Richard Brandi has authored a book about San Francisco’s residence parks, Garden Neighborhoods of San Francisco, the Development of Residence Parks 1905-1924, by McFarland Publishing, 2021.
The book discusses the development of 36 “residence parks” that were launched between 1905 and 1924 with picturesque streets, landscaping, detached houses, and setbacks to convey the feeling of living in a park. Only a few are well known such as St. Francis Wood (laid out by the Olmsted Brothers). The book looks at the developers’ motivations, goals, marketing approaches and how they adapted to war, recession, and inflation. Residence parks were “restricted” meaning they limited how owners could use their land to maintain the park-like feeling while also excluding blacks and Asians. In this regard they were not unique to San Francisco, the rest of California, and much of the nation.
There were three types of developers: professionals who used engineers and architects to design streets, setbacks, entry gates, landscaping, fountains, and custom houses. Family-run developers did the work themselves and tried to imitate the professionals with varying degrees of success. Amateur developers, including a sewing machine salesman, cattle rancher, and haberdasher, tried their hand but usually sold out to others. Nonetheless, the overall result is one of many distinctive neighborhoods containing about 7,500 houses designed by dozens of architects in period revival styles that stand out from the typical pattern in San Francisco.
Richard Walker, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley reviewed a draft and said “This is a most impressive project and quite unprecedented in the detailed treatment of developers and developments for any U.S. city. I’ve seen books on one or two subdivisions or suburbs, but few things as comprehensive about the city-building process in one era. So congratulations on that. It will be a real contribution to both Bay Area history and urban studies.”
Richard Longsterth, Professor, George Washington University also reviewed a draft and said “It abounds with fresh and interesting material, and it represents a new way of looking at 20th century residential development in the U.S. city. Your approach could become essential reading for students of the 20th century city. The residential parks that are your focus are not suburbs in the ways such places are normally considered, and they are not the standard, scattered, small-scale speculative enterprises that merge into the grid. They are something in between and, for San Francisco, at least, comprise a very substantial component of the city’s residential fabric.”