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Developing the Neighborhood
This Sunset district, one of the last areas of the city to become populated, was not fully developed until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; its building record is informed by occasionally peculiar circumstances and instances of mass construction that parallel national trends of spreading suburbanization. In the 1890s horse-drawn streetcars rendered obsolete by new electric versions were transported to the area, where a number of residents purchased the cars for a small sum ($20 with seats, $10 without) and transformed them into commercial and living spaces. The bohemian area steadily filled with the ready-made units and became known as 'Carville'. Likewise, following the 1906 earthquake, many of the thousands of 'earthquake shacks' built through a relief fund were moved to Sunset's open lots when the city urged their removal from more central districts. This tradition of small, nearly identical row houses reached its apex with a series of developments begun in the 1920s. Over the course of a few decades, several builders, including Carl and Fred Gellert, R.F. Galli, Oliver Rousseau, and, most famously, Henry Doelger, converted the area's still vast sand dunes to a residential neighborhood with the construction of thousands of new homes. Doelger's development was by far the most massive: between the late 1920s and mid 1940s his company erected an estimated 11,000 homes in the city; from 1934 to 1941 he was the most prolific home builder in the country. Doelger houses were an early example of assembly line building on small lots, yielding affordable, well-crafted, single-family homes designed to meet Federal Housing Administration standards. Though the façades vary, borrowing traces of Spanish and American colonial, French provincial, or modernist traditions, they are united in appearance by their stucco exteriors, equal size, and a consistent layout that features bay or picture windows over the centrally-placed garage. Just as in postwar suburbia, model homes were built to solicit buyers; Doelger occasionally promoted these sites with contests, such as the 1942 contest that linked domestic consumerism with national patriotism by asking participants to visit the 'Freedom House' and submit their response to the prompt, 'I am glad to be an American because...' to win $75 in U.S. defense bonds. Moreover, such suburban resonances were not simply a matter of architectural appearance: both Doelger and the Gellert brothers' Standard Building company included racial covenants in their property deeds, resulting in a postwar population that was, like much of postwar suburbia, overwhelmingly white.
3. The Sunset District
While Bechtle develops specific techniques for adapting the city's nearly saturated visual-topographic tradition, much about these works is linked to his earlier suburban images. These continuities are most apparent in his images of the Sunset district.Bechtle's paintings of the Sunset are inspired in part by his years of commuting to the area to teach at San Francisco State University, but the artist also relates that the neighborhood reminds him of the area of Alameda where he grew up. This seemingly small note of autobiographical resonance in fact speaks to a central aspect of San Francisco's architectural and demographic history. Developed by several builders in the early to mid twentieth century, the Sunset is the city's most "suburban" neighborhood, populated by seemingly endless streets of similar single family homes. Though its density is more characteristically urban than suburban, the area's record of mass