Stalking the wild manzanita

Soon after the February issue of the New Fillmore hit the streets, with its report on the discovery and delivery of a manzanita plant in the Presidio thought to be extinct, the phone rang.

“There’s another one,” the caller said. “I’ll show you.”
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Urban forest gets local friends

The plum trees are blooming in Alta Plaza Park.

Friends of the Urban Forest will mark a major milestone in the neighborhood on Saturday, February 20: For the 1000th time, a team of volunteers will plant trees on city streets.

Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill will address the volunteers when they gather at 9 a.m. at Rosa Parks Elementary School at 1501 O’Farrell Street, between Webster and Laguna. Hill famously lived in a Humboldt County redwood tree for two years to prevent a lumber company from cutting it down.

Approximately 85 trees will be planted this weekend. Nearly a third will go to Rosa Parks School, which won a “green makeover” contest among San Francisco public schools. Most of the trees going to the school are native to California, including California buckeyes, coast silktassels and western redbuds.
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Extinct manzanita saved in the Presidio

Preparing the Franciscan manzanita to be transplanted. Photograph by Mark Frey.

A rare Franciscan manzanita long thought to be extinct was transplanted to a protected location in the Presidio this week after it was discovered along the Doyle Drive rebuilding project by a biologist who happened to be driving by.

“It’s an incredible find, like Christmas morning when you’re five,” says Mark Frey, an ecologist with the Presidio Trust. “For decades everyone has thought this plant was gone and the chance of finding it again was virtually non-existent. As part of our restoration efforts we scour that area all the time and yet there it was, right in the middle of the corridor.”

The Franciscan manzanita was last seen in the city for which it was named in 1942, at the Laurel Hill cemetery, near what is now the USF campus. But for a limited number of plants growing in botanical gardens, the species was believed to have been lost to the wild when the cemetery was bulldozed to make way for commercial and residential development.

VIDEO: Watch the relocation

The end of a design era

Every year, his clients have been invited to tour designer John Wheatman's home.

By Thomas Reynolds

In the springtime came the annual invitation to stop by the corner of Alta Plaza Park and tour the elegant home of interior designer John Wheatman.

Hundreds of current and former clients walked through on May 3, a cool, grey Sunday afternoon, to admire the treasures Wheatman has acquired and the good taste with which he has arranged them — and his garden, looking splendid in the mist, and grown entirely in pots and planters on the rooftop.

So it was a surprise when his letter of September 30 arrived. “I have decided to retire,” he wrote. “I have loved every minute of my involvement with you.” And in merely a month the end has come, after 45 years, for John Wheatman & Associates.
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The story of a magical plant

An island in a concrete ocean

Story and photograph
by Jean Collier Hurley

This is a story about kindness, determination, beauty — and an unusual bougainvillea plant.

Over the years, the front yard of the little house at 1923 Webster Street had become a junkyard, its wooden fence a dilapidated eyesore. The kindly owner, who had raised her family there, was too old and frail to do anything about it.

In April 1993, her next-door neighbor offered to plant a garden, turning a neighborhood blight into a blooming oasis.

At the nursery selecting plants, the neighbor, Loretta Bakker, saw a small Tahitian Gold bougainvillea with unusual gold and fuchsia bracts. “I’d give this plant three years,” the nurseryman said. “This variety only grows in warm Southern California climates. It may not make it here, but if you can keep it alive for three winters it may survive.”

“I’ll take it,” said Bakker.

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A foreclosure sets year’s highest price

2510 Jackson (left) fetched a record price.

Traditionally the housing market falls off significantly in the summer months, then picks up again from Labor Day through the beginning of the holiday season. This summer, however, the market is showing unusual signs of strength, due to three factors: increased inventory, a stabilizing economy and continued low interest rates.

Ironically, the highest priced home sold so far this year in San Francisco was a recent foreclosure sale at 2510 Jackson, on the north side of Alta Plaza Park.

This 10,000 square foot mansion was originally purchased by Critical Path founder David Hayden in 2000. When Hayden’s fortunes fell in the dot-com crash of 2000, the property was reportedly taken back by his investment bank or the lender of record. It was briefly listed in 2002 for $13.5 million, but didn’t sell. It was listed again in April 2008 for $14.9 million and eventually reduced to $12.5 million. It finally sold at the end of July for $11.5 million, the record price so far this year.

John Fitzgerald, Pacific Union Real Estate

Local home sales down 65%

Twin Victorians at 2016 and 2018 Buchanan.

The number of sales in March 2009 increased slightly, from nine to 10 properties. However, we are still well below the number of sales recorded during the same time last year, when 31 properties closed. This is more than a 65 percent decrease in volume.

The change can largely be attributed to buyers’ fears about the state of the economy. With so much uncertainty, there is little sense of urgency in the market and buyers are not coming forward with offers unless the properties are well priced and very much in line with what they are looking for. Housing supply continues to run well ahead of last year, with 172 current listings in the neighborhood, compared to 115 at this point last year.

NEW LISTING: An extensively remodeled 3-bedroom Victorian at 2016 Buchanan was just listed at $2.495 million. Along with its sister property at 2018 Buchanan, it was designed by J.I. Devlin, who also designed St. Ignatius Church. It has a three-car garage and is detached on three sides, allowing for a light-filled home.

John Fitzgerald, Pacific Union Real Estate

It’s slow, but picking up

The entrance to 3355 Pacific, on the market — briefly — for the first time in more than 50 years.

February 2009 was another slow period for home sales in the neighborhood. With the economy looking gloomier every day and the stock market reaching record lows, it would appear, at least at first glance, that our housing market is moving in a similar direction. However, the most recent activity in the local market suggests this may not be the case. Although only three homes and six condos closed during the last month, a total of 19 properties went into contract. By no means does that constitute an active market, but it certainly is a noticeable uptick.  It remains to be seen if the activity will continue to increase though what is normally a busy spring market.

HIGH END ACTIVITY: Sales on the upper end, which have been virtually nonexistent since October, have picked up significantly. Several impressive properties have gone into contract, most of them within days of being listed or relisted. One example is 3355 Pacific Avenue, which came on the market at the end of January for $8.9 million. This was the first time this property has been on the market in more than 50 years.  It’s a substantial 6-bedroom home on the Presidio wall that, while not updated, contains most impressive rooms for entertaining.  There were four offers and, while it sold at an undisclosed price, it reportedly closed above the asking price.

John Fitzgerald

In Japantown, new condos meet old customs

By Donna Gillespie

While wandering through the haze of sizzling teriyaki burgers and listening to the pounding of Taiko drums at the Nihonmachi Street Fair last month, you might have been asked to sign a petition supporting the event, or seen people wearing stickers that said “Save Our Festivals.”

It was a response to a local developer and the head of a new condo association, who had threatened to shut down Japantown’s festivals.
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A condo with a $5 million view

One rarely sees homes in our neighborhood selling for less than $1 million, but it happened in June 2008 at 49 Service Street, a short block near Steiner and Lombard. A one bedroom single family home closed at $675,000, setting the bar for the lowest priced single family home sold in the area this year.  

At the other end of the chart, unit 9W at 2190 Broadway (above) is a very special northwest corner condominium with fantastic views from nearly every room. Even though it needs some updating, the unit closed for $5 million — more than $1.5 million over the asking price.

John Fitzgerald, Pacific Union Real Estate