A white art deco building at 320 Judah St. could soon become a San Francisco landmark, but its historic 1930s design is only part of its significance. It also is where Henry Doelger operated the construction business that built most of the Sunset district.
Last month, the Historic Preservation Commission urged the Board of Supervisors to make the Doelger Building a landmark. Commission documents say it is eligible because it is architecturally significant and associated with a significant person or event.
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One of San Francisco’s most prolific builders, Doelger constructed tens of thousands of homes in southwestern San Francisco between the mid-1920s and 1940s. He also built the planned Westlake community in Daly City.
“He turned sandy wasteland into a neighborhood,” said David Gallagher, director of the Western Neighborhoods Project, which chronicles the history of the area west of Twin Peaks. “For years, it seemed uninhabitable, and he made it into a neighborhood.”
Doelger had the building constructed in 1932 to serve as the headquarters of his company. The building was constructed with a modern art deco facade. Improvements in 1936 added a garage and a second mezzanine, and a 1940 expansion added streamline modern detailing.
Such art deco themes also were design elements in some of the single-family houses that Doelger constructed for working- and middle-class San Franciscans. Commission records say his houses “share near-identical massing, floor plans, materials, and form, with differentiation provided by a profusion of facade styles.”
But Doelger’s houses, which infamously inspired Malvina Reynolds’ folk song “Little Boxes,” also used assembly-line production techniques to make them affordable.
“He gave the working-class people a place to live in the ’30s and ’40s,” Gallagher said.