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San Francisco Rental Ads and Bargain Basement Prices of Yore

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San Francisco has always been a renters town, with boarding houses going back to the city's earliest days. Today's rental market is nothing short of masochistic, so let's take a trip back in time to pre-Craigslist San Francisco to look at some of the first rental ads to hit the city.

1850s boarding house: Immediately following the Gold Rush, San Francisco grew from a tiny town into a thriving west coast city. By 1850, San Francisco had 25,000 residents, almost entirely young men who were headed for, or were just back from, the gold fields. Boarding houses were the rental option of choice for the mostly male initial population - larger homes or buildings were split into five or six individual single rooms rented as low for $2-8/month, or a bit more for fancier digs.

1890s wealth: Gold Rush success brought mega wealth to the city, but you didn't have to own property to be well respected. You could rent your way to the top with a fancy furnished mansion, only costing you $125/month (or about $3145 today). Too much opulance for you? How about a five-room cottage in Nob Hill for $30/month?

1906 earthquake shack: When the 1906 Earthquake and Fire devastated the city and left over 16,000 homeless, the City Corps of Engineers commissioned 5,610 cottages that averaged 10'x 14' and consisted of two or three rooms, a gas connection, and a coat of green paint. The charge was $2/month per shack, and for $12 to $25 the shack could be moved to private property once the family got their affairs in order. All the paid rent was then refundable once the shack was relocated.

post-earthquake flat rentals: After the earthquake, there was a major housing crisis in the city. Many larger single-family homes were converted into apartments, and larger lots were subdivided to make room for the construction of flats and apartment buildings. Boarding houses and large mansions were replaced by flats for growing middle-class. Massive by today's standards, the flats rented around $80-100/month.

Mid-century apartment buildings: By the mid-twentieth century, housing trends shifted towards high density apartment buildings. According the San Francisco Modern Context Statement, from 1961?1970 more than a third of residential buildings were multi?family townhouses, duplexes, apartment buildings, and towers. These were often built as in?fill construction in already established neighborhoods or on the outer edges of the city where there was more land to develop, like the Stonestown Apartments (now part of SFSU) where in 1951 you could get a three-bedroom, two-bath for a whopping $159/month. Ah, the good old days.

· Capital Intentions: Female Proprietors in San Francisco, 1850-1920 [Edith Sparks via Google Books]
· The rent was $2 a month, gave quake refugees a roof [SF Gate]
· Earthquake Refugee Shack [Noe Hill]
· Market Octavia Context Statement [SF Planning]
· San Francisco Modern Context Statement [SF Planning]
· Stonestown [WNP]