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The History of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers

Founded in 1954, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers (THD) is one of the oldest, largest, and most widely respected neighborhood organizations in the nation. During its nearly six decades of existence, THD has led the way to celebrate, beautify, and protect San Francisco’s most unique and historic neighborhood. Without the hard work and support of the volunteers and members of THD, Telegraph Hill and North Beach would be vastly different from the beloved and special places they are today.

Among the proud accomplishments of THD are the following:

  • Restoration and increased protections for Coit Tower, its historic murals and Pioneer Park, following years of decay and neglect.

  • Enactment of the 40′ height limit on the south (downtown) side of Telegraph Hill, following a developer’s proposal in 1956 to build an eleven-story apartment house near the corner of Montgomery and Union. Soon thereafter, this 40′ foot height limit was extended north to the Embarcadero, to prevent construction of waterfront complexes similar to the Fontana Apartments near Aquatic Park.

  • Scuttling of the plan to extend the Embarcadero Freeway north past Broadway along the eastern (Bay) side of Telegraph Hill, as part of a proposed over-water bridge between San Francisco and Tiburon which would have had an exit-ramp at Stockton and Francisco.

  • Abandonment of the scheme to construct a parking garage under Washington Square Park, portions of which would have been visible at street-level. This scheme, which resurfaced once again in 1998, will hopefully become less likely to occur now that the Park is designated a City Landmark.

  • Enactment of historic district legislation for both Telegraph Hill and the Northeast Waterfront, in the former case going far to preserve the largest concentration of pre-Earthquake residential dwellings in San Francisco.

  • Enactment of the North Beach Commercial District, designed to preserve North Beach’s special nature and stem the proliferation of banks and other commercial uses threatening to alter permanently the businesses in North Beach.

  • Greening of the hill, undertaken in celebration of THD’s fortieth anniversary, with the planting of between 300 and 400 trees all over the Hill, as requested by property owners and residents, and in conjunction with Friends of the Urban Forest.

Imagine! North Beach and Telegraph Hill littered with high-rises, surrounded by a freeway, hardly green at all, its historic dwellings gone or diminished, and not vibrant, colorful, and distinct communities but merely suburban extensions of downtown.

It's painful and perhaps difficult to imagine that the special places called Telegraph Hill and North Beach that we love today could be any other way. Thanks to the continued support of THD members and dedicated volunteers, we don't have to.

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