Tour Notes – 2003 revisions by Sharon Moore
Start At Southeast Corner Of Lombard & Hyde Street
Russian Hill is a unique combination of urban elegance and rusticity. Virtually every block terminates in a spectacular view. There are miniature-scaled cottages and architect-designed apartment houses, formally landscaped gardens, and areas of comparative wilderness.
19th century: The name “Russian Hill” refers to the graves of several Russian sailors (possibly seal hunters), inscribed in Cyrillic and marked with black Orthodox crosses (described by Bayard Taylor in El Dorado, 1851), which were located at the top of the hill on Vallejo Street. Because of its hilly topography, resulting in many cul-de-sacs and stairways, Russian Hill has always retained a “country in the city” feeling despite its close proximity to downtown. There is also a noticeable lack of row houses. The east side of the hill developed first, in the 1850s, because it was less steep than the west side. A few large houses were dotted across the north slope by the early 1860s. The remainder of the hill was gradually built up, especially with the opening of the “E” Union cable car line in 1880 and the Hyde Street line in 1891.
Early residences included the William Clark House (Chestnut/Hyde, 1852), in the “southern plantation” style, with verandas, Gothic ornamentation, castellated cornices, and an octagonal tower. Clark built San Francisco’s first pier at the foot of Broadway. He sold his home to surveyor William Penn Humphreys in 1868. Long known as “Humphreys’ Castle,” it remained in the family until the late 1920s. The house was demolished in 1938 for a modern residence.
“Monroe’s Medieval Mansion,” at Hyde and Greenwich, was built by Monroe, a naval architect, in the Gothic Revival style (probably in the 1850s). Featuring turrets and crennelated walls, it was built of oak timbers shipped around Cape Horn. The residence survived until the mid-1940s and was the setting for Sister of Cain, a mystery written by Mary Collins in the 1940s.
The earlier homes were grander than those built after 1870, when houses in the area began to be more middle class. Also, by the 1860s, the Italianate Victorian style began to supplant the Gothic, which had predominated in the 1850s. Few Victorians survive in this neighborhood today.
20th century: By the turn of the century, larger homes (such as the Fanny Stevenson residence) were again being built at the top of the hill. After the 1906 fire, flats replaced many smaller homes along the more level streets. The crest of the hill became increasingly elegant (and expensive), particularly after the end of World War I. The 1920s ushered in an era of luxury apartment houses, but during the Depression and World War II there was little new construction.
As early as 1941, Russian Hill residents began to make efforts to preserve their views and the smaller apartment buildings and single-family residences. In 1952 the first campaign was launched to establish a 40-foot height limit at the top of the hill. In 1954, residents waged an unsuccessful battle to block construction of a 14-story apartment building at the corner of Hyde and Chestnut. Since 1970 there has been a 40-foot height limit.
1100 Lombard/2323 Hyde Streets – Stevenson House (Willis Polk, 1899-1900)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s widow, Fanny, commissioned prominent architect Willis Polk to design this home five years after Stevenson died of consumption in Samoa. Fanny had returned to San Francisco following her husband’s death in 1893, sold many of his papers, and built the house with the proceeds. Stevenson had always liked that corner of Hyde Street and talked of building a home there if they ever returned to the city. Fanny wanted to live within sight of the Pacific – it represented a connection with the South Seas.
House: Additions and changes (on the top floor) have obscured much of the original design, which is an eclectic combination of Tudor and Mediterranean Revival styles. Note the unusual two-story arched window facing Hyde Street. The stained glass depicts the ship Hispaniola, which features prominently in Treasure Island, Stevenson’s masterpiece. The garden contains a variety of trees, including a Norfolk Island pine, an Australian native discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 that thrives in San Francisco’s climate and was popular in Victorian times. The residence has been renovated, and most of the decorative ironwork is not original.
The part of the house on Lombard Street (painted a different color) was originally part of the Stevenson residence but is now a separate dwelling.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1893) came from a distinguished Scottish family. Although he was a lawyer by training, he always had an independent, Bohemian streak. Stevenson lived in San Francisco for approximately a year in 1879, lodging in a boarding house on Bush Street near the present-day Stockton Street Tunnel.
Fanny Osbourne (1840-1916) was born in Indianapolis and was ten years older than Stevenson. She came west with her first husband and they lived in Oakland. When that marriage failed, she went to France to study painting and met Stevenson there. He was immediately captivated and found Fanny fascinating and unpredictable. He later wrote “her piercing gaze was like the sighting of a pistol.” When she returned to Oakland in 1879, he followed her, and they married in 1880.
After Stevenson’s death, Fanny became a celebrity and was said to enjoy the attention. She generally wore colorful, Polynesian-style garments and massive quantities of jewelry. Her houseguests included Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, seamen from Samoa, members of the Scottish St. Andrews Society, and famous writers of the day.
In 1906 the house was in the path of the fire and about to be dynamited when the firefighters realized they had forgotten their explosives. By the time they had retrieved them, the wind had changed course and the residence, with its collection of Stevenson memorabilia, was saved.
In later years, Fanny consulted spiritual mediums in her attempts to contact Stevenson. She frequently held séances in the Hyde Street house, but after 1906 became convinced that “malevolent deities” haunted the dwelling. In 1908, she sold the residence to Francis Sullivan, whose wife was a sister of former Mayor (and later U.S. Senator) James Phelan. When the Sullivans’ daughter Ada decided to enter a convent, they invited the Carmelites on the East Coast to come to San Francisco, and this house became their first convent in California. The nuns were never seen in public.
After selling the Hyde Street house, Fanny moved to an estate (“Stonehenge”) in Montecito, where she died in 1916 at the age of 76. In a 1984 interview, the then-owner of the Hyde Street house reported the continual presence of ghosts.
The city acquired this land in 1930. In the park is a bronze tablet commemorating George Sterling (1869-1926), a poet and prominent member of the Russian Hill literary community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – a friend of Joaquin Miller, Ambrose Bierce, Jack London, Robinson Jeffers, and Ina Coolbrith. Sterling published his first volume of poetry in 1903.
Born to a wealthy family in New York, Sterling studied for the priesthood but left the seminary when he was 20. He came to San Francisco and first worked as a real estate salesman in his uncle’s firm in Oakland, but soon opted for a Bohemian life style. Sterling began writing poetry while commuting by ferry from San Francisco. He was once arrested in Golden Gate Park “in the company of an undraped female” and paid the fine in autographed books of his poetry. Sterling lived in Carmel from 1905 until 1911, and then returned to San Francisco, residing on Russian Hill in the 1920s. The poet was prone to depression and alcoholism, and in 1926, committed suicide by swallowing cyanide in his room at the Bohemian Club.
Sterling is best remembered for his poem describing San Francisco as the “cool gray city of love.” He was a celebrity in his time but is virtually unknown today.
The tennis courts in Sterling Park are named for Alice Marble (1913-1990), who grew up in San Francisco and learned to play tennis at Golden Gate Park. She won six Wimbledon trophies and was the world’s top women’s tennis player from 1936 until 1940. Actress Carole Lombard was a close friend. Marble may have worked as an undercover agent for the United States in Germany during World War II. See Russian Hill Tour III notes for further information on Sterling Park.
Hyde/Lombard Street Intersection
Condominiums occupy the northeast corner today, but it was once the site of an estate (see “Hearst and Henry Properties,” below).
2200 Block of Hyde Street
This block contains a variety of elegant 1920s apartment houses and all blend harmoniously despite their differences in style.
2238 – 1927 Hyde Street; “View Tower”
– 14 stories in front, the building steps an additional two stories down the hill at the rear; Moorish ornamentation; terra-cotta entry; includes a penthouse.
2222 – 1920 Hyde Street
(T. Patterson Ross); co-operative; eight stories; originally seven apartments, now 10; original windows; terra-cotta entry.
Greenwich Terrace (1101 Greenwich) – 1912 (T. Patterson Ross); 16 units (co-operative villas)
These picturesque Craftsmen bungalow villas, with facades of white Portland cement and red tile roofs, comprise the first co-operative residential development in San Francisco. Each residence has three frontages, and there is a central court with sunken gardens and fountains. The grade of the hill made it necessary to build the houses in terraces, so the roof of each lower villa forms a garden for the one above it. The original sale prices ranged from $5200-5800 per unit, with a yearly maintenance fee of $240. There were maids’ rooms and drying rooms, and each apartment had a bell on the kitchen floor to summon the maid, as well as pocket doors, breakfast nooks, and built-in buffets.
The landscaping near the entrance includes two Norfolk Island pines, California wild lilac, and two coast redwoods; further down the path there are junipers, cedars, pyracantha, tree ferns, and Japanese cherry trees.
T. Patterson Ross (1872-1957)
Architect T. Patterson Ross was born in Edinburgh and came to San Francisco in 1890, where he first found work as a draftsman. By 1900 he had opened his own office at 222 Sansome. Over the course of his 30-year career in San Francisco he designed more than 250 buildings – single-family residences, apartment houses, flats, hotels, churches, offices, and commercial projects. His Sing Fat (1906) and Sing Chong (1907) buildings at the Grant and California intersection in Chinatown established the “Pagoda Style” of architecture that makes the area so unique. These buildings were the first in San Francisco to be designed in a self-consciously Chinese style by a western architect. Another exotic work by Ross is the Alcazar Theatre (1917) at 650 Geary. It was originally the Shrine Temple and was designed in the Moorish mode. Amidst several traditional Islamic sayings over the entry, an Arabic inscription reads: “Great is Allah and Great is Ross the Architect!” Ross had asked that his name be included near the cornerstone of the building, and when his request was denied, he decided on the inscription. When it was discovered, the Shriners considered suing Ross, but eventually decided not to do so.
In 1912, the architect established a partnership with developer William Chipman, who pioneered the idea of “co-operative apartment buildings.” Potential buyers had to be interviewed before they were accepted as members. Five Russian Hill properties designed by Ross were co-operatives:
- 1101 Greenwich (“Greenwich Terrace”) (1912) – 16 apartments
- 2164 Hyde (“The Summit”) (1914) – 14 apartments
- 2222 Hyde (1920) – 7 apartments
- 1020 Union (“Union Terrace”) (1921) – 29 apartments
- 2111 Hyde (“Capo di Monte”) (1921) – 30 apartments
In 1921 Ross moved with his wife to the newly completed Union Terrace (1020 Union), which he had designed.
Ross was a Shriner, a Mason, and a member of the St. Andrews Society. He was also a talented artist. His painting of Capo di Monte still hangs in the community’s boardroom.
In 1924, the architect suffered a tragic accident when he was hit by a load of falling bricks while inspecting a construction site (presently the headquarters of the Press Club). Only 49 years of age at the time, Ross sustained a skull fracture, remained paralyzed on his right side, and completely lost his speech. In spite of these injuries, he lived until he was 84, but was never able to work again. He moved with his wife to Santa Cruz in 1932 and lived there for the rest of his life.
1186 Greenwich – In the 1970s and 1980s, O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown owned the top-floor flat in this Edwardian building (c. 1910).
2100 Block of Hyde Street
2164 Hyde Steet “The Summit” – 1914 (T. Patterson Ross); 14 apartments; a co-operative with Mission Revival accents (curving arch over entry and star window), and meticulously pruned shrubbery. The original ballroom is now a penthouse.
2115-29 Hyde Street “Hyde-A-Way” – 1910 (Stone & Smith); Tudor/Craftsman with a hint of Japanese. The lower walls are clad in clinker bricks, which enjoyed a brief heyday around the turn of the 20th century (see the Bourn Mansion on Webster Street in Pacific Heights).
2111 Hyde Street “Capo di Monte” – 1924 (T. Patterson Ross); co-operative high-rise; Tudor windows above the entry; portrait medallions (Renaissance element), and decorative detail in the entry (blank shields, faces, griffins, original light fixture); good wall to window ratio. This project was considered Ross’s finest work. In Italian, the name means “Top of the Mountain” and there is a town named “Capo di Monte” in the hills near Naples.
When first built, the building stood out on the city skyline. Early residents had a 360-degree view; even today, there are panoramic vistas from many of the 30 units.
The building can still be seen from Telegraph Hill, the Presidio, the Bay, and many other points in the city.
The distinctive Tudor-arched windows above the entrance are the only ones to have survived the construction phase – the original plans called for an entire floor of such windows, as well as pinnacles, turrets, and a dome, creating a dramatic roofscape; probably cost considerations led to the omission of these elements.
Prices for the apartments originally ranged from $9,500 to $25,000, depending on size and location.
Ross may have designed the façade ornamentation, or it may have been ordered from a catalog, as it is similar to that found on many other San Francisco buildings of the period; it is cast plaster on the lower part of the building and galvanized iron on the bays; terra-cotta was used only for the roof tiles.
Interiors: Originally, each apartment had glass doors separating the living and dining rooms, but most of these doors are now gone. Some of the apartments originally had built-in breakfast nooks, and all units had walk-in closets and receptacles for lamps. Other special features included cedar-lined closets, windows in every room (including kitchens and baths), coolers, large storage rooms, six elevators, a laundry room, Murphy beds, built-in ironing boards, and pullout breadboards.
Originally, there were living quarters for maids and chauffeurs on the second floor. Today these rooms are used for storage.
April 2002: The building has been well maintained over the years. In early 2002, a two-bedroom, two-bath unit with a Golden Gate view was advertised in the Sunday Chronicle for $1.075 million.
Hyde/Filbert Street Intersection
2100 Hyde Street – 1907 (Samuel & Sidney Newsom); Georgian/Colonial Revival; Palladian windows. This house was raised for a garage in the late 1990s and the top floor (two units) was added at that time. Prior to the additions, it was listed as one of the “little houses of Russian Hill” (see “Ball Cottage Site,” below).
2000 Block of Hyde Street
This block of Hyde completely burned in 1906 and was rebuilt in the post-fire period. Today, it is almost intact. None of the post-1906 houses on the block had been torn down until the demolition of 2022 Hyde, and only one building on the block (2041-47 Hyde) dates from as late as the 1920s and ’30s.
2054 Hyde Street –1907 (Edward Young); beveled glass door; Art Nouveau door handle.
2061 Hyde Street – 1908 (Craftsman)
2041 Hyde Street – built after 1913 (probably in the 1920s) – the only non-Edwardian building on the block
2022 Hyde Street – 1906 (former Ball Cottage) – demolished in 1996
2016-18 Hyde Street – 1907 (Smith Cottage)
10 Hastings – c. 1907
Ball Cottage site: The shingled cottage was one of the “little houses” on Russian Hill. At one time there were about 100 in the neighborhood, in a variety of styles. Most were built after the 1906 fire with $500 Red Cross loans. By the early 1990s, only 40 remained. Many were purchased by developers over the years and replaced with three-story condominiums above garages.
The original owner of the Ball Cottage was George Ball, a grip man on the Union Street and Hyde Street cable car lines. Ball had emigrated from Scotland, coming to San Francisco in 1893. His first house on this site was destroyed in the 1906 fire. His cottage was the first residence on the block to be built after the fire with money from a Red Cross loan. Ball lived at this address until his death in 1924. His friend and neighbor Robert Smith built a similar house at 2016 Hyde in 1906 and remained there until the 1940s.
In 1993 the property was sold and the new owner applied for a permit to replace the cottage with a 40’ high, three-unit condominium building. In response, the Russian Hill Neighbors launched a petition drive to preserve the historic cottage. The owner claimed the house was “uninhabitable” as it was, with no heat, a leaking roof, and inoperable windows. In 1996 the owner demolished the house and subsequently sold the property, which is now the site of a modern condominium building.
Union/Hyde Street Intersection
The Hyde Street cable car line has served this busy intersection since 1891. Because the terrain is comparatively level, a small commercial district grew up here – a self-contained shopping area, typical of San Francisco’s neighborhoods before World War II. Current shops include:
Searchlight Market (since 1912); an upscale “Mom and Pop” grocery
Zarzuela Tapas Bar (early 1990s); site of “Marcel et Henri Charcuterie” until mid-1980s; then “La Ferme Beaujolaise”
Home Drugs; had occupied this building since 1913; for sale 2001 – the owners (two brothers) retired in 1995; their family had operated the pharmacy for three generations; the two unusual glass signs were discovered in the 1990s when the pharmacist removed the neon signs covering them; few corner drugstores remain in San Francisco. In 2003 the drug store became a gift and home furnishings shop. The stain glass signs have been preserved.
Vern’s Shoe Craft (since c. 1950); previously it was a beauty shop; during the filming of “Hammett” in the 1980s, Vern’s became a Chinese laundry. Currently the site of an art gallery (2007).
Ray’s French Dry Cleaners; there are three dry cleaners within a one-block radius today; in the early 1980s there were six.
Swenson’s Ice Cream (since 1948); still has its neon sign.
Valencia Auto Service; the business was moved here after 1906 from Valencia Street in the Mission District–the owner wanted to keep the name. It is on the site of a former stable, typical of auto garages in older parts of San Francisco.
Union Street Crest
High rises cluster close to the crest of the Union Street hill. On the city’s hilltops there are more views, and consequently, the units are higher income-producing.
1150 Union Street – Albert Larson, 1936 (Larson also designed the Clay-Jones building on Nob Hill and several other San Francisco art deco high-rise apartment houses). The building displays molded plaster art deco motifs such as banana leaves, zigzags, rosettes, suns with rays, and fern leaves. The original fire escapes and entry door screen remain. There is a Mayan tomb-style entry with stepped detail. The figures with exotic headdresses flanking the entry could be sculptures from an Angkor Wat temple. There are no cornices on the building – a departure from the classical influence in architecture that predominated in San Francisco until the late 1920s.
The complex contains 50 units and is 10 stories high. Note the art deco detailing over the garage entrance. By this period apartment houses were built with garages, signaling the advent of the automobile age.
19-21 Sharp (at Union) – 1950s; designed in the International Style, but with a bay window (a San Francisco touch). Some of the original details have been removed, and the second floor is a later addition.
1136 Union Street – Clinker and Roman bricks distinguish this four-unit building (ca. 1900). Armisted Maupin once owned a ground-floor condominium here.
1132 Union Street – Architect William Wurster modernized this residence (probably an Edwardian) in the early 1960s. It is clad in shingles and has a distinctive wraparound shape. There is a Thomas Church garden (also dating from the 1960s) in back of the house that can be glimpsed through a fence on Havens Street (see “Havens Street” below). Church and Wurster often collaborated on projects.
1120 Union Street – 1921 (T. Patterson Ross); Edwardian; co-operative. There are flat window panes (replacements) in the round bays – the original glass windows would have been curved, but today such windows must be custom made and cost approximately $1,000 each.
Compare the new (1132 Union) vs. the old (1120 Union). Both are good buildings, similar in scale, and surprisingly harmonious.
1100 Union Street – 1920s high rise. This building is repainted every two to three years. The twisted columns are an element of Mediterranean design.
Union/Leavenworth Street Intersection
Union Street forms a dividing line between the north and south slopes of Russian Hill.
The rows of three-story, bay-windowed flats visible from this intersection are typical San Francisco Edwardians of the post-fire era (c. 1906-15). There are also some flats in the Mediterranean Revival style of the late teens and twenties. Italian American architect-builders such as John Porporato, Perseo Righetti, and Charles Fantoni designed most of these buildings. The row of round bays on the east side of Leavenworth, south of Union, is intact. There are no flat window replacements here. Also, Union Street has preserved its attractive early 20th century street lamps (probably dating from the teens).
“Top o’ the Hill” deli is a “Mom and Pop” grocery that indicates an older, pre-1930s neighborhood. In the 1930s, the first Safeway markets began to appear.
1082 Union Street – Monte Vista Apartments – c. 1910; Edwardian. The painting of cherubs on the landing ceiling, brass name sign, rusticated “art stone” on the facade, stained glass, and beveled glass door show the quality that went into the construction of early 20th century buildings in San Francisco.
Union Terrace (1020 Union) – T. Patterson Ross (1921); This Pueblo Revival-influenced development has 29 homes built around an inner court. There are marine views from each apartment, individual garages, and terraced roof gardens. The gardens include fountains and balustrades (a formal touch) and originally there was a floor of maids’ rooms beneath the apartments. Today the maids’ rooms are used for storage and laundry. The size of the residences varies from one to four bedrooms. The property slopes five stories down the hill, and the driveway frames a view of the Art Institute campanile, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. T. Patterson Ross moved here in 1921, when he purchased one of the units. In 2000, one of the units sold for about $3 million. In the spring of 2003, a unit was offered for $1.5 million.
Although the area has been densely built up, Havens Street retains its “country in the city” ambience. Because of the narrow paths and stairway, it is recommended that only small groups visit this site.
6 Havens Street (west of 14) – 1907; replaced an 1891 house that burned in 1906; William Wurster remodeled the home in 1967 and added a shingled extension on the east side.
14 Havens Street – 1928; Mediterranean Revival; garden landscaped by Tio Patri; urban formality in a rustic setting.
39 Havens Street – 1908 – Edwardian, with a vernacular quality.
There is an attractively planted common area at the west end of the street.
“Tova’s Garden” – behind 1132 Union
Designed by Thomas Church late in his career (early 1960s); the garden has been virtually unchanged since.
Oblong shape (small and narrow)
200 spring bulbs each year
Church put down a garden hose and curved it until he was satisfied with the shape. This then became the basis for the design of the pathway. The curving path makes the garden seem wider and larger than it actually is.
Owner Tova Wiley was a leading plantswoman in San Francisco. She started the annual Strybing Arboretum plant sale in 1967. Mrs. Wiley died in 2001 at the age of 98.
Thomas Church (1902-1978)
Thomas Church was Northern California’s leading landscape architect from the 1930s to the 1960s, and his influence is still felt.
Born in Boston, Church studied landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, 1918-22, and at Harvard, 1924-26. He graduated from Harvard in 1926 and then traveled extensively in Spain and Italy, where he was influenced by the integration of house and garden, and the simple plant palettes that prevailed. Mediterranean gardens contain more greenery than flowers.
His early designs were simplified versions of formal Italian and French gardens.
His designs stressed unity, simplicity, and understatement.
Opened his first office, near Santa Cruz, 1929.
1932: established his San Francisco office and maintained his practice there until his death.
Published many articles in House Beautiful and California Arts & Architecture (1930 – early 1950s).
“The small garden is like a small room. It must be neat.” He designed numerous small private gardens in San Francisco.
Favored low-maintenance plant materials (ivy and juniper); clipped hedges (boxwood), and paved surfaces (concrete, brick, stone, red rock).
Incorporated existing trees in his designs.
Although California gardens in the Mission era had been simple and appropriate for the arid climate, this changed with the arrival of Northern Europeans and New Englanders. They wanted to recreate what they had known at home, resulting in an abundance of flower gardens in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Church moved away from this trend and chose plants for their texture, structure, and appropriateness for the environment – e.g., New Zealand flax, philodendrons, pampas grass. Such plants are also popular today (early 2000s).
His influence helped to establish the prestige of landscape architecture in the Bay Area.
He felt gardens should achieve a restful look.
Church felt the lines of the garden should flow so it would be attractive from any perspective.
There are four Church gardens on this Russian Hill walk:
1132 Union (private)
2366 Leavenworth (public)
875 Chestnut (private)
930 Chestnut (private)
Further afield, Church’s own house and the front garden he designed at 2626 Hyde are visible from the street.
Russian Hill Natural History
There are many natural springs on the hill.
The underlying rock is sandstone and shale (both are earthquake-resistant).
From the east side of the hill, sea lions can often be heard barking at Pier 39.
The wild parrots that nest on Telegraph Hill often fly over to Russian Hill, especially to Havens Street and the Greenwich Stairs.
Other birds seen frequently on the hill are quail, mockingbirds, warblers, and bluebirds.
Filbert St. Grade – Filbert between Hyde and Leavenworth has a 31-1/2% grade, tied for the steepest in the city along with 22nd Street between Church and Vicksburg. In contrast, the crooked block of Lombard, two blocks south of Filbert, was 27% before its grade was reduced to 16% in the early 1920s.
2000-2200 Blocks of Leavenworth
Attractively scaled residences and interesting rooflines characterize these blocks:
Back Of Greenwich Terrace
2160 Leavenworth: shells, Spanish ornament (identical to shell ornament seen on the Casa de las Conchas, in Salamanca).
2200 Leavenworth: Spanish details on corner apartment house; also note the manicured shrubbery and a forest of minarets on the roof.
2222 Leavenworth: Florentine palazzo with machicolations.
2229 Leavenworth (behind 2231), 1906-07; replaced the house that the owner’s father built on this site in 1851.
44 Lurmont – Cape Cod cottage (an unusual style in San Francisco), 1906; another of Russian Hill’s “little houses.”
(Bill Kostura; Gerald Adams)
1000 Block of Lombard Street (“Crooked Street”)
The crooked block began as a straight, cobblestoned street. By 1900 it was lined with large homes and fine gardens. The south side of the street was dynamited in 1906 to stop the advance of the fire. Within a short time thereafter residents rebuilt their homes. With the advent of the automobile, the 27% grade proved too steep for vehicles, and in 1922 the city agreed to reduce the grade to 16% and to build a curved two-way, brick-paved street. The city spent $8,000 on this project. In return, property owners on the block agreed to pay for brick steps adjacent to their homes, maintain the plantings, and install and maintain light fixtures. In 1939, the street was made one-way.
Until the early 1950s, the block was fairly unknown. The original plantings had consisted of Scotch broom and other shrubbery. Then, Peter Bercut (a wealthy businessman who lived on the block) planted hydrangeas in the median of the street. During a trip to Europe, he had seen them blooming on a hillside in France. A few years later, a photograph showing the hydrangeas in bloom along Lombard was published in a local newspaper, and in 1961, it was printed on a postcard. Some 300,000 copies were sold that year. Soon, thousands of tourists were driving down the street.
The block has changed to a great extent over the years. Many families lived here before World War II. In those days, neighborhood children enjoyed roller-skating down the quiet street. Most families moved away in subsequent decades, beginning with the post-war flight to the suburbs. Soaring real estate prices also discouraged many families. Today, the population is composed largely of two-income couples without children, and the street has become a magnet for skateboarders and “chicken” races, as well as tourists.
By 1970, many neighborhood residents were weary of the traffic and circulated a petition to close the block. Others felt the street should belong to the people. So far, the city has continued to resist all efforts to close the street.
2300 Block of Leavenworth Street
Castle Court – post-1906; replaced a mansion that burned in 1906; the houses form a picturesque ensemble around a central courtyard. They have party walls, but each residence is painted differently.
2335 Leavenworth replaced a house that was destroyed by fire in the late 1980s. It is an example of some of the newer homes on this part of the hill that have been designed to be compatible with older residences in the area.
2341 Leavenworth, adjacent to 2335, also suffered fire damage in the same fire, but is in mostly original condition. The box-like structure in front of the house contains an elevator.
2366 Leavenworth (Fay-Berrigan House and Park) – Shea & Lofquist (1912)
The present house is the second one built on this site – both were residences of the Fay family. The first house, built by David Fay in 1869, was demolished and replaced by the current residence in 1912. David Fay co-founded the Fay Brothers Soap Factory in North Beach in 1853; later, he also acquired substantial real estate holdings. His nephews, Luke and John, Jr., built the present house in an understated Edwardian style. It is an unusual surviving example in San Francisco of a single-family home on a corner lot. Typically, such corner properties were demolished in the early 20th century for apartment houses such as those at the northwest and southwest corners of the Leavenworth and Chestnut intersection. Luke and John, Jr. lived here with their families. Luke was a keen student of California history, and his daughter Mary (1911-1988), who lived in 2366 as an infant and from 1953 to 1988, shared his interest. She married Paul Berrigan (1905-1998) in the 1930s. Brigadier General Berrigan was a Division Engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers and helped to build the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Architect Frank Shea designed many Catholic churches in San Francisco, including St. Anne’s in the Sunset, St. Brigid’s on Van Ness Avenue, and the Mission Dolores basilica. He also designed a large number of commercial and residential buildings, and the Archbishop’s Mansion (1904) on Alamo Square, now a luxurious bed and breakfast establishment.
In 1957, the Berrigans hired Thomas Church to design the house’s garden, which displays Church’s characteristic combination of formality and simplicity in design and plant materials. Among the plants are boxwood and roses. The lot size (80’ x 137’6”) is considerably larger than the standard lot in San Francisco. The city acquired the house and garden in 1998. The gardens are now open to the public after years of community efforts and fundraising.
When it opened in 1874, the Art Institute was the first art school west of the Mississippi. In 1893, the Institute moved to the former Mark Hopkins mansion, which it occupied until the residence burned in 1906. The school built a simple frame structure on the same site in 1907. Then, in 1923, they sold the property and purchased the Russian Hill site with the proceeds.
City Hall architects Bakewell & Brown designed the Mediterranean Revival complex in 1926. The modern addition (not visible from Chestnut Street) is the work of British architect Paffard Keatinge-Clay (1969). The public gallery on the main floor contains a large mural by Diego Rivera, who painted several murals in San Francisco in the early 1930s.
Many other luminaries of the art world have been associated with the Art Institute, including architect Bernard Maybeck, who taught drawing there in the 1890s; sculptors Ralph Stackpole, Haig Patigian, Beniamino Bufano, and Manuel Neri; Lucien Labaudt, who painted the murals at the Beach Chalet; abstract expressionists Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko; and Bay Area Figurative painters Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and David Park. Also, Ansel Adams established a photography program at the Institute, which was the first school to emphasize photography as a fine art. Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and Edward Weston were among the faculty members.
Today the Art Institute has more than 800 students from around the world and offers both bachelor and master’s degree programs. In 1994, they established the Center for Digital Media on the campus. In recent years, the Institute has opened 140 graduate student studios in a renovated industrial building on Third Street and has bought a nearby house on Russian Hill that has been remodeled as a residence for visiting artists. Painter Robert Rauschenberg has been an artist-in-residence.
(Heritage Newsletter, 1998; Chronicle, 4/15/02)
Architect Arthur Brown’s residence (855 Chestnut) is located directly across the street from the Art Institute, but from here, only the trees are visible. The house can be seen from Telegraph Hill.
Another Thomas Church garden, making effective use of the hilly site, is visible in front of 875 Chestnut. The boxwood hedges give structure to the garden, which consists mostly of shrubs and greenery.
900 Block of Chestnut Street
This part of Russian Hill became an elite residential area in the 1850s and 1860s, with large homes and gardens. Two of these early properties still exist on the 900 block of Chestnut. Although many homes on the hill north of Lombard Street survived the 1906 fire, only a few remain today.
930 Chestnut Street 1861 (flat-fronted Italianate). The residence was built for Judge James Cary. Original details include the slanted bay window on the east side of the house, balustraded balconies, square porch posts, curvilinear brackets, and quoins – all hallmarks of the Italianate style. The gate is a 1990 addition.
The garden, another Thomas Church design, displays his characteristic simplicity in plant selection – mainly, shrubbery and vines (including wisteria). There is a brick walkway through the front garden.
944 Chestnut Street – 1863 (Italianate, with subsequent alterations, including the siding and windows). The fanlights above the modern second floor windows are usually a Georgian detail.
The original owner was Alexander Edouart, a landscape artist and portrait photographer. Stained glass artist Bruce Porter lived here from 1918 to 1921 with his bride, the daughter of philosopher William James. Porter may have designed the garden.
998 Chestnut Street – 1948 (John Funk) – California International style. The building, an early example of post-Second World War residential architecture on the hill, wraps around the corner of Hyde Street.
Hearst And Henry Properties
George Hearst (1820-1891) made a fortune in mining – silver, copper, and gold. In 1862, he settled in San Francisco with his bride, Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919). Their son, William Randolph, was born the following year. At first the Hearsts resided on Rincon Hill, but Mrs. Hearst dreamed of living on Russian Hill: “Why hide away from beauty by living on Rincon Hill because fashion decrees it?” In the late 1860s they purchased a property near the southeast corner of Chestnut and Hyde. Mrs. Hearst was an avid gardener, and soon the residence was surrounded with beautiful trees and flowers. In 1872, the couple acquired an adjoining lot on Chestnut, just below their home. Here, they built a barn and stable, and also increased the size of their gardens.
Unfortunately George Hearst experienced mounting financial difficulties during the early 1870s, and the family was forced to move in 1874. Later, his fortunes revived with several successful mining acquisitions, and in 1886, he was appointed a U.S. Senator. The following year Hearst was elected to the seat, which he held until his death. He left an estate valued at $18 million, including the Examiner (then called the Monarch) newspaper, which he had acquired in payment for a gambling debt, and a 48,000-acre ranch at San Simeon. In 1887, Hearst gave the Examiner to his son, who was only 24 at the time. William Randolph Hearst went on to establish a nationwide empire of 28 newspapers. In 1906 he visited his boyhood home on Chestnut Street and found it had escaped damage in the fire. By then he was living in New York.
Phoebe Hearst, genteel and cultivated, was an indulgent mother and went on frequent art-buying expeditions to Europe with her son. She also made a variety of public bequests, most notably underwriting the University of California’s architectural master plan. She gave many scholarships, and she was a patron of Julia Morgan, California’s first woman architect.
Carl Henry was the co-founder of the Owl Drug Co. He wanted to acquire land on Russian Hill. He envisioned developing the property into extensive gardens and leasing it to the city as a public park. Henry first began buying up lots on the 1000 block of Chestnut in 1904, followed by several more acquisitions in the area after the 1906 fire, including the former Hearst gardens in the 900 block of Chestnut. Later he also bought property on the 1000 block of Lombard. He was one of the early advocates of making the block into a curved street. By the 1920s, Henry’s holdings on the east side of Hyde extended approximately half a city block down the hill, between Lombard and Chestnut. He spent $70,000 on rare plants, rose gardens, a lily pond, and other improvements. The gardens contained some 60 varieties of plants and trees. Phoebe Hearst originally planted many of these specimens, including cypress, cedar, laurel, magnolia, oak, and Japanese maple trees; and heather, viburnum, pyracantha, and pittasporum.
Henry never realized his dream of a city park. Following his death in 1933, his widow sold the property to pay off his debts. Elizabeth Metcalf, daughter of Henry Huntington, paid $100,000 for several of the Henry lots, including most of the gardens, which she maintained for many years. After her death in 1967, Metcalf’s son sold the property to winemaker Louis Petri, who hoped to build a high-rise apartment building there. A coalition of Russian Hill neighbors succeeded in blocking his plans.
At the time of the sale in the 1960s, a resident on nearby Montclair Terrace led an effort to convert the property to a park. The owner agreed to sell for $1 million, but then decided to raise the price to $2 million, and the sale was never completed. Today, condominiums, built in the 1970s, line the east side of Hyde between Chestnut and Lombard, but behind them, on the downhill slope, is a remnant of the estate gardens, shaded by the original cypress trees. The property owners on each side of the property still own the gardens. They are not open to the public.
Chestnut/Hyde Street Intersection
This location illustrates the vulnerability of hilltops in the city’s older neighborhoods to high-rise development. The slopes are more intact, retaining many Edwardian buildings. This is also true on Nob Hill and Telegraph Hill.
1001 Chestnut Street – 1904 (an early work by T. Patterson Ross) – an Edwardian single-family residence; built for Fritz Habenicht, a wholesale liquor merchant, for $4,000. According to a resident on the block, in 2002 it was still a single-family dwelling. The palatial residence was sold for approximately $2 million in the mid-1990s. It was sold again a few years later, after the first new owner objected to the cable car noise from Hyde Street. A description from a real estate flyer mentioned: “Wide formal entry with curved stairway; huge living room; formal dining room with fireplace; massive chandelier, butler’s pantry, original kitchen with adjacent cook’s bedroom, 5 bedrooms, a sitting room leading to a glass-covered deck, and a stairway up to a very large attic.”
1000 Chestnut Street – site of the A. A. Moore residence, 1903 (Bliss & Faville), which combined Classical Revival and Craftsmen elements. The mansion was demolished in 1954 for the present apartment house.
Northeast corner – site of the William Clark house, designed in the “Southern Plantation Style” (1852; demolished in 1938); modern condominiums (998 Chestnut -1948) now occupy this part of the block.
1000 Block of Chestnut Street
The north side of the block is punctuated by high-rise apartment houses from the 1950s and 1960s and a row of French Provincial bungalows, probably dating from the late 1930s. In contrast, the more recent (1989) Lombardia on the south side is quite attractive, stepping up the hill, with extensive landscaping and an interior courtyard. Its Mediterranean architecture harmonizes with older Mediterranean Revival houses in the vicinity. The front entrance is at 1150 Lombard, between Hyde & Larkin.
“The Lombardia” is on the site of an 1864 mansion demolished in 1960 for two high-rise apartment houses that were never built. A Kansas City developer spent $2 million on plans for the two towers, but the Russian Hill Neighbors succeeded in preventing their implementation. The lot then sat empty for almost 30 years until 1989, when Hood-Miller & Associates designed the present development, with 42 units (10 large townhouses and 32 condominiums). The project won a design award in 1989.
This ends your tour of the North Slope (Part II) of Russian Hill.