Finally someone left the gate unlocked! That’s a very intriguing Owl Cigar sign overlooking this alley. Wrapping around two sides of 921 Post Street, I’ve had trouble pinpointing where this sign was originally meant to be viewed from. The back side of the sign isn’t visible from Post, isn’t visible from Geary, and is only vaguely visible from Hyde. So where was it meant to be viewed from?
Originally I thought it was viewable from Meacham Place – a short public street blocked by a private gate. The internet seems to disagree as to why the street is locked. Some claim it was done illegally by the resident(s), some claim it was done legally by the resident(s), and some claim it was done by the city to protect the PG&E substation. Regardless, the gate is usually locked; except for yesterday when it wasn’t. Despite a last minute case of the nerves/indecisiveness I walked through the open gate, to the end of Meacham Place, and tried to photograph the Owl Cigar sign. No dice. Only the very edge of the sign is visible. This was obviously not the intended vantage point. Which leaves us with two possiblities: The intended view has been blocked by new construction or the sign was designed to be viewed from adjacent multi-story apartment buildings.
So what if the sign was boxed in by new construction? Does this neat and tidy little theory stand up to research and testing? See the map below in which I’ve highlighted the sign on 921 Post street in red and included construction dates for all adjacent structures.
921 Post, our building in question, was built in 1919/1920. According to real estate records, the buildings on Hyde predate 921 Post by three to fourteen years. Hence Hyde, at least from the street level, was not the intended vantage point as there’s been no “new construction” to block the sign. Now, the adjacent buildings along Geary were constructed three to five years after 921 Post but I’m fairly certain Geary wasn’t the intended vantage point either. Why? As shown in the photos below, this portion of Nob Hill starts getting steep and Geary sits considerably beneath Post. Even in front of 822 Geary, the sole single-story building in the area, one cannot see the roof of the mid-block PG&E substation let alone the buildings behind it. While the sign may have been partially visible from Geary pre-construction, it would have been significantly, perhaps entirely, blocked by this substation (built in 1900) and the angle of the hill. Hence I doubt that Geary was the intended vantage point either.
Which only leaves us one option – this Owl Cigar sign was meant to be viewed from adjacent multi-story apartment buildings. Now, this theory is a little harder to prove/disprove; most San Francisco residents aren’t going to let some strange photographer/blogger into their apartment to check out the view. So while I might not be able to prove anything I can still use maps and knowledge about the block to support my theory.
See the map above. As before, I’ve highlighted the Owl Cigar sign on 921 Post in red. The buildings highlighted in green have the distinction of being A) downhill from 921 Post B) being taller than 921 Post and C) being taller than the midblock or intervening buildings . Now, not every unit or every floor of these buildings has an unobstructed view of the sign – but perhaps enough do to warrant it’s existence? Especially since it’s connected to a larger sign with broad, and valuable, street visibility? Given what we’ve proved about visibility from other streets/angles this is the only theory I can really get behind.
TL:DR The Owl Cigar sign on the back of 921 Post was not designed to be viewed from Post, Meacham, Hyde, or Geary – it was designed to be viewed from the adjacent multi-story apartment buildings.