It was ribbon-cutting time at Amancio Ergina Village, an affordable housing project that had replaced a long-empty lot in San Francisco’s troubled Western Addition neighborhood.
Amancio Ergina had been a high-pressure project, rushed to completion before the funding disappeared. Getting it built required lots of arguing, arm-bending, even shouting. Much of the shouting came from the mouth of the project’s development manager, Jim San Jule.
“Instead of cutting a ribbon,” one man suggested, “we should put one up, and Jim would yell at it until it broke.”
“He had a lot of yelling to do,” the project’s architect, Dan Solomon, recalls, “to defend the design against budget cuts and neighborhood opposition.”
San Jule, who’s known, if at all, to fans of mid-century modern design as the original sales and marketing director for Eichler Homes, spent his entire post-Eichler career marketing and promoting housing. But he was far more than what newspaper reporters refer to, condescendingly, as a ‘flack.’
A gregarious, expansive man whose occasionally embellished resume included stints riding the rails, serving with the OSS off the China coast during World War II, and organizing longshoremen, San Jule spent 50-plus years focused on a single goal—“providing good housing for people at a reasonable price and for people who didn’t already have good opportunities,” in the words of his second wife, Yvonne Koshland. “He believed that housing ought to be accessible to everybody.”
“Jim was just passionate about how we needed more housing in the city,” says Jim Chappell, who ran SPUR, a San Francisco nonprofit devoted to city planning. “It wasn’t a job for him. It was a calling.”
But San Jule was not just a crusader. He was a crusader with both a theory and technique—several techniques, actually, yelling just being one of them—for getting housing built.
“He believed in bringing together everybody who was involved,” Koshland says of the theory.
Too often, San Jule thought, architects, developers, financiers, planners, city bureaucrats, and marketing managers like himself, worked at cross purposes. San Jule didn’t care what people’s titles were—only that they got the job done.
Even though his role as ‘housing consultant’ often involved ‘public relations,’ his role was always much larger. He was often the instigator of the project, the man putting the deal together—choosing a site and a strategy, then enticing developers to take it on and hounding city agencies to move it forward.
His techniques ranged from the grand—in the late 1960s he formed the Corporation of the Twentieth Century as a consulting/developing firm that united all these disciplines into one—to the seat of the pants.
Don Tishman, who, thanks to San Jule’s blandishments, took on the arduous chore of developing tenlong-abandoned acres in San Francisco’s then-derelict Fillmore District, remembers how San Jule ensured the project would get financing.
Their would-be banker from New York was due on-site the next morning and, as always, Tishman recalls, “guys drinking all night were passed out sleeping on the street. Jim had an old prostitute wake them up and put Clorox on the ground, so by the time the banker came out, there was nobody there.”