VLN: Bay Area Time Line: 1 2 3 4 5 6 Downtown Plan and SOMA (1980-Present)

19th century architecture slide show

In the 1980s, anti-growth initiatives arose to counter the high rise boom. A Downtown Plan was drawn up in 1983 to protect historic buildings. It required developers to set aside property for open space and ushered postmodernist architecture into San Francisco.

The earthquake damanged Embarcadero Freeway was removed and gave way to the development of the Embarcadero that now runs along the waterfront, from the new ballpark to a renovated Ferry Building, and the much visited Fisherman's wharf.

Downtown Plan and SOMA (1980-Present)

1980s: Anti-growth initiatives arose to counter the high rise boom. A number of the small hotels near Union Square were renovated.

1983: The city's Downtown Plan of 1983 protected 251 historic buildings, required developers to set aside property for open space, and banned the refrigerator style building, calling instead for a more sculpted look on the upper floors of buildings.

Significantly, the attention of many civic leaders turned toward San Francisco, where a model for a new, more participatory form of urban planning was emerging. The presentation of the Downtown Plan in 1983 made the front page of the New York Times. Given San Francisco's insecurity in the face of New York's accomplishments, there was a certain irony in the comments of one prominent New York politician, who said the Big Apple could use some "San Francisco-ization." (Wiley 2000: 143).

Mid 1980s: As in other American cities, the long and bitter fight over the downtown skyline, which culminated in the passage of height and density restrictions in mid-1980s, ushered postmodernist architecture into San Francisco. across the country postmodernism (or what some architectural historians have called second modernism) was a response to a barrage of criticism of the impact of high-rise buildings on city life, such as in Jane Jacobs's classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Wiley 2000: 141).

South of Market (SOMA) is the center of the city's biggest construction boom since the remake of Downtown, which ended in the middle 1980s. SOMA has become a playground for the new modernists. Commercial architects have mastered the intricacies of the Downtown Plan, fashioning some attractive "midrise" towers with sculpted tops, an improvement over the first buildings designed under the mandates of the plan...Simultaneously, thousands of units of housing are being constructed, much of it for the young professionals who work in Silicon Valley and Multimedia Gulch, which is centered in SOMA. In scale and design many of these new buildings--some of them quite far out--evoke the early years of European modernism through the use of new materials, an emphasis on plane surfaces, geometric shapes, and purity of line. Most, however, are cheaply constructed boxes, thrown up to be sold to upwardly mobile professionals at high prices. (Wiley 2000: 144).

1986: In 1986 another anti-high-rise initiative put more teeth into the master plan, limiting the square footage of office buildings that could be constructed in any one year and calling for citizen approval of exemptions at the ballot box (Wiley 2000: 143).

The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture located on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay. The concept was developed by Peter Richards and was installed in collaboration with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzales. Inspiration for the piece came from artist Bill Fontana's recordings made of sounds emanating from a vent pipe of a floating concrete dock in Sydney, Australia.

1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake seriously damaged the Embarcadero Freeway.

[top of page]

1991: The seriously damaged Embarcadero Freeway was torn down.

Summer, 1993: During renovation and expansion of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, "about 300 corpses from the Gold Rush era-two of them still clutching rosaries, others were wearing dentures and Levis-were unearthed from what appears to be an old pauper's graveyard. Some experts say another 11,000 bodies might lie underneath the museum grounds" according to a Los Angeles Times article (12 November 1993, A-23).

1998: San Francisco built only three high-rise [low-cost housing] towers, and even they were of modest proportions as compared with those in Chicago and New York. (Two of these have been demolished, the most recent in 1998.) (Wiley 2000: 140-41).

The trend [in low-cost housing], however, was away from public housing to nonprofit housing or private housing whose tenants were supported by federal rent subsidies. The architectural results were, at best, mixed. In the Western Addition, Marquis & Stoller designed Saint Francis Square, a model cooperative housing development, for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in 1961, and Kwan Henmi designed the Leland Apartments for the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation in 1998, for example. The bulk of the housing built in the Western Addition after the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency leveled the heart of the neighborhood is more typical--block after block of cheap boxes (Wiley 2000: 141).

[top of page]