Past meets future in SoMa

Amid the constant clanking of jackhammers and the rise of skyscrapers in the South of Market area, the significance of historic architecture may sometimes be overshadowed.

But before The City gives the green light to razing buildings in the area, it wants to know which ones are important.

As the massive Transbay Transit Center project moves forward, development in SoMa could mean the demise of a number of buildings that date as far back as the 1906 earthquake, according to a preliminary survey commissioned by The City.

The drastic redevelopment, including the 1,000-foot Transbay tower and seven surrounding high-rise towers exceeding 550 feet, means a long list of historic buildings will inevitably face demolition along the way, city planners say.

For example, two buildings on the 100 block of Fremont Street are among the few remaining downtown relics of pre-World War II architecture, the report said.

“We’re talking about a major growth area for The City in a confined space,” said Josh Switzky, an urban designer with the Planning Department. “We want to capitalize on transit investment while ensuring a quality of place that’s still very San Francisco.”

In order to preserve some of the area’s architectural past, city officials commissioned local consultant firm Kelley & VerPlanck to survey and identify San Francisco’s most historic buildings. The buildings listed date back as far as 1898, but it is not yet clear which, or how many, would survive the modernization, Switzky said.

Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public-policy think tank, said he is confident the construction will not obliterate all of The City’s historic buildings. The survey, he said, shows that city officials are intent on fusing old San Francisco with the modern look.

He pointed to the downtown area as a successful examples of how to accommodate change while preserving “important pieces of the past.”

“In the downtown area, you have this wonderful mix of historic buildings and facades with a very high density of employment,” Metcalf said. “It was through careful planning that they managed to achieve both things.”

At a Planning Commission meeting Thursday, city officials will begin perusing a preliminary list of historic buildings that are under threat by plans to modernize the blocks surrounding Mission and First streets.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

Decision time

Historic buildings on the Transbay Transit Center chopping block, and the year they were built.

  • 62 First St. (1917)
  • 88 First St. (1907)
  • 177 Fremont St. (1908)
  • 183 Fremont St. (1907)
  • 350 Mission St. (1923)
  • 562 Howard St. (1907)
  • 19 Tehama St. (1906)

Source: Planning Department

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