As we’ve said in the past, San Francisco is arguably the most historically significant city on the west coast of the United States. While the town treasures its history, it especially treasures its historic buildings as so many were lost forever in 1906 from the earthquake and resulting fire , which destroyed most of the city. Historic homes in San Francisco are beautiful, and quite often easily identifiable in photographs as “San Francisco” due to the particular styles of architecture that permeate the city.
Let’s face it, you can’t discuss San Francisco’s history without mentioning hippies, and there’s a good reason for that. For all of it’s fame and infamy, few seem to realize that the hippie movement had to start somewhere. While there will always be debate, hippies themselves tend to draw the consensus that their origin is rooted at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco. So why are we bringing up hippies here? Because one of the most famous historical homes in San Francisco is the “The Westerfeld House”, also known as “The Russian Embassy”. The home was documented in Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” as the location of one of the very first hippie communes in San Francisco in the 1960’s. It is a Gothic style Victorian house that was built in 1889, and can be found at the northwest corner of Alamo Square Park. The house was originally built for William Westerfeld, a well-to-do confectioner in the 19th century.
One of the most luxurious small hotels in San Francisco, the Sherman house is the former home Leander Sherman. He is still known today as the “Sherman” in the “Sherman Clay” chain of piano stores. The house is a prime example of San Francisco’s Italian Victorian Style and is located in Pacific Heights.
The American Dream can be a funny thing. As an immigrant, all one may know is that the United States is the land of opportunity. The catch, however, is that particular opportunity might not be what you expected. William Haas came to the United States from Bavaria with the plan of making it big in gold mining. Somehow though, fate intervened and William Haas became quite rich… as a wholesale grocer, and he accomplished this before the age of 30. To exercise his newfound wealth, William Haas purchased his Queen Anne style home for $18,000 in an era when the average house sold for $700. The house barely avoided the disasters of 1906 when the fires burning the city were stopped only a block away. Fortunately for us, today it still stands as beautiful as ever, featuring beautiful woodwork throughout the entire house. The Haas-Lelienthal House is located at 2007 Franklin Street.
Ansel Adams Home
One of the United States most revered photographers grew up on the outskirts of San Francisco. The home he grew up in is a Swiss chalet above Baker Beach. The site is actually a two-for-one as when Ansel reached adulthood he built his own home right next door. Ansel’s home is a bungalow with 18’ ceilings, huge windows, and skylights for ample natural light.
In 1886, whiskey baron Henry Brune built his dream-home. The house, an Italian Victorian, flaunted Brune’s wealth with its Turkish Parlor, formal and family dining rooms, conservatory, five bedrooms, and kitchen on the second floor. The house was later bought by another family. Then in 1952, it became the apartments and sanctuary of the Antioch Baptist Church. In 1965, Richard Reutlinger bought the house, which was by then desperately in need of repair, and set about restoring it to its former grandeur. Today the house is as beautiful as ever.
William Chapman Ralston found is wealth by creating the Bank of California and becoming a financier of the Comstock Lode. Unlike most other well known historic San Francisco Homes, Ralston Hall is not Victorian or any other similar style. It is an Italian villa with only touches of Gothic and Victorian style. The house was completed in 1867 and has served many different purposes throughout its existence. Initially, of course, it was home to William Chapman Ralston. Upon his death, it went to his business partner. Later it would be used as a finishing school for girls, and then a sanitarium. Today, Ralston Hall is part of Notre Dame de Namur University where it serves as the school’s admissions office. It is still available, however, for weddings and other special occasions. The home features a mirrored ballroom in homage to Versailles. It also has twenty-three crystal chandeliers, ornate woodwork, and an oriental music room.
This term can be used generally to describe Victorian and Edwardian homes that have been painted in bright color schemes to show off their architectural highlights. While the term “Painted Ladies” originated in the 1970’s to specifically describe these types of homes in San Francisco, the term today is often used to describe these sorts of homes in many other cities throughout the United States. The houses in San Francisco were initially built between 1849 and 1915. During World War II, many of them were actually painted gray with surplus paint from the US Navy. In the 1960’s however, beginning with artist Butch Kardum’s home, the houses began to be painted in their now famous bright colors. The most well known “Painted Ladies” are a row of homes known as “Postcard Row” bordering Alamo Square Park. If the homes look familiar, they ought to. One of the homes on Postcard Row is where the Tanner family lived on the television series “Full House”.
When looking for history, we visit historic buildings to experience the tastes and lifestyles of the past, but most of all, we visit them to witness how past people lived. While churches and other buildings may give us a taste of these things, nothing compares to visiting historic homes.