With an asking price of $350,000, the small home at 16 De Long St. is one of the least expensive homes on the market in San Francisco. And, to the naked eye, it looks like a falling down shack. But in this city, not all shacks are created equal. Here there were more than 5,000 earthquake shacks built after the 1906 trembler that leveled a good part of the city and left more than half of its population homeless. A few of the shacks remain, and they have a loyal following of devoted history lovers.
And that brings us to 16 De Long. Is the 765-square-foot home in Oceanview a pair of earthquake shacks cobbled together?
Brian Tran, the co-listing agent, says he thinks the property is an earthquake shack based on the layout, the age, and the comments of an architectural historian who looked at the property. He says that his client, a woman who owned the house for more than 20 years, doesn't know anything about the home's history.
The house also appears on a list of surviving earthquake shacks compiled by the Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP); although it is not currently listed as certified. In the mind of David Gallagher, the director of WNP and a community historian, there's no question. "I visited 16 De Long on Sunday and can verify without a doubt that the building incorporates two 1906 earthquake refugee cottages," he says.
What does this mean for potential buyers? According to Bill Beutner, a research assistant at San Francisco Heritage, maybe not much. "I don't know of any protections the city has in place for earthquake shacks," he says. Gallagher has some predictions: "My personal opinion is that whoever buys this property will expect to demolish the building and build a new one," he says. "They will have trouble with this plan and they will likely seek organizations or individuals willing to take the cottages away without destroying them." In 2002, WPN was involved with the relocation of four earthquake shacks that once stood at 47th Ave. and Kirkham St.
Beutner says that authenticating the property as an earthquake shack would require a visit from specialists from the San Francisco Planning Department. (Calls to that department have not been answered at this time.) Gallagher believes that the Planning Department could categorize the building as a Historic Resource, and might not allow it to be demolished.
In the meantime, the history of the home may not be the only interesting thing to potential buyers. The $350,000 asking price puts it approximately in sixth place on the least expensive list according to Redfin, right behind a 535-square-foot condo on Potrero Hill; but that property is in move-in condition.)
"Basically, it's up to the buyers and their agents to do due diligence on the property," says Tran, a Vanguard agent who shares the listing with Alex Han. He does caution that history lovers looking for period architectural elements won't find them here. "Earthquake shacks were erected quickly to provide temporary shelter. There are no charming characteristics in the house," he says. "My client hasn't lived there since 2007, and there's a lot of deferred maintenance. The roof is coming down and the floor is buckling. It's not habitable in its current condition. That said, anything can be fixed. I've seen some very nice properties that have incorporated earthquake shacks."
Whether the home is a historic structure or not, it has earned a regal-sounding, if rather backhanded, designation in its description. There, the agents deem it as a "distinguished home in need of work."
· Remembering Earthquake Shacks, San Francisco's Original Tiny Houses [Curbed SF]
· Previous Coverage of Earthquake Shacks [Curbed SF]
· 16 De Long St. [Redfinl]