Home > General Plan > Van Ness Avenue Area Plan
In 1849, William Eddy extended the 50 Vara land division
of the downtown to Larkin Street, replicating street and block dimensions
created by earlier surveys of Jean Vioget and Jasper OFarrell.¹
The Western Addition, as the sand dunes and chaparral west of Larkin were
called, was subsequently surveyed by several private groups before the
city-sponsored Van Ness Survey was completed in the mid-1850s. Originally
known as Marlette Street, the centerpiece of this extended 50 Vara survey
was re-named in honor of Mayor James Van Ness. Situated in the valley
between Nob and Russian Hills and Pacific Heights, Van Ness Avenue was
intended to function as the citys central north-south spine. Consequently,
the survey shaved off parts of the blocks on both sides of Van Ness to
create a 125 foot wide avenue.²
Despite grand hopes for the new Boulevard, development
of properties along the avenue was slow and the U.S. Coast Survey of 1869
indicated only scattered structures. In the 1860s Van Ness began
at Market Street and terminated at the U.S. military reserve at Black
Point. Since principal growth corridors radiated out from the downtown,
it was a long time before cross-town streets such as Van Ness could become
important arteries. The 1884 Coast and Geodetic Survey shows buildings
concentrated along intersecting streets with cable car lines such as Fulton,
McAllister, Ellis and Geary. Throughout this period, Polk Street, rather
than Van Ness, functioned as the principal commercial street of the mid-city,
serving people living on Nob and Russian Hills. It is conceivable that
the width of Van Ness like that of Market Street discouraged
its use as a shopping street.
Thus, as opposed to the heterogeneous development of
the avenue in the twentieth century, the nineteenth century land pattern
primarily consisted of wooden dwelling units. While lower Van Ness Avenue
was soon occupied by dense working class housing, the middle and upper
reaches of the avenue became characterized by wealthy residences. Italianate
homes were constructed during the 1870s and 1880s, and were
followed by large Queen Anne residences in the 1890s. Prominent
families who owned homes on Van Ness included the Spreckels, Crockers
and Gianninis. Aside from residences, the only large buildings shown on
the 1899-1905 Sanborn Maps were the Mechanics Library, Concordia Club,
St. Lukes Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church and St. Dunstons
Hotel. Livery stables, small industries, a school and other miscellaneous
uses were located side streets.
Industrialization of Rincon Hill caused by the
Second Street Cut of 1869 and shortage of available land on Nob
Hill encouraged the development of a new high-income neighborhood, and
Van Ness Avenue became a logical choice largely stimulated by proximity
to downtown, availability of undeveloped parcels, and access to cable
car lines. Furthermore, in the mid-1870s a row of Eucalyptus trees
was planted along each side of the avenue, contributing to its park-like
ambience. For similar reasons, large houses were also constructed during
the same period on Franklin Street, a block to the west.
Van Ness Avenues basic land use pattern continued
until 1906. The earthquake and fire of that year destroyed most of San
Francisco and would likely have gone on to burn Pacific Heights had it
not been for the great width of Van Ness Avenue, a natural fire break.
During the first day of the fire soldiers had attempted fire breaks further
east of Van Ness Avenue, all of which proved unsuccessful. They tried
again at Van Ness on the second day, dynamiting every building on its
east side south of Filbert Street, containing most of the fire and saving
the Western Addition: the area between Sutter and Washington Streets was
not contained until Franklin Street, and the area south of Golden Gate
Avenue was not contained until Octavia Street.
Immediately after the fire, burned out businesses from
the downtown moved to either Van Ness Avenue and Fillmore Street. Surviving
mansions on the west side of Van Ness were converted into stores, and
temporary commercial buildings were quickly constructed on the east side
of the street. The citys major department stores City of
Paris, the White House, and the Emporium all located here, as did
the Bank of California and the Anglo California Bank
By 1909, however, the rejuvenation of the downtown
district led to the exodus of businesses from Van Ness Avenue, the second
transformation of the avenues land use pattern in less than three
years. Far from returning to its earlier history as a residential boulevard,
development along the lower and middle sections of Van Ness consisted
of residential, commercial, industrial as well as institutional uses.
The 1911 Sanborn Map illustrates the heterogeneous uses including
auto body, wagon and bicycle repair shops as well as numerous undeveloped
sites. A National Guard Armory was located at the southeast corner of
California Street while clubs and hotels were scattered along the mid
section of the avenue.
In contrast to these areas, the upper section of Van
Ness, north of Jackson Street, retained its residential character. In
addition to several surviving nineteenth century mansions, private homes
and large apartment buildings in a wide variety of architectural styles
were constructed following the 1906 disaster. After 1915 and the Panama
Pacific Exposition, residences were constructed along Van Ness north of
By the 1920s aside from several large
apartment buildings automobile-oriented businesses emerged as the
most common use between Civic Center and Jackson Street. Earlier, between
1904 and 1908 many small auto showrooms and garages were built along Golden
Gate Avenue between Hyde and Van Ness, and after 1910 several small showrooms
and repair garages located on Van Ness itself. The growing automobile
industry soon demanded more grandiose buildings, and by 1911 prominent
architects such as McDonald and Applegarth, Willis Polk and Bernard Maybeck
began designing automobile showrooms.
After the Second World War, the designation of Van
Ness as U.S. Highway 101 led to the use of the avenue as a primary vehicular
thoroughfare and the concurrent re-orientation of businesses towards
citywide and regional markets. Movie theaters and restaurants opened
automobile showrooms. Since the late 1970s, automobile-oriented
businesses have declined as some auto showrooms relocated to other areas
within the city. Former auto showrooms have been converted to restaurants
and offices, and some have been demolished for new mixed use residential
developments. Given the relocation of the auto showroom businesses and
ancillary auto service and parts businesses, a number of properties
likely be available for new development or adaptive re-use in the near
¹A cellular unit, known as Vara,
provided a set of dimensions which allowed for grid expansion throughout
the South of Market and northern part of San Francisco. In the latter
area, the 50 Vara survey consisted of blocks measuring 4126"
by 275', or six 50 Vara squares whose sides measured 1376".
Street widths were commonly 25 Vara, or 689", although this
²The creation of a 125' wide
boulevard out of a 689" street necessitated shaving off parts
of the blocks on either side of Van Ness. Thus, 289" was taken
from the block extending to Polk Street and 279" was garnered
from the western block extending to Franklin Street. The choice of 125
feet for Van Ness may have been influenced by the widths of major streets
in eastern cities, such as Broadway in New York and Market Street in Philadelphia.
CONTINUE EXISTING OF THE AVENUE AND ADD A SIGNIFICANT INCREMENT OF NEW
Although there are 18 buildings containing 980 dwelling
units in this subarea most of the buildings are in non-residential use.
This section of Van Ness Avenue is one of the few areas
in the city where new housing can be accommodated with minimal impacts
on existing residential neighborhoods and public services.
Some of the features that make the area attractive
for medium density mixed use development with high density housing are
This 16 block strip along Van Ness Avenue maintains
a "central place" location and identity. The area is close to
the citys major employment center, is well-served by transit, has
well developed infrastructure (roadway, water, sewer and other public
services), wide roadway (93+ feet) and sidewalks (16+ feet), has continuous
commercial frontage and numerous attractive, architecturally outstanding
There are a number of large parcels which are substantially
A height limitation of between 80 and 130 ft. would
allow sufficient development to make feasible over time the construction
of housing on under used parcels.
The minor streets which bisect most of the blocks within
this subarea facilitate access to and from new developments with minimal
affects on major east-west thoroughfares or on Van Ness Avenue.
Development of a number of medium density, mixed-use
projects with continued non-residential use of non-residential buildings
would facilitate the transformation of Van Ness Avenue into an attractive
mixed use boulevard.
Encourage development of high density housing above a podium of commercial
uses in new construction or substantial expansion of existing buildings.
Construction of new mixed use buildings along the Avenue
on those relatively few sites on which new buildings are likely to be
built in the foreseeable future would both accommodate the need for housing
and respect the commercial heritage of the Avenue. Subarea 1 (Redwood
Alley to Broadway) should feature high density residential development
with commercial space to occupy the base of the building. This commercial
space should serve as a buffer between the busy street and the residential
To induce the construction of housing, link the amount
of non-residential space allowed should be linked to the amount of residential
space provided. The provision of the required residential space could
occur on-site or on a separate site located within the Van Ness Plan area.
Allow existing structures to remain in non-residential use.
In order to continue the active commercial use of the
avenue, existing non-residential buildings should be permitted to contain
any use residential or non-residential allowed in the district.
These buildings should also be allowed to be expanded somewhat without
triggering the housing requirement.
Non-residential development of narrow lots that do
not also abut a side street should also be allowed because of the difficulty
in providing residential parking on those properties.
Allow residential densities to be established by building volume rather
than lot size.
The number of units provided within individual projects
would depend on the height and bulk of the building, the amount of commercial
space provided under the minimum housing-to-commercial ratio, the amount
of on-site parking provided and the size of the units. Minimum unit size
would be established as part of the Conditional Use review process.
Maximize the number of housing units.
An overall mix of unit sizes on Van Ness Avenue is
desirable to encourage a diverse and mixed range of occupants. However,
the emphasis should be on a larger number of medium sized units (1 and
2 bedroom) rather than a smaller number of large size units because Van
Ness Avenue is not anticipated to be a preferred area for family housing.
It is therefore more desirable to achieve greater affordability for the
smaller units by building at a high density. Construction of rental housing
Employ various techniques to provide more affordable housing.
The Plan allows broad design flexibility as to unit
size, allowing the creation of small, compact units as a means of lowering
unit cost if there is a market demand for such units. A number of design
measures and marketing strategies such as "street-facing" or
"no view" units and units with quality building materials yet
lower cost appliances and carpeting can reduce unit costs and prices.
MAINTAIN THE SCALE, CHARACTER AND DENSITY OF THIS PREDOMINATELY RESIDENTIAL
Infill with carefully designed, medium density new housing.
New development in this area should be restricted to
residential use with neighborhood-serving retail use allowed at the ground
floor. This would involve reclassifying properties from to medium density
residential with ground floor retail use.
Existing small scale commercial uses above the ground
floor should be permitted to remain as non-conforming uses for the life
of the building. Existing ground floor residential space could be converted
to small-scale retail use provided that upper level residential space
and its required accessory uses (e.g. parking, open space, rear yard,
access ways, other mechanical features) were not adversely affected by
TRANSFORM THE AREA INTO AN ATTRACTIVE GATEWAY TO THE RESIDENTIAL BOULEVARD
AND A TRANSITION FROM FISHERMANS WHARF AND THE GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL
Create a tree-lined and landscaped median strip within the Van Ness street
space and plant rows of trees in the sidewalk space.
This greenspace element, which would realign some existing
parking spaces, should be designed to "announce" the areas
attractive shoreline open space resources and visually direct the visitor
Support National Park Service plans for improvements of the area within
the boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) boundaries.
The GGNRA General Management Plan calls for the following
"All of the Van Ness Avenue (asphalt paving) inside
the park boundary will be removed and replaced with landscaping. The Sea
Scout clubhouse and maintenance docks will also be removed. The Sea Scouts
boats will be moved to the east side of the lagoon, and their programs
and meetings will be held in the aquatic center. The food concession at
the foot of Van Ness will receive a good sprucing-up. The Municipal Pier
will also get a substantial cleanup and minor improvements such as fish-
cleaning stations and restrooms. (It may also require structural renovation).
Night lighting throughout the area will be upgraded."
PERMIT DENSITIES AND LAND USES THAT ARE COMPATIBLE WITH EXISTING LAND
USES AND PROPOSED RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE AVENUE.
1 - Generalized Land Use
and Density Plan
Adopt zoning controls that conform to the Van Ness Avenue generalized
Land Use and Density Plan.
ENCOURAGE DEVELOPMENT WHICH REINFORCES TOPOGRAPHY AND URBAN PATTERN, AND
DEFINES AND GIVES VARIETY TO THE AVENUE.
Van Ness Avenue is the central north-south spine and
one of the widest streets in the City. Bounded by Civic Center and the
Bay and characterized by excellent views, the Avenue defines and links
many adjacent neighborhoods. In connecting Market Street to the Bay, Van
Ness forms the western edge of the inner city and separates the Nob and
Russian Hill neighborhoods from Pacific Heights. The Avenue also provides
access between a number of focal points, including landmark buildings,
cultural centers, important view corridors and the Bay. The juxtaposition
on the Avenue of large monumental structures with fine-grain urban fabric
to the east creates an exciting contrast within the cityscape.
Establish height controls to emphasize topography and adequately frame
the great width of the Avenue.
Existing height limits on the Avenue range from 40
feet at the northern end to 130 feet in the central portion. This height
differentiation responds to topographic conditions as well as land use
patterns, maintaining distinctions between areas of different character.
For example, height districts are gradually tapered from 130 feet around
the hilltop at Washington Street to 80 feet at Pacific Avenue and further
to 65 and 40 feet towards the Bay shoreline. Although the majority of
existing height controls are adequate to define both the overall topography
as well as the great width of the Avenue, the height limit between California
and Pacific Streets should be lowered from the existing 130/105-ft. level
to 80 ft. in order to facilitate the transition between the greater building
heights along the southern part of the Avenue and the mostly low-rise
residential development north of Broadway. Development to maximum height
should be closely monitored to avoid blocking views between the high slopes
on both sides of the Avenue. Good proportion between the size of a street
and that of its buildings is important for streets to be interesting and
pleasant places. The proposed height limits, combined with the Van Ness
Plans proposed bulk controls, encourage definition of the 93-foot
Encourage a regular street wall and harmonious building forms along the
New development should create a coherent street wall
along the Avenue through property line development at approximately the
same height. Since block face widths are constant, a regularized street
wall encourages buildings of similar scale and massing. Nevertheless,
some variety of height is inevitable and desirable due to the need to
highlight buildings of historical and architectural significance.
The following controls are proposed for the various
bulk districts as shown on the accompanying map:
2 - Height and Bulk Districts
Continue the street wall heights as defined by existing significant buildings
and promote an adequate enclosure of the Avenue.
New construction on Van Ness Avenue can occur in two
basic situations. In some cases, the development will take place between
or adjacent to architecturally significant buildings. In this instance,
continuity of design and scale between the old and the new is of major
importance. In other cases, new development will take place in a more
isolated design context; for example, between two existing two-story,
non-descript commercial structures. In this instance, the overall continuity
of scale along the Avenue is of greater importance than the design character
of adjacent buildings. Setbacks of up to 20 feet in depth should be considered
for all new development above 40 feet in height and should be required
whenever necessary to continue existing significant street wall heights
and to define an adequate enclosure of the Avenue. Setbacks can also serve
to buffer the upper-level residential units from street-level noise.
Preserve existing view corridors.
In addition to the setback along the Van Ness Avenue
frontage, a setback approximately fifteen feet deep should be provided
at an appropriate height along California, Pine, Sacramento, Clay and
Washington Streets when necessary to preserve view corridors. The recommended
setbacks on the east-west streets could be varied on a case-by-case basis,
through the Conditional Use review process, as individual buildings undertake
massing studies to determine an appropriate building form and setback
which would preserve these significant view corridors.
Encourage full lot development resulting in a maximum number of dwelling
Modifications of the rear yard requirement should be
allowed if a comparable amount of usable open space is provided elsewhere
within the development, if any interior block open space formed by the
rear yards of abutting properties is not adversely affected, and if adequate
light and air to all dwelling units is maintained.
Encourage separation of towers for buildings involving more than one tower.
In a project involving more than one tower, the
towers should be separated so they are viewed as separate structures,
thereby reducing their apparent bulk. When towers lack adequate physical
separation and differentiation of building materials, texture coloration
or massing, they can be perceived as a single structure and the purpose
of the bulk requirements is defeated. In addition, building separation
allows greater light and air exposure to individual housing units and
ENCOURAGE DISTINGUISHED ARCHITECTURE WHOSE SCALE, COMPOSITION AND DETAILING
ENHANCES THE OVERALL DESIGN STRUCTURE OF THE AVENUE AND RELATES TO HUMAN
Architecturally significant structures along Van Ness
Avenue impart a sense of visual unity, although they are characterized
by a great stylistic variety. In contrast, undifferentiated buildings
can be overwhelming, creating an inhospitable pedestrian environment.
Differentiation of building sections including setting off a building
base from shaft and tower creates a human scale at street level.
Design exterior facades which complement and enhance significant works
of architecture along the Avenue.
Architectural styles along the Avenue include Romanesque,
Gothic, Spanish Colonial, Renaissance/ Baroque, Beaux Arts Classical,
and Modern. Such architectural variety precludes the predominance of any
one style, even though the Beaux Arts is clearly dominant in Civic Center.
While design in a historical style is neither encouraged nor discouraged,
the eclectic styles of significant buildings provide a rich architectural
Create varied rhythms in developments on large lots by inserting vertical
piers/columns, or changes in fenestration and materials to articulate
what otherwise would be an undifferentiated facade plane.
The 50 Vara block subdivision along Van Ness Avenue
results in north-south block lengths of 275 feet. On blocks bisected by
alleys the length is commonly 120 feet. Excessive horizontal width without
recurring vertical elements leads to a repetitive rhythm difficult to
Incorporate setbacks and/or stepping down of building form on new developments
and major renovations when necessary to increase sun exposure
Design features such as setbacks and wind breaks on
new developments and renovations can help to provide a pleasant environment
on both rooftops, sidewalks, courtyards and nearby open spaces.
Differentiate bases of buildings and incorporate detail at ground level
through variety in materials, color, texture and architectural projections.
Provide windows with clear glass throughout the building.
Defined bases on tall buildings provide opportunities
for active ground floor uses, ornament and art, colonnades, arcades and
their innovative schemes. Clear glass facilitates visual contact between
the building and the outside and is especially important at the ground
level. A belt course or cornice, change in materials, or other architectural
treatment should be required at the 40 to 60 foot height along Austin,
Hemlock and Fern Streets for properties with frontage along those minor
Prohibit bridges over streets or other public right-of-ways.
Pedestrian bridges block views, shadow streets and
other open spaces and obstruct skyline elements while only marginally
improving private pedestrian circulation between buildings. Safe and convenient
pedestrian circulation at grade is preferred.
PROVIDE SAFE AND ATTRACTIVE ENVIRONMENTS WITHIN EACH MIXED USE DEVELOPMENT.
Ensure safety, security and privacy within new residential developments
while encouraging efficient use of common open space areas.
Common areas associated with the residential portion
of a mixed use development should be designed to prevent intrusion by
commercial space users and the general public. Whenever possible, residential
parking areas should be physically separated from public parking areas
and should provide safe and secure passageway to residential elevators
and walkways. Handicapped parking areas should be placed close to elevators
and should be free of potential vehicle movement conflicts.
Provide wind protection and sun exposure to private and common open space
Generally maintain existing open space requirements for residential use.
Allow common open space requirements to be met by a variety of recreation
and open space features.
The requirement of 36 square feet of open space for
each dwelling unit should continue to apply. Development of common usable
open space could substitute for private open space at a ratio of 1.33
to 1 provided that this space would be for the exclusive use of project
residents. Common open space should include such uses as multipurpose
rooms to be used for exercise rooms, solaria, recreational facilities,
green spaces and open space play areas.
- Landscape Plan
Design mixed use developments to create a quiet residential environment
with a variety of intimate, personal spaces well insulated from the intrusion
of noises from street or commercial activities.
There are a variety of ways in which the sound coming
from Van Ness Avenue can be reduced to create an acceptable acoustic environment
for dwellings. Setbacks provided above the commercial street wall can
serve as a sound barrier for those units behind the setback. In addition,
noise control for interior spaces can be provided through sound-rated
windows. Other sound attenuation measures such as deep balconies and solid
balcony rails may also be necessary. Bedrooms or whole units can be insulated
from noise by solaria which provide not only sound insulation but also
usable garden space, and, on the south, solar heating. To encourage their
use, solaria should be counted as required private, usable open space
if they are designed so that a substantial portion of the window area
can be opened to the air.
CREATE AN ATTRACTIVE STREET AND SIDEWALK SPACE WHICH CONTRIBUTES TO THE
TRANSFORMATION OF VAN NESS AVENUE INTO A RESIDENTIAL BOULEVARD.
Require sponsors of major renovation or new development projects to improve
and maintain the sidewalk space abutting their properties according to
the guidelines contained in this Plan.
Sidewalk vaults or sub-sidewalk basements should not
be permitted in new developments. Where there are existing sidewalk vaults
or sub-sidewalk basements, project sponsors should be required to install
or pay for the installation of subsurface footings, supports or foundations
as may be required for future public improvements such as street trees,
lights, trolley wire poles, signs, benches, transit shelters, etc. within
the vault or sidewalk basement area.
Where there are no trees, plant trees within the sidewalk space and the
median strip. Maintain existing healthy trees and replace unhealthy ones.
Trees should be planted on center two feet from the
curb, an average of 20 foot spacing along Van Ness Avenue. At major intersections,
the trees might be grouped. Trees should be planted within the sidewalk
or median space and should be at least four-inch caliper, 10 feet tall,
have good taper, and be free of disease and pests.
Appropriate trees for planting in the median strip
include Eucalyptus calophylla v. Hawkeye, Eucalyptus rudis
(Desert Gum), and Eucalyptus polyanthemus (Silver Dollar Gum). Appropriate
sidewalk canopy trees include two Lindens, Tilia cordata, and Tilia tomentosa,
and Platanus acerifolia, Sycamore.
Provide street trees with tree grates that have removable sections to
adequately accommodate tree growth.
The design of the tree grates should be uniform throughout
the length of the street.
Incorporate low-growing ground cover around the tree plantings within
the median strip.
Shrubs or hedges growing to a maximum height of three
feet should be planted in addition to or in lieu of ground cover within
the median strip. Ground cover species could include Agapanthus africanus
(Lily of the Nile), Dwarf Lily of the Nile, as well as colorful Gazania,
consistent with other plantings in the median along Van Ness.
Maintain existing sidewalk widths.
Incorporate uniform sidewalk paving material, color, pattern and texture
throughout the length of the Avenue.
Sidewalk and median strip paving materials should be
concrete, light grey-tone in color, with a plain, brushed surface texture,
except for a darker grey 12-inch curbside trim which should add a richness
in color and texture to the Avenue.
Trim sidewalk curbs with hydraulically pressed, pre-cut four-inch square
stone paving blocks to a horizontal depth of 12 inches. Replace median
pavements with grey tone interlocking paving blocks.
The stone pavers should be of a complementary medium
grey-tone color (e.g., Hanover Prest Paving R.D. No. 4).
Assure a uniform architectural style, character and color in the design
of street lights and poles.
Painting all the light poles along Van Ness Avenue
a blue and gold color scheme, similar to that of the Civic Center light
poles, would contribute to this special identity.
If feasible, existing street light poles should be
maintained and enhanced in order to contribute to the special identity
of the Avenue. The angle and color of illumination on existing and new
street lights should be designed to minimize glare to nearby residential
Lighting should not damage adjacent landscape
plantings and should provide safe and attractive lighting for pedestrians.
Provide attractive street furniture at convenient locations and intervals
throughout the length of the street.
New bus shelters or replacement shelters should be
placed between the trees along the tree line of the sidewalk. Benches
should be attached to the ground and located between the trees along the
tree line of the sidewalk adjacent to bus stops.
Cluster newspaper racks at specific corner locations.
News racks should be fixed to the ground and not attached
to utility poles, or other street furniture; racks should not, as a clustered
group, exceed six feet in length; and should provide an adequate visual
clear zone at intersections for motorists turning movements and
adequate space within the sidewalk for free flow pedestrian circulation.
Newspaper racks should be clustered only at the intersections
in the sidewalk space at the following locations along Van Ness Avenue
and would not be allowed elsewhere.
|South of Geary
||North of McAllister
|North of Pine
||North of Golden Gate
|South of Jackson
||South of Geary
|North of Union
||North of Sutter
||South of Vallejo
Permit general advertising signs, business signs and other identifying
signs. Permitted signs should meet the following design criteria.
Signs should not feature any flashing, blinking, fluctuating
or otherwise animated light. Likewise, signs should not feature any moving
Wall signs shall not be less than 10 feet above grade
and should not be higher than 45 feet above grade and should not be higher
than the lowest residential window sill.
Projecting signs and general advertising signs should
not be higher than 36 feet. Projecting signs shall in no case project
more than 4 feet over the sidewalk.
General advertisement signs should conform to State
Outdoor Advertisement regulations requiring that no advertising display
shall be placed within 100 feet from another advertising display.
Signs should not be placed in front of windows.
PROVIDE SAFE AND EFFICIENT MOVEMENT AMONG ALL USERS ON VAN NESS AVENUE.
The Van Ness Avenue right of way performs many functions.
It is a primary state highway carrying heavy auto and truck traffic. Two
Municipal Railway routes the 47 and 42 lines travel most
of its length as do Golden Gate transit buses. Appropriate measures are
required to make certain this traffic flows smoothly. Measures must also
be taken to assure that the sidewalk remains pleasant for the pedestrian
and that the street will be as attractive a "front yard" for
Van Ness Avenue residents as possible.
Reduce conflicts between transit vehicles and other moving and parked
vehicles. Aggressively enforce no parking regulations in bus zones.
Provide clearly visible and readable street signs and bus stop signs to
improve the legibility of bus stops for riders within the bus and for
pedestrians. Such signage, however, should not overwhelm the design of
the landscape/streetscape system. Provide safe and comfortable waiting
areas for patrons by using well-directed street lighting and bus shelters.
Investigate the feasibility of extending the California Street Cable Car
line to the Nihonmachi Center via California Street, Webster or Buchanan
Street to Sutter Street. Pending such an extension, provide a safe, comfortable
and attractive terminus to the line at Van Ness Avenue. Extension of the
cable car, if financially feasible, would provide more efficient use of
the Cable Car line as a transit system for residents as well as an attractive
means of transporting visitors to special places of interest.
Investigate the feasibility and desirability of creating a MUNI Metro
line along the Van Ness Corridor which would connect with a proposed light
rail line along the northeastern waterfront.
This would create a loop rail transit line around the
northeastern quadrant of the city. Although expensive to construct, a
Van Ness subway would improve intercity and intra-regional transit service
and would ease vehicular traffic flow above ground.
Whenever feasible, provide access to parking from minor east-west streets.
Prohibit new parking access from Van Ness Avenue. For development of lots
with no direct access to an east-west street, allow of-site provision
of required parking as set forth in Section 159(c) of the Planning Code.
Prohibit any new drive-up facilities.
Require residential parking at a ratio of one parking space per dwelling
Adopt short-term parking rate structures for existing and new commercial
parking resources to discourage commuter parking and provide visitor
shopper parking. Make accessory parking spaces available to the general
public for use as short-term day or evening parking whenever possible.
Encourage use of upper-story auto storage spaces within existing auto
showrooms along Van Ness Avenue as community parking facilities for adjacent
The use of these spaces for parking could be a highly
desirable adaptive re-use of these buildings, a number of which are to
be preserved under this Plan. Access to the parking should be from the
side streets, not Van Ness.
Improve the efficient and free flowing use of sidewalk space in new development.
Sidewalk space along Van Ness Avenue is shared by pedestrians,
transit patrons, sidewalk elevators, light fixtures, MUNI power poles,
traffic signals, news racks, benches and street trees, and moving vehicles
entering or exiting an on-site parking area. Design of sidewalk space
associated with new development should reduce clutter and pedestrian obstacles.
Existing sidewalk elevators should be removed as quickly as possible and
they should be prohibited in new developments. The number of news racks
should be kept to a minimum to improve the free flow of pedestrian activity.
news racks should be maintained in an attractive fashion.
Orient building entrances to enhance pedestrian circulation.
In addition to providing parking access for new developments
fronting on Van Ness, the east-west minor streets should provide safe
and attractive pathways for pedestrian travel. Major residential entrances
should be designed very graciously and should front major east-west streets.
Commercial entrances should be featured along Van Ness Avenue.
Unify the design of trash bins, benches, news racks, street lighting fixtures,
sidewalk surface treatment, canopies, awnings and bus shelters throughout
the length of the street.
Discourage access to freight loading facilities from Van Ness Avenue.
Whenever possible, access to on-site freight
loading spaces should be provided from minor or collector streets rather
than from major thoroughfares. In instances where commercial uses front
on Van Ness Avenue without convenient access to an off-street freight
loading facility, priority should be given to allocating existing curb
space on nearby east-west collector streets to truck loading zones. No
parking rules for bus zones should be strictly enforced.
CONSERVE EXISTING HOUSING RESOURCES.
Encourage preservation of existing housing structures unless adequate
mitigation measures are initiated.
Existing housing is an important source of affordable
housing and rental housing, both of which are important resources to retain.
The demolition and conversion of existing housing units would therefore
require Conditional Use authorization from the Planning Commission. In
its evaluation of the Conditional Use application, the Commission would
take into consideration the objectives of this Plan regarding the preservation
of existing housing, the Residence Element of the Master Plan, and all
applicable Citywide controls regarding the demolition of existing housing
PRESERVE THE FINE ARCHITECTURAL RESOURCES OF VAN NESS AVENUE.
4 - Significant Buildings
Van Ness Avenue has been endowed with a number of attractive
buildings, mostly older buildings which individually reflect a flavor
characteristic of San Franciscos unique architectural style and
heritage. Collectively, these buildings contribute to a rich and attractive
architectural environment for Van Ness Avenue. The most outstanding of
these buildings provide a basis for establishing a theme and scale for
the areas new development. They should be preserved and complemented
by new development.
In the course of the economic evolution of the Avenue,
it is likely that many of these significant buildings will be converted
to other uses. In particular, the function of the street as the auto show
room for the city has changed in the recent past and is likely to change
even more in the future, with many of the auto agencies relocating. Preservation
and adaptive re-use of these rather specialized structures, a number of
which are significantly smaller than the allowable zoning envelope of
the site, will require flexibility and imagination.
Avoid demolition or inappropriate alteration of historically and architecturally
Van Ness Avenue is endowed with a number of architecturally
rich and attractive buildings which impart upon the Avenue a special character
and identity. Thirty-three buildings have been identified as deserving
Although these buildings often share some common classical
architectural features, each building is unique in its style and context.
Alteration of these historically and architecturally
significant buildings should be carefully reviewed for conformity with
the building-specific guidelines described. Demolition should be discouraged
unless it is clearly established that the building has been rendered unsafe
and unoccupiable and infeasible for rehabilitation due to fire, earthquake,
or similar circumstances, or that substantial and irretrievable physical
deterioration has occurred.
It would be appropriate to give these buildings special
recognition and protection by designating these buildings as local landmarks.
The special features of these buildings and guidelines
for their potential adaptive re-use or alteration are described in Appendix
Allow relaxation of the residential use requirements and of parking requirements
for buildings designated as city landmarks.
In order to give a strong economic incentive to preservation
of those architecturally significant buildings along the Avenue which
are classified as city landmarks, the conversion of uses in these buildings
should be considered for exemption from the mandatory provision of on-site
housing. Similarly, the conversion of uses in these buildings to office
space should be exempted from the provisions of this Plan limiting the
amount of office space allowed. These exemptions are designed to make
retention and conversion of buildings classified as city landmarks as
economically attractive as their demoition and subsequent construction
of a mixed-use project conforming to the requirements of this plan.
Encourage the retention and appropriate alteration of contributory buildings.
There is another group of buildings, listed in Appendix
B, which are not of sufficient importance to justify their designation
as landmarks. Nevertheless these buildings, referred to as contributory
buildings, nevertheless, possess architectural qualities which are in
harmony with the prevailing characteristics of the more significant landmark
quality buildings. These buildings contribute to the character of the
street and should be retained if possible.
Encourage architectural integration of new structures with adjacent significant
and contributory buildings.
The scale of new buildings their height, bulk,
shape and proportions should not overwhelm buildings of historic
and architectural importance. Designs should harmonize with those buildings
by continuing compositional features such as horizontal lines (i.e., belt
courses, cornices), window proportions, and overall facade divisions.
While the use of color, materials and detailing should not draw unnecessary
attention and create conflict with significant and contributory buildings,
choices for stylistic treatment are to be left flexible.
|700 VAN NESS
NE Corner at Turk
Commercial Showroom, former business college
A pleasant two-story structure on a small site, distinguished by
the lightness and proportions of its ground level arcade and second
level windows, the quality of its decorative details, and the large
glass areas of its exterior walls. Its appearance could be much
improved by consistent treatment in the ground floor arched openings
on both streets as well as with a more sympathetic color scheme.
The amount of solid wall surface is minimal in this building with
only light-weight columns separating the arched ground floor openings,
a condition which also prevails in the second story windows. The
site size would not seem to permit a vertical addition with the
kind of setbacks which would be necessary to maintain the architectural
integrity and character of this building. It would be inappropriate
to place anything of any weight above the almost tracery-like facades.
|799 VAN NESS AVENUE
SW Corner at Eddy Street
This two-story building is sandwiched (with intervening streets)
between moderate-rise apartment buildings 725 and 801 Van
Ness with which it has some commonalities despite the different
scale. The chamfered corners at Eddy and Larch Streets reflect the
angle of the slanted bay windows in the apartment buildings and
the windows here and in 725 are multi-paned.P>
Unless the Larch Street level is used for parking, it might be
necessary, if used commercially, to modify the windows on Van Ness
somewhat as the existing windows on Van Ness do not permit visibility
into the interior.
|901 VAN NESS AVENUE
NW Corner of OFarrell Street
British Motors (originally Packard) Showroom
Thearchitectural treatment of this building is decisively two-part.
The monumental, columned, temple-like showroom facade on Van Ness
returns along OFarrell and Olive for two short bays and then
the remainder of the facades on these two streets are industrial
in appearance. In the Ellis Street facade, infill glazing between
columns is an apparent recent alteration as its counterpart on Olive
appears to be the original 1926 multi-paned industrial sash. This
building is a designated City Landmark and any alterations would
require a Certificate of Appropriateness.
|999 VAN NESS AVENUE
SW Corner at OFarrell Street
A rare and outstanding example of a Moderne auto showroom. The
building, with its curving corners, powerful horizontal articulation
in its sweeping upper-level solid and glass bands, and eccentric
piers and pylons, appears to float above a glass base. Evidence
suggests that this is the last of auto showrooms expressly built
for that purpose on Van Ness. Its construction date was only 10
or 11 years after that of its neighbor, no. 901 across Olive Street,
during which time buildings as with the merchandise sold
therein became streamlined.
Alterations or additions should not be made to the Van Ness facade
or the first two bays to the west. All significant interior features
should be preserved intact.
|1000 VAN NESS AVENUE
NE Corner at OFarrell Street
Don Lee Building
One of the two great temples to the automobile on Van Ness Avenue
and a designated City Landmark. Its base, particularly the entrance,
is monumental in scale and execution. The six upper floors, while
bearing an excellent relationship to the base, take on architectural
significance only when viewed with the base.
The interior fulfills the expectations gleaned from viewing the
exterior. Monumentality is achieved and expressed in variations
of the California architectural theme of the Spanish revival, also
expressed by the cub bears atop columns on the Van Ness facade.
Alterations would require a Certificate of Appropriateness.
|1050 VAN NESS AVENUE
SE Corner at Geary Street
Grosvenor Inn (formerly Richilieu Hotel)
Boasting an overscaled, intricately detailed cornice, this building
is highly compatible in height, bulk and architectural treatment
with the buildings to the east, which when taken together comprise
about 75% of the block frontage.
No alterations to the exterior should occur above the ground floor.
However, the sign band at the first floor level should be removed
and replaced with a cornice or some other architectural feature
which would be more sympathetic to the building. Minor alterations
to the ground floor are encouraged in order to bring it into closer
conformity with its original state and as well as more sympathetic
to the upper floors, and which would provide uses and window treatment
which are more attractive to the pedestrian.
|1142 VAN NESS AVENUE
SE Corner at Post Street
Reconstructed following severe fire damage, this classically inspired
building bears a closer affinity to Civic Center buildings than
to its automobile showroom and hotel neighbors. Nevertheless, it
contributes positively to the Avenues monumental character
Over a rusticated ground floor facade, the upper two floors are
treated as a single unit containing three two-story arched openings
flanked by narrow pavilions at either end.
There should be no exterior alterations except those which might
bring the uppermost part of the facade back to its probable original
state of being capped by a cornice or parapet.
1300 VAN NESS AVENUE
NE Corner at Sutter Street
Presently a theater and formerly a fraternal lodge, this building
is designed in the manner of an Italian palazzo (which architectural
treatment is also given the adjacent building to the east). There
should be no alterations to the architectural detailing of the facades
except as may be necessary at ground level for its continued viability
as a commercial structure and to enhance its interaction with the
|1301 VAN NESS AVENUE
NW Corner at Sutter Street
A rare architectural style seldom seen in San Francisco, this Secessionist
facade provides a high note of interest on Van Ness Avenue. The
architectural features along the Van Ness facade and approximately
three bays along Sutter Street should be preserved.
|1400 VAN NESS
NE Corner at Bush Street
This is a fine restrained Classical Revival auto showroom with
a rusticated base and Corinthian pilasters. The bay and pilaster
width relate to the width of the street, with the Van Ness facade
having a larger scale than the Bush facade.
Because of the buildings corner location it would be difficult
to alter or add to without significantly harming its integrity;
therefore the building should remain intact.
|1623 and 1631 PINE STREET
South Side of Franklin, West of Van Ness
These two buildings, not quite twins, were constructed in 1905
(no. 1623) and ca. 1908 (no. 1629) to attract the carriage trade
of fashionable Van Ness Avenue and Pacific Heights. Originally the
buildings housed Kellys Stables which offered "fine equipages,
livery and boarding stables." By 1911, the buildings housed
automobiles. Gradually, however, the buildings assumed other automotive-oriented
uses until today, after interior reconstruction and alterations,
they are used for offices and the sale of various merchandise.
Both are three stories over basement and intended to be temple-like
in their eclecticism in which they preceded their automobile counterparts
by a couple of decades.
Architectural embellishments and their arrangement on both facades
are similar and in many instances identical. The lower two stories
of each are divided, into three parts in no. 1623 and five in no.
1629, by two-story corinthian pilasters. Each center section contains
a typanum above the second floor and an arched entry at ground level.
The uppermost portion of the facade of 1623 appears to have had
some of its ornamentation removed.
Appropriate restoration of 1623 is encouraged.
|1401 VAN NESS
NW Corner at Bush Street
This is a seven story post-fire apartment building. Its facade
is richly articulated by bay windows, intact sixth story and roof
cornices, and an ornamental fire escape.
Because of its corner location and two architecturally treated
facades, it would be difficult to alter or add to without significantly
harming its integrity; therefore it should be preserved intact.
|1415 VAN NESS
NW Corner at Austin Street
A post-fire auto showroom built around 1909, the building has recently
changed use and design. Designed in an Italianate commercial style,
the building retains its original bracketed cornice, floral-motif
frieze, and the Ionic pilasters. Recent additions to the facade
have unfortunately obscured much of the original detailing with
The architectural treatment extends two bays up Austin Street,
allowing some flexibility for alterations or additions to the rear
of the building.
|1699 VAN NESS
SW Corner at Sacramento Street
This building is a four story former auto showroom originally built
for the Paige Motor Car Company and is presently in office and retail
use. The building is marked by two story arches on the ground level
differentiating between the functions of the building. The building
has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Because of its corner location, it could not be altered or added
to without significantly harming its integrity, and therefore it
should remain intact.
|1725, 1735, and 1745 VAN NESS
Westside, between Sacramento and Clay Streets
(AB 623/1B, 1A and 1)
An excellent collection of three Gothic apartment buildings strongly
related to each other by the use of similar materials, color, massing,
scale, fenestration, bays, cornice and belt lines. 1745 Van Ness
is located at the corner of Van Ness and Clay and the Clay facade
serves to tie this group to a number of similar apartment buildings
The corner building (1745 Van Ness) shuld be preserved intact.
1725 and 1735 Van Ness could receive minor alterations or additions
to the rear without harming their integrity.
|2000 VAN NESS AVENUE
NE Corner at Jackson Street
Medical Arts Building
A seven story medical office building with ground floor retail
use. The base consists of the lower two floors in which paired windows
are separated vertically by two-story Corinthian pilasters and separated
horizontally by spandrels embellished with bas-relief ornamentation.
Above the third floor windows a prominent belt runs the lengths
of both facades and a cornice caps the top edge.
Because of its corner location, its present massing and its two
highly visible, architecturally outstanding facades, no exterior
alterations should occur.
|2117 VAN NESS
SW Corner at Broadway
This is an important corner stone church designed in the Romanesque
style. It is noteworthy for its entrance arch decoration, corner
tower which is an important visual element in the streetscape, and
an excellent second story arcade on the eastern facade.
Because of its massing and architectural treatment on four facades,
it would be difficult to alter or add to without significantly harming
its integrity, and therefore it should be retained intact.
|2209 VAN NESS
Westside, North of Broadway
Located on a small rise and set back from the street, this is a
three and a half story Palladian residence with a strongly emphasized
central bay consisting of Ionic columns flanking the entrance, a
second floor balcony, a Palladian window on the second story and
the roof dormer, and an ornate cornice.
Because it is a freestanding structure, it would be difficult to
alter or add to without significantly harming its integrity; the
building should therefore remain intact.
|2254 VAN NESS
Eastside, South of Vallejo Street
Located on a small rise and visible above a one story building
to the north, this is a three-story Victorian residence with stick
style influences, a steeply pitched roof, an ornate chimney stack
and abundant detailing.
Because of its prominent location, its three architecturally treated
facades, and its massing, it would be difficult to alter or add
to without harming its integrity; the building should therefore
|2277 VAN NESS
SW Corner at Vallejo Street
This is a three and a half story Victorian residence recently converted
to commercial use with a two story addition to the rear. The building
has a strong presence on the street due to its prominent corner
location, its square bay windows on both Van Ness and Vallejo, and
a complicated gable roof.
Because of its corner location and two architecturally treated
facades, only alterations or additions to the rear of the building
are possible without significant harm to the structures integrity.
Additions to the rear should be kept below the level of the original
|2401 VAN NESS
NW Corner at Green Street
This is a small scale Byzantine style church with Baroque detailing.
The style, massing and central form of the church are unusual in
the Bay Area.
Because of its corner location, three architecturally treated facades
and massing, it would be difficult to alter or add to without significantly
harming its integrity; the building should therefore remain intact.
|2517 VAN NESS
Westside, North of Union Street
This is a three and a half story Victorian residence with an extremely
articulated handling of the facade consisting of round- and three-sided
bays, an impressive entrance flanked by double Ionic columns, ornate
cornices and belt course, and an unusual treatment of the roof dormers.
Because of massing and scale, the building could not be altered
without significant harm to its integrity and it should remain intact.
|2600 VAN NESS AVENUE
Northeast at Filbert
This is a well-proportioned six story apartment building with good
detailing throughout its facades. Above the rusticated basement,
a belt course follows the plan outline of the facades including
the ters of bay windows which are separated horizontally by spandrels
with bas-relief. A handsome cornice completes the architectural
excellence of the building.
Because of its corner location and two architecturally significant
facades, no exterior alterations should be permitted.
|2701 VAN NESS AVENUE
NW at Greenwich Street
This is a fine Chateau-like seven story apartment building. It
is richly decorated with a two story entrance flanked by pilasters,
mansard roof, octagonal chimneys and bays.
With its fine design and prominent corner location at the foot
of a hill, the building could not only accept minimal alterations
without harming its integrity.
|2800 VAN NESS AVENUE
NE Corner at Lombard Street
This three story Victorian residence forms part of a fine group
of pre-fire buildings between Lombard and Chestnut Streets which
retain the scale and character of pre-fire Van Ness Avenue. Although
two of the five buildings have been altered, the group remains coherent
through use of similar scale and massing.
Because of its corner location and two architecturally treated
facades, it could not be altered or added to without significant
harm, and therefore it should be retained intact.
2826 VAN NESS AVENUE
Eastside, South of Chestnut Street
This is a three story Victorian residence, which is part of the
group of pre-fire buildings on this section of Van Ness.
Because it is a free-standing structure, it could not be altered
or added to without significant harm, and therefore it should be
2906 VAN NESS AVENUE
Eastside, North of Chestnut Street
This is a three story Moderne Style residence, which has been converted
to office use. It was one of five identical residences build in
Because of the buildings context and it being a free-standing
structure, it could not be added to or altered without significant
loss of architectural integrity, and therefore is should be retained
|2930 VAN NESS AVENUE
Eastside, North of Chestnut Street
This is a three story Moderne Style residence, which like 2906
Van Ness was on of five identical buildings constructed in 1902
by Herbert E. Law.
Because of the buildings context and it being a free-standing
structure, it could not be added to or altered without significant
loss of architectural integrity, and therefore is should be retained
|1141 POST STREET
South Side of Post Between Van Ness & Polk Street
This three story Renaissance/Baroque style apartment building was
constructed in 1914.
Because it is a freestanding structure, it would be difficult to
alter or add to without significantly harming it integrity and should
be retained intact.
|1244 SUTTER STREET
North Side of Sutter Between Van Ness & Polk Street
This three story brick building northern Italian style constructed
in 1911. The building served for many decades as the galleries of
Butterfield & Butterfield auction house.
Because of the buildings rich architectural styling and cultural
importance as the home of Butterfield & Butterfield it should
be retained intact.
|1000 GEARY BOULEVARD or 1015 POLK
NW Corner at Polk and Geary
This four story reinforced concrete Renaissance/Baroque building
was built in 1913. Architect John Galen Howard designed the building
as a Pierce Arrow auto showroom. The use has since changed to offices.
Due to the freestanding structures architect and architecture,
it should be retained intact.
||Name and/or Block/Lot
|540 Van Ness
||State Bldg. 766/7
|590 Van Ness
|646 Van Ness
||Civil Serv. 763/11
|690 Van Ness
|714 Van Ness
|725 Van Ness
|740-790 Van Ness
|800 Van Ness
|801 Van Ness
|840 Van Ness
|850 Van Ness
|916 Van Ness
|928 Van Ness
|950 Van Ness
|1233 Van Ness
|1243-1245 Van Ness
|1332 Van Ness
|1336 Van Ness
|1346-1350 Van Ness
|1355 Van Ness
|1414 Van Ness
||Post Office 667/9
|1430 Van Ness
|1431 Van Ness
|1441 Van Ness
|1529 Van Ness
|1595 Van Ness
||Great Western 647/1
|1600 Van Ness
|1700 Van Ness
|1730 Van Ness
|1835 Van Ness
|1840 Van Ness
|2128 Van Ness
|2134 Van Ness
|2200 Van Ness
||Dante Hospital 571/5
|2211 Van Ness
|2307-2311 Van Ness
|2321 Van Ness
|2325 Van Ness
|2327 Van Ness
|2420-2424 Van Ness
|2440 Van Ness
|2444 Van Ness
|2511-2515 Van Ness
|2806 Van Ness
|2820 Van Ness
|2822 Van Ness
|2900 Van Ness
|2918 Van Ness
|1105 Post or 1047 Polk