This guide lists material that is not online in any way. These resources require an in-person visit to the San Francisco History Center.
How Old Is It? Who Built It?
Sanborn Map Company Fire Insurance Maps
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. The sets through 1950 are available through the FIMO database or the Sanborn database. Sets from the mid-1960s through 1991 are available on microfilm; and the library has some print volumes for the mid-1950s through mid-1980s. Ask for the index at the SF History reference desk.
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.
Daily Pacific Builder, later issues 1913-1964 print only in 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.
In the News
Use the online guide for looking up building and business names. Check with the librarian to retrieve these files from closed stacks.
San Francisco News Letter, 1868, July 1875-1886 (incomplete) [SFHC].
Lists real estate transactions.
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. The PIM contains links to more recently surveyed neighborhoods and buildings.
SFHC = San Francisco History Center