Do You Really Know the Pros (and Cons) of Living in Alamo Square?
Alamo Square in San Francisco, California is a both a great place to live and visit. “Why?” you ask. Well, here are just a few of the compelling reasons . . .
- A rich, intriguing history
- The historic Victorian and Edwardian architecture that predominates
- A great location in the heart of downtown San Francisco
- World-renowned attractions like Alamo Square Park
Certainly, there are a number of undeniable pros of living in Alamo Square, but (as with anything) there are also a few cons. So let’s take a closer look.
Overview of Alamo Square
What and Where
Alamo Square is a residential neighborhood in downtown San Francisco with a population of just over 3,000 (though there are higher estimates). The boundaries that delimit this historic neighborhood are a little hazy, but generally recognized as Golden Gate Ave. on the north, Fell Street to the south, Webster Street on the east, and Divisadero Street, west.
Like many other urban areas and neighborhoods that have experienced gentrification over the years, Alamo Square consists chiefly of young professionals and homeowners in the upper middle class. But, as a testament to its diversity, Alamo Square is also home to a varied older population.
Many businesses in Alamo Square reflect the tech start-up personality of San Francisco in general. And Divisadero Street, usually recognized as the western-most boundary, is home to a number of small businesses that include a growing number of trendy, popular restaurants and bars catering to young tech professionals.
Although Alamo Square has undergone gentrification and urban renewal, the Victorian architecture has, for the most part, remained untouched. Next to San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, it contains the most 10,000+ square-foot homes.
The most well known of these homes is a row of Victorians along Steiner Street facing Alamo Square Park. This area has been used as the setting for several films and TV shows, including 1978’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 2012’s The Five-Year Engagement.
And there’s the Alamo Square Historic District, boasting homes and structures by renowned architects from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Noteworthy among these are Postcard Row and the Westerfield house, all capturing the historical San Francisco flavor while adhering to the original designs.
The focal point of the neighborhood is Alamo Square Park. This hill-top park, covering four city blocks, overlooks downtown San Francisco and has several mansions boasting distinctive architecture around the perimeter.
Alamo Square Park is a favored attraction of both residents (particularly dog owner) and tourists. Including a playground and tennis court, it offers views (on a clear day) of the Transamerica Pyramid building and Golden Gate Bridge.
Some Alamo Square History
“The land started along the path to becoming a park in 1855, when mayor James Van Ness and other city officials began drafting a set of zoning regulations in what would become called the Van Ness Ordinances. The new legislation divided up the land west of Larkin using the grid system seen today – and beginning a long-running series of court cases with existing landowners and squatters to decide who would own what.”
In the course of this early zoning, the “city officially reserved some [land] for public parks, schools, streets and fire lots, . . . including what it defined as ‘Alamo, bounded by Hayes, Steiner, Fulton, and Scott Streets’ in 1857.”
But things weren’t really all this tidy and clear cut and didn’t have a linear progression.
For during this time, “most of the city was to the east in these years and the newly-designated park stayed little more than a rocky knoll for years. It became more accessible in the early 1860s, when well-connected city official Thomas Hayes obtained some of the newly-zoned city land down the hill made available with his friend and neighbor, the mayor Van Ness.”
And there were the outlaws to contend with. “[A] pair of infamous quasi-outlaw political figures in early city history, . . . built a little cottage in the middle of the block bounded by Divisadero, Fulton, Scott and McAllister. The one-story house served as the headquarters from which they hired “desperadoes” in order to defend the “various properties [they] unlawfully preempted from being taken over or built upon by their legitimate owners.”
Finally, near the end of the nineteenth century, the “park was “graded and tamed” in 1892 at the cost of $25,333 (or around $650,000 in today’s dollar). Paths and stairs were laid, and in 1896 the masonry wall was constructed by the California Concrete Company. Many Victorians were built by wealthy business men, doctors and lawyers who commissioned their homes from prominent architects of the time, the most famous of which are Matthew Kavanagh’s ‘Painted Ladies’.”
Today, after “150 years of turbulent city history,” Alamo Square Park is “an iconic destination for tourists and locals alike looking for a peaceful place to admire the views.”
Some Alamo Square History
The median home value in this neighborhood is $972,946, with 37% in the range of $400,000 to %749,000 and 62% more than %750,000. The majority of the homes were built in 1939 or earlier.
Income and Employment
The median home value is $972,946, with 37% in the range of $400,000 to %749,000 and 62% more than %750,000. The majority of the homes were built in 1939 or earlier.
When it comes to crime, Alamo Square rates an 87 on the crime index, which means that is safer than 87% of cities across the US. Pretty impressive, really.
A Few Cons
As we pointed out early on, there are a few cons to Alamo Square:
- You may have to contend with a lot of tourists. In fact, in 2013 tour buses were banned from the area around Alamo Square Park for creating a nuisance and causing traffic congestion.
- Alamo Square is also on the famous Bay to Breakers race route. This race includes the many runners as well as the several thousands of fans and revelers bringing up the rear, often costumed and sometimes inebriated.
- While crime in Alamo Square is relatively low, it gets worse fairly rapidly the farther you go outside the neighborhood.
- You’re likely to find limited parking and may spend quite a bit of time looking for a spot if you drive.
- There’s a paucity of grocery stores where you can buy basic foodstuffs at decent prices.
The Alamo Square Allure
Still, there’s a lot going for Alamo Square:
- Proximity to several parks
- Abundant dining and entertainment opportunities with the growing number of restaurants, cafes, and bars
- A central location that affords ready access to other part of the city
- A youngish, trendy feel without the drawbacks of the major demographic (such as the many strollers you’d encounter in, say, Noe Valley)
- A great place for dog owners owing to the many parks
Read a handful of descriptions of Alamo Square, and you’ll encounter these descriptors over and over: beautiful, iconic, and centrally located. Originally a distant suburb of San Francisco, consisting largely of bare sand dunes, Alamo Square is today a coveted location and top tourist draw.
Those wealthy businessmen knew what they were doing in the 1850s when they began developing it as a place to live away from the bustle of the city. And development continued on its nearly inexorable course . . .
Alamo Square “boomed from the 1870s to the 1890s. Residents built a variety of Victorian houses, from the well-known Queen Anne style to the more modest Stick style. In the 1960s, owners began to revitalize the houses in this district. They began to rehab their houses and paint them with lively colors. Locals and tourists alike loved them and began to visit them frequently.”
And here’s a neat bonus. The ground is more stable than in surrounding areas: very few of the beautiful Victorian homes were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.
Now Alamo Square is, of course, not for everyone. But the people who find it a good fit and like it wind up absolutely loving it.
Here’s how one resident of Alamo Square: “Pretty flippin’ awesome. I’ve lived by Alamo Square since the summer of 2011 and have really enjoyed it so far.”