R. L. Goldberg Building at 182-198 Gough Street

Against the wishes of the building’s owner, San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission is poised to recommend that the two-story R. L. Goldberg Building at 182-198 Gough Street be designated a historic landmark by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

Initiated by the residential tenants of the building who are fighting an Ellis Act eviction from their two three-bedroom apartments for which they pay $1,250 and $1,300 a month, the landmark designation won’t block the eviction nor any remodeling of the building’s interior, but it would protect the exterior and prevent the building from being razed.

From the Planning Department’s case report which supports the landmarking:

The Department finds that the building may have tangential significance based on its association with Rueben (Rube) Lucius Garrett Goldberg, but its primary significance is derived from its architectural expression.

According to the Landmark Designation Report, the building was commissioned by Rube L. Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist famed for his illustrations of elaborate contraptions designed to perform otherwise simple tasks. Goldberg was born in San Francisco and received a degree in engineering from U.C. Berkeley in 1904. After brief period of employment with the City of San Francisco Water and Sewers Department, Goldberg joined the staff of The San Francisco Chronicle where he submitted drawings and cartoons which were first published in 1905.

In 1907 Goldberg moved to New York where he was hired by the New York Evening Mail to draw daily cartoons. His drawings proved popular, and over the next few years he also began to appear on stage. Flush with his early success, Goldberg returned to San Francisco and commissioned the construction of the subject property, which includes his name, “R. L. Goldberg,” inscribed on the building’s frieze.

According to the Landmark Designation Report, one of the two residential units was used by Goldberg as his residence and studio during visits to San Francisco, while the other was occupied by his father, Max Goldberg, who at various times served as a police commissioner, fire marshal and banker.  However, the only documentary evidence in support of the Goldbergs’ residency at the property is a childhood reminiscence from Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter, during which she recalls him describing the property. The report also does not identify other properties which may have a more intimate association with Goldberg’s productive life.

Goldberg spent most of his career in New York City, and the Landmark Designation Report acknowledges that Goldberg’s association with 182-198 Gough Street became less frequent after 1916— although he continued to own the property until his death in 1970.

Research performed by Department Preservation staff could not confirm Goldberg’s use of the property as an occasional residence and studio, nor its use as a residence by Goldberg’s father. For example, the 1914 city directory identifies Leonard Jones (steward), Frederick Littman (machinist) and William Black as residents of the property. There are two Max Goldberg’s listed in the directory of that year, neither of which is identified with the subject property.

Likewise, the 1915 city directory identifies Frederick Eggers (Sherriff of San Francisco) and Allen Walter (musician) as tenants. None of the four Max Goldbergs in the city directory of that year are shown at 182-198 Gough. Based on this research, it appears more plausible that the building was constructed as an income producing property, rather than as an occasional residence for the Goldberg family.

Considered as a whole, the Department finds that 182-198 Gough Street is eligible as an individual landmark due to its significant architecture, but cannot confirm its significance based on the building’s association with Rube Goldberg.

Regardless of the designation, the tenants vow to fight their eviction while the landlord, who had offered the tenants $40,000 to vacate, plans to move forward.  The City’s Historic Preservation Commission will vote next week.

37 thoughts on “Rube Goldberg Building Poised To Be Landmarked, Tenants Evicted”
  1. Mostly I’m disappointed that the Planning Department failed to recognize Rube Goldberg’s authorial role in the drafting of the entirety of the city planning code.

    This is what you get for having a nice paint job and taking care of a building instead of butter-coating it with stucco. The city continues to create incentives for landlord neglect.

    1. The cinnamon tree is edible, so it is cut down. The varnish tree is useful so it is cut apart. All know the advantage of being useful, but no one knows the advantage of being useless. Zhuangzi, “Transactions in the World of Men”

  2. Regarding the evicitions, a choice quote from the click-through link:

    “[Hirsch, the owner] said he offered the tenants $40,000 to leave and was willing to go up to $60,000.
    “They wanted $100,000. I didn’t give it to them, so they went ballistic,” he said. “The Ellis Act was the only option I had. I didn’t want to do it — I would have been happier with them taking the money.”

  3. I would love to see the cartoon Rube Goldberg would have come up with to describe the land use planning processes in this absurd city – an “elaborate contraption designed to perform otherwise simple tasks.”

    With an injunction now barring the new, higher Ellis payments, these tenants are likely to end up with only a fraction of the payment they were already offered – greedy, greedy tenants.

  4. $1300 a month for a 3 bedroom in Hayes Valley?!? Must have been nice while it lasted. Now the tenants must face the true costs of rent control: shortages and high prices.

  5. It would be interesting for the City to do a survey of the people living in rent-controlled apartments. I wonder who is really benefiting from the regulations.

    1. I constantly think about this. I for one, am all about fairly priced housing, and the idea of long term residents having some kind of “rent control” but would love to see some kind of data about the people who inhabit these places—who they are, what their income looks like, where they came from, when, etc.

      1. I can tell you about the tenants in my 3 flat building in NOPA. They’re tech and advertising industry young singles rooming together in what were single family working class residences back in the day. They pay an average of $4300 for each of the three 1600 foot Edwardian units rented in 2010. Good people and I’m glad to have them.

        As the owner of three rent control flats in SF, I can attest to a huge advantage for landowners of rent controlled residences – no turnover and respect for your property. Trash, filth, neglect, non payment of rent can well result in eviction. Not a risk you want to take if you’re in a below market rent controlled unit.

        I rent properties in Texas, and have lots of problems with tenants who flout their tenancy because they can easily jump ship, and I spend much time and money replacing tenants who don’t value my properties sufficient to care for them. While it would be nice to raise rents on my flats at my discretion, the plus side is that my SF tenants know to behave if they want to stay in their rent controlled units, and won’t jump ship for mere convenience leaving me with a trashed vacant unit for months (as often happens in my market free Texas units where the market free tenants are free to test the market at will and trash inits and abuse landlords along the way.

        My SF tenants are not only paying my mortgage, taxes and insurance, while leaving me with free cash, I’m sitting in comfort knowing that because of rent control I can count and rely on my rental cash flow, all with a minimum of hassle and worry.

        1. It sounds like your situation with your tenants is very good — based on what you say, they are in a demographic (young, singles rooming together) which ensures that their lifestyles will change and their desired housing type will change also, which will provide you with glorious turnover.

          I wish I could say the same for the tenants in my 4 flat building in the Richmond district — 3 of 4 have been there more than 20 years, so I am in a situation of greatly increased expenses and ever-diminishing returns.

          1. I wish I could say the same too. I have a tenant who works for Apple and pays a little less than $1K for a 2 bedroom unit in the Haight.

        2. Yeah man but you’re getting $4300 since the units were rented in 2010. Imagine if you were getting instead $1300. I bet you wouldn’t be too happy…

        3. Ricardo,

          I would suggest that if you rented your Texas units for a below market rate similar to that enjoyed by long term rent controlled flats then you would have a similar situation with those tenants. And would you have the same appreciation of rent control if you had the tenants profiled in the Rube Goldberg building rather than your favorable example?

          1. 30 later, when market rent become 30k, Ricardo will still collecting 4900. I hope Ricardo will still be happy to collect 16% of the market rent.

        4. Ricardo, you need to get better management in Texas. I also own rental properties there and do not have frequent problems of the sort you describe.

          There was a study done of rent-controlled tenants in SF some time back, probably 2005 or so. My recollection is about a third were making more than $100K per year, while their (in many cases) much lower-income landlords were forced to subsidize their monthly rent. At the very least, we needs means testing applied to rent control so that renters who are perfectly capable of paying market rents are made to do so.

    1. In Grass Valley in the next county over there are some 3brs for $1350. I’ll bet you could bargain with the landlord.

      Grass Valley has been absorbing Bay Area retirees/burnouts for many years. I wonder whether a local backlash has developed yet.

    1. And I learned what a “jerk” is – someone who likes it when someone else’s property rights are confiscated.

    2. If this is the type of building that deserves landmarking, then hundreds and hundreds of buildings “deserve” it, too. I like it, and I’d like to see it survive, but it’s not a landmark.

  6. How can the tenant fight the eviction in this case? Seems they will have to move out.

    “the tenants vow to fight their eviction”

    1. I believe Ellis is applicable to residential units. Commercial tenants are usually governed by language of the lease.

  7. mas, no there is no Ellis acting a commercial tenant. 20th Century Cafe, I believe has a long-term lease, which is great because I love the place, the staff and the owner.

  8. These tenants are outrageous. I hope the rent control will be prohibited by California, we need to learn from the massachusetts rent control prohibition act.

    Everyone is sympathetic of the poor landlord and sick of these greedy tenants.

  9. rent controlled tenants are evil greedy people looking for a free ride on some one else-es back .. and it got voted in because were a city of renters and politicians looking for a vote scruples politicians .. property owners have rights.. rent control is out of control and should be addressed or stopped,

  10. SF’s rent control regulation is evil. It is evil to support rent control and it is evil to make rent control worse and worse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *