Many of us, at least architects and urbanists in the Bay Area, are familiar with Here Today: San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage, the venerable 1968 compendium of San Francisco buildings built before 1920.
The roster of fine books on historic architecture has recently been joined by a new volume, Here Tomorrow: preserving Architecture, Culture, and California’s Golden Dreams, by veteran San Francisco Business Times columnist J. K. Dineen. A real estate columnist…a writer on the supposedly philistine profession of real estate…writing about the most hallowed of design subjects, historic preservation? Ah but that is the genius of Dineen and this tome that tells the stories of fifty rehabilitated California properties.
As someone who taught architectural history for over forty years, and frequently works with the holy priesthood that guards our architectural heritage, I found Here Tomorrow to be a breath of fresh air. Nowhere in this book are we subjected to parsing which of the 48 California Historical Resource Status Codes applies to the building in question. Almost nowhere do we even get a hint of the frequent arguments over the sometimes highly personal application of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards that can cause both bad projects and good to come a cropper.
Dineen, not a member of those holy orders, is the one who really understands why these structures are important, and that is, for the stories they tell. As he quotes Lieutenant James Doolittle’s granddaughter in the very last story, on the preservation of the USS Hornet, “If we don’t find a way to record these stories, our history, it is going to be lost.”
And he tells these stories with a verve and wit of a fine writer, as well as an expert on some fairly arcane architectural concepts and techniques. He has done his homework well.
Speaking of San Francisco’s Ferry Building, masterly reconceived by developer Wilson Meany Sullivan and architects Cathy Simon of SMWM (now Perkins & Will) and Jay Turnbull of Page & Turnbull, he observes “…the Ferry Building has become the civic gathering place the city didn’t know it needed. It is a physical manifestation of Northern California’s position on the forefront of a movement that celebrates local, organic produce and meats. Six million people visit the building each year.” An important reminder, when the daily news is filled with people either celebrating or fearing our new tech identity, that San Francisco leads the pack in more than just tech.
Less familiar to many but immensely culturally important is the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, a Julia Morgan YWCA that Executive Director Sue Lee and architects Barcelon & Jang have remade into a monument to a whole culture that overcame segregation and discrimination. Or the Manzanar Guard Tower, “…a reminder of a chapter in American history that no one wants to remember, not the prisoners, not the military police, not the children who lay in bed at night as the searchlights lit up the barracks” (architect: Alice Carey, Carey & Co., Inc.)
Divided into four sections: Only in California (an idiosyncratic bevy of theaters, hotels, and other gathering places); Places of Congregation (more “proper” places of worship and assembly); The Home Front (houses from the Warner Barn and Ranch House, San Diego (1849) to Richard Neutra’s Palm Springs Kaufman House (1946); and Creative Reuse (Albert Kahn’s great Ford Assembly Plant, Richmond (1931) reconceptualized by Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects and Mark Hulbert), the aforementioned Ferry Building, Chinese Historical Society, and USS Hornet) to mention a few.
Beautifully designed and illustrated, and published by the important non-profit publisher Heyday Books, Here Tomorrow is a great read and a great resource to be read and reread to help us understand who we are, where we have been, and where we are going.