Established back in 1921, the Garibaldi Nursery was one of around two dozen local Italian and Italian-American cut-flower nurseries that dominated the Portola District back in the early twentieth century.  But following World War II, the lands which the nurseries had occupied were largely redeveloped and replaced by housing.

And having shuttered in 1990, the 2.2 acre Portola District block bounded by Woolsey, Hamilton, Wayland and Bowdoin streets, which is known as 770 Woolsey and is currently home to the decaying greenhouse remains of the Garibaldi family’s old University Mound Nursery (a.k.a The Rose Factory), is now the last remaining extant cut-flower nursery site in Portola.

Acquired by Group i for $7.5 million in 2017, plans for a 63-unit development to rise up to 35 feet in height on the site have since been drawn.

And while a grass roots campaign to co-purchase the parcel along with the PUC and turn the parcel into a community park, farm and flower garden was unsuccessful in raising the necessary funds or a purchase agreement prior to its sale to Group i, the “Friends of 770 Woolsey” haven’t given up hope.

Citing its association “with the commercial flower-growing industry in the Portola District, and for its association with the role Italians and Italian-Americans played in the city’s flower-growing industry,” a formal community-sponsored application to Landmark the block has been submitted to Planning along with a formal Historic Resource Evaluation (HRE) prepared by the Architectural Resources Group (ARG).

From San Francisco’s Planning Department which will present the application and background to the City’s Historic Preservation Commission next week:

“Overall, the Department finds, based on the information provided in the nomination application and project produced HRE, that the subject property appears to rise to the level of significance as required under Article 10 of the Planning Code for an individual City Landmark. Furthermore, staff has reviewed the landmark designation application for 770 Woolsey Street and finds that information presented in the Community Sponsored designation application provides a comprehensive documentation of the subject property’s history.

The Department agrees with the applicant that the property is significant under Criterion 1 both for its association “with the commercial flower-growing industry in the Portola District, and for its association with the role Italians and Italian-Americans played in the city’s flower-growing industry.” Furthermore, as an extant small-scale nursery in the Portola District, staff concurs with the ARG produced HRE, that the subject property is a significant Cultural Landscape under Criterion 3 (architecture) as a rare example of a small-scale urban-agricultural site. Therefore, staff recommends that if added to the [City’s Landmark Designation Work Program], that information and analysis provided in the consultant-prepared HRE supplement the current nomination application.”

And according to Planning, the City has received around 100 letters, along with 183 comments attached to an online petition, in support of the landmarking, with “no known public or neighborhood opposition to [the] designation of 770 Woolsey Street as an Article 10 landmark.”

That being said, the aforementioned new owners of the block and development team, which now includes the Avant Group as well, are very much opposed and “not supportive” of landmarking the site which could either prohibit or limit its redevelopment.  We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by aerl

    They would rather have an ugly block covered in decaying greenhouse buildings and weeds instead of housing because… What is the possible upside?

    • Posted by SFRealist

      There is always a reason to block housing.

    • Posted by sfcommie

      Higher property value for existing stock. That’s what nimbyism is about.

    • Posted by Rillion

      Fewer neighbors to compete for parking with.

  2. Posted by maurice

    this is the height of ridiculous.

    • Posted by Mark

      What’s even more ridiculous is the height limit of 35 feet.

      • Posted by Scott F

        What’s most ridiculous is the RH-1 zoning, i.e. no apartments within those 35 feet even.

  3. Posted by don

    About 15 years ago I had a friend living across the street from this place; at that time anyway, roses were growing wild inside the remnant greenhouses, so rampantly you could reach in through a broken pane and pick them. Maybe not a highest-and-best use of urban land, but magical.

  4. Posted by derrysf

    The NIMBYism in this city is nothing short of astonishing, and seemingly the Planning Department is playing right along. “…its association with the role Italians and Italian-Americans played in the city’s flower-growing industry.” So this group needs to be honoured, memorialised, what…?! So apparently this whole ‘housing crisis’ thing is just a hoax?

    • Posted by Orland

      It seems as though Planning is simply performing its role as established by Code. Not their fault in this instance.

    • Posted by Tor

      I think a nice plaque and maybe a small rose garden inside the complex would do.

      • Posted by aerl

        Exactly. Hopefully whoever is reviewing this sees through the scam and leaves it at that.

  5. Posted by anon

    the illustrated townhouse community is the best and most balanced use of the space. IMHO. Reasonable density, family oriented, relatively affordable, yet not a 35 ft huge apartment/condo building.

  6. Posted by Common Sense

    As a native of this neighborhood, this nursery has been closed for almost the duration of my life and left to decay for nearly 3 decades, an eye sore if there ever was one. Build the housing! The 2nd largest municipal park (GGNRA land not included) is literally 2 blocks away and goes largely unused anyway. Go forward with the development, stick a community garden in the middle of it if you want, but no more of this bogus land-marking. Designate a few acres of McClaren for a nursery or two if need be.

    • Posted by Scott F

      Please email the planners and say this! Michelle Taylor and Virnaliza Byrd. Both firstname.lastname at sfgov.org.

  7. Posted by Anon

    This is truly unbelievable. This site has been decaying for 30 years. This property does not serve the community in an shape or form and there is really nothing to be preserved here (other than adjacent parking spaces for current residents). Also, nobody showed any interest in it’s ‘historic value’ before it was purchased by a developer and new housing was proposed.

    If this gets preserved as is, this will not be a reminder of the role Italians and Italian-American played in the city’s flower-growing industry, it will rather be a reminder of the role NYMBYs and the SF planning department play in the city’s ongoing homelessness and affordability crisis.

  8. Posted by WalterNoe

    A taking if ever there was one. Buy it at FMV or end up paying court costs for both sides. A city of thieves…

  9. Posted by Notcom

    I’ll huff and I’ll puff….
    Since it looks like we’re pretty evenly split 🙂 on this Landmark idea, perhaps SS can atone for its use of prejudicial language in the headline (Angling: to attempt to get something by sly or artful means) by explaining further what such a designation would likely lead to: it doesn’t always preclude development – indeed it often doesn’t – and I would think that would be the case here… where there is little to preserve.

    • Posted by SocketSite

      While plaques can suffice when redeveloping merely “historic” sites, official landmarks are considered to be “unique and irreplaceable assets to the city and its neighborhoods,” which “provide examples of the physical surroundings in which past generations lived.” And landmark designations convey protections which are intended to “preserve, enhance and encourage continued utilization, rehabilitation and, where necessary, adaptive use of significant cultural resources.”

      Or as we wrote above, “landmarking the site…could either prohibit or limit its redevelopment.”

      • Posted by Outoftown

        “preserve, enhance and encourage continued utilization, rehabilitation and, where necessary, adaptive use of significant cultural resources.”

        So they need to redo the green houses and grow pot – the only plant that can give a decent return on such an expensive piece of land.

  10. Posted by Jason

    There are no words. Protecting something that’s been visibly unloved for 30 years to prevent 63 families from having homes.

    It’s this kind of SF style faux “progressivism” (i.e., not progressive at all) that made me decide to move away. I don’t see how people square this kind of NIMBYism with their ideals.

  11. Posted by joe

    Absurd. You often cant get approval to develop properties that ARENT landmarked and entirely within the zoning rules for the site. Arguing that a landmark designation for the site wouldn’t inhibit the development of it are on par with the arguments that the site should be preserved in decay to honor the Italian American contribution to the sunset cut flower market.
    SF holds the world record for jumping the shark

  12. Posted by eyeroll

    This is as ridiculous as the Portola branding themselves as “SF’s Garden District.” The neighborhood is just another sea of SFH’s, with a retail corridor shoved up against the freeway and a couple sad off-ramp “gardens.” We need housing, not an entire city block of obviously neglected blight.

    • Posted by SocketSite

      With a topography and undeveloped tracts of land that attracted small-scale produce farms, dairies and the aforementioned cut-flower nurseries prior to World War II, the Portola District organically came to be known as…San Francisco’s Garden District, which actually plays into the argument for landmarking the extant block.

    • Posted by Alex

      I like the “sad” off-ramp gardens whenever I drive past, clearly created by people that get off their butts to create positive change rather than hiding behind a keyboard doing nothing but complaining———truly the thing this city/world needs less of (rolls eyes).

  13. Posted by Dave (Seattle dude)

    I don’t oppose this project but wish the design could have been more imaginative. This area is a sea of SFHs with cemented in fronts and essentially no green. A very uninviting streetscape. If only the middle portion of the project had been allowed to go two stories higher to permit the townhomes along the sidewalk to be set back a fair bit and the open area greened.

  14. Posted by patrick

    please blend into the neighborhood. let families have a please to play in their yards and dogs a place to be walked. no zero lot lines – yards and porches encourage neighborhoods

    • Posted by archiwha

      in a utopian world where everyone can afford single family homes with yards, i would agree. but because reality is far different, i vote for more density. people encourage neighborhoods, not backyards… (also looks like none of the existing houses have porches…)

    • Posted by Scott F

      This is 900 feet from McLaren Park, the city’s second-largest. Well worth a visit. The hiking trails are phenomenal.

    • Posted by Brian M

      How many yards in the surrounding neighborhood, which has preferred paved in parking spaces over your vaunted suburban dream for decades.

  15. Posted by Larry

    This is a tough one here. I do think that the greenhouses meet the criteria for landmarking, but to what point. They’ve been abandoned and unused for 30? years and clearly there’s no economic use. I suspect the impetus for the landmarking is NIMBISM. Please don’t think that Planning is anti-housing, they are very pro-housing but have a lot of constraints and conflicting mandates. If someone nominates a site for a landmark and it meets the criteria the staff would have a really tough time not recommending it for designation. The Historic Preservation Commission, the Board and the Mayor ultimately have to approve, and maybe one of them could deny it. A former planner.

    • Posted by Agoodman

      There’s a difference here from un-used to intentionally neglected by an agency to flip it quick for sale or redevelopment.

      These parcels should and could be rehabilitated and with a growing population and less food sources a vertical garden concept or another more savy micro towers and green spaces could be a win win. Issue here is transit as San Bruno bus lines are stuffed to the gills and so is the freeway so transit infrastructure must change

      • Posted by Brian M

        These are pipe dreams in a state which still has plenty of farmland without relying on resource and capital intensive boutique fake urban farms.

        It is the land use equivalent of the amazingly convoluted and processed fake meat movement now underway. Better living through chemistry and heavily manipulated soy products.

  16. Posted by UnlivableCity

    One thing is for sure: an empty field is better looking than the ugly boxes sleazy out of state developers are cramming into sf these days. So more power to them.

    • Posted by Don King

      Yeah, cuz the rows of houses painted pink, purple, p*ss yellow, and sh*t brown are so lovely, right?

  17. Posted by Philip

    A park. No doubt the neighbors who want to protect this Eden will all pitch In to pay for maintenance and operation, and also reimburse the City for the property taxes the parcel would have generated.
    Entitled, freeloading nimbys.

  18. Posted by optometrist

    Maybe, just for $600k, the School Board could setup in and erase the whole thing?
    problem solved.

  19. Posted by Sarah

    Yes the city needs housing. But the City also needs to make sure that it retains some of if its history & spirit. We need to protect historical spots to keep SF the special place that it is.

    There are a couple residential developments in the Portola, one on San Bruno Ave completed a few years ago, as well as a planned one at the old bee farm. Yes the city needs more housing, but doesn’t the city also need to retain green spaces…places that can teach people how to grow food? With all of the techie stuff happening in this city, it going to be important to protect green spots like these for our future.

    I’m for the landmarking. I’m also for more housing in SF, just not on this plot. And here’s something else to consider — the homes in this development will sell for well over a million dollars…it has to pencil out financially for the developers. If any housing were built on the greenhouse land it ought to be sold at prices working people can afford — People who work in landscaping, teachers, the service industry. That won’t happen w this developer/development, a big chunk of their funding is from outside of the USA.

    • Posted by AndrewK

      “I’m also for more housing in SF, just not on this plot.” I think you just defined NIMBYism.

      • Posted by aerl

        “I’m for housing, just not here” is literally the argument that gets used every time a development project is blocked in California. People need to get over the idea that their little corner of the world is somehow more special than everyone else’s.

    • Posted by Spencer

      mclaren park is very close. plenty of green

  20. Posted by jimmythekid

    Add roof gardens and build the damn homes!

  21. Posted by Jim

    Sarah, it doesn’t matter where their financing comes from…the capital market is an international market and largely agnostic whether they are building subsidized housing in SF, market rate housing in SF, or planting rutabagas in South Africa. It simply has to pencil, and it’s the same pencil for a local developer as an offshore developer. In fact, we benefit by having outside capital come in to the city.

    The ridiculously high cost of housing in SF is due (in no particular order) to (1) cost of land which relates to small supply and large demand (2) cost of labor, again which relates to a shortage of construction labor since 2008 Great Recession (3) spiraling cost of materials, again due to high demand worldwide for construction materials, (4) high (20%) Below Market Rate unit requirement in SF, and (5) tariffs on construction materials from China, which include steel, aluminum, drywall, etc.

    The only new homes that sell for below cost are subsidized homes. The COSTS are the same as for market rate materials (land, labor, capital). The PRICE is lower because they are subsidized by you and me. Which, by the way I am happy to do. There will be a bond on the November 5 ballot. Be sure and vote yes.

  22. Posted by b

    Plenty of land in SOMA. Raze old one story commercial buildings and replace them with housing affordable and market rate. And be smart about it. Instead of filling a whole block with 35 feet buildings, build two tall buildings and designate the rest of the block as open space.

    • Posted by jimbo

      agreee that there is plenty of places in West soma that could be 12-15 floors of housing.

    • Posted by Scott F

      Also plenty of land in neighborhoods like the Portola to build denser when owner-occupants of single-family homes move out. This should be legalized as an alternative to what happens now: a flipper buys the home, does an ultra-luxury remodel, and we get no additional housing for the investment, just a wealthier resident.

      • Posted by S

        exactly. Each of these houses can and should be built to at least duplexes. Much better use of space and more affordable to more people.

        @B – taller buildings are more expensive to both build and maintain. Normally I’m all for open space but not when the city’s second largest park is two blocks away from this plot.

      • Posted by yy

        with no ties to the neighborhood

  23. Posted by MDG399

    Absurd to do the historic route – no one cared about it for 30+ years

    Build housing here – 35feet – 48 feet 60 feet

    whatever

  24. Posted by Anon

    I have great news for everybody here! According to historic maps of nurseries in Portola, there were plenty of flower nurseries on the grounds of today’s McLaren Park and Louis Sutter Playgrounds. They carried truly Italian-American names such as Siri, Victoria Pardini or Gemignani. I propose that we carve out a spot for a community garden on those grounds that are as historically important as the 770 Woosley block. In this way, the people fighting for persevering the neighborhood’s heritage get the historic landmark and the people asking for more residential housing get the housing. Isn’t this a win win?

  25. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Thanks for the background. I’ve always wondered about the history of those old greenhouses.

    The move for historical designation takes a weird bend towards honoring Italian Americans. Before reading this I never knew that Italians were associated with floriculture. But that should be no surprise because Italian Americans have been associated with every aspect of American life. Singling out a single vocation is strange and I cynically see it as just a way to tug at the hearts and purse strings of Italian Americans.

  26. Posted by Sarah

    Ah, I didn’t realize and took the bait. Socketsite is for realtors and developers, people who think anything that promotes real estate development to sell and make money — regardless of what’s at stake — is worth it.

    It super easy to point a finger and claim NIMBYISM when someone opposes any sort of residential development, and that is not only lame, it’s some serious black and white thinking.

    I’m not a fan of building monstrosities all over San Francisco just because we need more housing. Go ahead people, push for it. You’ll take away all the things that make San Francisco a place you want to live.

    • Posted by SFRealist

      I’m not a developer or a realtor, but I used to live near this side. You say “the city also need to retain green spaces”. That may be true, but this is not a green space, so that’s inapplicable. This is a decaying, dilapidated old greenhouse that is falling apart for decades. There’s nothing to save here. Nor is this a “monstrosity”. It’s a proposal for a few houses in a neighborhood of other houses.

      Of all developments to fight, opposing this one is particularly silly.

    • Posted by S

      There are plenty of monstrosities all over town, built all throughout various decades and style is subjective. Unless we have rules about what buildings should look like (like State St in Santa Barbara), I don’t think it’s up to us to fight reasonable development on the grounds of what it looks like. We can certainly give our point of view but it’s not legally enforceable.

      We should definitely extract concessions to mitigate any negative impacts but arguments like this just make SF people look nuts. We have to pick our battles and this project is very reasonable.

      Above all, what makes SF special to me are its people and too many of them have left due to unaffordable housing.

  27. Posted by Dance Steve

    How is it not full of homeless?

    • Posted by Spencer

      good point. maybe this could be developed as a navigation center, while waiting for permits and construction.

    • Posted by citicritter

      Well, its full of broken glass from the decaying greenhouses, amidst thorny old rose bushes that somehow have survived. Plus its pretty fenced off…

  28. Posted by eric

    ABC 7 is doing a segment on it tonight on its 6pm news….will have perspective from both sides.

  29. Posted by ExSFLandlord

    Please build a 400 foot tall mega affordable residential housing development at this site. The city desperately needs affordable housing. There is no excuse for not building affordable housing at this site…none. No excuse for not maximizing the site and building to at least 400 feet.

    This site could yield 1000 units of affordable housing. The proposed development of 63 units at 35 feet is a joke.

  30. Posted by Scott F

    Update: the Historic Preservation Commission did not vote to advance the landmarking recommendation today, with several commissioners more or less arguing landmarking was too blunt a tool and to consider the historic significance during the EIR process for the development.

  31. Posted by yay

    NO LANDMARK!! Reason prevails!!

  32. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    As has been pointed out above, this site is zoned RH-1, so a 400 foot tall mega affordable residential housing development is impossible. The proposed development of 63 units at 35 feet is possible.

    Also, as has been pointed out in the thread above, there isn’t near enough mass transit serving this area, so jam packing 1000 units of affordable housing onto this site would mean jam packing the area streets with cars. No excuses are necessary, the constraints faced by planners are visible and understandable to any reasonable person.

    • Posted by Scott F

      Zoning can and does change.

      Not nearly enough transit? Compared to where? This is near the 8, 9, 9R and more. I can guess what you’re going to say next: the buses are too crowded. Well, running more buses is pretty doable in the scheme of things.

      For perspective, the fastest growing Bay Area city is Dublin, with 9 times the growth rate of San Francisco. All the fastest growing parts of the Bay Area are far East Bay suburbs. It’s easier to serve people’s needs with transit if we put that growth here in San Francisco, even if it’s a neighborhood where transit means — gasp! — riding a bus.

      I’ll admit 1000 units is ambitious considering that’s 450 dwellings per acre which would be higher than the Transbay District. But 63 is pretty low and makes for what Jane Jacobs called a “semi-suburb,” which she believed lacked enough density to support the best parts of urban living. 220 homes here plus corner retail would be good.

      • Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

        Compared to places with some kind of rail service. Unless there are dedicated bus lanes, adding in more housing in and of itself reduces the ability to run more buses or have them run at higher frequency because they have to compete with cars.

        People like to say that if you build housing without parking people moving into an upzoned area won’t bring cars with them to increase traffic and therefore slow down buses. The problem is the existence of Uber and Lyft, which some parking reduction advocates ironically proposed as a solution to urban congestion due to people driving more miles in search of parking. They are instead putting more cars on the road, making traffic worse. A Transportation Authority study found that bumper-to-bumper delays soared 62% from 2010 to 2016, and roughly half of this increase was caused by ride-sharing vehicles.

  33. Posted by Eric

    the Landmark move by the neighbors was a power play because they did not want to compromise and have any housing built next to them. think the commission shrewdly recognized that we dont need to join the all or nothing…us vs. them…if u are not from my good go back to yours rhetoric and rather allow a more ffv flexible process for both history and housing to proceed.

  34. Posted by Zig

    There is no need for landmarking because there are working nurseries in the area run by Italian Americans.

    Mr Figone does not age!

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