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The Grand Victorians

by Cyndy Ainsworth

You've probably seen a photograph of "postcard row:" six beautifully restored Victorian houses against the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline -- it's one of the classic images of San Francisco. From 1850 to 1900, 48,000 houses in the range of styles that we now call "Victorian" were built to accommodate the city's burgeoning population. Many of these houses were lost in the great fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, and others were torn down over the years to makes way for new development. However, thousands of these elegant homes still grace the streets of San Francisco just waiting to be discovered and admired.

Because the westward spread of the 1906 fire was halted at Van Ness Avenue, the neighborhoods west of that line, including Pacific Heights, the Western Addition, the Fillmore, and the Haight, offer the best opportunity for finding the surviving jewels. The Haight is a good place to start your tour, as the area just south of Haight Street, from Waller to Parnassus and from Masonic to Stanyan, is full of wonderful old houses. This is definitely a neighborhood for exploring on foot; you can strike out on your own or join the Flower Power Haight Ashbury Walking Tour, which covers both residential Victorians and the commercial area along Haight St.

Unless you are a truly tireless walker, you'll need a car for the next part of the tour route. While driving lets you cover more territory, it doesn't give you the opportunity to see the details, like the fishscale shingles and the elaborate woordwork that make these houses so special, so you may want to stop along the way for a more leisurely look at the houses.

Drive first to Alamo Square at Steiner and Hayes for a first hand look at "post card row" just across the street on the 700 block of Steiner Street. The houses show up best in the afternoon, when they are lit by the western sun. Then head north on Steiner to Golden Gate Avenue; there's an interesting house on the southwest corner and several other nice homes as you head west on Golden Gate.

Continue on Golden Gate to Divisadero, then go north on Divisadero to Pine. Then head west on Pine to Presidio, go one block north to California and then head all the way east on California to Franklin. Don't miss the houses at 1990, 1834, and 1818 California and at 1701 Franklin at the corner of California; they are truly exceptional.

Turn left on Franklin to reach the Haas-Lilienthal House, one of the most elaborate Victorians in the city and one that is open to the public. This 1886 Stick-style house, complete with elaborate wooden gables and a wonderful Queen Anne-style circular tower, has been fully restored and is furnished with authentic period furniture. The docent-led tours give you a fascinating glimpse of the turn-of-the-century lifestyle.

After visiting the Haas-Lilienthal house, take a walk though Pacific Heights for a look at some of the most expensive real estate in the city. The 1800 block of Laguna has lovely Victorians on both sides of the street, while stately mansions in a variety of architectural styles adorn Broadway and Pacific. In fact, almost every block has something interesting. For a more formal tour you may wish to take the walking tour that departs from the Haas-Lilienthal House every Sunday at 12:30 pm. It is sponsored by the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage, the same organizations that operates the Haas-Lilienthal House.

Painted Lady Details

Flower Power Haight Ashbury Walking Tours
Tours begin Tuesday and Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. and last about two hours.
$20 per person.
Call (415) 863-1621 for reservations

Haas-Lilienthal House
One hour docent-led tours are Wednesday, Saturdays & Sunday
Tours are $8 adults, $5 seniors and children under 12.
Call (415) 441-3004 for information

Pacific Heights Walking Tours
Tours leave the Haas-Lilienthal House Sundays at 12:30 pm and takes about two hours.
$8 adults, $5 seniors and children under 12.
Call (415) 441-3004 for information.

Here is a list of other tours currently offered in San Francisco:

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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