Russian Hill I Summit Walk (Vallejo Crest) – Walk Notes
The Intersection Of Vallejo And Jones Street
Begin your walk at the intersection of Vallejo and Jones Streets, facing east, where a balustrade borders two ramps leading up to the crest.
The Balustrade at Jones and Vallejo, Architect: Willis Polk, 1914-1915
Designed by Willis Polk and completed in 1915, this is your introduction to the Summit of Russian Hill. Note the pedestals (square urns) in the Beaux-Arts balustrade. You will see them repeated later in the walk. The balustrade and ramparts provide a formal entrance to the Summit, reinforcing the sense of enclave.
On both sides of the balustrade, you will see the houses built for the Livermore family between 1912 and 1916. The faces of these buildings create a wall-like effect on Jones Street, as if to separate the development behind them from the rest of the area. The effect is reminiscent of walled Italian hill towns.
1728-30 Jones, “Livermore-Whittlesey Houses,” Architect: Charles F. Whittlesey, 1913
On the right, near Broadway, observe the two houses at 1728-30 Jones. Charles F. Whittlesey, a Chicago architect, designed them in the rough stucco Pueblo/Mission Revival style for the Livermore family. The Livermores became a major force on the Summit beginning in1897, when they moved to what is now 40 Florence Street.
1740-42 Jones, 1085 Vallejo, “Livermore-McCall Houses,” Architect: Charles W. McCall, 1915
The Livermores developed the adjacent houses at 1740-42 in the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style in 1915. 1085 Vallejo, which has one side on Jones and its entrance on Vallejo, is in the same style.
Walk left on Jones from the balustrade. Note the backs of four Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style houses. We will visit them next on Russian Hill Place.
Walk up the ramp to the continuation of Vallejo Street. At the top of the ramp, turn left and walk a short distance. Turn left on Russian Hill Place.
Russian Hill Place
1, 3, 5, 7 Russian Hill Place, “Livermore-Polk Houses,” Architect: Willis Polk, 1916
Walk down this charming brick street. On the left are four not-quite-identical attached houses in the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style. From Jones Street (west elevations), they appear to be one four- story building. Their single-story Russian Hill Place (east) facades are smaller in scale and more individual, with entry gardens. Willis Polk built them for Norman Livermore. In 1926, the Livermores deeded this street to the city as a public right of way.
6 Russian Hill Place, “Stanley Hayman House,” Architects: Farr and Ward, 1936
On the east side of the street at #6 is one of two Second Bay Area Tradition style houses on the Summit. Albert Farr’s firm, Farr and Ward, designed both. Farr was the architect of two 1909 First Bay Area Traditional style houses at 1020 Broadway and 1629 Taylor.
Russian Hill Place ends with a view toward the Bay through the dead “park space” underneath the Summit Apartments. Not part of the Historic District, The Summit is a sculpted piece of futuristic design, quite in contrast to the rest of this walk. It was built in 1965, before height limits were imposed in Russian Hill.
Continue back to Vallejo Street and turn left.
Vallejo Street Crest
1075-77 Vallejo, “Peter Lowrey Flats,” Builder: Peter Lowrey, 1908
Peter Lowrey was a carpenter who lived at 1075-77 Vallejo Street beginning in 1897. The current house, which he rebuilt, is the only house on the Summit built after 1870 that was designed by a builder, rather than a distinguished architect. It is similar to post-earthquake buildings found in other areas, but its Colonial Revival style is quite distinct from others on the Summit.
1070 Vallejo, “Marjorie Ford House,” Architects: Farr & Ward, 1941
This house at the corner of Russian Hill Place is also in the Second Bay Area Tradition style. With its landscaping and stucco façade, it provides a transition from the Livermore-Polk Houses to the Marshall houses to its east.
On the right is Florence Street, which we will visit later.
1034, 1036 Vallejo, “Marshall Houses,” Architect (amateur): Reverend Joseph Worcester, 1888
These austere shingle houses are, surprisingly, two of the most historically significant houses in the district. These are the oldest shingle-style houses remaining in the Bay Area. Known as the Marshall houses, they were designed by Reverend Joseph Worcester for David Marshall, one of his parishioners, as rental properties.
Worcester, an amateur architect, was a Swedenborgian minister from Massachusetts with a mystic love of nature. With these houses, Worcester introduced the First Bay Area Tradition style to San Francisco before it became a style and before it was popularized by Willis Polk and Bernard Maybeck, among others. Worcester wrapped the shingle around corners to form a continuous flowing, unified skin for the buildings. Shingles covered the entire surface of the house except for the windows, doors, and roof. This was in extreme contrast to the high ornamentation of Victorian houses. The interiors were also finished with natural redwood, creating a rich, but spare style.
Worcester built two other houses here which have been replaced by the condominiums at 1020 Vallejo. One was 1032 Vallejo, the third Marshall house, similar to the other two. The other was a single-story shingled cottage Worcester built for himself at 1030 Vallejo.
The three Marshall Houses were incrementally stepped back from the street, 1036 being closest, and 1032 farthest back. Trees, shrubs, and gardens were an important part of the design.
1035-1055 Vallejo, formerly “The Meadow,” 1998-1999
On the right side of the street were walks, a meadow, a garden, an orchard, and a teahouse. They were part of the Livermore House at 40 Florence. A new shingled building containing six condominiums has been built on this site. As with 1020 Vallejo, this building uses the square urns found on the Polk balustrades at each end of the street. While the building is quite large, building materials of exceptional quality were used.
1023 Vallejo, “Helen Eells Livermore House,” Architect: Julia Morgan, 1917
Just past The Meadow, tucked in behind 1019 Vallejo and not visible from the street, is 1023 Vallejo. The property was originally part of 1637 Taylor. It contains a house designed by Julia Morgan for Helen Eells Livermore, the widow of Horatio P. Livermore. It is a rare-for-San Francisco example of Julia Morgan’s First Bay Area Tradition style as opposed to her more urban Beaux-Arts work. This was the last house built for the Livermores and is the only one still owned by a Livermore.
1020 Vallejo, “The Hermitage,” Architects: Escherick, Homsey, Dodge and Davis, 1980-1982
This seven-unit condominium follows the district’s tradition of distinguished architects, input from the Livermore family (a Livermore was one of the initial developers), use of natural shingles, and replication (on the garage entrance and balconies) of the square urns found on the Polk-designed balustrades. The designers showed great sensitivity to the summit, so in spite of its recent development, the building contributes to the harmony of the area.
The Vallejo Crest Turnaround, Architect: Willis Polk, 1915
At the crest of Vallejo Street is the second of three Beaux-Arts-style balustrades, also designed by Willis Polk. From here, there are panoramic views of the East Bay, Telegraph Hill, North Beach, and the Embarcadero. This is also reputed to be the site of San Francisco’s first gallows.
1013-1017, 1019 Vallejo, “Williams-Polk House,” Architects: Polk and Polk, 1892
At the southern end of the balustrade, at the top of the steps, view the shingled Williams-Polk House at 1013-1019 Vallejo. Many consider this the gem of the hilltop and one of the best examples of Willis Polk’s First Bay Area Tradition style houses anywhere.
The house is as interesting inside as it is from the outside. This twin-gabled double house was Polk’s first “rustic city” house. From the front it is two stories. Bands of simple, white-painted casement windows stretch across the two stories at the front of the building at a uniform height. They conceal a three-foot difference in the floor levels between the separate units.
The western half of the house at 1019 Vallejo was built for Mrs. Virgil Williams. Notice the high half-moon studio window. Dora Norton Williams was an accomplished painter and friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny. Fanny Stevenson lived here with Dora Williams for a time after Stevenson’s death. Williams was the widow of painter and teacher Virgil Williams. Virgil Williams was a co-founder of the Bohemian Club and a founding director of the School of Design, now the San Francisco Art Institute.
In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of Little House on the Prairie) came to San Francisco for the Pan-Pacific Exposition. She stayed at 1019 Vallejo with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a feature writer for the San Francisco Bulletin. From here, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the letters that were later published as “West from Home.”
According to one source, as part of Polk’s fee for the design of 1019 Vallejo, Williams gave him the lot at 1013-1017. Another source says that Polk’s mother, Endemial Josephine Polk, purchased the lot. Polk built this residence and lived here with his family. In 1902, the residence was converted to three flats. Polk designed the back with layers of vertical space tumbling down the hillside, including a lower level for his studio. In all, there are six stories with a myriad of balconies, terraces, and panoramic views of downtown. The interior is natural unvarnished redwood and is cabin-like and homey. California architectural historians revere this building, though to a layman it may not appear significant. To best see the Polk residence, descend the steps to the eastern end of the building.
Upper Vallejo Steps Garden
As you descend the stairs to Taylor Street you will find yourself in the midst of a neighborhood garden project. The terraced stairway was designed by Willis Polk to replace a goat path. It was started in 1906, but interrupted by the earthquake and fire and not completed until eight years later. The stair gardens are maintained by the Vallejo Steps Garden Project and undergo continuous improvement, including cleanup days, a new irrigation system, terracing, planting, and lighting.
1001 Vallejo, “Hanson-Verdier Mansion,” Architect: Houghton Sawyer, 1905-1906
Walk down the steps to 1001 Vallejo. The entrance to this massive stucco frame building is through a low arch. The original home had a ballroom and a conservatory. This building is an example of one of the earliest uses of stucco for residential properties in San Francisco. Later, stucco was used extensively in the houses commissioned by Norman Livermore between 1912 and 1916.
Architect Houghton Sawyer’s design was not yet finished when the 1906 earthquake struck. Photos of Russian Hill after the fire show the building with scaffolding on the unfinished east side.
Robert Hanford lived here from 1907 to 1909, followed by his in-laws, the Gittards, of the spice and chocolate family. From 1919 to 1953, Paul Verdier of the City of Paris department store (once located where Neiman-Marcus is now) owned the house. The house was popularly known as “The Verdier Mansion.” The house, empty for many years, has undergone significant restoration (1994-1995).
At the bottom of the stairs, notice the stucco retaining wall extending south along Taylor Street. Together with the walled effect along Jones, and the buttressed wall along Broadway, the crest of Russian Hill seems to be encircled and set off from the rest of the area.
Lower Vallejo Steps Garden – Taylor Street Entrance, Willis Polk, 1915
Continue down the garden steps and walkway to Taylor Street. Looking back up the hill, you can see the third part of the Willis Polk Vallejo Street improvements. Again, you see balustrades with the same square urn pedestals.
Ina Coolbrith Park, circa 1931
Cross Taylor Street to Ina Coolbrith Park (acquired by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department in 1931). This is a greenbelt that contributes to the sense of isolation Russian Hill has from the rest of the city. Long before there was a park, there was a small wooden frame school here. For an outstanding view of Coit Tower, descend the park stairs partway toward Mason Street. Return back up the steps to Taylor Street.
1652-56 Taylor, “House of the Flag,” Designers unknown, City Landmark #46, 1864, c. 1903
This First Bay Area Tradition style house is located at the southeast corner of Vallejo and Taylor. It is best known for being dramatically rescued from the 1906 earthquake fire. As the fire approached, the occupant, a flag collector, raised the American flag on a staff beside the house. A company of soldiers spied it from below and were inspired to charge up the hill to fight the fire. It is reported that they found a bathtub full of water, sand from a nearby construction project, and soda siphons to squirt into hard-to-reach places. The soldiers are credited with saving the house and protecting the rest of the hill.
Keeping to the east side of Taylor Street, walk south toward Broadway. From this side, notice the retaining walls and houses across the street.
637 Taylor, “William H. Ranlett House,” Architect: William H. Ranlett, c.1854
This house, originally a unique Italianate style, was known as “The House of Many Corners” for its ornate stepped-back design. It was the most elegant of the three oldest houses on the summit. The other houses in the 1853-54 era were 1601 Taylor (Charles Homer) and 1032 Broadway (Joseph Atkinson). Ranlett, along with his partners Charles Homer and Joseph Atkinson, were the earliest builders on the Summit. Ranlett lost his house to bankruptcy by 1857. In the 1890s, the owners divided the house because of a divorce settlement and moved the north end to another location. In 1975, the house façade was extensively stripped and changed to its current wood siding.
1637 Taylor, “Samuel L. Theller Retaining Wall,” Designer unknown, c.1867
In 1867, Samuel Theller owned 1637 Taylor and built the retaining wall when Taylor Street was graded between Broadway and Vallejo. This, along with the other retaining walls on Taylor Street from Broadway to Green, was a major contributor to the survival of most of the Summit from the 1906 earthquake fire.
629 Taylor, “Parker, Homer House,” Architect: Albert Farr, 1909
Charles Homer bought the block bounded by Jones, Vallejo, Taylor and Broadway for $5,000 in 1853. He sold five of the six lots, keeping the lot at Broadway and Taylor for his own home. There, in 1853, he built a Gothic house at 1601 Taylor. In 1909, Homer’s grandchildren divided the lot into two parts. On the northern third of the original lot, his grandson built the brown shingle First Bay Tradition style house at 1629 Taylor. It is unlikely that he ever lived in this house. Albert Farr was the architect. On the remainder of the lot, Farr built 1020 Broadway for Homer’s granddaughter, Ethel Roeder Parker. This is discussed below.
1629 Taylor sits above a massive retaining wall, accessible only by dozens of steps to its front gate. The house itself is nestled into the hillside with a lush, scented garden. The wall and gardens contribute to the district’s sense of a protected enclave. The garden is featured in The Gardens of San Francisco, Hockaday & Bowles, 1988, pages 94-95.
1601-1629 Taylor, “Maria Homer, Charles Parker Retaining Wall,” Designer unknown, c.1867
This retaining wall was also built because of the grading of Taylor Street. In contrast to the wall at 1637 Taylor, this wall had an extensive stairway up to 1601and a diagonal rampart, now a stairway to 1629.
Cross Broadway and walk south up the east side of Taylor Street about 50 to 100 feet to view 1020 Broadway.
1020 Broadway, “Ethel Parker Roeder – Sara Bard Field House,” Architect: Albert Farr, 1909
In 1909, Ethel Parker Roeder, granddaughter of Charles Homer, commissioned Albert Farr to design the house at 1020 Broadway, a First Bay Area Tradition house set well back from the retaining wall. In 1910, the family demolished the original Homer house (next door at 1601 Taylor) to make way for a massive garden above the retaining walls on Broadway and Taylor.
From 1919-1943, Sara Bard Field, a noted poet and suffraget, lived in the house with her husband, poet-painter-essayist, Charles Erskine Scott Wood.
Savor this view of the northeast corner of Broadway at Taylor, with high retaining walls and lush wild gardens. Again, the uniquely Russian Hill theme of a walled “city in the country” is reinforced. The house at 1020 Broadway is barely visible but you will see it more as you return to Broadway and continue west on the south side of Broadway.
1032 Broadway, ” Joseph and Catherine Atkinson House,” City Landmark #97, Architect: William Ranlett, 1853
The Atkinson House was built in 1853, with additions made about 1860. Willis Polk remodeled the interior in 1893. This E-shaped Italianate house has long, narrow windows and bracketed gables built around a tree. It is set in a fine garden. It is now the oldest and most intact house on the Vallejo Street summit. At an unknown date, the exterior was stuccoed but retains its ornamentation.
Kate Atkinson, the original owner’s daughter, conducted a salon here in the 1890s. Here her cousin, Gelett Burgess, and the rest of Les Jeunes discussed art and gossiped. The roomy old house was later converted into a private school, but then converted back to a private residence. (S.F. Landmark #97)
1020-1060 Broadway, “Parker-Atkinson Retaining Wall,” c.1890/1894
It is probable that this wall was constructed when the hill was cut down to grade Broadway. The Parker part of the wall is topped with a wrought iron fence. The Atkinson part is topped with a wooden balustrade. It was possibly designed by Willis Polk in 1893 along with the 1893 alterations to the house interior, but, more likely, it is a part of Bruce Porter’s garden design.
1078-1080 Broadway, 1 Florence Street, “Demerest Retaining Wall,” c. 1890
Above this retaining wall was the home of Joseph H. Demerest, who reputedly built the wall. His son, Frank W. “Pop” Demerest (c.1852-1939), the “Hermit of Russian Hill,” provided inexpensive quarters for several generations of Bohemians.
Photographer Dorothea Lange lived here in the 1920s with her husband, artist Maynard Dixon, while operating a photography studio. Later, her photographs documenting the Depression and the world of migrant laborers were to earn her lasting recognition. The couple later lived at 1637 Taylor.
Cross Broadway north to walk up the stairs to Florence Street. Pause partway up the stairs to look back to a spectacular view of downtown San Francisco.
30 Florence, “Geberding, Crowley, Escher House,” Architect: Charles F. Whittlesey, 1910
This is the first house in the area designed by Charles F. Whittlesey in the Pueblo/Mission Revival style. We first saw this style at 1728-30 Jones and will see it again across the street. This house is no longer considered historically significant due to exterior renovations undertaken in 1936.
40 Florence, “Livermore House,” Designer unknown, c.1854-1857
After 1032 Broadway and 1637 Taylor, 40 Florence Street is the oldest house standing on Russian Hill. David Morrison, a contractor, built a modest, one story house here c. 1854-56. The original house, thirty feet square, is “buried” inside the current house. Subsequent owners ( Partridge, Turner) made additions including raising the original house and adding a floor below. In 1889, Horatio P. Livermore purchased the house. In 1891, Willis Polk made numerous modifications to the interior while renting the house. In 1897-98, Horatio Livermore moved his family to the Summit and made additions (1897-1898). In 1903, he added the third floor and columns. The resulting 1903 house was a “rustic city house.” Along with Willis Polk’s design at 1013-1019 Vallejo, this house set the tone for the area.
In the 1990s, Robert A. Stern again expanded and remodeled the house, giving it its present appearance. The brown-shingled house with its forest green trim and lush landscaping is the epitome of Russian Hill’s continuous and now high-style architectural identity. Peek through the fence and you may get a glimpse of a sculpture of an eight-foot-tall hare. Glance up on the garage roof to the right and see a mobile sculpture.
35, 37, 39 Florence, “Livermore-Whittlesey Houses,” Architect: Charles F. Whittlesey, 1913/1913/1912
These three houses are Pueblo/Mission Revival style. The houses were built in conjunction with the house at 1728-1730 Jones. While harmonious and obviously related, each is individual in massing and details, matching only in stucco exterior. 39 Florence had additions in 1948 and 1969.
1071 Vallejo, “Norman B. Livermore House,” Architect: Charles F. Whittlesey, 1912
In 1912, Norman Livermore built this house for his family with Charles F. Whittlesey as architect. This is the district’s most purely Pueblo/Mission Revival style house. It was Whittlesey’s first commission for the Livermore family and Norman Livermore’s first development. Norman Livermore lived here from 1912-1916. The house is located on the lot of an earlier simple cottage occupied by Gelett Burgess, a well-known writer and leader of the artistic community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
At the corner of Florence and Vallejo, turn left and return to the starting point at Jones and Vallejo.
This ends your tour of the summit of Russian Hill.