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Why Do S.F.’s New Condo Towers Sound Like Trendy Baby Names?

Congratulations—it’s a condo!

When a friend recently gave birth to a baby girl, the name she’d been keeping secret from the world finally became public: Avery. And in the months ahead, as little Avery takes her first steps, another new arrival by the same name, this one 56 stories tall, will be gestating in San Francisco’s so-called East Cut neighborhood: the Avery, a luxury tower with apartments starting on the 33rd floor and one-­bedrooms starting at just under $2 million, due to open in mid-2019.

Perusing high-end real estate literature these days is like reading the cubby signage at a Pacific Heights preschool. At the foot of the Bay Bridge, there’s the Jasper, a 400-foot-tall skyscraper by real estate developer Crescent Heights. Off Van Ness, you’ll run into the Austin, a shiny condo building from Pacific Eagle. And on Harrison Street awaits, well, the Harrison, with its private penthouse lounge, Uncle Harry’s. The trend of monikering luxury dwellings as though they were Ralph Lauren linen collections has hit San Francisco big-time, with the Ashton, the Avalon, and their ilk taking the place of yesteryear’s Paramount and Bel Air. This shouldn’t be confused with the concurrent practice of baptizing buildings with vaguely arty, often foreign-inspired names like Lumina, Mira, and Vara. But taken together, these swank sobriquets mark a new era in San Francisco real estate, one in which the city’s top-shelf condos must offer more than tasteful amenities and inviting floor plans: They need to be on-brand.

“Our goal in naming the Avery was to create a persona that told the story of this one-of-a-kind building and its discerning residents,” Jonathan Shum, vice president of Related California Residential, the real estate outfit behind the tower, writes in an email. “From the way it rolls off the tongue with style and energy to its edgy-yet-elevated look, the building’s name embodies its defining characteristics.” So who exactly is the eponymous Avery? She’s “the quintessential resident, exuding affluence, taste, and confidence, who enjoys a cultured and inspired lifestyle,” Shum explains. Picture her having drinks with the Harrison’s Uncle Harry—who is, per an email from Jeff Lamb of Maximus Real Estate Partners, “the man who has a story for every salt and pepper hair on his head; who has divine taste in stylish decor, fusing the otherworldly artifacts of his travels with the luxuries and comforts of contemporary San Francisco.”

The task of concocting these idealized tenants is usually entrusted to professionals: The Austin’s name was conceived with the help of the Mark Company, a real estate and marketing firm; for the Lumina, the luxury condo project that opened in 2015 on Folsom Street, developer Tishman Speyer enlisted the services of real estate marketing firm Polaris Pacific. Paul Zeger, a founding partner there, has been naming buildings for over 30 years and participated in the dubbing of what is perhaps San Francisco’s most confusingly titled building: One Steuart Lane, the new 120-unit waterfront property at the bottom of Howard, bordered on one side by Steuart Street.

In that map-confounding case, Zeger says, he set out to craft a name that evoked elegance and splendor. “People here want to think about themselves as top-scale, aspirational,” he says. Apparently, 75 Howard Street didn’t meet that mark, whereas a fictional address on the building’s side street did. “Steuart is a strong name,” Zeger says, “and the number one means the best.” Voilà! As for turning Street into Lane? “With the building’s elegance, it was worthy of having a private lane,” he says. In a Baudrillardian turn, the fantasy could soon become reality: Zeger says he’s trying to convince city officials to change the street’s name. “The neighbors have approved, and we’d like the city to give the building its authenticity before the end of the year,” he says.

Even without a city bureaucracy to navigate, Zeger notes, christening new buildings is no easy task. “Beyond looking at URLs and checking who else has the name, in San Francisco you have to have cultural awareness,” he says. “Like knowing that four is a bad number for the Chinese, or not calling a building the Confederate”—quite possibly a bad choice anywhere. “You think of everything you know and feel about the name. It’s kind of like naming a baby.”


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco 

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