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‘Build any goddamn thing!’: Why this big Sunset lot has sat empty forever

An empty plot of land is seen in a photo.
A plot of land at 1801 Noriega St. in San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood has remained undeveloped for decades. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Standing outside his tae kwon do studio on Noriega Street between 24th and 25th avenues, Yang Park said his Central Sunset neighborhood has hardly changed since he opened his doors 30 years ago.

“It’s exactly the same,” Park said, chuckling. 

What’s also remained the same is a weed-ridden patch of sand at 1801 Noriega St. that has been mostly empty forever, or at least empty since 1948, which is as far back as city records for the site go. In 1940, half the almost 9,000-square-foot plot appeared to be covered by a structure, according to a model the city made of the street, which was photographed. Apparently, officials didn’t want to pay for proper aerial photos that year.

Two photos show an empty lot of land.
A side-by-side composite photo shows a plot of land at 1801 Noriega St. in 1948, right, and 2022, left. The lot has remained undeveloped for decades. | Source: Courtesy San Francisco Planning Department

The only plans the site has ever had were for an apartment building in 2004, according to Planning Department Chief of Staff Dan Sider. Obviously, the 11-unit, four-story building never materialized. 

Aerial photos taken between 1948 and 2022 show the lot has been vacant for much of the 20th century and the last 24 years of this century.

The lone mention of any building there is from mid-1970s San Francisco Examiner newspaper ads that say the California Federal Bank had an office there. The bank was bought out by Citigroup in 2002. Locals do remember a billboard on the site for some years but couldn’t seem to remember when it was taken down.

‘Build any goddamn thing!’

Those living next to the plot said they were bewildered that the land had remained unchanged, at least since President Harry S. Truman’s term in office.

“Build any goddamn thing!” said Horace Montgomery, who has lived in an apartment a few doors down from the plot since 2002. Montgomery said he would be happy with an apartment building at the site. Failing that, he would settle for a community garden. 

A man stands in front of a plot of land.
Horace Montgomery, who has lived next to the empty lot since 2002, says he is sick of looking at it. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“It’s a blighted lot that needs to be done with,” Montgomery said.

Anthony Campos, who lived nearby on 27th Avenue until 2014 and has been homeless since, thought it was crazy that the plot was still empty and called on the owners to sell the land if they wouldn’t build housing there.

“The housing problem could be better if people didn’t squander the land,” Campos said. “They could do something for all the homeless in this city.”

Catalina Rawers, a server at Sunset Reservoir Brewing Company on Noriega Street, said she’d like the plot to be made into a park.

A woman sits at a bar.
Catalina Rawers, a server at Sunset Reservoir Brewing Company, says she would like the empty lot to be a park. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“Somewhere you can sit, walk dogs, something more pedestrian-focused,” Rawers said.

Rosna Marthen Tjuatja has owned the plot since 1995 and has paid property taxes for it every year, according to the Assessor-Recorder’s Office. Tax records show that she paid $18,678.44 in property taxes last year.

Attempts to reach Tjuatja, including knocking on her door, went unanswered.

Supervisor Joel Engardio, who represents the Sunset, said in an emailed statement that he believes the plot would be ideal for a cafe, grocery or community center with housing above, given its location near shops and a bus route.

“My office is cautiously optimistic about the future for this curiously empty lot on a vibrant commercial and transit corridor,” Engardio said.