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‘It’s like a cemetery’: the pattern turning San Francisco’s colourful homes ‘gentrification grey’ | San Francisco

R.Ichard Segovia’s house is as loud as the Latin rock music he teaches kids in his basement studio. With colors ranging from jungle green and royal blue on the sidewalk to a red and yellow sunburst on the ridge, the otherwise humble Spanish-style house is essentially a giant mural, a crowded portrait of long deceased musicians, Segovia’s family members, social activists, various psychedelics and one or the other jungle animal.

Segovia has lived in the Mission District of San Francisco since 1963 and sees itself as the guardian of the district’s culture, especially as the birthplace of Latin rock. (Carlos Santana, a family friend, grew up nearby.) But increasingly, the 68-year-old “Mayor of the Mission” is faced with a stark display of all the colors that have been bled from the city in successive waves of technology-driven ones Gentrification.

“I walk through the neighborhood every day and see all these gray houses,” says Segovia. “It’s like a cemetery.”

From the International Orange of the Golden Gate Bridge to the intricately carved and painted facades of the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, vivid colors have long been the grammar of San Francisco’s native architecture.

Richard Segovia stands in front of his brightly painted house in San Francisco. The house next to his is painted gray. Photo: Talia Herman / The Guardian

But between the pastel tones and the gold leaf decorations you can see more and more a conspicuous juxtaposition: 125-year-old houses painted in the tones of a nuclear warhead from the Cold War or a dormant cinder cone. In neighborhoods like Mission and Haight, this phenomenon reads for some residents as the eradication of the Latino community or the ongoing counterculture. Gentrification gray houses have become a totem of wealthy intruders. The rush of wealth to central cities is global in scope, but its impact has been particularly pronounced in San Francisco – all the more as the city is known to value its own uniqueness.

Some of these homes have accents of black or darker gray. Some are just the color of a stranded humpback whale. Many have the crispy oxidized planters full of succulents or geometrically austere horsetail plants straight from a dwell magazine page, while others feature brightly painted doors in the same off-neon palette as athleisure clothing.

To their proponents, they’re sleek and contemporary, with paintwork that can take a punch without ever looking dirty. To their critics, they’re unimaginative, historically inaccurate deviations that a wealthy biotech CEO who wears a gray Patagonia fleece vest every day will appreciate – or worse, real estate agents are pushing to add some appeal to a potential investment property in the country nobody is allowed to live.

“I had some concerns about painting our house gray, even though it’s a symbol of gentrification in the Mission,” says Kate Shaw, who lives with partner Dav Rausch in a Mission Victorian they bought in 2012. But the couple, a professional designer and a designer by Hobby, say gray was a “jumping off point” in “reinventing” the “shape” of their pre-1900 home.

A calendar with a picture of a blue Victorian house.A calendar shows a home with a color scheme on historic buildings in the Bay Area designed by Bob Buckter, an independent color consultant. Photo: Talia Herman / The Guardian

“Going towards monochrome might be interpreted as lazy, but getting those colors right is his own business. It’s an art in itself, ”she said of Facetime during a tour. “Color emphasizes the shape and not the other way around.”

“We hired a Latino crew led by a Latino who was laid off from my company,” added Shaw. “People said, ‘Hire him! He’s great and we want to make sure he’s looked after and cared for. ‘ His crew said, ‘We’re used to so much more color and we love that!’ They placed it at the top of their website as what they were most proud of. “

The notion that Victorian houses were traditionally polychromatic is as much a myth as is our contemporary notion of ancient Roman cities like Bone White. As a form of civic improvement, Roman buildings were brashly – garishly decorated by most modern standards – while San Francisco’s Victorians were likely relatively drab when first built.

“When these Victorians started they didn’t have that many color options – usually white or gray, lead-colored. You didn’t pick out the moldings, ”says architect David Baker, who lives in a gray house himself. “I think we shouldn’t take it seriously – it’s just color.”

But for Bob Buckter, known as Dr. Color, it is anything but just color. He has worked as an independent color consultant on historic buildings in the Bay Area for more than 50 years – around 18,500 by his count.

“I talk to people, find out what their taste is, what they like, what they don’t like, whether they are wild or conservative, whether they like dark blue or dark gray or polychrome, how they are dressed, how they design their interiors” he says in his gray-purple office with aubergine-colored curtains and hand-painted ceiling medallions.

Many Buckter customers return for a second or third treatment – in some cases a fourth. He takes a straightforward approach of giving the customer what he wants and tries not to impose his own taste on people. But the usual result is a uniquely harmonious mixture of colors, so that a monochrome, matte exterior appears contradicting his practice. Is it simply a taste preference or the mutilation of an irreplaceable treasure from an old sequoia tree?

“All of that. I’ve spent my life taking care of the architectural details of historic houses and other architectural things, and I want to find out the purpose that they let me in and make color. Whether the market is selling the building or Proud of ownership, I have to take care of all of that in my design, “says Buckter, who thinks I’ve done something.”

After consulting with so many homes and getting enough attention that his work has resulted in copycat jobs, it’s likely that Buckter shifted collective tastes in a certain direction. Consequently, the rise of the gray Victorian could be a reaction against his aesthetic.

Bob Buckter stands in front of his house, painted blue according to his designed color scheme.Bob Buckter, known as Dr. Color, has consulted on nearly 18,500 historic buildings in the Bay Area – including his own home in the Mission. Photo: Talia Herman / The Guardian

“That can be part of it,” says Buckter. “I think the main reason is a trend towards simplicity and modernity. They are fed up with the polychrome look, some of these people. This trend has been noticed by others and some people just ride the wave of this trend. “

The lack of color annoys some longtime residents whose love for the sedate San Francisco homes has never diminished.

“I wish they’d make me the color officer for San Francisco so that people would check with me what colors they were using,” says artist and photographer Liz Mamorsky. “Some people try to do something good and restore a Victorian style, but they don’t quite get the colors right. You want that retinal flash that you get by having two complements of the same shade. “

Fred Messbarger, a 15-year-old homeowner in Mission, calls the gray trend “heartbreaking,” saying that the “beauty of San Francisco resides in the Victorians and Edwardians, and the contrast of the houses and the curves and the details – and that too.” Neighbors”. . One house could have completely different colors than the others. “

Messbarger had his Italian house repainted in turquoise, navy blue and white around 1870, with gold details and a neon green door. Everyone in the family had input and the response was positive.

“When I work outside in the garden or even leave the house, I keep getting comments and compliments,” says Messbarger. “It’s nice to hear because it took us five years to decide what to paint.”

“I didn’t think we were brave,” he adds. “I just thought we were bringing back color. The door is bold, but that’s our son’s fault. “

But sometimes gray is what happens when a diverse group tries to make a decision.

Eric Carlson owns a condominium in a four-story building that is home to a Latino family, a Greco-American family, and another single man. When it came time to repaint the “deep pale pink with white moldings” on the exterior, these very different people found it difficult to come to an agreement. After six weeks of looking at Swatches, everyone made lists of their top 4 and their two “absolutely not”. The result? Homburg Gray, with parchment white trim.

“I would have been fine with a much more expressive color,” says Carlson. “I was also aware that this had to be a consensus and that these were acceptable colors. Do i love her No. But does it look a lot better than what we had before? By and large, life is about compromise. I knew that by the early 20s there would be no appetite for a historically accurate color. “

If nobody really loves it, then why does gray seem to dominate?

“I think we’re in a strange place where this slate gray looks like a popular color and so is self-reinforcing,” says Carlson. “We are used to this dull palette of modern architecture, and it is boring. We are not exactly in the Baroque era of architecture. “

For some brokers, a dull tungsten gray coat can do more than just dampen the look. When a luxury real estate company bought the house next to Segovia and painted it gray, Segovia tried to put down the real estate agent and tell him that whoever bought the house would have a rock musician as a neighbor.

Cousins ​​Maggie Guillen, 12, left, and Noe Zuleta, 14, sit on the front steps of their home in the Mission District.Cousins ​​Maggie Guillen, 12, left, and Noe Zuleta, 14, sit on the front steps of their home in the Mission District. Photo: Talia Herman / The Guardian

“He wouldn’t pay any attention to me. So I said, ‘I’m going to take revenge on these fools.’ ”Segovia put his speaker system against the wall and slammed Metallica during the open house.

Eventually, the real estate company spent $ 40,000 to soundproof Segovia’s home studio so they could offload their property – to people who paid $ 750,000 and then four years later for $ 1.7 million to the current owner sold.

Segovia has been offered $ 2.5 million in cash for his home so many times that he threatened an aggressive agent with legal action.

“I’m not moving. I’m not going anywhere. I have my roots,” he says. “Working with kids, teaching kids music without asking for money. It’s about giving back to the community. Latin rock music is Made here in the mission district, so my aim is to keep that alive. “

As for the ongoing cruelty, “There should be a law,” says Segovia. “Enough is enough. For me they are prison colors.”

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