New Design Unveiled for Nine-Story Housing at 1296 Shotwell

Rendering of new design for 1296 Shotwell, with revised southern facade, facing Bernal Hill. Source: MEDA

As you may recall, there was a meeting on Tuesday night during which the Mission Economic Development Agency  (MEDA) did the Big Reveal of their updated design for 1296 Shotwell, the nine-story housing development proposed for a site on Shotwell just north of Cesar Chavez. There’s a focus group happening in North Bernal on Monday, Aug. 29 to collect feedback on the new design (but more about that in a moment).

As you no doubt also recall, 1296 Shotwell is slated to become 90+ units of subsidized-affordable housing for senior citizens. The building will stand 85′ tall, or 20′ taller than current zoning allows.  Given the visual prominence of the site, the proposal for 1296 Shotwell been the object of intense scrutiny, with some Bernal neighbors saying that the development just too tall, and others suggesting the height would be  less of an issue if the Bernal-facing side of the building had a less austere design.

Both concerns were front and center during Tuesday’s meeting. The crowd at Tuesday’s meeting was small, with only about a dozen people attending, including several activists and project affiliates who were there to perform their roles as activists and project affiliates.

Most of the presentation was delivered by Susie Coliver of Herman Coliver Locus, the architectural firm leading the design for 1296 Shotwell. In response to community feedback, Coliver said her firm considered several alternate designs for 1296 Shotwell, including some that eliminated one or two stories from the building to mollify concerns about its exceptional height. The result, she said, was that while yes, the building did get a bit shorter, reducing a few floors didn’t really to much to make it feel much smaller from street level or North Bernal. Meanwhile, the height reductions significantly reduced the total number of housing units the building could potentially contain.  In practical terms, here’s what those trade-offs would look like:

Height design exercise for 1296 Shotwell, showing number of residential units each design could accommodate. Source: MEDA

Height design exercise for 1296 Shotwell, showing number of residential units each design could accommodate. Source: MEDA

Thus, in the revised design,1296 Shotwell remains the same height: Nine stories, rising 85-feet from street level.

Instead, the new design focuses on rethinking the building’s southern, Bernal-facing facade, which is the side that may become a new landmark for the 9000 people who will gaze upon it daily from their homes on the north slope of Bernal Hill.

The new design reduces the number of units from 96 to 94 and attempts to add more color and texture to the south side of 1296 Shotwell, without relying upon superficial decoration such as murals, mosaics, or graphics. Highlights of the new design for the south side include:

  • stepped roofline to provide locations for several new roof gardens. This is intended to avoid the monolithic, rectangular massing of the old design. A roof garden running along the south side of the building would reduce the apparent height of the building by one story, when viewed from street-level
  • There’s now a vertical column of windows in the center of the south facade, hidden behind laser-cut, enameled screen panels.
  • The concrete panels flanking the windows on the left and right may also include alternating coloration, to provide additional texture.

When we zoom and enhance the rendering of the new design to focus on how all these elements come together, the Bernal-facing side of1296 Shotwell maybe possibly perhaps would look something like this (if the roof gardens were well maintained):



Compare and contrast, old design vs. new design:

And here’s another view of the new design, showing how 1296 Shotwell might look if you were a pigeon flying over the intersection of Cesar Chavez and South Van Ness. The proposed terracing of the roof decks is more clear from this angle:

New rendering of proposed 1296 Shotwell design. Source: MEDA

New rendering of proposed 1296 Shotwell design. Source: MEDA

During Tuesday’s meeting, additional concerns were raised about parking, shadows, and wind-tunnel effects caused by the building’s nine-story height. Responses were more or less as follows:

Parking: 1296 Shotwell has no onsite parking, and is not required to include any. MEDA suggested that the 150 or so senior citizens who will qualify to live in the building can’t really afford cars anyway.

Wind and Shadows: Basic wind and shadow studies for this site were conducted during a preliminary environmental impact review (EIR) 10 years ago. MEDA says a revised EIR is not required.

UPDATE: After publication, MEDA shared this clarification: “We have implemented an initial wind study and the report indicated that there would not be an adverse impact of generating wind tunnels; therefore, a further wind tunnel report is not necessary. As for shadow studies, Auto Zone, which is next door to the building, plans on putting solar panels on their roof and had requested plans from the team, and deemed that there are no adverse impacts to their installation. The Planning Department would determine if a full EIR would be needed — not the development team.”

Height: The current proposal for 1296 Shotwell is 20 feet taller than the 65′ maximum height that current zoning specifies for this site. MEDA says they plan to use the new Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP) to secure the necessary variance.

Project Timing: MEDA says they hope to complete the permitting for 1296 Shotwell in mid-2017 so construction can begin in late 2017. If that happens, occupancy would start in late 2019 or early 2020.

So that’s the latest plan.

Now that the new design has been revealed, MEDA will hold a “focus group” for Bernal residents to discuss the current proposal this Monday, and you are encouraged to attend:

1296 Shotwell Design Focus Group: Monday, August 29, 6pm to 7:30pm, Precita Eyes Mural Studio, 348 Precita Avenue

Saturday: Community Meeting About “Great Wall on Shotwell”


Rendering of 1296 Shotwell, as seen from Precita Avenue

There’s a community meeting scheduled for this Saturday, April 30 to discuss the proposal to build a 9-story tower at 1296 Shotwell Street (near Cesar Chavez). The meeting will take place from 10 am to noon in Room 100 of Leonard Flynn School (2125 Chavez) adjacent to Precita Park.

As Bernalwood has previously reported, 1296 Shotwell may become an 85′ building that will provide 96 units of subsidized-affordable housing for senior citizens. Sounds great in theory, but there’s a big problem: Under existing zoning regulations, 1296 Shotwell is 20 feet too tall.

As the urbanist website SocketSite explains:

As noted in the City’s preliminary review of the project plans, which were drafted by Herman Coliver Locus Architecture, [1296 Shotwell] is currently only zoned for development up to 65 feet in height.

As such, the 1296 Shotwell Street parcel will either have to be legislatively upzoned or the City’s proposed Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP) will need to be passed in order for the development to proceed. Once approved and permitted, it will take another two years to build.

So the current design for 1296 Shotwell is illegal under existing codes.

Yesterday, Bernalwood was contacted  by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), one of the developers leading the effort to build 1296 Shotwell.  MEDA invited Bernal neighbors to attend Saturday’s community meeting. But when Bernalwood asked MEDA for updated renderings of the proposed tower, our request was declined. “The renderings can be requested the day of the meeting,” we were told.

Oh well. Since MEDA didn’t want to provide advance guidance on the proposal they want our community to discuss, let’s review what we know about 1296 Shotwell, based on previous disclosures.

Here is a rendering of 1296 Shotwell released earlier this year. The building sits near the corner of Shotwell and Cesar Chavez. Labels have been added to clarify the building’s orientation:


Aerial rendering of 1296 Shotwell. Source: MEDA

A few observations:

• To date, all the renderings of 1296 Shotwell released to the media have shown views of the building from the air, as you might see it from a drone. However, that’s not how it will look to neighbors, because people don’t have wings. Aerial views of this nine-story tower camouflage the building’s bulk. To look down on 1296 Shotwell is to see it against a matching backdrop of surrounding streets and structures. In the real world, however, neighbors will look up at 1296 Shotwell, and it will be dramatically taller than any nearby buildings, with no peers or urban backdrop whatsoever. From the street, or from Bernal Heights, 1296 Shotwell will tower alone, above high above its surroundings, with only the sky as a backdrop (More on that below).

• As shown in the aerial rendering, 1296 Shotwell’s southern, Bernal-facing facade will not include any windows. Windows and balconies for residents will be on the eastern and western facades, but the north and south sides of the building will be 85′ concrete slabs.  In its basic design, 1296 Shotwell will be very similar to 2601 Mission Street, the US Bank building  on the corner of 22nd Street, built in 1963. The similarity is that 2601 Mission is also 9 stories, and it also has no windows on its short sides, with all the windows arrayed on the long ones.  Which is to say, from street-level, as a pedestrian or Bernal neighbor, the massing of 1296 Shotwell will feel like this:

Bay View Federal/US Bank Building Built: 1963 2601 Mission Street (at 22nd), San Francisco

Nine-story, slab-sided building at 2601 Mission Street

• MEDA’s illustrations of 1296 Shotwell have attempted to soften the bulk of the building’s slab-sides by including a mural on the windowless, Bernal-facing wall. A mural will add color, to be sure, but a mural isn’t architecture; It doesn’t change the basic form of the building,  or mask its height. This is easy to understand for most Bernalese, because when we look east from atop Bernal Hill today,  we see another tall slab decorated with a mural: The abandoned 197-foot grain silo on the waterfront that’s now decorated with painted balloons. The silo looks more colorful now than it did before the mural was painted, but it hasn’t gotten any less imposing, either.

Anyway, all that leads us to the rendering shown at the top of this post. Since MEDA declined to share any new renderings with the Bernal Heights community, we collaborated with a local architect to create our own, to provide Bernal neighbors with a photo-realistic representation of what 1296 Shotwell will look like in the context of the existing urban fabric. Bernalwood’s rendering shows 1296 Shotwell as seen from Precita Avenue. The building is shown to scale, as a 85-foot tower, as it would look if constructed according to MEDA’s last publicly released set of drawings, absent only a mural. Barring a dramatic change to the proposal, this is pretty much what the form of the nine-story building at 1296 Shotwell will look like if you live in northwest Bernal Heights. Hello, “Great Wall on Shotwell.”

MEDA says the community meeting this weekend is to “review and provide community input on design and streetscape” for 1296 Shotwell. If you’d like to do that, you can share your thoughts with them this Saturday, April 30, from 10 am to noon in Room 100 of Leonard Flynn School.

IMAGES: Top, street-level rendering of 1296 Shotwell via Bernalwood. Aerial rendering of rendering of 1296 Shotwell via MEDA. 2601 Mission Street by Telstar Logistics. 

An Update on the New St. Luke’s Hospital Campus Construction Project


If you’ve traveled along Cesar Chavez near the intersection of San Jose Avenue recently, you might’ve noticed that the new California Pacific Medical Center St. Luke’s hospital building is beginning to look much less skeletal, and much more building-like.

This project has been in the works for a long time, and now Mirabel Avenue neighbor Dean Fryer — who by day works as a media relations manager for CPMC — brings us a progress report:

I’m writing to let you know about the amazing progress being made on the new replacement hospital at the Sutter Health—CPMC St. Luke’s Campus, our neighborhood hospital. Things are moving along quickly. The steel structure is done and the exterior wall panels are nearly all in place, resulting in a great new look for the campus and neighborhood.

As you’re likely aware, St. Luke’s has a long history in our neighborhood. Originally it was located on Lundy’s Lane, in 1871, before moving to the current location in 1875. The location was perfect for a hospital — near the end of the cable car line on Valencia Street and near the rout of the original Southern Pacific main train line coming up from the peninsula. We’are excited to continue serving our neighborhood, and the city, with the new hospital (scheduled to open in 2019).

You can already see the space around the new hospital take shape. Visible are the outline of the entry areas where families will come and go, and the framing of the stairs that lead to the plaza which symbolizes the historic pathway traveled between the peninsula and the city. The plaza will be open and well lit to provide neighbors a safe environment, day or night, while crossing the campus.

The new seven-story, 120 patent bed hospital, is designed to blend nicely into the neighborhood with color and aesthetic. Depending on the direction you approach the hospital, it will have a different look and feel. From the east there is the greenery of the plaza and from the west the low rise section of the building next to the neighbors. There is also the intentional use of different materials on the exterior to create an illusion of diminished building height.

We’re also proud of all the local hiring that has happened at this construction site and our other hospital construction project at Van Ness and Geary. At the St. Luke’s campus we are excited that 33 percent of the workforce consists of San Francisco residents, with 13 of the workers born at the current St. Luke’s campus hospital. An additional 6 workers also live in Bernal Heights.

The views of Bernal Hill from the hospital are spectacular as well. Here’s how it looks (click to enlarge):


I’ll keep you updated on the construction progress, but Bernal neighbors can always check for more details and to access the construction cameras.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of CPMC

Hot Pink Shark Mural Inspires Aspiring Local Artist


Opinions about the bold mural on the side of the “Helipad House” at the top of Folsom in North Bernal have been polarized practically from the instant when muralist  Casey O’Connell first put down her paintbrush. Nevertheless, the mural recently provided a muse for one emerging local artist, as shown in this image shared by Eric Silman.

It’s awesome, and even more so when you compare its fidelity to the original:


Welcome to the Bedrock District, Bernal Heights, USA


Two of the most retro-distinctive homes in Bernal Heights are even more so because they sit side-by-side together.

We’re talking about the two houses with the faux-stone facades located on Florida between Precita and Cesar Chavez in theEven  flatlands of northeast Bernal Heights. Each is totally over-the-top, because each looks like it could be home to Fred and Wilma Flintstone, if Fred and Wilma Flintstone lived in mid-century Bernal Heights. But there are actually two of these houses, so you can also imagine  Barney and Betty Rubble living right  next door.


How did this happen?

Well, to understand that, you need to imagine yourself owning one of these homes in the 1950s or early 1960s. Each of these houses was built during the early decades of the 20th century, so by the time the ’50 rolled around, each was already 40 years old. That means the original wooden facades were likely faded, aging, and in need of repair.  That’s probably about when Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner opened up their newspaper and saw an ad that looked something like this:


You can practically see the lightbulbs going off: YES! We can Perma-Stone!  We can Add Beauty, Permanence, and Strength to our Home at Low Cost! We can Eliminate Painting Forever!

The Noe Valley SF blog recently wrote a capsule history of Perma-Stone:

Perma-Stone – and several other variations of the artificial molded stone such as FormStone, FieldStone, Dixie Stone, and yes, Stone of Ages were popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and applied like vinyl siding to existing homes. Perma-Stone was invented in Columbus, Ohio and [was] most popular in places like Baltimore and the East Coast, but found a foothold in San Francisco too, mostly in the Avenues. According to this article in SF Gate from 2010, film director John Waters dubbed Perma-Stone “the polyester of brick.”

So how did both of these houses, side-by-side, end up getting the faux-stone treatment? It’s not to hard to envision the scenario:

THE SCENE: Fred and Barney are grilling brontosaurus burgers in Barney’s Florida Street back yard. Eisenhower is president, and in the distance, a radio is tuned to the baseball game that’s underway at Seal Stadium on 16th and Bryant.

BARNEY: Hey Fred, have you noticed our houses are looking a little shabby? They’re starting to show their age.

FRED: Careful with the brontosaurus Barney. You know Wilma likes hers medium rare.

BARNEY: Yeah yeah. Look, did you see that ad in the paper for the Perma-Stone? They put it up once, and the house never needs painting again.

FRED: Can you hand me another Rolling Rock?

BARNEY: Sure thing, Freddy-Boy. [Tosses can of beer]  But you know, I’ve gotta tell you, I kind of like that “Modern Stone Age” look.

FRED: Yeah, Wilma won’t shut up about it ever since we got that subscription to Dwelling magazine. No painting, ever again, huh?

BARNEY:  Never again.  [Pokes a burger tepidly with a spatula, then flips it over] Whaddya say we do both our houses at the same time? Maybe we can get a package deal. Plus, we could split the cost of the construction parking permit.

FRED: Now you’re talking, Barney-Boy! You know, I do kind of like that Bernal Boulder treatment they have.

BARNEY: Betty said she likes the Manor Flagstone. I’ll have guy come by to do an estimate for both of us.

FRED: Dammit, Barney, keep an eye on those burgers! [long pause] Oh hey I’m ready for another Rolling Rock.

… and the rest, as they say, is pre-history.

PHOTOS: Permastone ad, courtesy of Eric Fisher

Designs for Bonview Homes Revealed at Tense Review Meeting

6 Bonview Renderings2

6 Bonview Renderings3

6 Bonview Renderings4

Your Bernalwood editor attended last night’s meeting of the Northwest Bernal Heights Design Review Board at the Bernal Library to see the big reveal of the proposal to build two new homes at the top of Coso at Bonview.

You can read the background on the project here.  There was a capacity crowd of 45 at last night’s session, making it by far the biggest northwest Bernal design review meeting in a very long time.


As you can see up above, the architects shared some renderings of what the completed project might look like.

Here’s the front elevation:


The rear elevation:


And the site plan:


As for the meeting itself, in general it was tense but civil. A small number of Bernal neighbors seemed dead-set against the project for reasons that seemed to combine aesthetic disgust with an enthusiasm for class conflict. But overall, most neighbors had perfectly reasonable questions about how the proposal might impact their own circumstances in one way or another.

The architects were not particularly polished, and their presentation tools were clunky, but they had a very good grasp of the details and were (mostly) able to provide clear answers to probing questions. Their responses probably didn’t satisfy everyone in the room, but they did convey the sense that they had tried to create a design that was sensitive to existing neighbors and the neighborhood.

One issue seemed a little dodgy: As proposed, the height of 6 Bonview raised some eyebrows, because it was calculated via some quirky ways the designers chose to measure the undulating elevation of the site. Time will tell how this issue plays out, but otherwise, the design appeared to meet Bernal’s existing codes.

And most exciting of all, there will be more meetings just like this one to continue the review process.   So don’t worry if you missed last night’s session — you’ll soon have another chance to watch your design review board in action as our Bonview adventure continues…

Bernal Architect Designs Affordable Housing That’s Beautiful


San Francisco needs more affordable housing. Much more.

But affordable architecture gets a bad rap. It’s ugly. It’s too institutional. It’s too homogeneous. It’s visual blight.

Often, those generalizations are true… which has the very unfortunate effect of making San Franciscans (even more) resistant to new affordable housing projects. That’s super extra-bad, because San Francisco really needs more affordable housing. Much more.

Architect Owen Kennerly is a resident of Holly Park, and he was the co-designer of a new affordable housing project in Mission Bay that’s so gorgeous it makes San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King swoon.

The building is 1180 Fourth Street, and here’s as taste of what The John King has to say about it:

Architecturally, the six-story wedge of 150 apartments adds an assertive spark in a young district with too many boilerplate buildings. At ground level it’s engaging, a pleasure even before the generous retail spaces are filled. There’s a social payoff as well: The units are reserved for low-income families, adding youth to the neighborhood scene.

None of this is by chance, and it shows how planning priorities can translate to good city building — especially when determination and creativity are added to the mix.

The first step was the decision long ago to reserve the site for affordable housing. It’s a prime location fronting a park where Mission Creek is crossed by Fourth Street, the entryway to the 200-acre-plus southern part of the Mission Bay redevelopment district established in 1998. Setting it aside for lower-income residents was a symbolic reminder that economic integration should be pursued when and where it makes sense. But a well-meaning gesture isn’t the same as a well-done piece of architecture. That’s where smart design comes in.

The architectural effort was led by Daniel Solomon and Owen Kennerly, whose relationship goes back to the 1990s when the latter was a UC Berkeley student and an employee of the former. Kennerly now has one of the most visually inventive small firms in the city.

This is not Neighbor Owen’s first rodeo. He’s created several cool buildings around San Francisco, including a gorgeous house that got the sexy treatment from The New York Times. Neighbor Owen’s design for the affordable housing at 1180 Fourth takes his work in a wonderful new direction, and it shows that his architectural kung-fu is extremely versatile.

Great work, Neighbor Owen, and thank you. Oh, if you have some spare time, could you please pull together some sketches for a mixed-use housing and supermarket retail project to go on the site of our managerially blighted Bernal Safeway? Mmmkay? That’d be great.

PHOTO: San Francisco Chronicle