San Francisco City Planning

San Francisco City Planning

Allen Jacobs, Director of City Planning 1969-1974


Allan Jacobs received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Miami University and studied at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. He received his Master’s Degree in City Planning in 1954 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he later taught. From 1954 to 1955, he was a Fulbright Scholar in City Planning at University College in London. Jacobs served as the as Director of the San Francisco Department of City Planning between 1969 and 1974 and then taught in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley from 1975 to 2001 and twice served as its chair.


During his six year tenure as Director of the San Francisco Department of City Planning, Allan Jacobs created twelve blotters. He had two fresh blotters each year on which he “doodled” while on the phone. Like the one on exhibit, they illustrate, both literally and figuratively, issues on the desk of the Planning Director and thoughts generated by these issues. These blotters serve as valuable documents of their time and place and as a visual diary of ideas, issues, and politics as well as of personal matters.


Allan Jacobs’ photographs of San Francisco are a product of his careful observations of the city in which he lived and worked. His collection of 35mm slides includes many carefully annotated views of parts of the city, and illustrate his ideals and practices. Several are views taken several years apart, documenting changes to the cityscape. I was intrigued by several of his views, and it was great fun to determine where Jacobs stood to photograph the views he did. Some street views, such as in the 1971 photograph of Cortland street facing Southeast, have changed significantly over the years: houses’ paint colors, automobile styles, the addition of MUNI bus overhead line, but most significantly, the near complete absence of overhead power and telephone lines, which dominate the earlier view. Likewise a good number of trees have appeared in the intervening years.


Market street has changed significantly in the two views. Jacobs’ February 1969 view shows the beginnings of BART and Muni Metro construction - a massive cut-and-cover excavation and burying of the new underground rail lines and stations. But some transportation has barely changed: MUNI’s F streetcar line still plies Market Street. Seen in 1970, streetcar #1133 was one of 70 streetcars acquired by San Francisco’s Municipal Railway in 1957, and was retired in 1982. Presumably scrapped, #1133 is not among MUNI’s vintage streetcar fleet, but #1073, pictured in 2015, is of a similar vintage. Much has changed in this view: the streetcar islands are moved down a block to 7th and Market (in fact the 2015 view is photographed from the end of the current streetcar island) and the trees are more dense than in 1969. The Emporium sign has been replaced by a Bloomingdales sign, and a thick line of trees has grown up to shade the wide sidewalks. The distinctive lampposts still stand, although they share space with the trees. The Ferry Building still presides over the end of Market Street, but now free of the Embarcadero Freeway which blocked it for many years.


The view up 15th street must have been a favorite of Jacobs’ - it shows an intersection with Noe Street, where Jacobs was instrumental in turning a typical wide residential street into a pedestrian’s delight, with wide sidewalks, significant tree plantings, and varied community seating and social spaces. I walk Noe Street every day on my commute, and it was a joy to photograph this intersection after seeing Jacobs’ slide. The changes over 45 years are readily apparent. Plenty of trees now line 15th Street, and the utility lines have vanished underground. The Noe Valley Market still exists, though I was a few months too late to capture the sign seen in Jacobs’ image before it was painted over. Opposite the market (hidden by the stop sign) is now an antiques store called Black Gold, which recently took over, after a heavy renovation, the corner space occupied since the mid seventies by Peacock Music, the beloved shop of luthier George Peacock, who passed away in 2011. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Peacock notes that he hung instruments from the meat hooks and cut wood on the bandsaw left behind by the Chinatown Meat Company, visible in Jacobs' photograph.