The western side of the Mission Dolores neighborhood is $40,000 short of being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. That title would make it harder to tear down certain buildings in this sub-area of the Mission District.
Peter Lewis, former president of the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association (MDNA), is spearheading the effort because he wants to protect the neighborhood’s resources. Also, he thinks it will educate the public.
“It’s the oldest neighborhood in the city,” said Lewis. “Once people understand that, they might think, ‘I better respect it.’” That’s one reason the group chose to include the entire neighborhood, rather than just individual buildings, in the national nomination.
So far the effort has received grants from the San Francisco Historic Preservation Fund Committee and donations from MDNA’s members, board members and local businesses like Bi-Rite Market, said Lewis. The funding is needed to complete historic surveys of the area as part of the nomination process. Lewis hopes the nomination will be completed within the next 18 months.
There has been no opposition from the community, Lewis said, other than from District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener.
Wiener “wants to change things too much,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t think any park should be historic; he wants to change the median to restrict traffic.”
The Dolores Street median is already a state landmark, but the historic neighborhood designation would strengthen its protection, said Lewis.
“We don’t need his support anyway,” Lewis said. Wiener’s opposition is part of the reason that MDNA decided to apply for national rather than local historic status.
“This would be whopper of a historic district, a very large district,” Wiener said, one that is “too big and too over-broad,” explaining why he opposes the national nomination. “And local historic districts have significant land-use restrictions; many changes to peoples’ homes would have to go through the Historic Preservation Commission.
“In addition, it contains all of Dolores Park, and I am opposed to including parks in historical districts because parks are about people and they need to change with the community.”
A listing on the National Register of Historic Places carries much less weight than a local landmark or district designation when it comes to the historic preservation process, Wiener said.
According to the register’s website, a listing on the National Register of Historic Places provides recognition of a property’s significance in history, architecture, engineering or archaeology, as well as other benefits, including providing some protection from adverse effects from federally funded or licensed projects. It does not place any obligations on private property owners.
As for park renovations, MDNA supports them “as long as it doesn’t take away from the park as a historic resource,“ Lewis said.
The proposed district’s boundaries would run from Market to 20th streets and from both sides of Dolores to Sanchez, Lewis said, and would include Mission Dolores, Dolores Park and all the buildings around the park. Why include only the western part of the neighborhood?
“We’d like to go all the way to Valencia, but the city never properly surveyed that area and we don’t have the money to survey it ourselves,” Lewis said.
In 2010, MDNA finished its own historic survey of the area, which was unanimously adopted by the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. The group hired consultants Carey and Company to conduct the survey, which requires researching each building and noting when it was built and by whom, as well as its architectural or other historic significance — if someone famous lived there, for instance.
One result of the survey, called the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Historic Survey and Final Historic Context Statement, was that Mission Dolores and Dolores Park were reclaimed from Eureka Valley, at least as far as city planning districts are concerned.
In the last six years, the organization has raised $80,000 and needs about $40,000 more in order to complete the nomination. That price tag, said Lewis, will pay to finish surveying the eastern side of Dolores Street — about 70 percent of the buildings there were never properly reviewed as part of the Planning Department’s Inner Mission North Survey. The National Register requires that every building in a proposed district be surveyed.
Achieving recognition for the neighborhood as a historic place has been MDNA’s goal since its founding in 2005, said Lewis. The district’s important historic features include Dolores Park, Mission Dolores church and the settlement around the church.
In 2010, Lewis told Mission Local about the significance of one building in the area: “There was a very beautiful Swedish Lutheran church at 15th and Dolores. In 1906, after the earthquake, the whole community got together, climbed the steeple of the church and poured milk from the nearby dairies onto blankets they had spread out on the roof, to keep the building from catching fire. In 1994, a homeless person burned most of it down, and it was demolished. Then a developer bought it, and the parsonage next to it, which hadn’t burned. In August of 2005 they applied for a demolition permit for the parsonage.
At first glance, it wasn’t big, or beautiful. But it was important. That was our first major battle.”
Today Lewis is still worried about losing historic buildings and resources to demolition or new construction.
“We need to take better care of [the neighborhood] and appreciate it,” he said. “We have the protections that CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] gives, but we want to go one step further and get on the National Register so that the neighborhood is recognized once and for all, not only as the birthplace of San Francisco but as namesake for the Mission District.
“It makes a big difference.”
If you’d like to donate, visit MDNA’s contact page.