Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Moving Houses of San Francisco (15 Pics)

 These precarious moving houses were documented by photographer Dave Glass in late 1970s San Francisco. What we’re looking at is essentially the result of a thirty year urban renewal scheme for the Western Addition neighbourhood of SF, particularly the Fillmore District, which after the Second World War, had become a cultural centre for the city’s African American community. It was a center of jazz with grand Victorian architecture that had survived the 1906 earthquake, but due to overcrowding and a high proportion of low-income families, the area was considered a slum and targeted for redevelopment. A “nice new neighbourhood” was promised by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and in the mid 1950s and 60s, entire blocks were cleared, destroying up to 2,500 Victorian houses, along with the neighbourhood’s character.

 By the 1970s however, San Francisco started to wise up. Pioneers of historic preservation who had been tirelessly protesting for years against the destruction of the city’s heritage, finally began to win the battle. The Redevelopment Agency agreed to find new homeowners for the Victorians, who would agree to rehabilitate and help conserve the homes. The tired old Victorians could be purchased for one dollar– relocation and restoration costs not included!

 The victory was bittersweet. For every handful of houses saved, many others were destroyed (in fact, a lot of the relocated homes simply moved to lots where other Victorians had previously stood). For every handful of houses rehabilitated by upper middle class families in gentrified neighbourhoods, many more low-income families and neighbourhoods sunk further into poverty.

 In November 1974, Dave Glass, along with an imaginably large crowd of onlookers, witnessed the monumental task of moving twelve Victorian houses approximately one mile down the road (and around a few corners). They were moved in groups of four over three weekend, the majority joining the Beiderman Place Historic Area. Telephone lines were moved, trolley wires were cut, streetlights removed, thirty police escorts and thirty tow trucks were called to clear the path, all to make way for the Victorians. The sight was compared to watching great ships moving through an inland waterway.

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