Sunday, August 28, 2011

The (Other) Painted Ladies of Alamo Square

Most anyone who has seen photographs of San Francisco, or anyone who has tolerated an episode of Full House for that matter, will recognize these iconic structures:

(Photo Credit: Samuel Wantman, Creative Commons 3.0 license)
These houses are the fancy Painted Ladies of Alamo Square, located on the 700 block of Steiner Street.  Walk a bit down the hill however, and you'll find their hideous counterparts:  The Monochrome Crack-Whores of Alamo Square.
It's difficult to know where to begin with these camera lens-shattering San Francisco anti-icons.  At first blush they appear to be typical of modern San Francisco housing stock, with a flat roof and blocky Oriel-style window bays, and simple ornaments above the windows. It also turns out to be a single multi-unit structure.  After that, however, things go downhill quickly.  First off, the apartments appear to be completely vacant. The building clearly hasn't weathered well, with crawling plants intercalating themselves into the siding and stucco on the left side, and significant rusting of something-or-other on the front. The blinding white paint makes all of these flaws plain as day.

Then there are the addresses (or what appear to be addresses) spray-painted onto the blank street-level wall of these buildings.  A bit ugly, and a bit odd too, though it makes for an excellent backdrop when shooting and submitting SFist-style 'on-the-street' photos in the hopes of landing fame and fortune as the day's Photo Du Jour, like so:

             Photo Du Jour
"Guy in front of ugly building" by Dingbatologist


Things get more complicated when you try to find out what precisely is the deal with this building.  The County Assessor's office doesn't have a listing for a building with these addresses.  The lot occupied by the Monochrome Crack-Whores is also occupied by the Victorian directly next door in the photograph.  The lot is zoned for a three-family residential structure, and has an address on Grove Street, not Steiner. The build date on the lot is shown to be also 1900, not 1970 or so, as I might have expected from the look of the place.  So is this part of a century-old building?  A later addition onto the lot?  A soon-to-be-torn down eyesore?

The Monochrome Crack-Whores of Alamo Square do not give up their secrets quite so easily...





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