Mission History: More Than Buildings

While city planners are focusing on lining up protections for historic buildings in the South Mission, some homeowners are advocating preservation of the spaces between.

While city planners are focusing on lining up protections for historic buildings in the South Mission, some homeowners are advocating preservation of the spaces between.

The few people who stepped up to the podium at the Historic Preservation Commission hearing on Wednesday at City Hall suggested that the Mission has historic features beyond architecture that are equally worth saving.

They want more included in the historical survey — not just homes and commercial buildings, but also kitchen gardens and fruit trees rooted in the area’s past.

“Reading the details [of the survey] just lit me up inside. It made me love my neighborhood so much more,” began Bonnie Feinberg, who lives on Shotwell Street within a potential historic district of Victorians. “But there are two features obviously missing.”

Feinberg would also like to preserve the side spacing between homes on Shotwell — a luxury in many parts of the city — and the landscape. Retaining walls fronting homes on Shotwell are integral as well, said Beth Freedman, Feinberg’s partner.

“I own my home, but I’m really just a babysitter,” Feinberg told the commissioners. “I hope that home will look as gorgeous when I’m dead and gone.”

John Barbey pushed his three minutes at the podium as long as he could, lamenting the exclusion of his favorite homes on Folsom Street.

“These are two intact, pre-1900 cottages adjacent to the boundary of the suggested national register Victoriana district…. This is a good report, but it is not a perfect report,” Barbey said.

Commissioners asked planners to consider the suggested changes.

The purpose of the South Mission Historic Survey is to identify historic resources in one of the few parts of the city untouched by the 1906 earthquake and fire, and to line those resources up for state and federal protections. Over three years, city planners and consultants evaluated about 3,800 buildings in the south Mission. They released their findings in September.

Board President Charles Chase reminded the room that the survey and its findings will not be adopted until October 20 at the earliest, and will probably take longer.

Commissioner Alan Martinez said he saw too few Latino residents at the community meetings held in September to convince him that the city’s outreach for the survey was effective.

“Also, I want to do outreach to the neighborhood organizations, because it does seem that people are still unaware of what’s going on…. I’m going to work with staff on that,” Martinez said.

Of the 34 owners who contacted planners with comments, 19 inquired about the pros and cons of historic status, five provided more information and three flat-out rejected the survey, according to Matt Weintraub, one of the key planners responsible for producing the survey.

The few people who mailed in objections to the city’s property assessments — none spoke up at the hearing — were ignored.

“None of [the complaints] were factually based. They simply objected, going on record as saying they didn’t want [their properties] assessed,” said Weintraub.

Outside the hearing room, Feinberg elaborated on the importance of preserving Mission history.

“If we allow development to run rampant, we won’t be able to enjoy this special character. This isn’t going to happen again. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

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