Hayes Valley and Jack London Square are two examples where we largely got it right.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN OCTOBER 2015
Over recent decades, both Hayes Valley in San Francisco and Jack London Square in Oakland have evolved into trendy destination hot spots with new housing and offices, high-end restaurants, hip shops, cool nightlife and other attractions. The vibrant scene these days in both areas is a dramatic contrast to the past, particularly for Hayes Valley, which had a history of urban blight and decay.
Hayes Valley and Jack London Square continue to see stepped-up development today, and the modern architecture, re-imagined public spaces and other design elements have helped infuse vitality into these communities. Both neighborhoods also show how community engagement and support have made for a successful revitalization.[quote]“Many changes—large and small—were incorporated into the project, and we truly believe it is a better project as a result.” Dean Rubinson, an executive at San Francisco-based Ellis Partners[/quote]
With Jack London Square, the Oakland community has embraced the changes “as evidenced by the strong performance of the newly added restaurants Bocanova, Forge, Haven, Jack’s and Plank,” said Dean Rubinson, an executive at San Francisco-based Ellis Partners, which took the lead in redeveloping the district. “In addition, frequent attendance of the public events that we host and regular visitation to the parks and plazas that we created are clear evidence of community support.”
It took a devastating temblor to transform Hayes Valley from a seedy section of San Francisco to a go-to place in the city. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the elevated Central Freeway, which cut through the neighborhood. The freeway was eventually taken down after a grassroots campaign urged its removal.
The freeway’s demolition freed up blocks and blocks for revitalization. Cafes and shops filled the void, and tree-lined Octavia Boulevard with multiple lanes separating local and through traffic replaced part of the freeway.
“The city also ran a design competition for Octavia Boulevard parcels that brought better projects to the boulevard,” San Francisco Planning Department spokeswoman Gina Simi said.
Another reason for the success of projects in Hayes Valley has been the public’s involvement. “They engaged with the project sponsors and were a part of the neighborhood specific design—and it shows,” Simi said. “A community that understands the benefits of more housing, more infrastructure, more affordable housing and less parking is more likely to be supportive of these efforts.”
This kind of neighborhood participation has resulted in “a holistic infrastructure and land-use plan,” she added.
In 2007, the city adopted the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which seeks to ensure Hayes Valley’s viability into the future. The plan calls for mixed-use development on former freeway parcels, affordable housing, intensified commercial activities along core transit arterials, new parks and street improvements.
Among the design concepts that the neighborhood and city planners have championed are buildings with active ground floors and façades broken up into sections so structures avoid looking so massive, San Francisco architect David Baker said.
Another key principle that has helped revitalize Hayes Valley is limiting vehicle-parking space in residential construction “to make a building a lot friendlier to pedestrians,” Baker said. That idea is in keeping with today’s emphasis on creating dense, transit-oriented urban communities and the fact that many residents now prefer to walk or bike to and from their destination instead of driving.
The five-story Richardson Apartments designed by Baker’s firm is among the several projects that have gone vertical since the Market and Octavia plan’s adoption, and it shows the sought-after design principles at work.
Opening in 2012 on the site of a former parking lot at Fulton and Gough streets, the 120-unit complex for low-income residents has a sectional façade “so it fits in with” the neighborhood’s older and smaller structures, Baker said.
First-floor shops bring energy along the streetscape while connecting the building with the established retail corridor on Hayes Street. Also, the building has no on-site parking for automobiles but does provide it for bicycles.
Raising the cultural and entertainment energy in Hayes Valley is the $64 million, state-of-the-art SFJAZZ Center, which opened at 201 Franklin St. in 2013 and was designed by San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero Associates. The luminous three-story center is touted as the first freestanding building designed for jazz in the country.
“A transparent glass façade wraps the ground lobby, cafe and ensemble room to reveal the excitement within,” the architect’s Web site said. “The all-glass, acoustically isolated [and] multipurpose ensemble room—the Joe Henderson Lab—puts artists within feet of passersby on Franklin Street.”
Another structure that uses plenty of glass is the 8 Octavia condominium building, which opened in 2014 and was designed by San Francisco-based architect Stanley Saitowitz. “With its sculptural form and contemporary materials, 8 Octavia rises to meet the scale of its urban setting and establishes a refined presence in the city,” the project Web site said. “The slender building, wrapped in glass, is designed to engage the neighborhood while creating a haven for residents.”
A focus on local retail has also contributed to the Hayes Valley revival. “The neighborhood we enjoy today is thriving—both residentially and commercially,” Larry Cronander, president of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, said in the group’s August/September newsletter. “Many of the businesses in Hayes Valley are unique to the business environment and contribute to the special character of our neighborhood as a destination for shopping and dining. Fast-food chains, bank branches and big-box retailers are not to be found in Hayes Valley.”
Community input, again, played a crucial role in this component of the Hayes Valley success. “Together with many other neighborhood groups and public officials, the [association] had a constructive part in formulating the present, more restrictive iteration of the planning code relating to formula retail [and] closing loopholes that would otherwise allow chain stores to open here,” Cronander said in the newsletter.
Jack London Square
Unlike Hayes Valley, Jack London Square did not need a natural disaster to spur its rejuvenation and already was enjoying relative popularity as a waterfront attraction along the Oakland Estuary. But it seemed hard-pressed to reach its true potential.
“It used to be a place to go take a nap in the middle of the street, and nobody would bother you,” Baker said. “It was an industrial area where the industry left.”
But Baker is seeing Jack London Square improve in a similar way to Hayes Valley. “Jack London Square is coming back,” he said. “They’re building a whole bunch of buildings and putting in retail. Now there are cafes, offices and shops—all kinds of great stuff.”
After Oakland leaders made Jack London Square a priority, Ellis Partners launched a $400 million redevelopment effort there.
That campaign so far has renovated historic office space and built two new commercial buildings. Tenants such as fast-growing solar-energy company Sungevity and the iconic Western lifestyle publication Sunset Magazine are quickly snatching up office leases in Jack London Square.
“Given the history of Jack London Square, we found a good blend of bringing back historical elements and having a modern design,” said Rubinson, partner and development director at Ellis. “The buildings we’ve built are very modern and have high-quality materials. It makes the architecture fit in with the grandeur of a waterfront setting.”
Retail and restaurant spaces are also gradually filling up. Like in Hayes Valley, local business is being emphasized in Jack London Square. “We’re trying to focus on what’s local and staying away from national chains,” Rubinson said. “What we’re creating is a dining district that’s eclectic and authentic.”
A public marketplace similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco or Pike Place in Seattle is still in the works, he added.
Ellis has also remade public spaces that were “relatively void of attractive features,” he said. These common areas now have plantings, furnishings and other elements that draw in people.
Residential development has picked up in Jack London Square as well, featuring such luxury buildings as The Bond by San Francisco-based developer Embarcadero Pacific Co. In addition, Ellis has proposed building two residential towers that would add up to 665 units in the neighborhood.
As with Hayes Valley, community participation has been instrumental to Jack London Square’s transformation. “During the entitlement process, a number of differing viewpoints were raised, and the project evolved based on this valuable input from the community and the city,” Rubinson said. “Many changes—large and small—were incorporated into the project, and we truly believe it is a better project as a result.”
Hayes Valley photography courtesy of Bruce Damonte