San Francisco Features Homes of All Types
Not only does San Francisco boast some impressive residential architecture, but also a number of annual special events for the house proud add to its luster.
Since the days of the Gold Rush, San Francisco has been known for some rather palatial homes. Consider the Big Four: Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Leland Stanford. Price tags on two of the quartet’s homes atop Nob Hill ran respectively: $2,300,000 (Crocker) and $3,000,000 (Mark Hopkins). Hopkins’ home so dominated the San Francisco skyline of the 1890s that it could be seen some 25 miles south and was disparaged, according to one historian, as the product of a “quarreling team of Albanian draftsmen.”
Not to be outdone, James Flood, one of the silver kings, built a massive brownstone mansion and encircled it with a $30,000 brass fence. The only mansion on Nob Hill to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, it is now the home of the Pacific Union Club at California and Mason streets. Get a closer look of this area on these guided walking tours of Nob Hill: Hobnob Tours, The Vampire Tour of San Francisco. San Francisco City Guides also offers free tours of the area every Sunday at 2 p.m.
Vintage houses open throughout the year include the Haas-Lilienthal House, 2007 Franklin St., and the Octagon House, 2645 Gough St. To the south are the fabled grounds of Filoli (Canada Road, Woodside, 650-364-8300, www.filoli.org) and the Winchester Mystery House (525 South Winchester Blvd., San Jose, 408-247-2000, www.winchestermysteryhouse.com). In the East Bay city of Martinez, one of California’s original capitals, the 17-room John Muir House is open every Wednesday-Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (925-228-8860, www.nps.gov/jomu/index.htm).
Visitors to the Haas-Lilienthal House will gain a unique view of Victorian life as they tour the 1886 residence. Complete with authentic furniture and artifacts, the house features an exuberance of Queen Anne style ornamentation from the elaborate wooden gables to the circular wooden gable. Volunteer docents lead tours 11 to 4 Sunday, noon to 3 Wednesday and noon to 3 Saturday. Admission is $8, $5 for seniors and children 12 and under. Architectural heritage tours of several San Francisco neighborhoods are also offered through San Francisco Architectural Heritage, which is headquartered at the Haas-Lilienthal House. For more information, telephone 415-441-3000 or visit www.sfheritage.org.
Cow Hollow’s eight-sided, cupola-crowned Octagon House – A Museum of Decorative Arts showcases Early American decorative arts and documents, including signatures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and portraits, samplers, silver and pewter pieces. Informal tours are offered second Sunday, second and fourth Thursday of the month from noon to 3 pm. Closed January and all holidays. Tours are free; donations welcomed. For more information, telephone 415-441-7512.
In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, many residents lived in earthquake refugee cottages, or shacks. More than 5,600 were built to house 16,000 San Franciscans in 11 camps. Only a few survive. Two of them are on display in the Presidio of San Francisco, behind the old Post Hospital at Lincoln Blvd. and Funston Ave. All of the cottages were painted green, to better blend in with the parks and public squares where they were built. To learn more about the construction of these homes and how they were eventually used to create larger homes, visit www.nps.gov/prsf/historyculture/1906-earthquake-relief-efforts-living-accommodations.htm.
- Filoli, originally built for the Bourn family, prominent San Franciscans whose wealth stemmed from the Empire Mine, was sold in 1937 to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth who donated Filoli to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975. The name Filoli comes from the first two letters of William Bourn’s credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” The opening credits of the television series “Dynasty” featured an aerial view of the historic Willis Polk-design house which was completed in 1917. For tour details and information on special events, telephone 650-364-8300 or visit www.filoli.org.
- Designed and built by the Winchester rifle heiress, the Victorian mansion, which eventually became known as the Winchester Mystery House, occupied scores of carpenters and craftsmen from 1884 when the wealthy widow began the construction project until her death 38 years later. Tiffany art glass windows, gold and silver chandeliers, 47 fireplaces and three working elevators are among the embellishments of the 160-r00m house. The mysteries include a window built into a floor, staircases leading to nowhere, doors that open into blank walls and a chimney that rises four stories and stops 18 inches from the mansion’s ceiling. For more information, telephone 408-247-2000 or visit www.winchestermysteryhouse.com.
- Home to the “Father of the National Park Service,” John Muir House was declared a National Historic Site in 1964. Period furniture and artifacts are placed throughout the 10,010-square-foot home; self-guided and daily tours are available as well as a 20-minute film on Muir’s life. The entrance fee is $3 for ages 16 and over; under 16 is free. This fee (save receipt) is good for same day entrance at Muir Woods, located in Marin County. His birth date, April 21 (1838) is the date that was chosen to celebrate Earth Day. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) connects to a bus to the house. For more information, telephone 925-228-8860 or visit www.nps.gov/jomu/index.htm.
- Hobnob Tours Valarie Huff, a self-described history buff, shares the secrets of bonanza kings and railroad barons on a two-and-a-half hour circuit of Nob Hill. Departing from the landmark Fairmont Hotel the tour includes the Flood Mansion, Grace Cathedral, Huntington Park and a cable car ride up Nob Hill. Reservations required. $30 per person; breakfast, lunch or high tea optional at added cost. For reservations, telephone 650-814-6303 or visit www.hobnobtours.com.
- San Francisco City Guides Expect architectural tidbits and anecdotes about Grace Cathedral, the four hotels (Huntington, Fairmont, Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental and The Stanford Court) that all claim a Nob Hill address, and an exclusive men’s club. Tours depart from the front entrance of The Stanford Court, 905 California St. at 2 pm, Wednesday and Sunday. For more information on this tour and more than 70 other walkabouts, telephone 415-557-4266 or visit www.sfcityguides.org.
- The Vampire Tour of San Francisco Mina Harker a.k.a Kitty Burns leads a two-hour San Francisco Vampire Tour departing from the corner of California and Taylor streets every Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Join in the “spirit” and come in costume for stops at Grace Cathedral, Huntington Park, the Pacific-Union Club, Fairmont and Mark Hopkins hotels. Reservations required. $20 per mortal, $15 ages 17 and under, or 60 and over. To make reservations and for more information, call 650-279-1840 or visit www.sfvampiretour.com.
- Victorian Home Walk Jay Gifford has been taking people off the beaten path for more than two decades on his Victorian Home Walk. The two-and-a-half-hour tour includes a wide range of architectural styles. Gifford customizes the tour to the visitors’ inclinations: lingering in a fabulous garden or delving into Victoriana 101 if they are history buffs. Some 200 historic homes in the Western Addition, Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow are on the tour, including the home where “Mrs. Doubtfire” was filmed. The tours depart every day (except Christmas and New Year’s Day) from the corner of Powell and Post streets (across from Saks Fifth Avenue) at 11 am. $20 per person; no credit cards accepted. For information, telephone 415-252-9485 or visit www.victorianwalk.com.
- Also of note, the Asian Art Museum ( www.asianart.org) offers daily architectural tours (noon and 2:30 pm) of its handsome Beaux Art structure. Learn about the colorful history of the War Memorial Opera House; tours go behind-the-footlights to backstage areas, wig and make-up departments and point out notable features of the building’s architecture (for reservations, telephone 510-524-5220). Free tours of San Francisco’s majestic City Hall are offered at 10, noon and 2 pm; for details telephone 415-554-6139 or visit www.sfgov.org. The Ferry Building Line also has an architectural “track” on its audio tour; tickets are $39 for adults, $26 ages 5-11, free for children 4 and under. For more information, telephone 415-673-2900or visit www.ferrybuildingline.com.
DIY-tours: If you’d prefer to move at your own pace, opt for the path laid out by the Barbary Coast Trail, a 3.8 mile self-guided walking tour that passes more than 40 historic landmarks from the Old Mint at Fifth and Mission streets to Aquatic Park. The route is marked by 150 bronze plaques or yellow painted insignia and includes a Nob Hill loop. Each end of the trail is connected by the Powell-Hyde cable car line. Printed trail guides may be purchased at the San Francisco Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St. The San Francisco Historical Society also offers special trail-based walking tours; for details telephone 415-775-1111 or visit www.sfhistory.org.
The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau has also mapped out walking tours of Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pacific Heights, North Beach and Union Square. Check out the Neighborhood section of the site and download the tours at www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com. A series of 10 self-guided itineraries, including a five-day Art to Architecture one, is posted at www.destinationsf.com. Major areas covered include Jackson Square, North Beach, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, Northern Waterfront, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Financial District, Union Square, Marina, Presidio, Western Shore, South of Market, Embarcadero, South Park and Civic Center.
Special Events For those who enjoy an occasional house browse or know their cornice from a corbel, there are a number of special events throughout the year:
September 2010 Architecture and the City Architecture and the City San Francisco is home to the third largest chapter of the American Institute of Architects in the United States. Throughout the month of September, they will be celebrating the fourth annual Architecture and the City festival with a series of architectural tours, film screenings, exhibitions, design lectures, home shows and more. In 2008, more than 17,000 people attended the festival. For complete details, telephone 415-362-7397 or visit www.aiasf.org/archandcity.
September 2010 Floating Homes Tour For the 24rd year in a row, Sausalito’s colorful floating homes community will open its doors to visitors. The self-guided tour takes visitors inside the unique homes. Docents will also be onboard to describe the waterfront lifestyle and answer questions. Advance reservations are highly recommended. For more information, telephone 415-332-1916. “Virtual” versions of recent tours, complete with color photos, can be viewed at www.floatinghomes.org.
Octotber 2010 Leap Sandcastle Classic While the medium is ephemeral, the results are solid in this annual sandcastle building competition which pairs building professionals from some of the city’s top architectural firms with an adopted elementary school to secure funding for arts and architecture residency programs in local schools. Armed with shovels and buckets they create expansive castles and gargantuan monuments. The 24th annual classic gets underway at 10 am on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007, at Ocean Beach near Cliff House at the foot of Balboa Avenue. Festivities end at 3 pm … or when the tide comes in. For details, visit www.leap4kids.org.
October 2010 27th Annual San Francisco Fall Antiques Show This annual show includes approximately 70 distinguished antiques dealers from America and Europe. The oldest continuously operating international antiques show on the West Coast, the show displays a broad range of antiques representing all styles and periods including American, English, Continental and Asian furniture, porcelain, silver, rugs, glass and fine art. For details on admission, lecture series, etc. telephone 415-989-9019 or visit www.sffas.org.
Homework Some trusty companions for exploring San Francisco’s stalwart structures are Sally Woodbridge’s San Francisco Architecture; Peter Booth Wiley’s National Trust Guide: San Francisco; Mitchell Schwarzer’s Architecture + Design, and Richard Saul Wurman’s Access San Francisco. There is also a bookstore located in Jackson Square totally given over to architectural tomes: William Stout Architectural Books, 804 Montgomery St.
A 41-page document listing more than 230 designated landmark sites in San Francisco is available as a PDF at www.sfgov.org(search by Landmarks). They range from No. 1 which is Mission Dolores to some recent additions: City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., the Castro Camera store and Harvey Milk Residence, 573-575 Castro St., and the Chinatown library. San Francisco also has 11 historic districts; boundaries have recently been marked by small brown signs in Alamo Square, Blackstone Court, Bush Street Cottage Row, Civic Center, Dogpatch, Jackson Square, Liberty Hill, Northeast Waterfront, South End, Telegraph Hill and Webster Street.
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