This past April, San Francisco Victoriana Inc., a company that restored period details in Victorian houses, experienced such a decline in business that its proprietors closed ahead of their planned retirement.
“People are buying Victorians and they are going super modern,” Scott Bowles, former manager of SF Victoriana, told MarketWatch. “They are ruining the city... We were in business for 40, 43 years, trying to save Victorians and keep them architecturally correct and provide the products here to restore them. Unfortunately, we are a casualty of the times.”
Echoing the sentiment is Christopher VerPlanck, principal of VerPlanck Historic Preservation Consulting in San Francisco. "It seems somehow cruel that many Victorians with intact interiors, that survived earthquakes, fires and hippies are having their stuffing ripped out so that the new owners can have a house that looks like a condo in [suburban] Foster City."
Those quotes all come from MarketWatch, whose pointed opinion piece laments the loss of Victorian architecture, particularly the modernized interiors of Victorian homes whose facades remain. Yet writer Therese Poletti concedes in her argument that, "Some of the most over-the-top designs and extraneous details were ridiculed in their own time." If Poletti considers popular opinion from one era in culture to have been wrong or too conservative, couldn't the same process repeat itself? Couldn't that be happening with her argument right now?
Leaving little room to consider the possibility, Poletti continues:
[T]hese days, in the current tech-fueled real estate boom, many of these lovely Victorians are nothing more than a facade, as if they were on a Hollywood set... It is now hard to find a Victorian home for sale that has not been gutted, its architectural details stripped and tossed. And owners or developers — looking to sell at a premium in the frenzied real estate market to 'techies with cash' — hope to appeal to the tastes (or lack thereof) of current buyers, by turning once-charming homes with detailed woodwork, built-ins and art glass, into clones of Apple’s minimalist retail stores.
Poletti rests her case about the overall soullessness of San Francisco on this symbol. "The level of major destruction of serious craftsmanship and art work that is now becoming standard among property owners and house flippers is disheartening and tragic — yet another example of how San Francisco is losing its soul."
Poletti is not the first — nor will she be the last — to note the startling, drastic changes afoot in San Francisco. But she's remiss to ignore larger scale shifts in the culture that include aesthetics and architecture. When San Francisco loses longtime residents with strong cultural history here, or when a public heritage site crumbles, surely it's then that the city loses a piece of its soul. But must every period detail in private homes — details that are the legacy of an era that found them to be ostentatious in the first place — really be preserved in amber? If so, there are still a number of providers listed by SF Victoriana who are "happy to assist you with your future architectural and decorative needs."