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The Creation of the Sunset's "Doelger City"

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Public spaces change fast here in San Francisco, and for better or worse, it can be pretty crazy when you see what the City used to look like. Every week, we'll bring you Then & Now, a comparison of historic photos of the Bay Area with current views from the same perspective. Have a suggestion for a photo comparison that looks totally different (or shockingly the same)? Drop us a tip in the Curbed Inbox or leave a comment after the jump.

Quick note: See that vertical green bar in the middle of the then and now photos? You can move it horizontally to see the photos side by side.





[1938 Then photo: David Rumsey Map Collection/ Now photo: Google Maps] This week we showcased the Inner Sunset's Doelger Homes Sales Office, which is now one signature away from becoming the city's latest historic landmark. While the building is a pretty splashy example of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne, what exactly is the significance of Henry Doelger Building Inc? Let's just say, without the company the Sunset would look nothing like it does today.

The area between 27th and 39th Avenues and Kirkham and Quintara Streets has earned the nickname "Doelger City," as Henry Doelger Builder Inc. constructed thousands of single?family houses atop the sand dunes from the late 1920s-1940s. A lot of people hate on the Sunset's near-identical stucco houses, but Doelger utilized an array of stylistic facades to ensure clients felt their property was unique. By the late 1930s, consumers could choose from different models, with details ranging from traditional revival style to a modernistic Streamline Moderne house.


From 1934 to 1941 the Doelgers were the largest homebuilders in the country, constructing up two residences a day and earning the nickname "the Henry Ford of housing". They built to Federal Housing Administration specifications, making single-family homes within reach for middle-income buyers for the first time. Doelger destroyed his business records, so the exact number of houses he built in San Francisco isn't confirmed, but is estimated to be around 11,000.

By the mid-1940s, the company turned its attention to developing the Daly City community of Westlake, then Northern California's largest planned community. Over a 20?year period, Doelger built Westlake's approximate 6,500 single?family houses, 3,000 apartment units, architect?designed public schools, and central 40?acre shopping center. Though built by the same developer, the retention of trees and green space in Westlake (instead of paved-over yards for parking) make for a much different feel than the Sunset.


Fun fact - the song "Little Boxes" (of Showtime's Weeds theme song fame) was written about the Doelger development of Westlake.

· Landmark Case Report: Doelger Homes Sales Office (pdf) [SF Planning]
· Streetwise: Doelger City [Western Neighborhood Project]
· Westlake: San Francisco's Original Suburb [Daly City History]