The SF neighborhood where the founders of Airbnb and Instagram live


When Airbnb CEO and Founder Brian Chesky listed his home on Airbnb in November, the entrepreneur, worth 7 billion dollars, revealed the San Francisco neighborhood he lives in. And it’s not anywhere near Billionaires’ Row in Pac Heights, known for its A-list tech and old-money residents, the The Getty family to Larry Ellison.

Chesky district? Dolores Heights or, in Chesky’s words, a residential neighborhood “near the Mission, Castro, and Noe Valley neighborhoods with plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes.”

If this sounds like a pretty ordinary neighborhood to you, it’s true. With rows of Victorians squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s a far cry from the megamansions on oversized lots in Pacific Heights.

The Dolores Heights neighborhood | Camille Cohen/The Norm

The interior of Chesky’s house is nice, but it’s not Birch Castle, the home of tech entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch, whose lavish, lacquered Pac Heights mansion features a bar salvaged from a disused British pub. Instead, it has the light and airy West Elm-chic look that Airbnb helped make ubiquitous. There is a normal size kitchen and his golden retriever is allowed to sit on his squishy looking gray couch. According to the Airbnb listing, you even have to share a bathroom.

Other technorati live nearby. Until he sold his house for $31 million. earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg’s home base was in Dolores Heights.

Instagram founder Mike Krieger and his family also live in the neighborhoodas well as a coterie of other early Facebook employees.

Zuckerberg’s entry into the neighborhood 15 years ago was a watershed moment, said Bernie Katzmann, a realtor who has lived in Dolores Heights for 25 years. He personally knows several billionaires in the neighborhood, although he won’t name names.

“The changes really started when Zuckerberg bought his house,” he said. “A lot of people suddenly started recognizing that it’s a beautiful area. That’s what really triggered the migration to the area, and it became a much richer area than it used to be.

Before that, Dolores Heights was a modest, family-friendly neighborhood, recalls Carolyn Kenady, who chairs the Dolores Heights Improvement Club, the area’s neighborhood association.

“The original houses here were quite small,” she said. “At the top of the hill, there were farms, with dairy cows and dairy products.”

Camille Cohen/The Norm

This is because the neighborhood was originally built for the working class. Many homes in the area were built by Fernando Nelson, one of San Francisco’s most prolific Victorian builders, who specialized in “modest” houses for “working-class families”.

But that was before the techs got wind of Dolores Heights. The neighborhood’s proximity to the freeway and its location on the south side of town made it attractive to Silicon Valley workers, Katzmann said.

Additionally, the area has exceptionally steep hills, which means that many streets offer stunning views of the city and provide privacy. In particular, Cumberland Street is hidden away and difficult to access except by stairs, making it a favorite for those seeking privacy. It was also one of the first streets with underground electrical wiring, because a former PG&E executive lived there and defended it, Katzmann said.

Since the neighborhood became an upscale enclave, longtime residents and newcomers have often clashed.

Houses in Dolores Heights | Camille Cohen/The Norm

The neighborhood went wild when a couple who were both Facebook’s first employees proposed to demolish an 877 square foot cottage on Cumblerand Street and instead, build an 8,300 square foot mansion merging the Cumberland Street lots spanning two lots.

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“The project is extremely excessive. It is particularly offensive when placed between two modest cottages,” wrote a resident. Dozens of neighbors, including many longtime residents, wrote impassioned letters expressing their opposition. Dozens of other neighbors, many of them tech executives, wrote letters of support.

The house was finally built.

Kenady says she’s not opposed to all development, but in a town with a notorious housing problem, she sees a lot of vacant mansions.

“I’m saddened that this neighborhood has too many vacancies; it’s a second home for people,” she said.

Chesky says he’s not one of those technical executives.

“I live here, so I’ll be here,” he said in a video posted to Airbnb.

And yes, Dolores Heights might just be the perfect place for a tech billionaire who needs privacy, but also dreams of being able to walk to a neighborhood bar and meet some friends.


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