Ping Yuen Housing

Ping Yuen Housing, Pacific Avenue between Powell Street and Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, California

Designed by Henry Temple Howard & Mark Daniels, and John Bolles (architects) and Douglas Baylis (landscape architect) in 1951-1959


Henry Temple Howard, son of noted architect John Galen Howard, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1917 with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture. He attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1919 to 1921 and worked with his father in California after returning from France. Howard later worked for Bakewell & Brown, specifically on the design of Coit Tower, and he designed houses and apartment houses around the Bay Area.


John Savage Bolles completed a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1926 and a Masters degree in Architecture from Harvard in 1932. His father, Edward G. Bolles, was a prominent architect that worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1936, John Bolles would join his father’s practice in San Francisco. Between 1942 and 1954, Bolles partnered with Joseph Francis Ward, an architect from New Zealand. Together, the two had success in creating post-war residences throughout the bay area. After Ward & Bolles separated in 1954, Bolles shifted his attention from small residences to larger commercial projects. Some of his largest clients included IBM, Macy’s, General Motors, and the Gallo and Paul Masson wineries. However, Bolles is best known for San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.


The Ping Yuen public housing development was built for the San Francisco Housing Authority between 1951 and 1959. Designed to provide housing for residents of Chinatown, the development consists of the older Ping Yuen South, three buildings along Pacific Avenue between Powell and Columbus - and the newer Ping Yuen North (or Ping Yuen Annex), which sits on the North side of Pacific Avenue between Powell and Stockton. Henry Temple Howard and Mark Daniels were the original architects, but Daniels’ deteriorating health and subsequent death led to including John S. Bolles. Bolles handled additions of murals and decorative friezes that give the balconies of the imposing buildings a more human scale. Douglas Baylis contributed the landscaping of the narrow courtyards which lie between the street and the structures.

Photographing the Ping Yuen buildings was surprisingly difficult. Pacific Street is very narrow and traffic, both pedestrian and automobile, is very heavy. The buildings are also enclosed by fences, which precluded access to the courtyards and some of the murals. The buildings are clearly an integral part of the community, and the surrounding streets of Chinatown are still some of the most vibrant and heavily populated in the city. The distant view, taken from the rocky outcrop of Ina Coolbrith Park on Vallejo Street, dramatically places Ping Yuen, specifically the North or Annex building, in the greater context of San Francisco. After carefully lining up Ping Yuen North with the US Custom House on Sansome Street as in the earlier photograph, I was puzzled why the Bay Bridge had “moved” in the background of the view. I counted the Bay Bridge towers and realized that the tower in the original photograph was now completely obscured behind Embarcadero Center and other Financial District skyscrapers.