Back before the internet and advent of Craigslist, people used to list ads to reach potential buyers/sellers/renters in print publications called newspapers. For those of us who still remember smudged fingertips caused by thumbing though classifieds pages to find a car, a job, or a lover, here now is a look back in time at the rental markets of yore.
For ease of research, we decided to look up the rental listings from June throughout the decades, ranging from 1850 up until 1965. Anything after that will just depress you even more, so we’ve left that out for another time. Enjoy.
If you were one of the tens of thousands of gold prospectors who came to SF by 1850, chances are you left everything behind and needed a place to sleep. Down near Rincon Hill a settlement known as Happy Valley sprung up around today's Mission Street between First and Third streets. Despite its happy name, the area started off as a tent city plagued by disease and sickness, but shacks soon sprouted up, housing the future mega-whales of California. At the time, a place with a well and "outhouses for each" probably sounded pretty swanky to a city newcomer.
With the influx of wealth from the Gold Rush came some swanky upgrades. Down in SoMa at Tehama and Second, you could rent yourself a dee-luxe house with modern conveniences such as a 12,000-gallon cistern, closets, and "speaking tubes in every room." Even then, having fancy neighbors provided a certain amount of clout.
If you could scrape together $25 per month in rent, a "first-class" brick house on Union Street near Hyde could be all yours. That's only about $373 in today's value, so it's a pretty good deal—especially considering that Russian Hill is averaging around $3,730 for a one-bedroom right now.
How about a cottage with a basement and a yard? In 1890, 955 ½ Harrison in SoMa could have been yours for only $19.50/month (that's still only $500 today, if you're counting). Water and "ashman" included! People throughout the city are currently swooning at the idea of a working fireplace, ashman or not.
After the 1906 earthquake and fire, the housing stock in San Francisco underwent a major shift. Areas destroyed by the fire were rebuilt, and many displaced citizens moved to neighborhoods farther west and south. Single-family houses were replaced with multiunit flats to accommodate all the refugees. Suddenly flats and apartments were the norm as more folks started renting.
Modernization happened pretty quickly thanks to rebuilding efforts after the quake. Apartment buildings popped up all over the city, especially in areas like Nob Hill, Western Addition, and Pac Heights, increasing density and decreasing rental prices. They offered all sorts of newfangled perks, like steam heat and electric lights, but also had the character that people dream of today—hardwood floors, built-in china cabinets, and (strangely enough) "wall beds."
By the 1940s, rentals dropped off considerably as parts of the city were exploding with new construction and families were able to buy their own homes. Options seemed pretty limited.
But by comparison, the 1960s was a renting boomtown! Pages and pages of classifieds listed available apartments all over the city. Inflation has caught up with us a bit, though, as most were in the $100-300-per-month range. Watch out, don't choke on your coffee just yet—that translates into $750-$2200 today