Zoning on Grant Avenue
Grant St. is zoned for commercial and residential usage. The height limit for buildings is 4 stories tall with the first two stories permitted for commercial/retail uses except financial services, and the above two floors used to accommodate housing or other institutional usages. The height limit is to stop encroachment of office usage for instance, from the financial district and downtown.
Observations and Residents
We began our observational study where most begin their journey into Chinatown, through the gates on Grant and Bush. As we surveyed businesses and residential units, we decided to go beyond casual observation and went inside buildings, asked questions, and spoke to residents. We wandered our way into many SROs and found similarities among each building. Small communal bathrooms with barely enough room to shut the door, kitchens with old stove units and dilapidated walls. Each hallway smelled of the same familiar Chinese medicines, oils, and ointments mixed with the heavenly aromas of the delicious cooking and the steaming of rice. Hallways were used to socialize in, prep food in, shave in, and doors were left open for air circulation. Residents were primarily elderly Chinese. There were few young children who seemed to be in the care of their grandparents. These residential hotels predominantly house Chinese American elderly both men and women and few held secure entrances.
The housing we found were mainly SROs and apartments. SROs ranged from 18 units each to around 80 units. We determined this by counting mailboxes or asking the manager.
From the streets we observed that every building held a store front used for the purpose of serving the community aimed at either tourists or the residential community. In our attempt to count the units we had to search for many of the housing entrances, many of which were located on the side of the buildings. We noted that a few buildings were abandoned, under construction, or for lease and many were utilized as office spaces. One building was an expansion of the Chinese Hospital and another was a Hotel aimed at non-residential guests. We were also able to find the first dwelling in the city. A small forgotten bronze plaque placed on the divide between a housing entrance and a busy store front outlined it’s significance. The first dwelling of the city began on this spot in 1823, 823 Grant street.
On average the buildings in our corridor were built in the early 1900s, right after the 1906 earthquake. A small handful of the buildings were remodeled about the 50s and 60s.
Data from SF Planning Department, SF Property Information Map