Graffiti stains S.F.’s landmark edifices 

The City’s lower Nob Hill area has become a "sketchbook" for renegade vandals who "tag" mailboxes, buildings and sidewalks and some residents say building owners have given up.

The Lower Nob Hill Apartment Hotel District — the area from Post Street to Bush Street and Mason Street to Polk Street — was deemed historic in 1991 by the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C. Most of the area’s 293 buildings were built between 1910 and 1915, and the district is home to charming brickwork façades and a mélange of building styles.

However, the district’s appearance is being drastically altered by what SFPD graffiti abatement officer Becki Newman calls "hundreds of vandals that are defacing doorsteps, building walls and windows on some of The City’s historic buildings."

In the last six months, the Department of Public Works has received 1,539 reports of graffiti in District 3, which encompasses the The Lower Nob Hill Apartment Hotel District. Citywide, there were 10,859 reports.

The problem is that many of Lower Nob Hill’s buildings are privately owned, and since 2004, The City no longer cleans graffiti on private property. When a graffiti report is made to The Department of Public Work’s tipline 28-CLEAN, an owner is responsible for removing the graffiti within 30 days or faces having DPW clean it up and bill them a minimum fee of $500.

"(Tagging) is all the more offensive when they tag civic treasures. It’s frustrating for the property owner and department," said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

Robert Garcia, a 27-year resident of the area, is upset about the appearance of his neighborhood.

"Most people just paint over (graffiti) to avoid the fine. The paint never matches," Garcia said as he pointed out a Hyde Street building that had patches of pink, blue, yellow and green on its white exterior.

A business owner who has been in the neighborhood 10 years and did not want to be identified said his building has been defaced so many times he has lost count. He recently painted the lower half of his building black to deter vandals.

"It's frustrating. I know it looks ugly, but what can I do?" he said.

Not only is the graffiti ruining the district’s appearance, some say it will encourage a surge in crime.

"The bad thing about graffiti is once it starts, so do the hookers and dumping," said Donald Daponte, who has managed a building on Post Street for two years.

Newman said that there are "about a dozen" graffiti arrests citywide each week. "People are getting caught all time, citizens are calling in and police are catching them," Newman added.

Lower Nob Hill’s architectural history tarnished

Dashiell Hammett once lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of 891 Post St., where he wrote "The Maltese Falcon." Few know of the building’s significance — which now operates as a laundry mat — and it’s just one of the Lower Nob Hill Apartment Hotel District’s hidden treasures.

Deemed historic in 1991 by the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., the 293 buildings of the Lower Nob Hill Apartment Hotel District are visibly rich in character and range in style from English Tudor to Spanish colonial, according to Bill Beutner, a research assistant with the San Francisco Architectural Heritage.

Originally home to The City’s "respectable middle class," the area was developed between 1910-1915, just years after the great 1906 earthquake. During its heyday, the buildings were all used as apartments and hotels.

"Prosperous people lived in apartments, and really prosperous people lived in hotels. All those buildings in Lower Nob Hill were quality buildings in their day. The area was built in anticipation of the Pan-Pacific Expedition," Beutner said.

Some of the buildings in the district’s architecturally diverse area are home to prominent brick façades, a style that was typical to the era and highly expensive. The designs of the buildings range from craftsman to exotic — such as the Sutter Street Pharaoh building, which was influenced by a 1920s fascination with the Middle East.

Another one of the district’s gems is the York Hotel at 940 Sutter St., the location of "The Empire Hotel" — where character Judy Barton stays in Alfred Hitchcock’s "Vertigo."

eeconomides@examiner.com

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