have toured one in my neighborhood where they removed enclosed space by taking the roof off to create a center courtyard.

  14. Posted by Invented

    The brickwork is very handsome. This dev however makes a mockery of preservation and in any other city — is laughable. It’s stunning what passes here.

  15. Posted by sf

    This has taken forever to build- at least 3 years. the facade is pretty cool. The rest is an insult.

  16. Posted by Guest666

    In many ways this is the polar opposite of many of the nearby Clement Street facades. If one strolls down Clement you will notice the multitude of residential homes upon which a commercial facade has been tacked on in front. In these cases, the residential building in back is typically the “pretty” structure while the commercial street frontage is “ugly”.

  17. Posted by Futurist

    Well, I am an architect, as most of you know:
    One of the basic tenets of “historic preservation” and adding a new structure to or within the original structure is to visually separate the new parts from the older parts. Literally this can mean keeping the front aluminum window system “back” from the front façade. It allows the original brick to retain its’ distinct character.
    Setting the façade of the new addition is also a key aspect of sensitive historic preservation, as well as being defined under certain Planning Code sections. Making a clear architectural distinction between old and new is A valid and important design decision.
    As for Soccermom’s points, well, with all due respect, you arguments don’t seem very strong to me. It appears you just don’t like this project, period, and dislike preserving older buildings when deemed appropriate. And no, we should not preserve “all: of them, and we don’t.

  18. Posted by tahoejoe

    The new building ground floor elements do not appear to be designed with any thought that the facade was going to remain. This leads me to believe that the new building was designed with the intent to take down the entire old building. When they learned they could not take down the old facade they just constructed the building they wanted to build behind the facade.

  19. Posted by Futurist

    Don’t have a clue as to what you mean tahoejoe:
    Then you don’t really understand what my previous comment was about.
    Care to elaborate?

  20. Posted by James

    There’s historic preservation and there’s adaptive reuse, and retaining a facade alone is especially tricky. Of course there are better and worse examples of each. I would name Arclight and the CJM as more successful projects than this one, which offers neither dramatic contrast nor deferential blending. The left bay on the ground floor seems especially dismissive of the logic of the original facade.

  21. Posted by EH

    Consider that the intent on reuse was to create something that is different than the facade. It doesn’t have to be integrated, matchy, or anything else, because the new construction is not supposed to be confused with the thing being preserved. That said, the grey both looks good against a blue sky and blends in with clouds and fog. Fairly successful to me, though the street and traffic in front of it is a nightmare.

  22. Posted by Futurist

    Yea, I said exactly the same thing and I thank you for your assessment. That’s what preservation/reuse is all about.
    At least you and I get it.

  23. Posted by soccermom

    I think the Arguello developer/architect played the best hand he could with what he was dealt, and I think the Larkin team will do the same, and more power to them.
    That’s why my beef is with the process and not the buildings that get produced. That said, I think it is crazy to argue that these are ‘good designs’ in the abstract.
    This would seemingly fit the given parameters for adaptive reuse:
    Just because one can, doesn’t mean one should.

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