Last House Standing on Bunker Hill | KCET
Last House Standing on Bunker Hill
And yet for all its heavy machinery, the Community Redevelopment Agency couldn't touch Stuart Oliver's property.
Oliver's house, shade trees, and two adjoining rental units floated above a desert of virgin real estate -- bare earth from which the steel-and-glass towers of the Financial District would soon rise. Earthmovers had pared down the surrounding land by two stories, clawing into the earth up to the edges of Oliver's 7,940-square-foot parcel.
The resulting earthen stump was the final remnant of old Bunker Hill.
It's tempting to see in photographs like the one above an act of defiance, to cast the house's owner as a stubborn crusader against a misguided urban renewal scheme.
In truth, Oliver was a willing accomplice in Bunker Hill's redevelopment.
A decade after he and his wife moved into their modern domicile at 4th and Hope in 1949, the CRA began offering owners like the Olivers a chance to participate in the hill's transformation. Hold on to your land, it told them, and build something on it that conforms with our master plan. A shrewd businessman, Oliver signed an owner-participant agreement and drafted plans for a 150-unit apartment complex.
Interest in Bunker Hill real estate soon soared well beyond the CRA's initial expectations, however, prompting the agency to revise its master plan. Suddenly, modest apartment buildings such as what Oliver was proposing had no place on Bunker Hill, which the CRA envisioned as a forest of 50-story skyscrapers.
Oliver bickered with the CRA for ten years, during which his hilltop house became increasingly isolated. "It's not the friendly neighborhood it once was," a friend of Oliver's laconically remarked to the Times. Even the postman had trouble finding the address. Finally, in July 1969, Oliver let go of his own redevelopment dreams and sold his land (at a tidy profit) for half a million dollars.
The Olivers then vacated their lonely house, but they didn't move far. Their new home, the recently built Bunker Hill Towers complex, offered unobstructed views of their old. From the tower, they could have seen the bulldozers push their former house off its hilltop perch. They would have seen the steam shovels come next, clearing away the earthen stump to make way for the 55-story Security Pacific Plaza. From their new home, a product itself of redevelopment, they would have witnessed their old neighborhood's final days.
Once the Bob Baker team realized that they were going to be closed for more than a few weeks, they switched gears. They concentrated their efforts on spreading their special kind of joy amid uncertainty.
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