1545 Pine Street Rendering

While the proposed Polk Gulch development to rise twelve stories on Pine Street isn’t facing any significant opposition from its neighbors, San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is encouraging the Planning Commission to require an alternative design.

As we first reported about Arquitectonica’s design for the 1545 Pine Street project earlier this year, the plan is to raze the existing garage on the site, a building that’s been deemed to be associated with “the temporary commercial reconstruction in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire” and San Francisco’s historic Auto Row.

And as such, the Historic Preservation Commission would like the existing façade of the 1545 Pine Street building to be preserved and incorporated into the new development, “to maintain the historic character of the block.”

1545 Pine Street Alternative Design

The developer’s response:

While Trumark Urban appreciates the opinion of the HPC, it does not agree with its recommendation. It does not agree that preservation of the 1545 Pine Street façade will maintain the historic character of the block as no such historic character currently exists.

It also does not agree that preservation of the façade will improve the streetscape as retaining the façade would only create a false sense of preservation while precluding development of a ground floor streetscape design that integrates and enhances the pedestrian experience.

It also not does agree that preserving the façade will create a visible reminder of the property’s evolution as the building itself was never intended to be permanent, and the façade to be preserved is both unremarkable and insignificant conveying little of the historic context of the previous building.

The Planning Commission is slated to decide the project’s fate and the future character of the block this afternoon.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Jack Hutton

    Not worth preserving that facade; move on. The new design looks better.

    • Posted by San Francisco fan

      Had the city stipulated that the old facade to be used to inspire the new building’s design, for example mirroring the arched windows, the new design would flow seamlessly. However, the facade in this mock up looks misplaced and resembles a Hollywood flat out of sync with the clean lines of this contemporary structure. Every old building is not distinguished enough to be held up for preservation. That honor should be reserved for examples of outstanding architecture, irreplaceable detailing, or great historic value.

  2. Posted by cfb

    Either way looks good to me. Just build it.

  3. Posted by Futurist

    The clowns of historic preservation continue their antics. I say build it without the silly little “protected” façade.

  4. Posted by Brad

    Few people would ever see it from this vantage point anyway. Most people will just see the old facade as they walk down the sidewalk and never notice the towers behind it.

  5. Posted by 4oceans

    Hey, if the number of complaints or the level of opposition is the only criteria, why not build 40 stories? Why even have a historic preservation commission? Who wants to hear about the good old days anyway? How long will this building boom last anyway? More fun to sit home and blog silly comments than to actually donate time trying to “preserve” something from the rabid speculator crowd, right?

  6. Posted by enzo

    We will look back at these preserved facades with amusement.

  7. Posted by blabla

    We will look at these bland glass boxes and San Francisco’s loss of soul with regret.

    • Posted by Serge

      This.

    • Posted by emanon

      Same ridiculous canard folks have repeating since the downtown highrise boom of the 70s.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        You mean, all the ugly concrete towers that yes, we regret? The ones that are even being re-clad, because they’re so ugly?

      • Posted by Techie Tweaker

        But it is true. You guys are turning my town into Atlanta. Or Dallas, or some other soul-sucking Sunbelt/Gunbelt slum.

    • Posted by R

      Can you share any examples of contemporary alternatives that you think are more fitting, or appropriate?

    • Posted by Wonkster

      I totally agree with this. Of course, the prevailing opinion is “build as much as possible right now” which seems pretty shortsighted. Why, exactly, does it benefit San Francisco to build more office towers and then more housing so that people from somewhere else can get jobs here and have places to live here? I understand why speculators/developers/real estate brokers etc would want this. Why is it good or necessary?

      I have walked past this particular location and never once felt like what it was really lacking was a giant glass box to house newly imported office workers. Changes is fine and inevitable. But when it happens all at once generally the result is pretty bad.

      • Posted by foggydunes

        Isn’t America built on the idea of “people from somewhere else” seeking opportunity and places to live? Is it somehow “un-San Franciscan” to be from somewhere else and to work in an office?

      • Posted by OverIt

        What’s shortsighted is opposing much needed housing simply because of your xenophobic feelings about what belongs in this city. People are moving here whether or not we build new housing, and if we don’t build to accommodate the growing population it’s just going to keep making affordability worse. This is happening in cities all over the nation and all over the world right now, and yet some small-minded San Franciscans can’t seem to get over their fear of contemporary buildings.

      • Posted by Wonkster

        Believe it or not I’m not xenophobic and I understand that people have always come to San Francisco from “somewhere else.” However, I really don’t understand why just because there is “demand” to be met it is in any way the obligation of this city to meet it.

        The current surge in costs is about to burst, if for no other reason than that it makes no sense to pay people some insane salary so they can afford some insane cost of living. This is particularly true for startups where even the “pump and dump” VC’s are beginning to worry about the “burn rate.” Uh, most of the “burn rate” is the huge labor cost being paid to people who are in hand turning it over to the huge occupancy cost. The rest is being blown on long-term leases.

        I am certain that if San Francisco took a slower approach to “growth” that in time things would even out. I guess the alternative is the “BARF” approach.

        • Posted by Picard

          I can tell that you already own or are under rent control. Keep in mind that SF should be accessible to future generations. Also, it is an increasingly important economic engine for this country, so I suggest you get used to techies living here.

          The stock market is no doubt inflated given QE, but otherwise venture funding is only marginally higher than normal year. More to the point, it’s about 40% of the level seen in 2000.

        • Posted by San FronziScheme

          it makes no sense to pay people some insane salary so they can afford some insane cost of living.

          Sometimes it does.

          Say you build a product that sells for $100 and that cost $95. You are doing fine. Say it costs only $5 to manufacture the next unit. This is the rationale behind Tech in SF today. Companies with 50 employees making product reaching 10s of millions of people. They will pay their employees really well.

        • Posted by NoeValleyJim

          If people like you hadn’t always demanded a slower and slower approach to growth, we wouldn’t be facing the extreme shortages of housing we have now. Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter aren’t going away anytime soon.

      • Posted by Xman

        If only SF had this attitude the year before you moved in..

    • Posted by MarketSt

      “We will look at these bland glass boxes and San Francisco’s loss of soul with regret.”

      In 30 or 40 years, yes. And then after 70 or 80 we’ll realize what a treasure our glass boxes are and emblematic of the era and we shouldn’t have torn down the ones we did but preserve them instead. History repeats.

  8. Posted by Adam

    Document it, photograph it, donate the collected information and images to the city archives, then tear it down.

  9. Posted by Chris

    Facadectomies are generally miserable failures (I have seen numerous examples all over the world, and only a handful have worked well. In the rare cases where they can work well, I am not opposed to them). Usually, they fail just as badly as Disney-world historic pastiche (e.g. “Hey, kids now we are in Morocco, it’s just around the corner from New Orleans French Quarter! Be sure to stop at Aladdin’s store and buy a souvenir!”). The old facade against the new building looks tacky, and it also makes the streetscape less inviting for pedestrians because it closes off the windows rather than opening them up. Buildings should have honesty and integrity, and tacking on a dreary old facade (and I love old buildings with beautiful facades, but this is not one of them) does not make for better architecture. Rather, it is just a token gesture that rings hollow.

    And, it is interesting that you criticize others for posting their opinions and then proceed to do the very same thing–i.e. “sit home and blog silly comments.” You are the proverbial kettle calling the pot black.

    You do realize it is possible to state an opinion without implying that others do not have a right to their own? If not, hopefully now you have learned.

    • Posted by noodle

      Would you consider Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower on West 57th a success or failure?

  10. Posted by Marten

    Time for Arquitectonica and Saitowitz to move on to the next generation of style in their architecture, because these repeated concepts are getting very tired.

  11. Posted by Boojum

    I’m often a strong proponent of historical preservation. But not always. Certainly not in this case. This isn’t preservation, it’s pastiche, veneer, sentimental appliqué. It’s faux, pretend preservation. It compromises both the purpose and value of true historical preservation and the bracing effect of the new building on the street and in the neighborhood. This is a case of “mediocre is the enemy of good.”

  12. Posted by jamesjr

    The “facade” looks like a temporary set made for a high school play. Historical? LOL.

  13. Posted by Jackson

    When I think of preservation of old structures I envision incorporating the whole of the building into the function of the new building. Not always an easy task, but if done properly can be quite beautiful.

    Maintaining a mediocre frontage and calling it preservation doesn’t fit the bill. The original Arquitectonica design actually looks much better than the Historic Preservation Commission proposal.

  14. Posted by Grace

    This is horrible- certainly these architects can do better than this. Come on city planners – start requiring some class and taste in these designs. Who is on these commissions anyway?

    • Posted by Futurist

      Ah Grace: class and taste, whatever the definitions are: cannot and should not ever be legislated.
      In fact they have absolutely NOTHING to do with architectural design, just for the record.

      • Posted by OverIt

        Add class and taste to the list of ambiguous language (alongside character, charm, warmth and soul) that people attempt to use when describing San Francisco architecture (new or old).

    • Posted by Brad

      Design by committee. That’s what happens when design gets bogged down in politics.

  15. Posted by observer

    I think the Arquitecionica design is strong and appropriate for the location. Preserving the facade does not make sense aesthetically – more importantly – what is being preserved is not worth the effort…

  16. Posted by invented

    In a word, idiotic. SF just doesn’t get preservation does it?

  17. Posted by Anon

    all the people who moved here back when San Francisco didn’t have jobs need to get out of politics. times have changed, they haven’t.

  18. Posted by Orland

    Handsome building. Sticking that facade on it is just preposterous.

  19. Posted by jill

    i agree 100% with the develops response. good for them. There is NO historic character there to preserve

  20. Posted by John

    I am surprised at the level of “get over it, tear it down and move on” attitude I generally find here at SocketSite. The willful tumble toward the future and disdain of the past is palpable.

    Now, this might not be the most significant example of century-old commercial architecture in the city, and it may have never been intended to be permanent. Indeed, there are many poor examples of facad-ism in the city already. The drawings above don’t necessarily do it justice and I do not think the idea need be dismissed out of hand.

    A sensitive restoration of the facade could help preserve a finer street-level texture on that block. It could help keep the little diner next door from looking too overwhelmed by its neighbor. The question remains, though. Do we need to preserve this facade?

    How many post-quake-era commercial buildings remain in the city, and how many more are we willing to destroy for progress? (Some here seem to think none would be worth keeping for any reason.)

    San Francisco’s conflict between preservation and progress is perhaps worse than in most cities. But I don’t think the idea need be dismissed without consideration (not that the planning department will do any better job of it).

    • Posted by frog

      What’s so valuable about the past? I’d argue exactly the opposite, the bar for historic preservation should be incredibly high. If there is a trend in tearing down buildings and building new structures, it’s only because that’s what people really want and are willing to pay for.

      But let’s say fire swept through San Francisco and 90% of the buildings were destroyed. If we rebuilt, the city would look different, but then it’s different. Old does not mean good. And history doesn’t matter as much as you think.

      • Posted by Orland

        What you posit happened exactly — in 1906.

        Every time I visit cities like Seattle, Portland or Denver to name a few, I mourn what we’ve lost.

        Still, facadism as proposed here is a useless substitute.

      • Posted by John

        But what makes “new” inherently “better”, except that it’s new? I will agree that the bar should be set relatively high for historical preservation. We cannot afford the acreage for keeping all the old buildings. But I do think that a relatively simple integration of the old into the new isn’t necessarily a bad idea. If you simply think the past is not worth anything, that knowing how we got here is unimportant to you at all, that the past has something to teach us, then I’m not going to change your mind. The threshold, however, should not be “that’s what people really want and are willing to pay for”. That’s just libertarian dogma.

        • Posted by frog

          I never said new was better. It’s just different and most people are resistant to change. But I’d repeat again that if people really wanted original wood in their houses, developers wouldn’t be painting them white.

          This may surprise you but I actually do like certain types of historic structures and I live in an 80 year old building. I just don’t think that the past is worth more than the present and I’m aware that my tastes are mine alone. My argument is hardly libertarian. I hear you saying that we should be giving people what they don’t want and that that’s a valid standard.

  21. Posted by Liver Smarter

    The Historical Preservation folks in this City are hacks trying to justify their existence by putting their marks on everything, whether warranted or not. There is a time and place for historical preservation. Gut the program, save the money and pension, and create a fund to help owners preserve real historical structures.

  22. Posted by Sassy

    While I like the general idea it’s kinda sloppy. I support the higher density and whether it’s appropriate or not why can’t we ask for something more worked out, more refined. Peeps, it’s possible! Just sayin’

  23. Posted by toady

    Just because it’s old does not make it historic.

  24. Posted by S

    San Francisco’s sense of place is strongly rooted in it’s architecture. It’s one of a kind in California so why not preserve that legacy when there are plenty of modern places to live already?

    • Posted by jill

      because there is absolutely nothing historic or beautiful about this facade worth saving. the new glass buidling is actually quite an elegant and beautiful design IMO and certainly much more functional.

      • Posted by Techie Tweaker

        Thanks for presenting your opinion as fact.

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