Lower Pacific Heights- Home to San Fran’s Japantown

Lower Pacific Heights was historically known as Upper Fillmore and a part of the Western Addition. This follows a common trend in America cities where neighborhoods are further subdivided when they gentrify and are rebranded. Lower Pacific Heights was a middle-class district for much of its history but became much wealthier in the 1980s and 1990s. This was the time when “Upper Fillmore” fell out of favor in exchange for “Lower Pacific Heights”. I don’t sense the district ever had a major period of disinvestment.

Japantown is a small sub-district within Lower Pacific Heights adjacent to the northern edge of the Fillmore District. Japanese immigrants began moving into the area following the 1906 earthquake (along with the Fillmore District). By World War II, the neighborhood was one of the largest Japanese enclaves outside Japan and took on an appearance similar to the Ginza district in Tokyo. WWII created a bit of a Japanese diaspora as Japanese families following several years of internment camps often resettled in other parts of San Fran and its suburbs. But the district retained its Japanese identity, especially as a center of Japanese shopping and culture. The district’s focal point, the Japan Center, was opened in 1968 and is the site of three Japanese-oriented shopping centers. This shopping center still remains a vibrant, dense collection of Japanese shops and is one of the most interesting parts of the City.

Lower Pacific Heights is a high quality urban district in line with central San Fran neighborhoods. It has a couple of urban deficiencies that lead to a lower score than other surrounding districts, namely, limited dedicated bike lanes, few schools within the neighborhood boundaries, okay park amenities, and only 18% of households as family households. The neighborhood’s strengths are Japantown and a great array of cultural and neighborhood retail amenities. 

Click here to view my Japantown album and here Lower Pacific Heights

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Quality historic architecture mixing late 19th century Italianate and Victorian with 20s apartment bldgs. The modern architecture design wise isn’t super inspiring but generally very good urban form. This is concentrated along Geary Blvd and in Japantown.
* Urban massing is overall very good but some autocentric spots along Ghery Blvd and Presidio Ave.
* Great access to Downtown and a highly walkable district. 
* About 55% of all units are rent controlled but also several public housing bldgs in the district. Medium rent is $2,077, slightly higher than the City’s median.
* Great racial diversity with a large Asian (Japanese) population here. Decent economic diversity.
* By all appearances, this is a very safe district.
* Cultural amenities include a great array of restaurants, bars, and cafes particularly in Japantown. There are also a handful or art galleries, two movie theaters in Japantown, the Vogue historic theater, the Regency Ballroom, and several live music venues and clubs.
* Great retail options concentrated in Japantown, many of them very unique cultural stores but also plenty of general retail options (i.e. hardware, grocerias, boutiques, and medical offices). Retail assets throughout the Lower Pacific Hghts include: several major supermarkets (i.e. Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and Wholefoods), plenty of grocerias, a target, several drug stores, 4 book stores, great array of boutiques & creative stores along Fillmore, plenty of banks, a couple antique stores, a hardware store, and plenty of dessert places. 2 hospitals within are near the district and decent array of churches.
* Vibrancy is great esp. in Japantown. 

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Good but not great bike infrastructure. 2 dedicated lanes in the district and good array of dedicated bike stations.
* 1-bedrooms lease in the mid 2Ks-low 3Ks, 2 bedrooms in the 3Ks & 4Ks, 3-bedrooms 4K-5K.
* Cheapest for sale units are some 1-bedroom condos selling btwn 650K-900K. Plenty of 1-bedrooms selling in the low 1 Millions. 2-bedrooms sell for anywhere btwn 800K-mid 1 Millions, 3bedrooms low 1 Ms to 3M. Larger & higher end produce selling in the 3 & 4 Ms.
* Poor generational diversity. Only 18% of households are families.
* Compared to most San Fran. Districts Park amenities are pretty limited. Lower Pacific Heights does have a great recreation decenter and a handful of small parks and plazas. Several medium sized parks just outside the district borders.
* Only a few schools within the district but plenty of good ones in surrounding districts.

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