San Francisco History Center: Providing online tools to research a building's history
Formed in 1964 as the California Collection, San Francisco History Center (SFHC), located at The Main Library, holds a comprehensive research collection covering all aspects of San Francisco history.
SFHC now offers an online database entitled “How to Research a San Francisco Building” which provides historical information on topics such as the date your home was built, who the builder was, permits, and who the original occupants were, dating as far back as the 1850s. Archived categories include: How old is it? Who built it?
Spring Valley Water Company Tap Records 1861 1930: Contains the date a water connection was first made for a structure and the applicant’s name (owner/contractor/developer).
Sanborn Map Company Fire Insurance Maps 1886-1950: Published to help assess fire risks for buildings these maps show the footprint for every building in the city. These maps also indicate a type of construction, use of structures, addresses, and sometimes the names of businesses.
Index to Papers on File 1891-1962: Indexed building contracts recorded with the city. Use the owner or contractor name to find contract date. Use the date to search other resources such as Edwards Abstract from Records.
Edwards Abstract from Records 1899-1977: This is a list of documents recorded in the city, such as deeds, permits & sales. Under “Miscellaneous Papers” are building contracts, which list the owner, architect, and cost of construction for individual buildings. Use the water date or the contract date from the Index to Papers on File to begin searching. Note: the California Historical Society has issues dating back to 1986.
San Francisco Real Estate Circular 1868-1942: Use the water date to look for property sales, transfer of ownership, and the cost of the building or land. Building & Industrial News/Building & Engineering News/Pacific Constructor 1911-1939: Lists permit applications, permits, and completion notices for construction projects in San Francisco. Use water date to begin searching.
Junior League of San Francisco Here Today files: In the 1960’s the Junior League surveyed and researched thousands of the city’s historic buildings, many of them featured in the book: Here Today: San Francisco Architectural Heritage. If a building was surveyed, the research file notes when it was built, the original owner/architect, etc. Files are arranged alphabetically by street address.
Who lived in it? Who owned it?
San Francisco City Directories 1850- 1982: Use the name of the possible owner or occupant of your property to check the city directories from the water date to determine whether that person lived at that address, the length of occupancy of that person, as well as his or her occupation.
Index to the Great Register of Voters 1866-1964: After verifying the Assembly District in which the house was sited, you may find the address, name, age, political affiliation, and sometimes the occupation of the building occupants.
There are also other search sections including “articles written” about a specific property, along with another category titled “Any photos”. For a complete list of searchable records go to https://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=2000305001