Friday, July 25, 2008

A San Francisco Sojourn*

And now for something completely different. Apartment buildings from a different city. On my most recent jaunt to San Francisco, I took a number of photographs of that cities vintage apartment stock. In some ways it is (housing stock-wise) very similar to Chicago; age, density and typology, while at the same time being completely different in aesthetic and plan (well, maybe not so different - or not?).

In San Francisco, there is very little brick construction, partially due, I'm sure, to ease of construction - think about schlepping bricks up the hills, availability of timber (mostly redwood, even for framing), lack of stringent fire codes as well as milder weather. There is also the California style of Spanish (or Spanish Colonial more accurately) influences, hence a massive amount of stucco in Mission styles and 1920s Classical Revival styles.

Most people seem to be familiar with the famous "Painted Ladies" of San Francisco's Victorian era, but less well known is the Edwardian and 1920s housing stock. There is also a large, vast by Chicago standards, trove of Art Deco housing as well. Another one of the big differences between the two cities (beyond mild weather, hills, earthquakes, trolleybusses and streetcars) is the lack of alleyways. Since there are no alleys, garages are either often originally incorporated into the front facade, or have been renovated into it.

Here we have a little red Mission style two-flat in the Mission District. This is identified by the cornice line which reflects the old mission churches of Old California, tile roofs and heavy massing. Of heavy San Francisco tradition are the light catching bay windows on the second floor. Although this house is on the "sunny side" of the city, it can still be foggy in the early morning hours here as well, making these windows quite useful. We also have a garage incorporated into the ground floor and a rather unusual appearing round entry with an almost craftsman appearing "roof" at the entry. The low and wide window on the first floor is also rather unusual, and strangely proportioned. Also note the little third floor (attic? or even just decorative) bay in the gable. My suspicion is that this was constructed immediately before the First World War, in the early teens.

Here we have a green two-flat, which I believe is locally known as a "Marina Style" building. This building reflects the 1920's version of Spanish style revival architecture as well as subtle hints of 1920's Classicism. In this case there are some echoes of Chicago buildings with octagonal bays, however, here the facade continues from lot line to lot line. These building also typically have dumbbell plans and light slots, making some rooms rather similar to Chicago apartments. This example comes from the Haight - Alamo Square border.

The interesting thing about these garages in the base, one is that they are often large enough for multiple cars, the other that they occur weather the slope is up from the street or down from the street (and of course they do occur on the sideways slope as well).

In this yellow example we have another example of this type of two-flat building. In this case, an almost indeterminate melange of 1920s forms and earlier decorative styles. An almost medieval cornice detail - or even a hint of Jugendstil or shades of Sezession massing and detailing. The windows and detailing make me think that this was constructed around 1920.

As with Chicago, these types also came in single-family and three story (though very few) versions. There are a large number of these in Richmond and Inner Sunset - two western areas of the city.

Now we move up and into larger format buildings. Here we have another building from the Haight to the left. This one is stuccoed in 1920's fashion, but notice the wood frame construction, as evidenced in the clapboard siding on the right side and the brick veneer base with garage doors. To the right is a corner building from the Mission District with much the same style of layout. The Haight building shows 1920's detailing, while the Mission building shows a light Colonial Revival treatment.

From these two examples it is only a short jump to the Art Deco extravagances which the city is justly known for (one hopes). The first few examples hail from Richmond and are similar in scale to the two previous examples, however, they are much more decorative with a riot of deco extravagances.

The three examples are all richly decorated with ornamented cornices and bay windows, all above the typical garage base which dominates San Francisco. This same style also applies to larger scale building, when the size changes the rhythm of the building less than one would imagine.

Here we have a grand deco entry way to an otherwise plain entry and two views of a spectacularly sited deco extravagance. Notice that the ever present bay windows are here too, with stunning city and park views.

Lastly we have some downtown examples. The first of which I don't really quite know how to categorize, however it is a spectacularly decorated building with extremely ornate bays, as you will note, on a very steeply sloping downtown street - Nob Hill, actually. I find it rather deco influenced, even though it's detailing is rather more Spanish Revival. The flat, plain facade surrounding the bays really implies a deco composition, though I suppose one could really argue that this is a 20's device or even conceit.

Nearby, also on Nob Hill, we have a riotous show of color and ornamentation in tropical greens and gold. Yet here again we find the typical bay windows and spandrel decoration. The decorative panels are typical deco detail, which can be found throughout the deco world.

The entry in this case is truly incredibly lush. I think that this is a good place to mention something about entries. San Francisco has a large number of grand or very charming entryways, both modern and traditional. Many of the apartment buildings have very inviting entry porches or forecourts, many unfortunately gated off today, but still lovely. Some even have cave-like entries, with atrium lighting from above, which incorporate carports within them (these are outside of our scope, as they are in single-family houses). However, there are still vast numbers of wonderful wood or marble lined entries all throughout the city, many of them lovingly preserved.

Our last building is at the top of Nob Hill, at the peak of the city. This is the Clay-Jones Apartments atop the hill, visible from miles around. Today it has a radio mast functioning as a spire, making it even more visible than it would have been.

This building was built in the very late 20's - 1927 to be exact - and contains two apartments per floor in the upper part of the tower above the setback, both of which are quite nicely laid out. The architect was one Albert H. Larsen and the construction cost was $585,000.

This concludes our little San Francisco Sojourn. I think I may do another post in the future, but another trip out west will be spent doing more documentation of their local housing types and enjoying the Bay Area as much as possible. You'll note that I didn't touch on the more well known, much better known, in fact, twentieth century architecture, that of the Mid-Century, with such luminaries as William Wurster et al or the eponymous Eichler House.

*Apologies to Robert of A Chicago Sojourn

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