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The Viavi Building at 50 Fell Street was built in 1931. Embodying “the distinctive characteristics of late period Mission Revival style,” the historically significant L-shaped building was constructed around a spacious central courtyard with the only street side garden in the neighborhood.

Last occupied by the New College of California School of Law which vacated the building in 2008, the building was sold in 2011 and the buyer quietly engaged Heller Manus Architects to explore designs for the development of the property.

While the architects’ plans call for the renovation of the existing building, plans for a slender nine or ten-story residential building to rise upon the western portion of the aforementioned courtyard have been drawn as well:

The project sponsor’s “preferred” option would construct a nine-story, 22,201 square foot residential building with a 1,477 square foot restaurant on the ground floor. Floors two through nine would include 24 residential units with a unit mix of six studio, six one‐bedroom and 12 two‐bedroom units. The preferred option includes 1,128 square feet of rooftop common open space.

Option A would construct a ten-story, 22,232 square foot residential building with a 1,334 square foot restaurant on the ground floor. Floors two through ten would include 23 residential units. Option A would include 1,104 square feet of rooftop common open space. Under Option A, the unit mix would include ten studio, nine one-bedroom and four two-bedroom units.

Under both options the proposed building would be 96 feet tall and no off‐street parking would be provided.

The Planning Department, however, isn’t digging the plans for the predominantly glass building that’s being proposed for the site:

The challenge of this site is arriving at a design of a tall slender building that must be compatible with the existing site and building. The design will need to demonstrate compatibility with the historic setting and building at 50 Fell Street. This building may succeed at providing a graceful transition between the 400’ tower to the West and the existing low‐rise Mediterranean style historic building at 50 Fell Street.

In general the siting is appropriate. However, as proposed, the current design would reduce public visibility from the street toward the historic building by blocking or leaving only a narrow setback between the new and the old. The Planning Department recommends reconsideration of the massing of the building to preserve visual setting of the historic building by providing more separation between the existing building and the proposed building. The Planning Department would like to see the proposed building more integrated with the courtyard in materiality, scale, proportion, and modularity. The new building must ‘finish’ the courtyard in a manner compatible with the historic site.

In terms of integration and compatibility, the Planning Department is recommending the existing scrolled courtyard entrance serve as the main entrance leading to any new building, is requesting that the existing courtyard wall and fountain remain in their original locations, and has even noted that “existing trees may be significant and contribute to the character of the courtyard and any removal will require review and approval.”

In addition, rather than a glass, steel, and concrete building, the Department would like to see “some uniformity of detail, scale, proportion, texture, materials, color and building form” with the existing building which is “characterized by a light colored stucco body with punched window and door openings, and accented by Spanish tile, and other ornamental details.”

We’ll let you know when there’s a rendering to be had.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by MSTBLD

    The air rights to the historic building were sold to build the apartment building to the east. The current owner is not aware or the loading dock was not covered.
    [Editor’s Note: As proposed, the existing building would be leased to a non-profit and its surviving development rights would be transfered in order for the new building to rise.]

  2. Posted by Bob

    I really disagree with how our planning dept tells the project owner how the building should be designed. It’s a sign of our profound provinciality that we expect everything to be matchy matchy perfect.
    Does the building conform to the site limitations? If so then approve. Are we a gated community where you are told what color to paint your home and what plants you are allowed to grow?

  3. Posted by Rob

    I’d prefer to use the site / garden for the restaurant… and turn the focus and attention to the other side of the block on Hayes. There are two super fugly mid-century reskins (with causeway), an above ground lot (with basement?) and a flat lot directly across from where 100 Polk is supposed to go up…

  4. Posted by sf

    With Heller Manus behind the wheel I have the utmost confidence that not only will the new building be a disaster but also the original building will be scarred beyond belief as well.

  5. Posted by curmudgeon

    Heller Manus’ building in Hayes Valley from the last boom (on Gough) STILL doesn’t have a ground floor tenant, FWIW

  6. Posted by BobN

    There’s plenty of room between the Opera House and the Veterans’ Building for a tower…

  7. Posted by John Fagundes

    Leave it as it is. The garden is one oasis in the area.
    Besides anything Heller Manus does is not worth what it replaces.
    Let’s do a bit of historic preservation

  8. Posted by mike

    Leport schools, a southern California based for-profit educational company is saying that they have leased the site.
    http://www.leportschools.com/san-francisco/

  9. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    A pre-school? That will be handy for all the Twitter, Square and Uber employees with small children. They can just take their kids with them and drop them off there. It is nice to have your kids nearby when you are at work too, in case anything happens.

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