San Francisco is no stranger to tiny proportions. An abundance of hills and valleys, as well as inflexible properly lines, often prohibit unchecked expansion. Other times the decision to go small is intentional. Eco-enthusiasts laud the energy saving merits of smaller, more resourceful living spaces. And with the Board of Supervisor’s November 20th approval of 220-square foot “micro-apartments,” the scope of urban living possibilities has widened, somewhat ironically, to include more restrictive options.
San Francisco is home to quite a few slim structures that do pass code as livable spaces. Perhaps you’ve seen some of these gems while tramping through the city, but we wouldn’t blame you if you blinked and missed them.
The Heineman Building, 130 Bush Street, Financial District
The Heineman Building was originally built in 1910 as a belt, tie and suspender factory. Though it no longer serves a manufacturing function, it still retains its original Gothic revival charm, impressed copper paneling and exuberant detailing at the crown. At 10-stories tall and less than 20-feet wide, the Heineman building is nothing short of dramatic. Such drama is further heightened by the striking line it cuts between the Art Deco Shell building to the east and a brick behemoth to the west.
Roullier Building, 49 Kearny Street, Union Square
Because a nondescript nail salon occupies its first floor, this beauty would have eluded anyone without a penchant for strolling with her head craned up and to the side. But that doesn’t mean it’s not special. Built in 1907 by Albert Pissis, architect of the famed Flood Building, the dormered and column-clad Roullier Building is perhaps the leanest Beaux Arts building ever conceived.
Chamberlain Building, 442-444 Post Street, Union Square
The Chamberlain Building on the 400 block of Post Street is a slightly wider, slightly less interesting version of the Roullier Building. Aside from its façade-dominating, wrought iron fire escape, one of the building’s most intriguing features is not inherent to the structure itself but rather contingent upon its relationship with its neighbors. Seen from the east, the Chamberlain Building is part of a series of four progressively taller buildings that create something of an urban architectural staircase.
655 3rd Street, SOMA
Given the Craftsman-style aesthetic of this SOMA property’s storefront facade, you might be surprised to learn that the building was only built in 1996. The bottom floor of this “commercial condo loft” houses a private business while the top floor contains a rather spacious, two-bedroom, two-bathroom residence with exposed wood ceilings and an enviable rooftop garden. The interior brick wall of 655 3rd Street is actually neighboring Ubisoft’s exterior wall.
1415 Shrader Street, Cole Valley
Built in the early ‘90s on a nine-and-a-half-foot-wide lot, this boxy residence easily ranks as one of San Francisco’s skinniest houses. Every room is by proxy the width of the house. Why? Chop ten feet in half and you have a closet, not a room. Nevertheless, the home’s open construction and large windows make it feel light and airy, not dark and unwelcoming. The interior seamlessly unfurls onto an upstairs deck and an equally narrow albeit respectable backyard below.
368 Vallejo Street, Telegraph Hill
This Telegraph Hill home created quite a big stir when it went on the market earlier this fall. Though recently expanded to encompass a whopping 900-square feet, the miniature masterpiece commands sweeping views of the Bay Bridge and the Financial District; an airy, railroad style living space that gracefully unfolds from room to room; lots of top-of-the line—and clean-lined—detailing; and an incongruously large and luxurious Philippe Stark soaking tub. If that wasn’t enough, the home is also enchantingly referred to as the Lantern House due to its many windows, skylights and reflective surfaces.
483 6th Avenue, The Richmond
Though it’s clad in shingles and there’s no half-timbering in sight, 483 6th Avenue was clearly built with Tudor Revival in mind. Its steeply pitched roof, jettied living quarters, boxy bay window and remarkably angular features render it unlike any building in the neighborhood—or city, for that matter. It’s an enigma, and it’s anyone’s guess what secrets lurk inside.