Dogpatch: Part 1

Dogpatch: Part 1

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It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco and one of the fastest growing; Dogpatch, long a forgotten patch of real estate on the city’s central waterfront, has big plans.

Actually, it’s always had big plans. Dogpatch dates back to the mid-1850s, when gunpowder manufacturers built factories there, outside the original Yerba Buena city limits to avoid the new city’s ordinance forbidding “dangerous industries.” From that point on – and especially after the construction of a bridge leading from downtown to Potrero Hill and the Bayview District, making the district much easier to reach — and continuing through Dogpatch’s industrial prime, the neighborhood was magnet for large manufacturers like The Tubbs Cordage Company, the Union Iron Works and, later, Bethlehem Steel, for ship builders and other heavy industry. A steady flow of immigrant workers followed.

They stayed in rooming houses on Irish Hill, a micro-district notorious for its rugged, brawling living conditions, located adjacent to the ship yards and factories, or they bought lots a few blocks away. On those lots they built small Eastlake-style Victorian cottages, built by hand from house plans published for free in the evening San Francisco Call Bulletin.

The glory days lasted through World War II, after which the neighborhood entered a long period of decline shadowing the overall downfall of heavy industry in San Francisco. By the early 1990s, Dogpatch had all but slipped off the map, its sagging Victorian and Edwardian houses and flats occupied by longtime residents and counterculture artists. Activity at Pier 70, once the hub of neighborhood productivity, wound down to a whisper. What remained of Irish Hill was (and is) an anonymous berm, maybe 20 feet high, in a fenced-off lot owned by PG & E and the Port of San Francisco.

The neighborhood’s rebirth began at the dawn of the dotcom boom. Developers looking to capitalize on Dogpatch’s proximity to Multimedia Gulch and anticipating the redevelopment of Mission Bay and the extension of the Third Street rail line built entry- and mid-level condo and live/work buildings along Third, Tennessee and Minnesota Streets, inviting new residents and revitalization; Esprit, the clothing manufacturer, set up its headquarters on Minnesota Street. A few restaurants and shops popped up on and around Third and 22nd Streets.

Since then, Dogpatch’s trajectory has been consistently skyward. Today, the neighborhood is a vibrant hub comprised of a mixture of old and new. The residential heart is a four-block stretch of tree-lined Tennessee and Minnesota Streets, where a dozen of the original Victorian cottages share space with Edwardian homes and flats, small mid-rise condo buildings from the 1990s and 2000s and a few extant warehouses. Further south, the streets are populated entirely by large condo and apartment complexes, including Millwheel South, 32 units on Indiana and Minnesota Street that sold out in less than a month upon its 2012 completion.

With all of this growth it was inevitable that Dogpatch would become a destination for business. In the past five years the neighborhood has seen several new arrivals, restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, wine shops, even a butcher, plus boutiques and a brewery, the Triple Voodoo Brewery and Taproom. Some standouts are Piccono and Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, whose miscellanea is actually limited to ice cream and cookies.

Dogpatch has come a long way but it’s far from through. Next up is a massive project, the development of 65-acre Pier 70. Plans include commercial, retail and 1,000 apartment units, with developers hoping to start by rehabbing six historic warehouses as soon as this summer. In anticipation of what can only have a massive impact on the neighborhood, developers have already begun smaller projects nearby, creating an interesting effect along Illinois Street in which the western side of the street is gleaming new condo buildings overlooking the eastern side of the street, whose collection of faded wooden waterfront buildings resembles a Steinbeck-era Cannery Row.

For several years now, all thumbs have pointed up in Dogpatch, where the future looks just as bright as the recent past. Locals are hoping the neighborhood’s funky soul stays intact, because even after two decades of growth, Dogpatch, once the rough-and-tumble embodiment of frontier San Francisco, remains a unique and special place.