Midcentury Bernal Shoebox House Flips After 21st Century Makeover


Somewhere relatively high up on Bernalwood’s List of Things We Really Want to Cover Someday is an item called “What’s Up with Those Bernal Shoebox Houses?”

You know the type, because it is very common here. The Bernal Shoebox is what I call those vaguely modern inflill homes that were built all over Bernal Heights in the 1950s and 1960s. Rectangular shapes. Double-wide garage door on the bottom. Residential space above. Standardized construction. Raise and Repeat… all over Bernal Heights (and San Francisco’s southern neighborhoods) during those heady postwar years.

For example, here’s tony Nebraska Street, just north of Cortland, as seen through Google Earth Street View:


As a genre, Bernal Shoebox houses are now found in various states of repair, upkeep, originality, adaptation, and/or disrepair. There’s even one in the Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book:


Some Bernal Shoeboxes look rather Midcentury Chic…


…which is why clever graphic artists have even created new posters like this:


Space Age grooviness aside, these types of houses have some notable advantages as a residential resource. They’re plentiful, they are structurally uncomplicated, they usually offer a generous amount of interior space, and they’re relatively easy to reconfigure and remodel to accommodate our fabulous 21st century lifestyles.

So someday, Bernalwood hopes to tell you more about this particular building type. Where did the basic design come from? Who did it? How were these homes built? And by whom? And for how much? And who bought them? That kind of stuff. Stay tuned. (Have insights on the topic? Share them in the comments or via email)

In the meantime, our cyberpals at the CurbedSF real estate blog recently found this example of a Bernal Shoebox for sale at 357 Franconia after a full makeover:



CurbedSF writes:

Back in March, flippers purchased a worn-out Bernal fixer for $770K and set about transforming it into a super-slick contemporary box. Out front, the forlorn white siding was switched out for a new stucco facade with lava stone cladding and black metal trim. Inside, the kitchen is all new, an unwarranted third bedroom seems to have gone legit, and a second bath was added, along with some welcome skylights. At $1.395M, the new ask is a more than 80 percent boost over the sale price eight months ago. Looks like the sellers are getting their money’s worth, too—the property went into contract after only five days on the market.

OK, so, that’s obviously a rather dizzyng bump in price. And yes, it’s obviously a reflection of our wacky-doodle, supply-constrained real estate market. Blah blah blah.

Yet it’s also, likely, a reflection of what will become of more and more Bernal Shoeboxes, and how many of them will evolve in the fabric of Bernal’s streetscape during decades to come. Shall we call them DwellBoxes?

PHOTOS: 357 Franconia via Redfin and CurbedSF. Bernal Shoeboxes by Telstar Logistics

16 thoughts on “Midcentury Bernal Shoebox House Flips After 21st Century Makeover

  1. Man, their listing agent really needs to update the Bernal stock photos. Half the businesses pictured show old signage (Moonlight, Liberty Cafe) or closed down shops (Red Hill Books).

  2. The shoebox next door is currently being renovated to sell (not exactly a flip… the senior owner died some months ago). I can’t wait to see how much it will go for.

  3. All that poster needs is a hill behind the houses and it is totally Bernal. Up here on Bonview there is a significant number of shoeboxes. Our house was moved from its original location for the construction of 280 and Alemany Ramp back in 61.

  4. I am the proud owner of a circa 1960 shoebox on Bernal Heights Blvd, near the purple house pictured above. After having lived in a long, storage-less Edwardian apartment, my Bernal shoebox is great. Lots of light, storage (real closets!), and yes, even the rectangles and low ceilings have their own appeal. Renovating it has been a slow, but rewarding process. I’m glad there are others who appreciate these funny, but very livable, Bernal houses.

  5. Why does it feel uncomfortable, lauding the new luxe makeovers of Bernal? I love the makeovers, they’ve been going on for a long time, (See the muddy avocado one on Ellsworth. Beautiful seductive green box. I wince with joy mixed with a tinge of envy each time I drive by.). Yes, there was a life before the need for something like Google buses and prop G and a feature in Bernalwood or some other Dwell-like press machine. I feel like this is fast becoming a surreal version of the Truman Show

  6. The blues singer Malvina Reynolds wrote a protest song inspired by Bernal Heights:

    She called the houses “little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky”.

  7. It may not have been a slick house before, but it housed a nice family of tenants. I’d rather have that family in my neighborhood than that fancy new house.

  8. I do believe that song was inspired by the houses on the hills in Daly City, although I wish it was here I love that song.

  9. My entire Macedonia Street (all one block of it) is filled with the 1958 single-car garage version of this model. When we bought it 30 years ago it was derisively called a “San Francisco dingbat” but now it’s called a “Mid-century classic” which I like to think I am, too. Ours has had three rounds of remodeling and I think it’s a very easy floor plan to live in. Several of the houses on my street are (or were until recently) occupied by their original owners who paid about $10,000 for them.

  10. I used to live next door. The former residents were a lovely family with two sweet little girls. I hope the family was able to get enough money to settle in a place they love. I doubt that could any longer be San Francisco.

  11. Pingback: Two Homes Tell a Brain-Melting Story About Bernal Heights Real Estate | Bernalwood

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