The Tailor-Made Guide to the Victorian Architecture of San Francisco



San Francisco is well known for its iconic architecture, from the imposing Golden Gate Bridge to the grandiose Palace of Fine Arts, however, the most impressive structures, I’d argue, are its beautiful and numerous Victorian buildings.

An estimated 48,000 houses were built in San Francisco during the Victorian and Edwardian period (between 1849 and 1915), with many being tragically lost to the 1906 fire. It was a period of many styles, from Gothic Revival and Italianate, to Stick and Second Empire, and finally the Queen Anne style. Although these styles differed, most are characterized by ornate details and bright colours, all of which was a reflection of the prosperity brought to the city by the Gold Rush.


Victorian houses can be seen throughout many of the city’s northern and central districts, but I will highlight just a few examples that really took my eye. I hope that you enjoy these as much as I did.


Don’t forget that at Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these beautiful Victorian buildings appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the architecture of San Francisco, or indeed, a general tour of this fascinating city.

Alamo Square


The Painted Ladies


Perhaps the most famous houses in San Francisco, this row of Queen Anne-style homes were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh. Often referred to as “Postcard Row” or the “Seven Sisters”, the term “The Painted Ladies” has become their most popular epithet since the late 1970’s when this label was coined to describe Victorian and Edwardian houses, painted in three or more colours.


Address: Steiner St &, Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94117


The Painted Ladies, San Francisco
The Painted Ladies

William Westerfeld House


The William Westerfeld House is a great example of an Italianate Villa. Both Kenneth Anger and Anton LaVey lived at the house, along with future Manson follower Bobby Beausoleil. Anger shot his movie The Invocation of My Demon Brother here. Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, used to practice witchcraft in the tower, employing a lion cub and 500 candles.


Address: 1198 Fulton St, San Francisco, CA 94117


William Westerfeld House, San Francisco
William Westerfeld House

McAllister Street


Just a five-minute walk round from the Painted Ladies, these beautiful Italianate-style houses between Pierce and Scott streets are well worth seeking out.


Address: 1445 McAllister St, San Francisco, CA 94115



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Lower Haight


Abner Phelps House


Although accounts vary as to its date and builder, the Gothic Revival Abner Phelps house is generally considered to be the oldest unaltered residence in San Francisco and dates from 1850-51.


Address: 1111 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117


Abner Phelps House, San Francisco
Abner Phelps House

Sarah Mish House


Literally next door to the Abner Phelps House, the Sarah Mish House is a beautiful example of Eastlake style architecture. Sunburst brackets, rosettes and flowers were typical of this form, with most of the exterior decoration being sourced from local mills or ordered from catalogues.


Address: 1153 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117


Sarah Mish House, San Francisco
Sarah Mish House

Charles Lewis Hinkel House


The Charles Lewis Hinkel House is an unusual example of transitional Second French Empire residential architecture built in 1885 by Charles Lewis Hinkel (1847-1908) as his personal residence.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The house neighbours Powder, which sell the best Taiwanese shaved ice!


Address: 280 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117


Charles Lewis Hinkel House, San Francisco
Charles Lewis Hinkel House
Charles Lewis Hinkel House, San Francisco
Charles Lewis Hinkel House



Nightingale House


The Nightingale House is a masterpiece of the Eastlake Style which also incorporates elements of the Carpenter Gothic, Second Empire and late Italian Villa styles. The house was built in 1882 by John Nightingale, Senior, and John Marquis was the architect.


Address: 201 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94102



Russell Warren House


The Russell Warren House is one of the best examples in scale and detail of a flat-front Italianate Victorian in San Francisco. It was built about 1875 by a noted San Francisco architect and builder of post Gold Rush era, Russell Warren.


Address: 465 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94102


Read on to discover more of San Francisco’s beautiful buildings.


Russell Warren House, San Francisco
Russell Warren House



Haight-Ashbury


Four Seasons Houses


The Haight-Ashbury area is crammed with beautiful buildings, but this row of colourful Queen Anne-style homes, built in 1896 really stands out and are well worth the little detour from Haight Street.


Address: 1315 Waller St, San Francisco, CA 94117



Haight-Ashbury Painted Ladies


Haight-Ashbury has its own version of “The Painted Ladies” and they are indeed very eye-catching.


Address: 144 Central Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117


Read on to discover more of San Francisco’s beautiful buildings.



Pacific Heights


McElroy Octagon House


The McElroy Octagon House built the house between 1860 and 1861, across the street from its present location. The house was badly damaged during the 1906 Earthquake and was vacant and neglected for a time, until, in 1951, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in California bought it. It was at this point that the building was moved across the street and the society that began its restoration.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: You can visit the McElroy Octagon House from 12:00pm to 3:00pm on the second Sunday and second & fourth Thursday of each month, except January.


Address: 2645 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94123



Haas-Lilienthal House


The Haas-Lilienthal House, built in 1886 for William and Bertha Haas, is a stunning example of Turreted Queen Anne-style architecture, and was designed by Peter R. Schmidt. Haas had three children. Alice, the youngest, married Samuel Lilienthal, and Alice continued to live in the house until her death in 1972.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Now looked after by San Francisco Heritage, you can visit the house on a docent-led tour on Saturdays and Sundays. Tours start at 12:00, 13:00 and 14:00.


Address: 2007 Franklin St, San Francisco, CA 94109




Tobin House


The Tobin House was designed by Willis Polk in 1915. It is representative of his penchant for medieval English architecture and restrained use of decoration as panaceas for what he deemed the architectural chaos of San Francisco's late nineteenth-century streetscape. To be honest, I much prefer the chaos!


Address: 1969 California St, San Francisco, CA 94109



Atherton House


The Atherton House is a blend of Queen Anne and Stick-Eastlake styles. The house was built in 1881–1882 with horizontal lines, a clipped gable, and a short tower. The architect is thought to have been John Marquis, but it has also been attributed to the Moore Brothers. The house is reportedly haunted by as many as four ghosts!


Address: 1990 California St, San Francisco, CA 94109


Atherton House, San Francisco
Atherton House
Atherton House, San Francisco
Atherton House

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Embarcadero


The Audiffred Building


The Audiffred Building was built by Hippolite d’Audiffred in 1889 in the Second Empire-style, with a cast-iron façade and a French mansard roof. Along with the Ferry Building, these were the only two buildings along the central waterfront to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.


Address: 100 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105


The Audiffred Building, San Francisco
The Audiffred Building

Mission District


The Inn


The Inn San Francisco is a beautiful Victorian mansion built in 1872. Built on “Mansion Row”, this historic twenty-seven room Italianate building was the home of John English, dubbed “The Potato King” for his vast holdings in potato commodities.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The Inn is now a B&B and would make an excellent base for any architecture lover visiting the city.


Address: 943 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110



Conclusion


Despite the many hills, San Francisco has several districts that are an absolute joy to walk round. I have only highlighted some of the more famous examples of Victorian architecture, along with some of my personal favourites, but, in truth, you can stroll around Pacific Heights, Haight-Ashbury and the likes, and enjoy seeing rows of beautifully painted, ornate buildings.


Comment below and let us know what your favourite building was.



Don’t forget that at Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these beautiful Victorian buildings appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the architecture of San Francisco, or indeed, a general tour of this fascinating city.


Join us next time on our family adventures when we unearth San Francisco’s hidden attractions. We post every two weeks, and you can subscribe to our latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.

Barry

Contact Us: tailoritineraries@gmail.com


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