The on-again, off-again lights inspired by ca. 1915 street design are back on again, after being nixed by the SFMTA and the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. Matier & Ross reported in the Sunday Chronicle that more than 300 faux-historic, retro street lamps will be installed on Van Ness Avenue, capping off a saga where the lights were originally approved by the MTA, shot down by the Preservation Commission, but reignited by pressure from neighborhood groups like the Pacific Heights Residents Association.
There are currently four of the vintage retro street lights on Van Ness, like the one seen above. Those four are scheduled to be refurbished, and a total of 350 more of the teardrop-fixtured old-time street lamps are slated to line Van Ness, at a cost of $18,500 a piece and a total of $6.5 million, all part of the larger $315 million facelift of the avenue’s stretch from Market Street to Lombard Street.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin passed a resolution a year ago to urge the SFMTA to preserve the poles, which were part of what was dubbed the "ribbon of light" up Van Ness, originally installed along with a new streetcar line in preparation for the 1915 Pan-American Exposition. Beyond Chron discussed the preservation effort here at that time.
Peskin explained why the Board of Supervisors sided with residents' groups and leaned on SFMTA to go with the vintage street lamps. “We got thousands of emails on this that expressed a desire to evoke the historic character of San Francisco, as we have done on other main streets like Market, Kearny and the Embarcadero,” Peskin told the Chronicle.
Despite their passage, the Historic Preservation Commission is still completely unimpressed with the the throwback street lamps, arguing that they don’t meet historic district federal standards. “They aren’t genuine replicas; they are more just old-timey-looking,” commission president Andre Wolfram told the Chron. Furthermore, the vintage ‘street lights’ won’t even functions as street lights they’ll just be there to look pretty and be retro, with the actual light to the avenue being provided by other modern fixtures. “It is ironic,” Wolfram added.
“It’s not just ironic, it’s ridiculous,” responded San Francisco Beautiful executive director Darcy Brown. Her claim of ridiculousness is backed up by another curious example of City Hall fickleness on the installation and removal of streetlights. The innovative Phillippe Starck-designed street lights on Howard Street, those in between Moscone Center North and South, were permanently removed earlier this month according to CurbedSF.
"We will not be reinstalling [the lights] on Howard Street," a DPW spokesperson told Curbed. "We are holding on to them for the time being and seeing if they could be reused on another project, perhaps in a park. At this point, we have no specific plans."