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Curbed SF’s best stories of 2019

A coastal town coming apart. The allure of the Albany Bulb. Why SF homes go vacant. The Flintstone House. And more.

The Flintstone House that sent the tony town of Hillsborough into a rage.
Photo by Patricia Chang

As 2019 heads softly into the night, the stories it leaves behind—about cities, people, and the ties that bind them together—will linger for many years to come, sometimes for better and sometimes for ill.

Here, a handful of our favorite stories from 2019 that looked at the good, the bad, and even the occasionally ugly legacy of a year that’s almost in the record books—and the many ways that it’s liable to stick around into the next year and beyond.


Illustration by Leonard Peng

If San Francisco is so great, why is everyone I love leaving?

Diana Helmuth’s probing first-person examination of the Bay Area’s regional flight phenomena is still provoking conversation nearly one year later. And one quote in particular—“leaving the Bay Area is the best thing you can do right now, if you have a dream”—really pulled the heartstrings of many denizens.

Rendering of an aerial view of many homes and developments next to the bay, including a shot of Oracle Park. Rendering courtesy of CMG architects

Where SF plans to build its next 40,000 homes

The city has at least a dozen huge-scale housing developments going on right now—but the catch is that they won’t manifest (and some won’t even start) for many years yet. Our breakdown of all the largest housing proposals in the city right proved popular with readers who wanted to know exactly where the city will continue its upward trend.

A whimsical city scene of a windmill, ramen shop, food truck and clothing store. Illustration by David Huang

101 things to love about Oakland

While some memories of Oakland have vanished, other experiences endure. Pen Harshaw and Azucena Rasilla detailed 101 things to love about the Town, like the right-field bleachers crew at the Oakland Coliseum (“the green-and-gold rule: Oaklanders know to leave these general admission seats for devotees”) and Oakland’s secret stairways (“These hidden steps were originally built for commuters looking to quickly traverse up the city’s hillier areas to get to the Key System streetcars, Oakland’s first public transportation system”).

A handful of one- to two-story homes along the beach, with trees and mountainous terrain in the background. Photo via Shutterstock

Bolinas wanted to stay hidden—then came the internet

Ethan Varian’s harrowing look at how short-term rentals and a lack of housing helped push working families out of this coastal enclave. Unlike many California coastal communities, this unincorporated township in western Marin County never meant to become a tourist hotspot. But after the advent of Instagram, its serene scenery and untouched coastal areas proved too irresistible.

Aerial view of seaside neighborhood with old navy barracks, homes, and industrial spaces. The sun above breaks through a series of clouds.
Hunters Point.
Photo via Shutterstock

Seven San Francisco neighborhoods everyone should be watching

Hunters Point, Treasure Island, Chinatown, India Basin, Mission Bay, Central SoMa, and the Outer Sunset—these are the places that are shaping San Francisco’s future right now.

When Lombard Street turned into Candy Land

A look back at the time when the city’s second-most crooked rue got dolled up as a gigantic Candy Land for one glorious afternoon in honor of the board game’s 60th anniversary. Crews covered the street’s bricks with thousands of interlocking blue, green, orange, purple, red, and yellow rubber mats to look like the pastel-hued game, while kids from UCSF Children’s Hospital acted as game pieces.

San Francisco apartments.
Photo via Shutterstock

Why do SF homes go vacant?

On top of everything else, San Francisco has what you might call a vacant housing crisis. The catch is, no two people are likely to agree on what the problem about chronically empty homes actually is.

Large arena shot from up high showing empty seating, empty court, and a bright and sharp scoreboard. Photo by Patricia Chang

Inside Chase Center

The big, white flying saucer has landed, and Mission Bay is never going to be the same. We peeked inside the Warriors’ (jinxed?) venue the day before it opened.

Marina building in San Francisco destroyed by an earthquake.
Marina building in San Francisco destroyed by the earthquake.
Photo by AP Photo/George Nikitin

The Loma Prieta earthquake was 30 years ago, and it looked like this

The Loma Prieta earthquake, a 6.9 temblor that struck the Bay Area on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., killed 63 people, injured almost 3,800, and caused up to $10 billion in damage. Although it lasted only a few seconds, the damage it caused reverberates today. We looked back at the quake’s immediate aftermath.

Inside the grand hall of the transit center.
Photo by Patricia Chang

An abridged history of the Transbay Transit Center

Roughly six weeks after opening, the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco shuttered when workers discovered two cracked steel beams on September 25, 2018. Since then, the cost, practicality, and usefulness of the $2.2 billion-dollar transit center has been called into question. We published a timeline detailed the center from its 1939 origins to the day to finally reopened.

Occupation Of Alcatraz Island
View along the gunwale of a boat shows group of Native Americans heading to Alcatraz.
Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

A complete history of Alcatraz

A place of punishment for hundreds of years, the foreboding island was also the cradle of a revolution. This year marked 50 years since dozens of activists under the banner Indians of All Tribes evaded the U.S. Coast Guard and attempted to establish an independent indigenous settlement on Alcatraz. But long before the occupation and even before the arrival of European colonizers, the history of Alcatraz is one of sanction.

Ive’s legacy comes full circle.
Photo via Shutterstock

Apple Park: Jony Ive’s last great design

The company’s chief design officer Jony Ive left the trillion-dollar company he helped turn into a global phenomenon. But his greatest legacy isn’t the long list of Apple products he designed, like the iMac or iPhone. It’s the corporation’s four-floor famously circular neofuturist campus, completed in 2017, where he really left his mark.

The tip of the Transamerica Pyramid is made of glass

While the famous brutalist structure in the Financial District is known to all, who knew its tip was made of glass? Bay Area photographer Ryan Fitzsimons snapped this stunning shot of the triangular tower’s tippy top.

An art piece on a woman reaching out, made up of found objects.
The Albany Bulb.
Photo by Patricia Chang

50 or so years of the Albany Bulb

Rick Paulus profiled this magical chunk of land in the East Bay, one of the few remaining spots here that still allow creativity to run free, with some of the best views in the world. And no one’s quite sure what’s going to happen to it next.

Muni’s Powell Street Station.
Photo by windsketch

How to ride Muni like a pro

Take off your backpack, take off your backpack, and take off your backpack. And more.

Yabba dabba redo.
Photo by Patricia Chang

Inside the Flintstone House that has Hillsborough seething

Possibly the Bay Area’s strangest housing feud hinges on the the orange-and-purple home at 45 Berryessa Way in Hillsborough, located near a stretch of Interstate 280, which has been fondly admired from afar for years. But after Florence Fang, former publisher of the San Francisco Examiner and chairwoman for the Independent Newspaper Group, bought it and gave it a Hanna-Barbera makeover, some of her stick-in-the-mud neighbors were less than pleased.