Pacific Heights have long fascinated residents and visitors with its natural beauty, architecture and stunning bay views. This neighborhood is bordered by Van Ness Avenue on the east, Presidio Avenue to the west, Green Street on the north and California Street on the south sides.
While today is its one of San Francisco’s finest neighborhoods, in the early days of the City’s history it was nothing more than sandy dunes with occasional footpaths. Incentive to settle in the area did not materialize until 1855-56 when Van Ness Ordinance, under which the city surveyors laid out a 500-block parcel between Larkin Street and Divisadero (which includes Pacific Heights), known as Western Addition. This ordinance also granted legal title to the squatters in the area thereby easing ownership concerns.
The real spike in the development took place in 1870s with the introduction of the cable cars which extended west of Van Ness Avenue, initially on Clay and then on California Street. Pacific Heights initially started as a middle-class neighborhood but by the end of the 19th century, it had become an enclave for the upper-middle and upper class.
The middle-class move over the slopes of Nob Hill into what is now Pacific Heights first centered in the eastern portion of this area with grand mansions along Van Ness Avenue, most of which were subsequently destroyed as a result of the 1906 catastrophe. The fire line went down Van Ness Avenue and many grand residences were destroyed in an effort to prevent the fire from spreading farther west. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, many people from the eastern neighborhoods moved farther west as a result of destroyed homes and the desire for more solid ground to live on.
Today in the eastern portion of Pacific Heights, moving east to west from Van Ness Avenue to Fillmore Street, one will observe a mixture of architectural styles, with some remaining Victorian homes, while the streets farther west are considered more modern in comparison. The area in the western portion of the neighborhood along Broadway Street between Divisadero and Lyon Streets is sometimes referred to as the “Gold Coast” (this term came out of Chicago) as some of the most expensive homes in all of San Francisco can be found here. Because the wealthy had their own carriages and stables, Broadway became one of the few streets in Pacific Heights without public transportation.
Starting in the 1920s, downsizing started to become popular which made way for the rise of luxury apartments and demolishing of some homes. Considered old and no longer in fashion, many houses were divided after World War II as young single people began migrating to San Francisco, causing a significant rise in population.
One of Pacific Heights’ less famous (but not less affluent) neighbors is Presidio Heights which is a lower density area with no the high-rise apartments and some of San Francisco’s largest mansions. Architecturally, it is noteworthy for works by Bernard Maybeck, Ernest Coxhead and an imitation of Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at 3800 Washington Street.
If taking a walk in Pacific Heights consider visiting the following sites:
2007 Franklin Street – Haas-Lilienthal House (1886)
This house is an excellent example of a late 19th century upper-middle class home. Architecturally, it is a combination of both the Stick style with its characteristic rectangular bay windows, and the Queen Anne Tower style. Except for the chimneys and fireplaces on the south wall, which were added in 1898, the house looks very much the same today as when it was built. This house is the only Victorian in San Francisco still with its original furnishings that is open to the public (on Wednesdays and Saturdays)
1701 Franklin Street – Edward Coleman House (1895)
The house is a prime example of Queen Anne-with-tower Victorian. It is lucky to still be standing as the 1906 fire, which was mainly stopped at Van Ness Avenue, burned up to Franklin Street at this point, consuming the buildings across the street.
1818 California Street – Lilienthal-Pratt House (1876)
This beautiful home is one of the finest examples of free-standing, bay-windowed Italianate houses. It was built by Lois Sloss, whom made his fortune in mining and in the Alaskan sealskin fur trade and was a wedding present to his daughter and her husband, Ernest Lilenthal
1834 California Street – Wormster-Coleman House (1876, 1895)
This house is unusual as it really melds two houses together. The eastern portion, done in Italianate style popular during that period, was built in 1876 by Issac Wormster. It was subsequently purchased in 1895 by John C. Coleman who needed additional space to accommodate his large family. He ended up building and grander addition on the west half utilizing a larger tower in the then prevailing Queen Anne style
2151 Sacramento Street – Arthur Conan Doyle House (1921)
This house is famous for the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent a morning in this residence as a guest of his occupant, Dr. Albert Adams, during the British author’s only visit to San Francisco, in the late spring 1923. This Classical Baroque structure with its formal balustrade topped with seated lions, and its leaded-glass windows, makes this building look like a London gentleman’s house where Sir Arthur undoubtedly felt at home.
1925 Gough Street (1908)
This beautiful co-op which could have been gracing the streets of Paris or London and is the last tangible legacy of Samuel Holladay ownership of Lafayette Park. The City had fought Holladay to keep structures out of the park but Holladay who scored a victory in the Supreme Court, sold it to A. W. Wilson, a real estate developer and restauranteur. The building, later known as St. Regis Apartments, was constructed between 1905 and 1908 by an architect C.A. Meussdorffer, who also designed 2006 and 2000 Washington. 1925 Gough is unique as it is the only privately owned building in any public city park in the U.S
2006 Washington Street (1925)
By the 1920s the wealthy were no longer building mansions in the city due to lack of choice land as well as the fact that large houses manned with servants were considered passe. 2006 Washington is one of (if not the) most distinguished co-op buildings in San Francisco.
2080 Washington Street – Spreckles Mansion (1913)
This mansion was commissioned by Adolph Spreckles, a son of a wealthy sugar magnate for his wife, a famous “Big Alma” Alma de Bretteville. George Applegarth, a graduate of Paris’s Ecole des Beaux Arts, was chosen for an architect which resulted in a gran French Baroque chateau. The completion of construction was celebrated with a grand party attended by Jack London and other celebrities of the time.
This neighborhood has an average Walk score of 97 and Transit score of 88.
The below link provides further details on this neighborhood and its attractions: http://www.sfgate.com/neighborhoods/sf/pacificheights/
The content displayed above was partially derived from a book by Rand Richards “Historic Walks in San Francisco. 18 Trails Through the City’s Past”.