Bringin’ down the house…

August 15, 2009

….but not ours, luckily!

However, this bungalow around the corner from us had a demolition notice posted a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to snapping some photos.

Demolition House

Demolition House

All boarded up...

All boarded up...

This is a 1909 two-bedroom bungalow that’s been sitting empty for years (and from the little you can see, appears to be in pretty bad shape inside). It’s a pretty puzzling house—it’s been flagged for blight (and on the City’s Cleanup/Board Up list) repeatedly since at least 2005, which is especially odd because someone’s been paying some (though not all) of the taxes on it. (Granted, they’re pretty minimal to begin with; it’s assessed for under $40K right now, so I imagine its last sale must have been long before Prop 13 kicked in.) While our neighborhood’s not exactly blight-free, it’s very unusual to see abandoned houses around here these days. You’d think they’d have sold the lot at the height of the housing boom, when they could have gotten a pretty penny for it—oh, well. (Rumor has it that the property is owned by a San Francisco building inspector, which makes it all even stranger.)

Anyway, the notice says it’s now being demolished as blight abatement. (And it does look to be in pretty awful shape—plus there have been squatters there from time to time, which I can’t imagine did wonders for the interior.) It’s also a little unclear who owns the property at this point, given how much is owed in back taxes. The City? Some third party?


But what I really want to know, of course, is what happens after the demolition. A vacant lot isn’t much better than a blighted house. (In fact, it might be worse—I’d initially hoped they’d sell the house so someone could rehab it!) So I’m hoping one of the following things will happen:

  1. The people who just bought the fourplex next door to this house could buy this lot. Next door is a beautiful 1912 apartment building, but it’s pretty much built lot line to lot line, so if they were to tack on this lot, they could create a backyard and potentially even build a garage for parking and storage. Seems like a smart investment opportunity.
  2. The vacant lot could be turned into a community garden as part of a project with Westlake Middle School, just down the street. A co-worker of mine took on a project like this last year (although sans kid involvement), drafting the appropriate legal forms to secure permission from the property owner, and has created a pretty phenomenal garden on the site today. (One of these days I’ll snap some photos of that, too, since it puts our garden to shame!)
  3. Something else??

I’m also pretty curious to see if they salvage anything from within (or if there’s anything worthy of salvaging). When they demolished a house on Piedmont Avenue earlier this year, we were pleased to see that a lot of the innards (including many beautiful redwood joists) were carefully bundled up and trucked off, presumably to some new life somewhere. Who knows what else might be in there?

Anyway. There’s no demolition date listed on the notice (very helpful!) so when I have a moment I may give the City a call to see what’s up, and hopefully find out what lies ahead for this little corner of the neighborhood. In the meantime—so long, little bungalow.



  1. The ReUse People (http://thereusepeople.org) specialize in taking apart houses for re-use. They then sell the parts (doors, windows, cabinets, lumber, etc.) for people to reuse in their building projects. They’re right next door to the Habitat ReStore on San Leandro St. north of 98th. Ave. You might give them a call and see if they’re involved (and if they’re not, maybe they should be.)

  2. Thanks Gene—yes, we stop by the ReUse People anytime we’re headed that direction just to see what they might have! (Some tempting sinks, but so far no cabinets that will work…ah well.) Once I find out a little more from the City, I may give them a call, though. It’s a beautiful form on the exterior, so I have to think there’s something still intact in there somewhere….

  3. I have been wondering about that house too, and even called the city’s cultural heritage survey folks to find out what they know. That scary-looking chimney got the inspector pretty upset, I think. I’m planning to call blight people too. I don’t think the best policy for blight remediation is demolition. City staffer said it was really rare for them to demand demo as a solution for blight, that the house must really be in dangerous condition. I’d like to make sure the trees on the lot are not removed. (I live near you. We are neighbors!)

  4. Thanks Naomi—I actually almost emailed to see if you knew what the story was, since I figured you might! All we know about the house is that it’s been called in repeatedly for blight for at least the last five years or so. (We called it in at one point last year when there was a ladder and an open window that looked awfully dubious, and the City and OPD both said, “Oh, THAT house….”) It would be nice if it could be rehabbed instead, though—it’s hard to fathom that it could be in such bad shape that it’s not worth doing, though I guess anything is possible. And it seems like a vacant lot is just going to end up back on the blight list in a year’s time….

  5. Okay, what I’ll do is walk over and see if there is a contact name on the notice, and call them tomorrow to see what is up. Let’s try to keep the trees, at least.
    Better yet would be to get the house fixed up, of course! Don’t know if that is in the offing. Apparently absentee owners in SF. What are they thinking?!! I’m wondering: Is Z still living next door on the south side?

  6. I talked to the building inspector dept. today. They have heard nothing from owner, and the person I spoke with (whose name I left at work, but can provide) said he thought they had awarded a contract for demolition. The only way the owners can stop the demo now is to go to court for an injunction, he said. They have not been responsive. There will be a lien against the property. The city will not take possession; they’d expect to get the lien satisfied upon the next sale of the property. I asked about the trees and he said there were no plans to cut trees. I asked about the long term problem of the lot becoming blighted, and he said the city could be called to clean up, again liening (is that a word?) against the property if needed. He said there was no obvious mechanism under which city could acquire the property for resale. (Unless, of course, they haven’t paid their county tax in which case the county could sell it for taxes. But not that huge an amount is owed, right?) He did not have a specific day for demolition but it could happen soon. Do you have any thoughts? I ended up with the bldg inspector’s phone no, and that of his boss.

    I believe I was speaking with this person:
    Flores, Martiniano
    Specialty Combination Inspector
    Community & Economic Development Agency
    Building Inspection – Commercial – Other
    Phone(510) 238-3465

  7. Thanks for following up, Naomi!

    As far as back taxes, I think about $20K is owed according to the Assessor’s website (not a huge amount, but a lot given that the property is only being taxed $500 a year or so; most of what’s owed seems to be related to blight abatement fees, so I assume that will all be wrapped into the lien). I don’t know how the County makes decisions on when to take action in those situations, though.

    The one time I talked with the blight folks about it, they reported the same thing re: the unresponsive owners so it doesn’t sound like they’re remotely interested in the property. (Again, why not just cash out then?!?) Unfortunately that probably rules out anything like a garden, too, though. It’s all a bit frustrating. I don’t know the immediate neighbors, but know several others on the block, so I’ll pass the info along. (This first came up at National Night Out, where a lot of people were very curious about it.)

    I am glad to hear about the trees, though—let’s hope they stick to that!

  8. We could enquire of the county tax collector about their policy. I’d love to get my hands on the property on the steps of the courthouse, and turn it into a neighborhood garden or something!

  9. I have been looking for a house in this area that my wife and I could rehab. This one looks perfect… and… possibly affordable? I found the property owner’s contact information, and plan to contact them to see if they are interested in selling. I could fix this house, if the price were right.

  10. Definitely worth a try—I can attest to the fact that it’s a cool neighborhood! 😉 The house is still standing so I have no clue what’s going on at this point, but the other “desperately seeking rehab” houses in the neighborhood seem to sell for pretty affordable prices (by this area’s standards, at least!) Good luck—it would be terrific to have it brought back to life!

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