Feel the rumble of real estate! Two earthquake shacks are now on the market in San Francisco's hilly Bernal Heights neighborhood: a two-bedroom, one-bathroom model at 451 Anderson St. for $849,000, and a one-bedroom, one-bathroom model at 164 Bocana St. for $900,000.
While these original "tiny houses" are sought-after properties in a pricey neighborhood, at the time they served as an ingenious, inexpensive, and quick remedy to housing homeless residents after the 1906 earthquake and fire ravaged San Francisco.
Over 5,000 refugee cottages, as they were also known, were quickly built as winter approached, and tented communities in the city's parks wouldn't be adequate to house those displaced by the quake. Union carpenters built them in a joint effort with the San Francisco Relief Corp., the San Francisco Parks Commission, and the U.S. Army.
The one-room cabins replaced the tents, including in Bernal Heights' Precita Park, and sheltered some 16,000 locals. To blend in with the surroundings, they were painted "park-bench green."
Once tenants paid the $50 fee for the cabin, they were required to haul the shacks out of the park and into city neighborhoods. By June 1908, the camps were closed and the cabins had scattered across the city.
"They were all pre-fab," John Blackburn says. He's the self-described "earthquake shack guy" for the Bernal History Project. "You had no plumbing, four walls, a roof, galvanized metal pipe with a stove, four windows, a door, and a floor. That was it."
In the 1980s, "shack activist" Jane Cryan lobbied the city to save the shacks. Two that she helped rescue are now on display in San Francisco's Presidio.
Blackburn's organization has confirmed both of the listings currently on the market are indeed earthquake shacks, now substantially renovated.
In the neighborhood, they aren't alone. Bernal "has the largest concentration of existing shacks in the city," Blackburn says. Of the thousands built at the time, only a handful have to date been identified as earthquake shacks.
The original cabins came in three small sizes and were outfitted with redwood walls, wood floors, and shingled cedar roofs. Kitchens and bathrooms were not included (latrines and community kitchens were provided at the campsites).
Both residences on the market are in a popular area conveniently located near lively Cortland Avenue, with restaurants, cafes, and shopping -- and the cozy cottages will make great homes for the next buyers.
But to Blackburn, they represent something more. "We want people to understand the importance of the history of our city. We have an incredible past. It was the best of San Francisco in those days," he says. Here's how the two homes shake out…
Quake shack scoop: The two-bedroom home is actually made up of two original cabins. "They were put together side by side, and a 3-foot hallway between them became the entry foyer," says listing agent Carlos Cabarcos. "It's a little quirky house but with a lot of history."
Renovations over the years have included an upgraded kitchen and bathroom, refinished floors, new carpet and paint, and a decorative brick wall in the bedroom.
The kitchen opens out to a deck and a landscaped backyard with a hot tub.
-- -- --
Quake shack scoop: This is one cute cabin. "Most of these cottages were one room. Almost all of these have been added on over the years," listing agent Vicki Valandra says of the 756-square-foot home.
She notes that the original structure was the living room and dining space that now opens to the kitchen. "It's a beautiful room," she says, with cathedral ceilings, six skylights, and tons of natural light.
The add-ons include the bedroom, bathroom, and small bonus room. This charmer also boasts views off the back deck.