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Presidio Terrace: A brief guide to San Francisco’s most exclusive cul-de-sac

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Everything you need to know about one of the city’s smallest neighborhoods making big headlines

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Succulent schadenfreude filled the bellies of San Franciscans this week after it caught wind that tony enclave Presidio Terrace, a circular cul-de-sac in Presidio Heights, got a taste of its own capitalistic medicine.

In a nutshell: The Presidio Terrace Association failed to pay taxes on its private street for roughly 30 years. So the city put the neighborhood’s pavement up for auction in 2015.

Tina Lam and Michael Cheng, an investor/engineer South Bay couple, put in a winning bid, forking over a mere $90,000 for the small stretch of street. Now the couple have tentative plans on charging residents to park on their own street.

And if said residents aren’t willing to pay—Presidio Terrace dwellers are currently suing Cheng and Lam—the new owners might allow (gasp!) the general public to park there.

It’s all too delicious.

But what of this tiny neighborhood? In any other situation, people would be outraged. What makes this area different? Here’s a brief history of Presidio Terrace.

  • The first of the master-planned communities built in the western part of San Francisco, it’s private and gated.
  • The gates are always open, but there’s a guard at the entrance to keep you out.
  • Presidio Terrace is bordered by Arguello Boulevard, Lake Street, Pacific Avenue, and (ironically) the Little Sisters of the Poor.

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  • The street in question is the neighborhood’s only avenue. It’s oval in shape.
  • Building began here in 1905. Most of it survived the great quake.
  • It’s wealthy. Very wealthy. A four-floor mansion at 26 Presidio Terrace hit the market in 2016 for $14.5 million. And 30 Presidio Terrace, a neighbor in the gated community, last sold for $9.5 million.

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  • Presidio Terrace has racist roots. It was originally marketed toward whites only. The original ad read: "There is only one spot in San Francisco where only Caucasians are permitted to buy or lease real estate or where they may reside. That place is Presidio Terrace.”
  • Architecture in the community varies. Beaux-Arts, Mission Revival, and Tudor Revival can all be found here. Most notably, Julia Morgan designed an Italian Renaissance home here in 1909.
  • A total of 40 homes makeup Presidio Terrace.

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  • Up until 2006, Google Street View used to go inside Presidio Terrace. No more. Ever since 2007, most views from the street are no longer viewable.
  • Except this one. Oops.
  • Today it’s the home of notable residents. Current and former Presidio Terrace dwellers include former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her husband.
  • The plaque on the front gates reads: “Presidio Terrace....private street...authorized parking only.”

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