New plaza coming to Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

WORK BEGINS in early March on an ambitious new plan to transform the forlorn public plaza at Fillmore and O’Farrell streets into a dynamic green space that honors the history and culture of the neighborhood.

“It’s got a lot packed in,” said architect Jane Martin, whose Shift Design Studio designed the new plaza. “We want it to be fun and engaging.”

The paved checkerboard with the names of key figures from neighborhood history will remain, but eight squares of bricks will be removed and converted to planted areas with built-in benches. All of the plants will be native to Africa, and African symbols like those on nearby buildings will also be incorporated into the design. References to the earlier history of the area when it was largely a Jewish neighborhood will also be included.

“Our plan is to subvert the checkerboard and use the plaza as a way to make sense of a lot of disparate elements that have been added over time,” said Martin.

The nonprofit San Francisco Beautiful is coordinating the project with the owners of the property, nearby merchants and city agencies. The public is invited to join a community work day scheduled on Saturday, March 15, which is also when the planting will be done. The plaza is envisioned as the first phase of a larger series of neighborhood improvement projects that will unfold over the next two years.

“This is one more bead on the string,” said Kearstin Krehbiel, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful.

Pacific Heights is cheap compared to Noe Valley

The views are better in Pacific Heights — and maybe the deals, too.

The views are better in Pacific Heights — and maybe the real estate deals, too.

By Nina Hatvany

SALE PRICES of real estate in San Francisco’s southern neighborhoods have taken off dramatically in recent months. Noe Valley, Potrero Hill and South Beach are especially sought after by people who commute to the Peninsula, but still want to live in the city, or couples in which one person commutes south or to the East Bay. The south side generally offers better weather, proximity to the burgeoning restaurant scene in the Mission District, and often better access to muni or bart for commuters. 

In contrast, the more established northern neighborhoods are still desirable, but aren’t experiencing the same surge in popularity, despite the views, the bustling retail streets and easy commuting to downtown and to Marin.  

Areas like Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, Cow Hollow and Russian Hill will always retain their allure. They are what I consider to be “blue chip” quality in the long term. But at the moment, while attention is focused southward, the properties coming up for sale in the northern neighborhoods are often a comparatively better deal — either by dollars per square foot, or because there are fewer people bidding on them and buyers therefore don’t encounter quite the same kind of bidding frenzy. 

One could argue that now might be the time to buck the trend and revisit the traditionally more expensive neighborhoods, considering the southern craze.

But gut feelings on the real estate market have to be backed up with evidence, and in this case the evidence speaks volumes about how the southern neighborhoods are quickly catching up to — and in some cases surpassing — northern values, at least in certain price ranges.

For example, consider a typical search by a younger couple interested in both Pacific Heights and Noe Valley — arguably the most expensive neighborhoods in each of their geographies. Looking at recent sales results, I found that one- and two-bedroom condominiums with parking priced under $2 million were selling in the last three months in Noe Valley at an average of 13.2 percent above asking price and roughly $879.16 per square foot.

That’s hundreds of dollars per square foot more than prices in these up and coming areas just a few years ago. On average, the homes were on the market from the start of marketing to closing for only 22 days, meaning there was a high percentage of all-cash and preemptive offers.  

In contrast, similar Pacific Heights home sales were averaging only 8.9 percent over asking price (indicating less competition) and $880 per square foot.

That’s a difference of only 84 cents per square foot between the neighborhoods — despite the fact that historically Pacific Heights has been San Francisco’s most expensive neighborhood.

This evidence speaks volumes. The competition for first-time or mid-range home buyers has soared in the southern neighborhoods, and there may well be some competitively priced deals to be had by turning one’s gaze back toward the bay. I will be encouraging clients to join me in living on the north side
of town.

Nina Hatvany is a real estate agent with Pacific Union.

Mrs. Doubtfire’s neighbors move up

The historic Ellinwood mansion at 2799 Pacific Avenue.

The historic Ellinwood mansion at 2799 Pacific Avenue.

By Maria Marchetti

IN THE DEPTHS of the real estate crisis in 2011, the defaulting owners who had spent millions restoring the Ellinwood mansion at 2799 Pacific were removed and the home was put on the market as bank owned. In the same family for more than a century after it was completed in 1894 — and empty for half that time — the house has a rich and colorful history, with a basement billiard room that hosted at least one world championship and a side garden with a tree that was a gift from Queen Victoria, now replaced by a lap pool. The house sold in June of last year for $11.5 million — not much more than the price of the restoration.

The new owner — producer-writer-director Chris Columbus (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Home Alone,” “The Help” and several Harry Potter films) — is now selling his former home overlooking Alta Plaza Park at 2622 Jackson Street. It’s also a neighborhood landmark, designed in 1895 by Willis Polk in the Italian Renaissance style and constructed of sandstone, which is rare in San Francisco. For decades its classical rounded portico welcomed students and guests inside to the Music and Arts Institute. Now it’s a comfortable home with bay views — and a screening room, of course — listed for $13 million.

The historic square sandstone house at 2622 Jackson Street.

The historic square sandstone house at 2622 Jackson Street.

Maria Marchetti is a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty.

Dental school gives way to housing

The dental school's surface parking lot may become home to 11 townhouses.

The dental school’s surface parking lot may become home to 11 townhouses.

BY THE TIME it moves downtown next year, the University of the Pacific’s dental school will have made room for a lot of attractive — and expensive — new housing in the neighborhood.

Trumark Urban has now bought the dental school’s longtime home at 2155 Webster Street, at the corner of Sacramento, and will convert it into 77 high-end condominium residences averaging 2,000 square feet. Two top-floor 4,000-square-foot penthouses will have views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

A COMMUNITY MEETING will be held on Wednesday, July 17, to discuss the plans for the dental school. Trumark is hosting a pre-application meeting required by the city’s Planning Department at 6:30 p.m. in Bart Hall at Congregation Sherith Israel, the synagogue located at 2266 California Street.

Already Prado Group has converted the school’s former dormitory building at 2130 Post Street into 71 deluxe rental apartments. Leasing began in early June, and more than half of the apartments have been leased in the first few weeks, said manager Meg Russell. Already 23 apartments are occupied. Of the apartments that remain available, monthly rentals range from $3,195 for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit up to $4,695 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit.

Adaptation of the dental school’s home at Webster and Sacramento will require the developer to build larger units because of the unusually deep floor plan. About 80 percent of the units will be two-bedroom or larger.

In addition, Trumark plans to build 11 townhouses on the parking lot behind the building spanning from Sacramento to Clay Street.

Daniel Cressman, the broker who helped the university buy its new home on Fifth Street and sell its neighborhood buildings, called the dental school building a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “create a world-class condominium development in San Francisco’s most prestigious neighborhood, rivaling high-end condo projects in New York and London.”

Biz Times: Dental school netted more than expected

Showcase returns to Pacific Heights

Photograph of 2800 Pacific Avenue by Michael David Rose

Photograph of 2800 Pacific Avenue by Michael David Rose

The annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase is now open in the neighborhood, this year at the top of Pacific Heights at 2800 Pacific Avenue. It features the work of more than two dozen local designers and invites the public to tour one of the iconic mansions designed by pioneering architect Ernest Coxhead.

SLIDE SHOW: Inside the 2013 showcase
EARLIER: A tour with the owner

Two retail pros open their own shop

Photographs of Hudson Grace at 3350 Sacramento Street by Matthew Millman

SACRAMENTO STREET’S collection of antique shops, interior designers and home accessory stores got a boost — in offerings and experience — when Hudson Grace opened at 3350 Sacramento a few weeks ago.

The new store is the brainchild of Monelle Totah and Gary McNatton, who helped build Williams-Sonoma, Banana Republic, the Gap and Restoration Hardware into international juggernauts.

“But I’ve always wanted to have my own store,” says Totah. “Gary, too.”

So instead of working on corporate stores around the globe, they decided to focus on just one: their own. And they wanted their “shared dream” to be on Sacramento Street. They named the store after their dogs, Hudson and Grace.
(more…)

Dental school may become condos

Landscaped townhouses might replace the dental school's parking lot.

The six-story building at Webster and Sacramento Streets that is home of the dental school of the University of the Pacific — which is scheduled to move downtown next year to Fifth Street — may be converted into condominiums.

Trumark Urban, a privately owned development company based in Danville, is exploring the possibility of creating 110 to 130 high-end condos in the existing building. In addition, on the 17,000-square-foot surface parking lot to the west, they would add townhomes and landscaping between Sacramento and Clay Streets.

“We’re in the early stages of figuring out how we might re-purpose the building,” said Kim Diamond, Trumark’s development director. “But we’re really excited about the area and the building.”

Diamond and Trumark managing director Arden Hearing have been reaching out to neighborhood leaders as part of their due diligence in deciding whether to go through with their tentative agreement to buy the property. Among others, they consulted with Pacific Heights Residents Association board members Greg Scott and Paul Wermer, who raised the perennial concerns about parking and traffic but responded positively to the idea of creating residences. The building has been widely expected to become another medical building, given its location near the hospital.

“This is probably the least impactful use of the property,” said Wermer.

Diamond said her company is unlikely to proceed if there is opposition to the project. “We really want the neighborhood’s support,” she said.

Is the Gold Coast becoming a Tech Coast?

Apple design chief Jonathan Ive purchased 2808 Broadway, originally built for the Hellman family.

THE GOLD COAST, also known as Billionaire’s Row, is home to many of the most exclusive and expensive homes in San Francisco. Along the three blocks of outer Broadway, from Divisadero to the Lyon Street steps, rise magnificent properties that have traditionally been home to San Francisco’s old guard — wealthy, philanthrophic, multi-generational families. Heading into 2013, the Gold Coast is turning over to a new breed of young tech execs.

Read more: “On the Block

Inside the Getty Mansion

Photograph of Ann and Gordon Getty's living room by Lisa Romerein

DESIGN | DIANE DORRANS SAEKS

Twenty years ago, interior designer Ann Getty began a large-scale redecoration of the Pacific Heights residence where she lives with her husband, Gordon, a composer. It was built in 1906 to a classic design by architect Willis Polk and offers an entry hall with collections as opulent as any London museum. The Gettys, generous philanthropists, often entertain an international retinue of cultural and political figures.

At auctions in New York and London, Ann Getty acquired furniture from the great English country houses, including Badminton House and Ditchley Park. Unable to collect French antiques — she says the Getty Museum was in an acquisition phase, and even her budget was not large enough to bid against the family museum — she gathered George II gilded chairs, dramatic Anglo-Indian beds inlaid with mother-of-pearl and porcelain and ormolu objets.

“I love the heft and boldness of English antiques,” says Getty, who is also a champion of art education.

In Paris she scooped up vivid 18th-century silk brocades for pillows. From the estate of dancer Rudolf Nureyev she acquired velvet patchwork textiles, which she made into dramatic curtains.

The renovation, plus the addition of a new wing when the Gettys acquired the house next door, took place over a decade.

“This is the ornate look I love for myself, but I don’t impose it on my clients,” she says. “My work is not all over-the-top design. For clients, I want rooms that reflect their style.”

Even among this grandeur, there are quiet corners for an afternoon tête-à-tête overlooking the Palace of Fine Arts.

Her gracious rooms, with tufted sofas and chairs covered in plum-colored velvets and golden silks, are at once exotic, dazzling and comfortable. Party guests can often be found sprawled on silken sofas, and friends curl up to sip Champagne on chairs covered with luscious Venetian hand-woven silk velvets.

A quartet of Canaletto paintings hovers above a gilded console table in the music room, a theatrical stage for family celebrations. A Sèvres porcelain table commissioned by Napoleon (its pair is installed in Buckingham Palace) stands in a corner. Gilded benches and tables from Spencer House, plus a silk-upholstered glass chair with the look of carved crystal, all demonstrate Getty’s original eye.        

While Ann Getty can design entirely practical rooms for young families, the rooms in her own home glow with baroque splendor. Blossoms, birds and butterflies painted on pale blue Chinese silk panels glimmer on the walls of a bedroom.

“Designing is a minor art, but such a pretty one,” says Getty as she glances around her living room. “I love to create interiors that please the eye. Beauty can be so uplifting.”

*

Ann Getty Interior Style by Diane Dorrans Saeks, published by Rizzoli, is available at Juicy News, 2453 Fillmore, and Browser Books, 2195 Fillmore. More on the author’s design blog, The Style Saloniste.

Local parks being renovated

A new irrigation system is being installed on the south side terraces at Alta Plaza Park.

IT’S SUMMERTIME, and the living is not so easy for those in the neighborhood who take their dogs — or themselves — for a walk in the park.

Both of the neighborhood’s four-block hilltop greens — Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza Park — are mostly brown this summer. Both are undergoing renovation.

At Alta Plaza, what’s billed as a “water conservation project” includes a new irrigation system on the south side terraces, which are dug up and fenced off, except for the grand staircase at Pierce Street. The northern half of the park remains open, including the playground and tennis courts. The project is on track to be completed in September.

Lafayette Park is getting a full-blown makeover, thanks to $10 million from a bond measure passed in 2008 and additional funds raised by Friends of Lafayette Park for a deluxe new playground. About three-quarters of the park was fenced off when construction began in June. But then a neighbor’s complaint brought the work to a halt.

Shannon Gallagher, who lives across from Lafayette Park, appealed one of the permits for the project. Her detailed written objections are due by August 9 and will be heard by the Board of Appeals on August 22.

Gallagher was pilloried as a prime example of the “tyranny of the few” by Chronicle columnist C. W. Nevius, too common in what he called “the city that can’t say yes.”

Gallagher was a no-show at an August 1 community meeting on the Lafayette Park renovation.

Dogs are now welcome only in a small area on the north side of Lafayette Park.

At the meeting, project manager Mary Hobson said work had resumed under permits that were not appealed. Hobson and other staffers from the city’s Recreation & Parks Department said they were confident the appeal was without merit and would be rejected, and that the project could be completed in 10 months as planned.

Some in the audience of approximately 100 residents questioned why Gallagher had not raised her objections during public planning sessions for the project, and why she wasn’t at the meeting.

“She had to go out of town because people were threatening her,” responded Pat Lovelock, who described herself as a friend of Gallagher’s and said she shared her concerns about proper permitting, dust and disabled access.

Others at the meeting questioned the removal of trees, and whether trees, plants and birds are being properly cared for during construction. Revised plans call for the removal of 44 trees, with 58 new trees to be planted.

EARLIER: Lafayette Park renovation gets green light