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The Doelger Homes – Sunset District's (in)Famous Boxes

great-highway-house-small.JPGThe house that I’m remodeling on the Great Highway started off as a Doelger Juinor 5 with a Sunroom. But it was in utter disrepair when I got to it, so rather than try to salvage what little was there on the inside, the project took on a much more modern turn. But I really do like those “little boxes” that can be found all over the Sunset District and beyond. (The song “Little Boxes” was inspired by the homes Henry Doelger built in Daly City’s Westlake District.) In fact, if it wasn’t for the Doelger Houses, San Francisco’s Sunset District would have likely looked quite different.
San Francisco’s Sunset District started off as nothing more than sand dunes. The first method of public transportation for the masses didn’t make it to the area until 1883 when a steam train ran along what we now know as Lincoln Way (formerly “H Avenue.”) Only those that were rough and rugged were willing to take on the blowing sand and dark nights that the area was known for, in order to make their homes there. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that all of the Sunset District was finally accessible by public transportation via the N-Judah and the L-Taraval streetcar lines. It was then that Henry Doelger began mass producing homes in the Sunset District. The following is taken from the Encyclopedia of San Francisco.

The best-known developer of houses in the Sunset District was Henry Doelger. Doelger grew up in the Inner Sunset at the corner of 7th Avenue and Hugo Street. He and his brother Frank, formed the Doelger Brothers and began building homes in the 1920s. However, it was after Frank’s untimely death in 1932 that Henry became a prolific builder.

The Doelgers built their first homes, about 25 of them, on 39th Avenue in 1926, their first year in business. However, Henry Doelger is best known for the houses he built in a large concentrated area, approximately from 27th to 39th Avenues between Kirkham and Ortega Streets. This area was sometimes called “Doelger City.” People accustomed to the details of Victorian and Edwardian buildings scoffed at the “cookie-cutter” way these houses were built, but the houses were well built and have stood the test of time. At one point, Henry Doelger completed two houses a day.

Most of these houses have a similar floor plan-two bedrooms and one bathroom, with living quarters upstairs from a street-level garage. (Doelger is sometimes credited with inventing this floor plan, but it existed before he began building as a solution to building on a small lot.) The Doelger homes made home ownership possible to families who in the past could only dream of owning their homes.

Not everyone loves those “little boxes”, but I do. There’s something comforting about the Doelger homes. They weren’t fancy, but they were a place that your average working family could truly call “home”. The Around 24,000 of these houses were built – they sold for about $4,500 to $5,000! Today, the average Doelger home in the Sunset District sells between the low low $600K’s to low $800K’s.