Bernal’s Half Houses

Let’s talk about half houses, okay? Or better known as San Francisco’s earthquake shacks. After the 1906 earthquake 20,000 tents and over 5,000 temporary homes were built to house the people left homeless from the damage of the Great Quake.

Photo: San Francisco Public Library Historic Images.

The buildings generally were under 600 square feet, with distinctive peaked roofs and wood frame construction. These “temporary” homes cost around $50 to build (about $1,300 today adjusting for inflation), were rented out for $2 a month, and were yours to keep after a couple of years with the stipulation you moved them off the public property yourself.

Photo: California State Library

What happened to these historic tiny homes?

Most were dismantled however many residents took these tiny homes for their own, a number of which ended up in Bernal Heights which was then a popular vacation spot. The small homes making the perfect summer getaway with its beautiful views, space, and weather. Over the years these tiny buildings became incorporated into much larger dwellings or added onto. 

Many of these tiny homes were located on what was then called Bernal-park, now-Precita park, with the distinctive Bernal mound in the background. 

San Francisco Public Library Historic images

Luckily for us, their remnants can still be seen today and are an iconic reminder of San Francisco’s tumultuous past. If you look carefully, these homes are still visible with their distinctive style, their one room rectangular shape and slow pitched roof. 

 

Earthquake Shacks Today

Photo credit: Chris Carlsson

In 2016, 164 Bocana Street was briefly listed on the MLS. Weighing in at just over 750 square feet the home was briefly listed for $900,000. According to our online home valuation tool the predicted market value currently sits at $1,415,500. That’s over a 2.8 million percent increase in value over the 110 years. 

Photo via Noehill

San Francisco Landmark #171 located 1227 24th Avenue Between Lincoln and Irving. Built 1906.

Photo credit: Chris Carlsson

43 Carver Street, San Francisco CA 94110

We urge you to walk the streets and see how many of these rudimentary homes are still here. See a bit of California’s history all around you.


 

For more information on earthquake cottages
The Outside Lands San Francisco podcast has podcast episodes on earthquake cottages, from 2013 and 2020.

Read Jane F. Cryan’s account of moving to 1227 24th Avenue and beginning her activism work at OutsideLands.org

See more of these of Bernal Heights’ earthquake cottages on FoundSF.org

Western Neighborhoods Project has a list of confirmed and suspected earthquake cottages still standing.


 

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