How Old Is It? Who Built It?

How to Research a San Francisco Building

How Old Is It? Who Built It?

Spring Valley Water Company Tap Records, 1861-1930s on microfilm and online (Guide to microfilm and online volumes) [SFHC].
Contains the date a water connection was first made for a structure and the name of the applicant (owner/contractor/developer). Dates may reflect the beginning of construction, the beginning of occupancy, or the date water was provided to an existing structure. Connections are recorded alphabetically by street name.
Sanborn Map Company Fire Insurance Maps, 1886-1991 (Guide to microfilm) [SFHC]; 1886-1950 online (Digital Sanborn Maps for California OR in color FIMO Fire Insurance Maps Online); 1905 online (David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)
Published to help assess fire risk for buildings, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show the footprint for every building in the city. These maps also indicate type of construction, use of structures, addresses, and, sometimes, the names of businesses. Ask for the index at the information desk. SFHC has the only 1905 set in both print and microfilm.
Index to Papers on File, 1891-1962 Incomplete set [SFHC]
Indexes building contracts recorded with the city. Use owner or contractor name to find contract date. Use the date to search other resources such as Edwards Abstract from Records.
Edwards Abstract from Records, Dec. 1899-1977 Incomplete set [SFHC]
Issued daily, this is a list of documents recorded in the city, such as deeds, permits, sales. Under "Miscellaneous Papers" are Building Contracts, which list the owner, contractor, architect and cost of construction for individual buildings. Use the water date or the contract date from the Index to Papers on File to begin searching. Note: the California Historical Society has issues from 1896-1977.
San Francisco Real Estate Circular, 1868-1942 Incomplete set on microfilm, in print and online [SFHC]
Use the water date to look for property sales, transfers of ownership, and the cost of the building or land.There is handwritten index to sales by Thomas Magee & Sons for the years 1897-1906.
Daily Pacific Builder, 1907-1912 microfilm, print and online [SFHC and Magazines & Newspapers Center]; later issues 1913-1964 print [Magazines & Newspapers Center]
Lists permit applications, permits, and completion notices for building projects in San Francisco and other California counties; use water date to begin searching.
Building & Industrial News / Building & Engineering News / Pacific Constructor, 1911-1939, print and online [SFHC]
Lists permit applications, permits, and completion notices for construction projects in San Francisco and other California counties; use water date to begin searching.

Building Surveys

Junior League of San Francisco Here Today files [SFHC]
In the 1960s, the Junior League surveyed and researched thousands of San Francisco’s historic buildings, many of them featured in the book, Here Today: San Francisco Architectural Heritage. If a building was surveyed, the research file notes when it was built, and perhaps, the original owner and architect. Files are arranged alphabetically by street address. Please note that not all addresses have been surveyed. Junior League Index (PDF).
Historic District/Neighborhood Surveys [SFHC]
In order to establish an historic district, the City requires a survey of the significant buildings within its boundaries and an historic context statement. SFHC has survey files and books on several areas of the city: North Beach, Chinatown, Eureka Valley, Haight-Ashbury, Russian Hill, Liberty Hill, Inner Mission, Dogpatch, Hayes Valley, Buena Vista, Sunset, Pacific Heights and others.
A Context Statement and Architectural/Historical Survey of Unreinforced Masonry Building (UMB) Construction in San Francisco from 1850 to 1940 [SFHC]
Prepared by the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board for the Planning Department. The San Francisco Department of City Planning Records (SFH 465) include 35mm negatives reproduced in the UMB Architectural Survey. Contact the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection Photo Desk to access the collection.
1976 Department of City Planning Architectural Survey (San Francisco Planning Department, 1650 Mission Street, Suite 400, 415-558-6378).
The City’s research files on thousands of historic buildings in San Francisco. The San Francisco Planning Department attached the survey file to each property record on the San Francisco Property Information Map.

SFHC = San Francisco History Center

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