Early History Before San Francisco
The site was originally inhabited by the Ramaytush Ohlone tribe who used the area around Lake Merced as part of their hunting and fishing grounds. Then in the 19th century, it became part of the Mexican Rancho Laguna de la Merced.
1868 Water Politics
The Spring Valley Water Company bought the rights for the lake and the surrounding watershed, creating a monopoly on San Francisco’s water supply. It wasn’t until 1923 when the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was created in the Sierra Mountains that the City was able to regain control.
1940 Gateway to the City
In 1940, MetLife purchased this property with the noble goal of providing middle-income targeted housing for returning servicemen. They, too, had a vision, but theirs was of its time. A vision of recreating suburbia in the city. Of a life revolving around the automobile.
1942 The First Incarnation
In 1942, MetLife began construction on a large community of garden apartments with wide boulevards for vehicles. Unfortunately, the war effort meant the builders had to use inferior materials, which would not stand the test of time.
1942 After WWII
The country faced a housing shortage, and in the 1950s, nowhere was the population growth greater than it was in San Francisco – a growth rate that would not be surpassed until 2010. So MetLife added a series of high-rise apartment towers to provide affordable homes for returning GIs and their families. Fortunately, concrete and steel were readily available, and these towers continue to hold up well today.
Over the next few decades, Parkmerced gradually descended into a state of disrepair. Its car-centric layout, combined with lack of retail and other community services prevented the neighborhood from flourishing, and deferred maintenance started to take its toll on the buildings. It was time for a new vision.
2006 Rebuilding a Community
In 2006, the new owners started reaching out to the community for input and began the long process of working with existing residents and community groups to learn what they wanted and to figure out the best way to proceed with the revitalization. In 2007, the new owners reaffirmed their commitment to improving life at Parkmerced by investing over $100 million to repair years of neglect.
Writing the Future
These sessions ranged from small group briefings to large public workshops. To date, we have had over 500 meetings, and their input has shaped our process and master plan.
Cultivating the Plan
Many months turned into years of community outreach and design work, and the concepts and land use plan took shape into the Master Plan for a whole new kind of neighborhood. Around this time, we approached the legendary architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) and their lead designer Craig Hartman to understand, collaborate and design the Master Plan in response to the community feedback.
The New Vision
Community stakeholders, current residents, city staff and elected officials along with the site owner and design team all worked together to arrive at the new vision, a whole new kind of neighborhood for Parkmerced. Its aims were inspiring, its potential exciting. It would become one of the first net-zero carbon communities in America. It would triple the density of quality housing, yet use no more water. It would use innovative design technology to create a pedestrian-centric, sustainable neighborhood with its own renewable energy sources. Parkmerced would create a new kind of urban living. A self-sustaining city within a city.
As implementing the vision drew nearer, we began to reach out to several of the world’s most forward-thinking architectural design firms. Although the brief was the same, they were each given a different section of Parkmerced to work on. Different design partners means the new buildings won’t all look the same, creating the feeling of a neighborhood that grew organically. One with landmarks, allowing pedestrians to orient themselves.
In 2011, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the Parkmerced Vision Project. However, we battled in court for three more years until the State Supreme Court rejected hearing the appellate decision on the adequacy of the environmental impact reports, allowing us to move into the construction phases.
In 2015, the City approved our Phase 1 application to construct 1,013 new apartment homes, as well as the new parking garages and redesigned road layouts that will support them.
New Vision: Beginnings
In winter 2016-spring 2017, we begin construction of five new residential buildings by five different architects: SOM, Woods Bagot, Fougeron Architecture, Leddy Maytum Stacy and Kwan Henmi.
Restoring the Watershed
As the Master Plan is realized, Parkmerced is modifying its relationship with its natural ecosystems by restoring original watersheds and replenishing a diminishing Lake Merced, rebuilding local wildlife habitats and integrating agriculture into the urban environment. This interlacing of urban and ecological systems will also reduce the impact on the city’s waste water treatment plants and prevent erosion.
Organic growth will lead to over 5,700 new homes, transportation improvements including the Muni M-line rerouted into the site with multiple stations, as well as landscape/outdoor amenities such as sports fields.
As technology evolves, so will our vision. Community improvements include a recreation center and an elementary school. The “social heart” of Parkmerced will also be realized with the buildout of roughly 230,000 square feet of retail, +/- 80,000 square feet of office space, and over 60,000 square feet of community and amenity space.
The Complete Vision
With the rapid pace of technological advancement, it’s impossible to say exactly what life in our fully realized Parkmerced will be like. What we do know is that every decision we make going forward will be underscored by our principles of whole living and sustainable neighborhood creation. We will always be pushing the limits of what’s possible.