"City Living Reinvented"

There's a new building under construction that has already completely eliminated my view of downtown. This makes me sad, because I really liked my view (especially the awesome deco jukebox Marriott building), but I can't complain too much because I'm in favor of tall buildings (the only alternative being sprawl). But, this building has a web site now: "The Palms SF". And oh, there's so much to hate.

First of all, hello LA! Who thinks that "The Palms" is an even remotely appropriate name for anything in Northern California?

Second, yes, you guessed it, it's more studio condos from half a million to a million plus. I was under the impression that part of the conditions on their having gotten permits was that they had to include so-many units of "affordable" housing. So maybe that means there will be a few maintenance closets for rent for only $4,000/month or so.

Third, you may notice that the illustration of the building doesn't show the ground floor. I think that what is visible is the top few feet of the second floor, with the ground floor not visible at all. That's because, as far as I can tell, the bottom two above-ground floors are parking. Not commercial space; not shops; not even apartment entries, but a featureless loading dock. For a preview of what I expect this to look like, visit the mini-Palo Alto mall-chain hell that has sprung up near the new ballpark, particularly the south side of Townsend between 4th and 3rd (next to Safeway). The entire block is a featureless white wall, occasionally punctuated by parking ramps. It's one of the most horrible, pedestrian-hostile designs imaginable: it says "do not walk here, this is not a destination". It feels like you've made a wrong turn and are lost on a frontage road behind a mall. A place for cars and explicitly not for people.

The front of the building has a double-height area on the ground floor, which I assumed was going to be commerical space (it's almost supermarket-sized) but it appears that that will just be an extravagant lobby. They say that the only commercial space in the building will be a restaurant, and restaurants don't usually get 30' ceilings.

Fourth, they say "Imagine Yourself at The Center of San Francisco's The South Of Market Neighborhood... Have it all at your fingertips. Walk from your new home to a wide assortment of San Francisco's culinary treasures, stroll to museums, Whole Foods Market, theatres and great lifestyle shopping." Atrocious grammar and idiotic capitalization aside, it has not gone unnoticed that they left out the fact that there is a nightclub directly across the street and a bar around each corner. ("Not for long", I hear someone gleefully whisper!)

Fifth, "Private 30 seat theatre"? WTF? There's an 18 screen movie complex four blocks up the street! I guess that's too far. They'd probably drive.

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71 Responses:

  1. c0nsumer says:

    I can't help but me reminded of the Skyloft Royal Oak lofts in oh-so-trendy Royal Oak, MI. It's very similar (except for price) with chain retail stores (Noodles & Co, EB Games, Coldstone Creamery, etc)fronting three levels of parking garage, topped by overpriced "lofts". Or, to put it more simply, apartments that the developer doesn't need to bother putting walls into, so people can feel like they are living in the city, all while basking in the safety of Royal Oak's urban sprawl.

    • Dude, I was thinking the exact same thing. This is doubly funny, because I'm here now in SF for Java ONE, so I'm just up the street from this atrocity Jamie is describing. I was already pondering the condos-to-be across from the Moscone Center area (by The Argent where I'm at right now), and they made me think of those condo blights hitting Royal Oak.

      The funniest thing is that they are removing all the retail from Royal Oak, including Merchants Wine, to put in these condos! So you can buy a new place in Royal Oak once they are sure that all is left is restaraunts. They even removed the grocery store that used to be where the condos are going in... if that were there, at least they could have said you could walk around the corner to a nice little mom and pop place to get stuff.

      It's nutty, I tell you :-)

      • diemoniker says:

        Every time I go back to Royal Oak, it's like someone's dropped napalm all over another part of my childhood. At least that laundromat by the cemetary is still around, and EXACTLY the way it was when I was 4. (It's still there, right. Please tell me the laundromat is safe.)
        Royal Oak is the first place I saw a guy in a leather skirt (Walking back from church, age 12. Consumed with strange yearning.)
        Who are these young office drones who come to Royal Oak to stumble around, purchase mass quantities of alchohol, and mate with each other? If we airlifted Woody's out of there, would they all leave?
        Someone told me they're building lofts in Detroit now. Never mind that Detroit has some fucking amazing housing stock and gorgeous turn-of-the century warehouses - nothing beats a prefab loft, apparently.

        • Yes, there are lots of lofts in Detroit, and lots of little blocks of condos springing up. The lofts on the river are actually pretty nice, and not completely crazy in price.

          The laudromat is still there, I just washed a large comforter there the other night :-). They haven't plowed over the cemetary yet either.

          Merchants had to go since they wanted to build the condos right there. The Main Art Theatre looks like it's days are limited too...

          My hope is to sell my house at the high point of the market and then get out of Royal Oak :-)

        • spoonyfork says:

          Every time I go back to Royal Oak, it's like someone's dropped napalm all over another part of my childhood.

          Indeed. My childhood and my adulthood. I used to live in a penthouse apartment above Dos Manos right after college. They had just started construction on Woodys. In the beginning there was 1 quiet bar near me. By the time I left 8 years later there were 5 bars orbiting my skull. I couldn't stand it the same way others may not like living across from the DNA Lounge. The first thing we noticed after escaping to the sweet, sweet sprawl was how well we slept at night. Plus no more vomit sculpted sidewalks, couples fornicating/urinating/defecating on my car, a parking spot at night without calling the police and a tow truck, or drug addicts fighting in the alley by the Heroin Hotel.

          I hear it is much nicer now with the half million dollar condos 30 feet from the railroad tracks. That is low-incoming housing in a city in the country. Meh.

    • kw34hd1 says:

      A family friend is a realtor in that neck of the woods and he went to inquire about listing those for sale during the construction. They turned him away as they weren't going to list them at all - every single one was already sold before it was even finished.


  2. strspn says:

    Vanguard is a perfect example of why real estate agents shouldn't be in charge of developments.

    Since Vietnam is repeating, perhaps it will soon be the late 70s again with a new-re-found interest in pedestrian-friendly municipal planning. And monkeys, as they say, could fly out....

    • gytterberg says:

      Maybe the coming oil shortage will last long enough this time to really get people to understand how boneheaded this kind of thing is.

      At least it's a handsome building, from the parking wasteland up anyway.

      • baconmonkey says:

        At least it's a handsome building, from the parking wasteland up anyway.

        I didn't even have to read your info to know that you don't live in SF. That style of architecture draws scorn from anyone who has lived in the area for more than a year, as it represents this exact scenario, where an area with charachter and interesting things gets gentrified and scrubbed soulless by irritating yuppies who complain about everything that made the area interesting.

        • gytterberg says:

          No, I haven't been to SF in years. But it has windows. It's got a nice classic color scheme. The proportions aren't overbearing. It's not a concrete bunker or a crystal shoebox. It's bland, but slice off the bottom and humans could even live there.

          • baconmonkey says:

            it's the H2 of housing units, and I don't doubt that the garage will be willed with H2s.

            • My experience of condos like this is largely east-coast-centric (especially the profoundly scary one a friend of mine lived in until recently in White Plains), but...

              Those parking garages never actually get filled, much less stuffed.

              The spaces go for free to people who buy-in initially. Thereafter, they are rented (even if that's for a long period of time) at absurd rates. Sometimes an "owner" will choose to move out, or decide they don't need the space... and sell permanent ownership at an even more astronomical price. And people will be knocking other people down for the right to buy it.

              I saw a Porsche 911 parked in the middle of 36 empty spots, and even this guy's not rich enough to have rented the rest of those out to keep the dents off.

    • rosefox says:

      New York is starting to make strides in that direction. See, for example, this PDF from the Times Square Alliance. I work for another BID in New York and we're seriously considering turning a block of street in Midtown--like, prime real estate Midtown--into a pedestrian-only zone (possibly allowing buses, but no other traffic). The heads of the three 42nd Street BIDs are having meetings to discuss the feasibility of pedestrianizing[1] 42nd Street end to end and putting in a trolley. The BIDs have some serious city clout, too; when one guy was running three of them, Giuliani decided he was too powerful and made him give one up. I'm hoping to see a serious pedestrian renaissance in New York in the next twenty years.

      [1] I hate this word, but I'm about to be late to work, and it's short.

      • Well, New York has always been pretty ped-friendly, which is to say that traffic in NYC has evolved around the twin realities of extreme density and people who are rude/ballsy enough to step into traffic. Both of the are virtues, BTW.

        I think the real revolution is that people seem to be recognizing that subsidizing suburbs by building them roads and water lines for free is a sucker's game. If municipalities start making people pay for their infrastructure burden, we might see a shift away from sprawl. Yipping points and all that.

        P.S. That plan for Times Square is spot-on. I used to work up there, and it was bloody terrible.

        • cananian says:

          Yeah, kudos to the times square planners. I was walking around Times Square on Sunday, and the proposed plan looks like it would help a lot.

          My town here in MA (Somerville) is trying to create pedestrian-friendly 'master plans' for various areas. I'm not sure they will succeed (they just finished building a new park in one district, for instance, which is as un-pedestrian-friendly as you can possibly make a *park* be) -- but at least they're trying...

    • moof says:

      From their grammar and utter lack of taste, I would have thought they were from SoCal - but nope:

      Vanguard Properties has been at the forefront of providing realty services to the residents of San Francisco since 1984. We understand why people come to San Francisco. And we know why they stay. Whether you are a first-time buyer, an investor, or ready to sell and move on to something else, we would be delighted to offer you our services.

      My lily-white tuchus, they understand.

  3. feren says:

    "City homes from the low $500,000s"

    Which implies they don't even start at $500,000, but are somewhere beneath $599,999. I can't believe they have the balls to place the word "low" next to that number. Oh wait, this is in California. More importantly, it's new housing. When I combine those two aspects, I can believe it.

    • krick says:

      On my way to work, I pass a new development that sports a sign touting "new single family homes in the low $700,000s".

      This is just outside Moorestown, NJ. Who the hell is going to be buying these things?

      • feren says:

        [Who the hell is going to be buying these things?]

        My home town is a little hick farming community (to be clear: they're hicks who farm, not farmers who raise hicks) 35 miles outside of Minneapolis. It's been overrun lately by developers who are buying up dozens of acres in a shot and building "estates" of about three acres each that start in the $600,000 range. There's no zoning requirement that the housing be upper-income, the market alone is the deciding factor. They build it and the people come and fight over the properties.

        While my parents were lamenting this latest development to me on the phone one night, I asked myself the exact same thing you did: who the hell is buying these mansions? The only answer I can find is that while I slept everybody ran off and become a world-renowned transplant doctor. Either that or everyone and their spouse has become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

        I find the last option too depressing, so I go with the doctors.

    • sharding says:

      I haven't shopped for condos, but in any real estate I've seen, "low $500,000s" would suggest that it's below $550,000 (usually below $530,000 or so). They're not saying that $500k is low; they're saying that the prices are within the lower end of the $500k range...

      • feren says:

        [They're not saying that $500k is low; they're saying that the prices are within the lower end of the $500k range...]

        Durrr? I'm guessing dry humor isn't your thing.

    • kensey says:

      I used to pass a housing development in Fair Oaks on my way to work in Reston, VA that was advertised by a billboard proclaiming "Luxury Homes from the Low $600s". My reaction to my first sight of it was "Well thank God! $640,000 I can afford, but $660,000 would be completely out of my price range!"

      As to the question of who's buying them, a lot of the people who do are going into hock up to their eyeballs on these things. I knew more than one person with a $500K-plus home and cheapass Wal-Mart fiberboard furniture, because that was all they could afford to put in the house after they spent all that money on the mortgage.

      Back home (Windsor, VA -- a little farm town in the middle of a county not widely known for anything other than hams) $500K will get you a whole pile of land and a rebuilt plantation mansion to go on it. In northern VA, $500K will just about get you four bedrooms and a strip of grass around the house almost big enough to keep you from bumping heads with your neighbor if you both lean out the window.

  4. pvck says:

    Will "The jwz effect" crash their website? Stay tuned to find out!

  5. djinnaya says:

    Is "lifestyle shopping" Leather Etc? Although, that's much further than the movie theater, so probably not.

    • Y'know, I was just sarcastically thinking that it better come with free blowjobs to make it worth wading through all the self-important crap :)

      Adam, gutter - gutter, Adam.

  6. johnreen says:

    Aww... this reads like a little mini-Kunstler rant!

  7. kfringe says:

    Remind me again why I should be sad that I left that neighborhood.

  8. fo0bar says:

    Granted, I only spent 2 years working in the city, but during that time I only drove into the city twice. Both were truly horrible experiences, and I try desparately to block them from my memory.

    On the other hand, I've been in Reno for almost 4 years and have not used public transit. Not once.

  9. fdaapproved says:

    Dear Santa,

    For Christmas I would like one (1) real estate crash.

    • The funny thing is, if that happened I'd move to SF in a heartbeat. I love the town, I'm enjoying my little vacation here, but I just can't wrap my head around the cost of living. I'd snap up anyplace in the city if I saw a chance to live here without selling my organs.

      • pdx6 says:

        And even after you sold your organs, you'd hardly have a down payment.

        • eqe says:

          You know, you think that's a joke. I hear kidneys go for about $5k these days... 10% down on a $700k condo is quite literally more than the sum of the organ prices I've heard bandied about in places like Pakistan.

  10. flipzagging says:

    How do developers get away with this? "City Living Reinvented" must sound retarded to everyone by now, even overpaid young marketing executives.

    Why isn't anyone demanding NEW bullshit lines?

  11. insomnia says:

    "Imagine yourself complaining insufferably to the police about the liquor stores, the clubs, and the people who lived in the neighborhood before you even moved there...

    I'm convinced that one day when the flesh-eating aliens take over, they'll use all the condos for factory farming.

    "A pig, in a cage, on antibiotics."

  12. bodyfour says:

    I pretty much gave up on anything below 6th street remaining useful for much
    longer... too much fancy development. The few clubs remaining are probably
    all doomed.

    But I have a question — how many more people are there in the bay area who are:

    • Upper middle-class or higher
    • With no kids
    • Who have any desire to live in our neighborhood?

    1,000? 10,000? 100,000?

    I'm starting to get the impression that the answer is pretty much "zero". I've been suspecting more and more that these are being sold more as investments than actual housing. That's actually the worst thing, though since it means the buyers will be coming in thinking "wow I'm going to sell this place for a big payday the minute I get all the undesirable businesses closed down"

  13. billemon says:

    You should have gone to planning meetings and repeatedly stated that it was "inappropriate" to build this.

    • drstein says:

      Dunno.. unless he was handing out stacks of $100 bills, it probably wouldn't have mattered.

      Now corporate interests trump what the people want, and these nice expensive condos will bring in property tax revenue.

      Property tax revenue > people. :(

  14. simmonmt says:

    The web site gives the impression that those buildings go on forever. What are the actual boundaries?

  15. krick says:

    It's a damn shame about the parking situation.

    Here in Philly, every parking garage I know of has retail stores on their ground floor. In fact, one of the largest garages actually has a 2 screen movie theatre, a nice Chinese restaurant, and a club on the ground floor.

    • The Ritz is a total (though much-appreciated) outlier, and that club is invariably filled with irritating people (and has a horrible bar). Parking there's half the price of anywhere else in the city, which is one quarter the price of anything in SF or NYC.

      But yeah, Philly seems to have the parking thing reasonably down. The sprawl thing, not so much. Been to West Chester lately?

      Also, hello, neighbor.

  16. majcher says:

    Who thinks that "The Palms" is an even remotely appropriate name for anything in Northern California?

    Anyone who's driven down Dolores Street? Or Market? Or driven around the city at all? Or.... well, you get the idea. Hey, I thought it was weird, too, but people get these things stuck in their heads, and there's just no helping 'em. California = Palm Trees. I hear there's a small grove growing atop Mt. Shasta. Always meant to check that out.

  17. Those private theaters can be pretty neat, usually you can plug in an x-box...

  18. Two empty floors at the bottom will make it easier to fortify the building, unless the attackers are willing to waste precious gasoline or sugar making explosives. And the 30ft-high lobby will make a great hutch for the pet T-Rex.

  19. defenestr8r says:

    ah, that's better. i had been missing your rants, kind of like something was amiss in the universe. i actually wondered if you were on vacation.

    in a similar vein (except that san diego is a sprawling wasteland, and san francisco is not), on a recent trip to san diego i noticed a new $$$$ condo building under construction. it was called THE EGYPTIAN. about as fitting as something here being called The Palms.

    And what exactly is it that makes Real Estate People Capitalize Everything?

    • They're So Excited! Seriously, haven't you eve dealt with a realtor? They're like headhunters, only more enthusiastic and less selective. As far as I'm concerned they can all go to the island where we put the people who don't know the difference between a bacteria and a virus.

  20. beschizza says:

    London is doing well -- it's still very pedestrian friendly, and the trend seems to be toward making it moreso.

    People often direct hate toward the London Underground, but it's actually one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world. And the medieval road plan ensures that motors are worse than useless: I would often find myself walking the three miles to college (back in the day), because I would get there almost as quick as the buses.

    In London, I pointed and laughed at cars. One statistic I remember is the average speed of traffic, something like 6 MPH.

    I left six years ago, and since then, the northern half of Trafalgar square has been pedestrianized, with more downtown to follow. And there is a car toll of some kind, wherein you have to pay through the nose to bring a motor within 5 miles of downtown.

  21. roninspoon says:

    There's a similiar trend emerging in Vegas to build high rise condos. They're popping up everywhere and promoting themselves as places for fun loving young adults to live with easy access to shopping and the city.

    Except, some of them are being built near residential areas on the outside edge of town and others are being built right on the Strip. The ones on the Strip only have access to casinos and shitty tourists shopping as well as vagrants urinating in the street. The ones on the outside of town are actually building little shopping districts around them.

    That would be cool, if they featured interesting shops, or even useful ones. What it really amounts to though is an high end outdoor mall with apartments on the top. In one location they've even gone so far as to build the condos right next to a locals casino and build the shops to llok like a gentrified downtown area, complete with a cute little street that runs through the middle of it. They even have little faux parking spaces in front of the shops to make it look more like "downtown" Burbank.

    Of course each end of the "street" is blocked so that real cars can't drive down it, otherwise people wouldn't be able to pretend that it's a quiet little downtown district like San Louis Obispo instead of an ugly artiface perched on a desert hill outside a gambling boom town due to go bust when the water runs out.

  22. mark242 says:

    Ha! That building has nothing on this entire burbclave down here in Los Angeles. Playa Vista is a collection of condo units like the above, along with standalone yuppie housing and apartments. Best of all, it is completely surrounded by... nothing! The only thing within walking distance of this entire neighborhood is a Home Depot. No grocery stores, no entertainment, nothing-- this fucker was made for people who need to drive their cars in order to go 500 feet.

    The best part of the complex is that it was built upon one of the last true open air spaces in LA, so besides obliterating all sorts of wildlife, the master planners had the balls/lack of ethics/etc to build upon a highly methane-rich strip of land. That's right, every so often you get to read in the local paper about how there was another evacuation at Playa Vista due to a methane scare.

    • Yeah, the Playa is mighty terrifying. One day it will explode in a Poltergeist moment of nature's anger. Inland Empire is full of developments like this too. My mother-in-law sells real estate out near Corona and they have to do methane disclosures because it was all cow pastures before.

      I just moved into Sawtelle (West LA) a few months ago (for the usual way too much money) and the pattern of selling stand-alone homes and building four to six unit $800k+ condos on them is getting irritating.


  23. wyndebreaker says:

    Egad. Looks like someplace Crockett and Tubbs would live in.

    • belgand says:

      My father used to live in the Atlantis, the apartment building shown at the end of the intro to Miami Vice (the one with the big empty hole in the middle). It was suprisingly a rather nice place inside. Overly expensive (and of course we drove everywhere), but still not a bad place to actually live. Then again, it's also not the kind of place where I'd want to live.

  24. bifrosty2k says:

    I was under the impression that part of the conditions on their having gotten permits was that they had to include so-many units of "affordable" housing.

    I went and looked at some apartments when the building had just gone up, and affordable meant $450,000 for a 600 sq/ft studio, and you had to be a teacher or have "low income" to qualify for it. And apparently that was a bargain...
    Not particularly encouraging, but apparently 2-3 of the units set aside had already been sold.

    The only really affordable housing in SF is being built out in Hunters Point, and even then you're still paying 500k for a condo in a crappy neighborhood that was built next to a superfund site and a landfill.

  25. lilamp says:

    i actually know someone who purchased a condo in that building. there was a lottery for subsidized cheapish apartments there, and she won, woo! they apparently have some insano-o condo association rules, like she had to make an appointment to move in, and was not allowed to move stuff in outside of her assigned block of time...

  26. jimm3uller says:

    "Imagine Yourself at The Center of San Francisco's The South Of Market Neighborhood... Have it all at your fingertips. Walk from your new home to a wide assortment of San Francisco's culinary treasures, stroll to museums, Whole Foods Market, theatres and great lifestyle shopping."

    The most hideous irony is that they're bragging about how their building is within walking distance of retail shops, but they failed to put retail shops all around the building they built. I suggest waterboarding for the whole lot.

  27. joshus_cat says:

    But what about those guys who say that the housing bubble is going to burst 'real soon now', so you end up with a nice block of empty appartments for four years or so?

  28. diemoniker says:

    What would be the legality of painting a message to the yuppies on the wall facing the construction? Something along the lines of:

    "Dear persons interested in purchasing the lofts across the street. The DNA Lounge is a nightclub. Music has been known to emanate from its confines. Consider yourselves forewarned." This city is full of itinerant sign painters who can write out nice foot-high, cursive letters.

    It might get you a bit more attention than showing up at city planning meetings would, and it would definitely get you a write-up in The Chronicle.

  29. belgand says:

    Sometimes I wonder why in the fuck I'm even planning on moving to San Francisco.