Russian Hill I Summit Walk (Vallejo Crest) – Early Residents
The Early Builders | The Architects | The Bohemians | The Livermores
THE EARLY BUILDERS (1853-1863)
Homer, Ranlett, and Atkinson
Charles Homer (general contractor), William H. Ranlett (architect), and Joseph H. Atkinson (brick contractor) formed a design and construction partnership. The partnership lasted only two years, but during this time each built his family home on the summit.
In February 1853, Charles Homer bought the block of six 50-vara lots bounded by Broadway, Vallejo, Taylor, and Jones for $5,000. Over the next two years he sold five of the six lots for about $4,000 each. The standard lot configuration in this part of the city was two 50-vara lots by three 50-vara lots. The vara was a Spanish measurement, approximately one meter. A 50-vara lot was 137.5 x 137.5 feet.
Homer retained the lot at Broadway and Taylor and built a Gothic revival house there c.1853-1857. Atkinson built his Italianate house on the lot on Broadway on the west side of Florence (1032 Broadway) in 1853. Ranlett built the house on the lot at Taylor and Vallejo (now 1637 Taylor) in 1854. Ranlett is presumed to be the architect of all three houses.
Between 1856 and 1857, Ranlett went bankrupt and returned to the east coast. Kate Atkinson, daughter of Joseph Atkinson remained at 1032 Broadway until her death c.1920. Ethel Parker Roeder, granddaughter of Charles and Maria Homer, lived on the Summit, first in the original Homer house, and later in the house she had built at 1020 Broadway, until c.1919.
Homer sold the lot at the southeast corner of Vallejo and Florence to David Morrison, a building contractor. Morrison built a 30-foot-square single story house at what is now 40 Florence, c.1854. He was probably only there for one or two years. He died in the insane asylum in Stockton in March, 1856.
Nagle bought the lot on Broadway between Jones and Florence from Homer in 1853 and built his Gothic cottage at 1080 Broadway. During the 1850s he subdivided the lot into a number of smaller lots. The early houses built in this section of the Summit (between Florence and Jones) were smaller and more modest than those on the other side of Florence. During the fire of 1906, this area was completely destroyed.
In 1863, James Demerest, the father of “Pop” Demerest, purchased a 50-foot lot from Nagle and built his house at 1078 Broadway. After the fire, “Pop” Demerest rebuilt on the same lot and lived there until his death in 1939.
The Architects (1888-1941)
Reverend Joseph Worcester (1836-?)
An amateur architect, Joseph Worcester is known for a rustic, brown shingle-style, a reaction to the ornateness of the Victorian period. His own home in Piedmont was the earliest shingle-style house in the Bay Area. Professionally, he was a minister of the Swedenborgian Church, now the Church of Little Jerusalem, at 2107 Lyon Street. He developed the techniques of wrapping shingles around corners and filling every nook and cranny. He designed the Marshall Houses, built in 1888 at 1032, 1034, and 1036 Vallejo, and his own modest residence at 1030 Vallejo. Today, only 1034 and 1036 are standing. These are the oldest shingle-style houses remaining in the Bay Area. They began the “country-in-the-city” feeling on Russian Hill. The First Bay Area Tradition style evolved from the work of Worcester. In addition to his design work, he was a spiritual and intellectual leader on Russian Hill. His cottage was constantly filled with parishioners, architects, artists, writers, and others known as the Worcester Group.
Willis Polk (1867-1924)
Polk was a distant relative of President James Polk. At the age of 21, he came to work as an architect in San Francisco. Along with Ernest Coxhead and Bernard Maybeck, he had a decisive influence on the course of architecture in the Bay Area. He was strongly influenced by Joseph Worcester for his rustic First Bay Area Tradition houses. His work on the Summit includes six houses, two major interior renovations, and the Vallejo Street Improvements at the crest and Jones and Taylor ends of the street. The two houses at 1013-1019 Vallejo are in the First Bay Area Tradition style, the four houses at 1, 3, 5, 7 Russian Hill Place are in the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style. His extensive interior renovations remain intact at 40 Florence and 1032 Broadway.
Polk lived on Russian Hill, first in 1891 at 40 Florence while remodeling the interior for H.P. Livermore, and later at his family residence at 1013-17 Vallejo from 1893-1898. Polk was a participant in the intellectual and artistic groups that frequently met on the Summit – the Worcester Group, Kate Atkinson and Gelett Burgess’s Les Jeunes, and finally groups that he organized.
While most of Polk’s designs were for private residences, he is also known for the design of public and commercial buildings, including the Beach Chalet at the western end of Golden Gate Park (1000 The Great Highway – San Francisco Landmark #179) and the Hallidie Building (130 Sutter – Landmark #37).
Charles F. Whittlesey
Charles F. Whittlesey of Chicago is another architect whose work dominates the summit of Russian Hill. The seven houses by Whittlesey are Pueblo/Mission Revival style, reflecting his earlier residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Six of the seven houses were built for Norman Livermore at 35, 37, 39 Florence, 1071 Vallejo, and 1728-30 Jones.
Charles W. McCall
Charles McCall of Oakland was the architect of three attached Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival houses at 1740-42 Jones and 1085 Vallejo. These were built in 1915 for Norman Livermore.
Albert Farr, Farr & Ward
Albert Farr designed two First Bay Area Tradition brown shingle houses at 1627 Taylor and 1020 Broadway for the Parker family, descendents of Charles Homer, in 1909. His firm, Farr & Ward, later returned to the neighborhood to design two Second Bay Area Tradition style houses, # 6 Russian Hill Place in 1936, and 1070 Vallejo in 1941.
Julia Morgan (1872-1957)
Julia Morgan was trained as a civil engineer and studied at the Ecole Nationale et Speciale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her mentors included Bernard Maybeck and John Galen Howard. Best known for her design of Hearst Castle at San Simeon for William Randolph Hearst, she is also known for works in both the First Bay Area Tradition style (primarily in Berkeley) and her Beaux-Arts style (throughout the Bay Area). Her only design on the Russian Hill Summit (at 1023 Vallejo) was built in 1917 and is in the First Bay Area Tradition style.
The Bohemians (Intellectuals, Artists, Architects, Writers)
From 1890 through the 1930s Russian Hill was both the home and meeting place of architects, artists, writers, and others who met frequently to engage in discussion, collaborate, and party.
Worcester Group (1890s)
The Worcester Group regularly met for spirited discussions under the quiet leadership of the Reverend Joseph Worcester. The group included artists Mary Curtis Richardson (called “the Mary Cassat of the west”), William Keith (landscape artist) and Bruce Porter (stained-glass artist), architects Willis Polk, Ernest Coxhead, John Galen Howard, Charles Keeler and others, writer Gelett Burgess (among others), and neighbor Helen Livermore (among others).
Polk’s Friends (1890s)
Like Worcester, Polk became a focal point, or participant, in several groups that convened to socialize, party, and discuss architecture. Included in Polk’s circle were businessmen and architects (including Ernest Coxhead, John Galen Howard, and Fritz Gambel), members of the Polk family, the Roseleaves (a group of Bohemian Club members), as well as other members of the Worcester group.
Kate Atkinson, Gelett Burgess, and Les Jeunes
With members drawn principally from the new (1890) First Unitarian Church at Geary and Franklin streets, Russian Hill neighbors, and artists, 1032 Broadway became the primary gathering place for a large circle of friends. These included Kate Atkinson, owner of the property, her relatives, Gelett Burgess, the Parkers (descendents of the Homers), Mary Curtis Richardson, Bruce Porter, and others. Kate Atkinson organized dinners, parties and drop-in events. Events included discussion, joke and storytelling, singing and other music.
Burgess and Porter produced the short-lived little literary magazine The Lark. One of Burgess’s nonsense pieces, “The Purple Cow” (published in the first issue, May 1895), became his most famous work.
“THE PURPLE COW”
“I never saw a purple cow. I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.”
The contributors to the magazine were known as Les Jeunes. The last issue of The Lark was published in April, 1897.
Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928), niece of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, came to San Francisco from Illinois at the age of ten in the first covered-wagon train that traveled via the Beckworth Pass in the Sierras. She taught school and later became librarian at the Bohemian Club. Although she was honored as poet laureate of California in 1915, her main contribution to the literary world of San Francisco was as a catalyst to the aspiring writers, Joaquin Miller, George Sterling, Bret Harte, Gelett Burgess and others, who met regularly at her home for readings. In 1906, her home, with its valuable collection of books and papers, went up in flames.
“Pop” Demerest rented his compound of small cottages at 1078 Broadway (now occupied by the condominium complex at 1 Florence), to struggling writers and artists, among them Ambrose Bierce, Will and Wallace Irwin, Gelett Burgess, Ina Coolbrith, Charlie Dobie, Frank Norris, and Dorothea Lange and her husband Maynard Dixon.
Demerest’s cottages were destroyed in the 1906 fire. By coincidene, Demerest (needing extra storage for a vast collection of curios) had discovered a cistern under the property a short time before. By the second week of April, 1906, he had moved many of his relics to the cistern. Demerest is said to have survived the 1906 fire by taking shelter in the cistern. He rebuilt his home and lived on until 1939 as a hermit with some 15 to 20 cats, a vast collection of music recordings, and 20 years of cobwebs.
More than any family, the Livermores have contributed to the post 1900 character of the Summit.
Horatio G. Livermore made his fame and fortune developing logging and electrical power (the original Folsom dam) between 1867 and 1892. His son, Horatio P., joined that business and continued it after his father’s death in 1892. In 1897, the business had serious cash flow problems that drained the family financial reserves. To conserve cash, Horatio P. Livermore sold his Rockridge Park estate in Oakland and moved to 40 Florence with his second wife, Helen Eells Livermore, and their children.
Livermore had purchased 40 Florence in 1889 and had engaged Willis Polk to remodel the interior in exchange for rent. Livermore had additions made in 1897-1898 and again in 1903. By 1903, when he had returned his business to profitability, he turned his attention to improving the neighborhood. That included two major projects – improving the Vallejo Street access to the Summit and replacing the small 1850s and 1860s houses between Florence and Jones Streets.
Livermore raised funds from the neighbors for the Vallejo Street improvements. He employed Willis Polk to design the street improvements: a replacement for the goat path from Taylor Street west to the Crest, the ramparts and balustrades at the Jones Street and the Taylor Street entrances, and the balustrade and turnaround at the Crest. The earthquake of 1906 interrupted those improvements. They were finally completed in 1914 or 1915. Meanwhile, Horatio Livermore began to acquire the properties on the other side of Florence Street. The fire of 1906 destroyed all the properties between Florence and Jones, Broadway and Vallejo.
Between 1912 and 1915, Horatio and his son Norman developed thirteen properties on Florence, Jones, Vallejo, and Russian Hill Place. They commissioned Charles L. Whittlesey to design six Pueblo/Mission Revival style houses on Florence and Jones, Charles W. McCall to design three Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style houses on Jones and Vallejo, and Willis Polk to design the four Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style houses on Russian Hill Place.
After Horatio P. Livermore’s death, his wife, Helen Eells Livermore, contracted Julia Morgan to design a “widows cottage” at 1023 Vallejo in the First Bay Area Tradition style. In 1927 and 1930, Julia Morgan completed additions. This house is the only remaining Livermore property continuously inhabited by Livermores.
In the 1980s, Norman’s son, H. Putnam Livermore, was the initial developer for “The Hermitage,” seven condominiums located at 1020 Vallejo. Continuing the tradition of excellent architecture, this building has received numerous architectural awards.