Noe Valley Voice
By Matthew S. Bajko
The San Francisco Planning Department has concluded that the building at 369 Valley St., composed of two shacks built to house refugees from the 1906 earthquake, has historical value.
The decision complicates plans by the owner of the property to relocate the existing structure in order to construct a larger, single-family house.
In a June 8 email to the Noe Valley Voice, Planning Department Preservation Planner Justin Greving wrote that after conducting a historic resource evaluation on the property, "We ultimately concluded that the property in question is still a historic resource under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)."
Residents fighting to protect the structure praised the planning department for its decision, which will require greater scrutiny of any proposed development at the site.
"This shows that people can win out over the real estate speculators when we demonstrate solidarity and are organized to win," Marc Norton, a 29-year resident of 29th Street and an organizer of the Save the Shack campaign, wrote in an emailed response. "However, the fight to preserve the Earthquake Shacks is not over. We will need to carefully analyze the report, its legal ramifications, and the next moves" that the property owner decides to make.
Ozzie Rohm, with the group Protect Noe's Charm, agreed that the fight to save the structure would continue. Nonetheless, she was heartened to see the determination that the property has historic significance.
"It certainly renews our belief in the Planning Department and shows that if they put the time and effort to thoroughly evaluate demolition and construction permits, the history and charm of our neighborhood won't be sacrificed to make room for out-of-scale and out-of-character construction that has become so rampant in recent years," wrote Rohm in an email.
Property owner John Schrader, of Nova Designs + Builds, planned to meet with Planning Department staff to discuss their report. In a brief interview June 18, he said he was unsure what its implications would be for his proposed project.
"Well, it has taken a different approach than our historian," said Schrader, who had told the Voice this spring that he had no plans to demolish the building to make way for the new construction.
Instead, he said he would like to either relocate it on site to be used as a home office or artist's studio, or see it be moved to an entirely new location where it could be preserved.
Historical resource consultant Tim Kelley, hired by Schrader, had argued to the Planning Department that the house in question should not be considered a historic resource because it had been moved from its original location in a refugee camp and because modifications made to the structure over the years diminished its historical significance.
The Planning Department, however, rejected both of those arguments.
"Planning staff do not concur with the findings of Tim Kelley Consulting that the subject property does not retain integrity to convey its significance as a compilation of two Earthquake Shacks," states the department in its report.
According to the 13-page Historic Resource Evaluation Response, dated May 29 and signed by Senior Preservation Planner Tina Tam, the structure found at 369 Valley St., in fact, "stands as one of the better examples of a compilation of Earthquake Shacks that retains a high degree of integrity and conveys the distinctive characteristics of these unique property types."
Just a handful of the 5,610 earthquake shacks remain standing, with two found in Noe Valley. The one at 369 Valley has a prominent front gable, a key feature of the Type B earthquake shacks, notes the Planning Department report.
It was combined with a side-gabled Type A earthquake shack, notes the report, "to form the L-shaped residence originally constructed in 1907."
Although the building is not currently listed in any local, state, or national historical register, 369 Valley St. is included in a city-adopted historic resource survey of known earthquake shacks. The building is considered a "Category A" property, meaning a historic resource is present, for the purposes of a CEQA review.
The Planning Department also determined that the building is eligible to be listed on the California Register of Historical Resources because of its association to events that "made a significant contribution" to local history.
"The subject property provides not only a direct connection with the 1905 Earthquake and Fire, one of the most important events of San Francisco's urban history, but also tells the story of recovery efforts to provide housing to thousands of residents that would have otherwise been evicted from the camps into the streets," states the report.
The 369 Valley St. structure was also found to be eligible for listing on the state register because of its "distinctive characteristics" that denote it being an earthquake shack.
"From the exterior, the specific form of the Shack, with its small scale, particular dimensions, low height, and particular roof pitch, are its distinctive characteristics," according to the report. "Even on the interior there are certain features that are most often associated with the Shacks; rooms often feature coved ceilings so as to accommodate the low collar-tie."
The fight to preserve 369 Valley St. has drawn the attention of Jane Cryan, the founder and former director of the Society for the Preservation & Appreciation of San Francisco's 1906 Earthquake Refugee Shacks. In 1984 she determined that the building at 369 Valley St. had been constructed out of two former earthquake shacks, leading the city to initially deem it to be of historical significance.
Cryan, who now lives in Wisconsin, sent Greving a letter in May asking him to "spare 369 Valley Street from the wrecking ball. Spare the two Shacks living beneath their 'artistic new dress' for they spread goodwill throughout Noe Valley and San Francisco."