Russian Hill Walks
Hills, Stairways, Cottages, Gardens, and Views
Russian Hill is a hilly, compact area with many stairways and small alleys that beg to be explored. It is a neighborhood that is best seen and felt by walking. You will find panoramic views, tucked-away cottages, gardens, interesting architecture, and lots of history. As you wander around the hill, take time to notice the different views from one side of the street to the other. Often houses that are tucked away on the hillsides can best be viewed from across the street or even blocks away.
Russian Hill is rich in architectural tradition, both in variety of styles and number of renowned architects who left their individual stamps on the neighborhood. Many of these architects designed grand buildings in other parts of the city and country. Their buildings in Russian Hill reflect a constraint that allows their buildings to fit into this neighborhood.
Russian Hill’s earliest residents were builders and architects. The first period of building was from 1853 to 1863 by a partnership of Charles Homer (general contractor), William H. Ranlett (architect), and Joseph H. Atkinson (brick contractor).
The next periods of Russian Hill design were from 1888 to 1906 and from 1908 to 1930. Willis Polk was active in Russian Hill in both periods.
Reverend Joseph Worcester (1888) and Willis Polk (houses and structures from 1891-1916) built the earliest arts and crafts shingle-style houses in San Francisco. The Newsom Brothers, known for their eccentric Victorians such as the Carson House in Eureka, built a more restrained Italianate house here (1885).
In the post earthquake period (1912-1915), Charles Whittelsey and Charles McCall were responsible for much of the post-earthquake Pueblo and Spanish Colonial Mission Revival houses. John Galen Howard, who designed the plan for the University of California Berkeley College of Environmental Design, is represented on Francisco Street (1912). Julia Morgan, whose most famous work is San Simeon, designed two buildings: a Beaux Art complete renovation (1916) and a First Bay Area Tradition shingle house (1917). Louis B. Hobart, who designed such varied buildings as Grace Cathedral, the California Academy of Sciences (1913-1931), and the Post-Modern Bank of America Clocktower (1939-1940), was the architect for 1050 Green (1913), an elegant, Parisian-style apartment building. Between 1912 and 1926, T. Patterson Ross built five elegant cooperatives. From 1909-1941 Albert Farr built two First and two Second Bay Area Tradition houses. Bakewell and Brown, who designed San Francisco City Hall (1913-1915), designed the San Francisco Art Institute (1926). Bakewell built his own home across the street from the Institute. Timothy Pflueger designed the Alhambra Theater in 1930.
Comtemporary renowned architects Gardner Dailey, William Wurster, Joseph Esherick, George Homsey, and Robert A. M. Stern have left their mark on the nieghborhood. Landscape architect Thomas Church created at least five private gardens on the northern slope of Russian Hill.
Two recent articles following death of Put Livermore, November 1, 2016:
Artists and Writers
Macondray Lane has been immortalized in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. Jack Kerouac did much of his work in Neal Cassady’s tiny attic on Russell Place. Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Frank Norris, and Ambrose Bierce either lived on the Hill or were part of the intellectual life here. Photographers Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham lived and worked in the neighborhood. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Home from the West while visiting her daughter here.
Comtemporary writers include Herb Gold (She Took My Arm As If She Loved Me, 1997), David Hunt (Trick of Light, 1998), Paula Wolfert (Mediterranean Grains and Greens, 1998), Ella Leffland (Breath and Shadows, 1999), Patrick Dillon (Lost at Sea, 1998), and Elihu Blotnick (California Street 1).
As you walk around the eastern slope, you may see and or hear a flock of wild parrots. These wild parrots live on Telegraph Hill but frequently venture to Russian Hill. You may find them around Havens Place (off Leavenworth Street north of Union Street), the Greenwich Steps (between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets), the Vallejo Steps (between Jones and Taylor Streets) and in Ina Coolbrith Park (Vallejo stairs between Taylor and Mason Streets). Read More…
Guided tours are offered for Russian Hill Neighbors members several times a year. Announcements of the tours are sent to members by mail and the Russian Hill Neighbors newsletter. Check out other guided tours along with walks described in a number of San Francisco guide books. Check our events page for our next guided tour dates.
Take one or more self-guided tours of our neighborhood. Expect to walk up and down hills, often via small stairways. Russian Hill is best reached by public transportation, as parking is almost non-existent. Take the Hyde-Powell cable car or the #45 Union-Stockton bus. Each of the tours will take two hours or less. Read More…