August 4, 2017

What do I mean when I say “Victorian”.

August 4, 2017

What do I mean when I say “Victorian”.

Ask anyone to describe what makes San Francisco so special and Victorian architecture would be right up at the top of the list, Family-Feud style. Here now is a crash course in Victorian buildings found around the city. This map is a focused primer on architectural styles and is by no means comprehensive, so don’t be offended if your favorite neighborhood gem didn’t make the cut.

Before we get started, let’s put on our architecture nerd hats and clear something up: Victorian refers to a period, not a style. To call a building “a Victorian” means it was built during the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, specifically 1837 to 1901. There are a whole slew of architectural styles that reigned supreme during that time period, and we’ll delve into a few of the variations. Here in San Francisco, the styles were primarily applied in late 19th century single family houses and the reconstruction efforts after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

But wait, didn’t we just say that the Victorian Period only lasted until 1901? Many elements of what is typically referred to Victorian architecture didn’t become popular until later in Victoria’s reign; it was even slower to be adopted here in the United States. Rapid industrialization and advances in technology resulted in the mass-production of housing materials and innovations in construction techniques, well after Her Majesty’s death.

Rewind the clock a bit further and many of these style were a la mode just as SF was transition from a one-horse- town to urban metropolis during the Gold Rush. The ornate detailing and revival styles were still extremely popular during SF’s reconstruction, which is one of the reasons why the City is so well known for it today.

1 Gothic Revival (1840-1880)

Made popular by Andrew Jackson Downing’s pattern books of the 1840s, this sprawling style was mostly used in rural areas due to the narrowness of urban lots. That doesn’t mean our tenacious predecessors in SF didn’t try to swing it! More often found in civic or religious buildings, there are a few remaining examples of residential houses too, though usually it’s seen as less-ornate elements applied in a vernacular way. Features: steep roof, decorated gables, pointed arch windows, sometimes with castle-like turrets or battlements. Example: Russ Building

2 Carpenter Gothic

Just like it sounds, this interpreted the traditionally stone style with wood. Example: Nightingale House (SF Landmark #47)

3 Italianate (1850-1890)

This is probably the earliest interpretation we’ll find in San Francisco. The style basically adapted and embellished a bunch of European styles into something new. These dominated urban housing between 1860-1880 thanks to pattern books, so right at the time SF grew exponentially thanks to the Gold Rush. A lot of them managed to survive the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, despite being constructed of wood. It started to go out of fashion in the 1880s, only to be replaced by its flashy cousin Queen Anne. Features: low-pitched roof with overhanging eaves, decorative brackets, tall narrow windows, elaborate frames around doors and windows, many with cupola or tower. Example: Hotaling Building (SF Landmark #12)

4 Flat Front Italianate

A wide projecting cornice hid the roof line behind it. There are lots of these in Western Addition and the east side of Pacific Heights, and single-story cottage versions in Noe Valley and Potrero Hill. Example: Sylvester House (SF Landmark #61)

5 Bay-windowed Italianate

Late to the party in the 1880s, these took over flat front Italianates when lots sizes got smaller as the bay windows increased square footage. You can thank these for bay windows becoming synonymous with San Francisco. Boatloads of these can be found in the Mission, as the neighborhood was built out during the height of this style’s popularity. Example: Walker House (SF Landmark 211)

6 Stick (1860-1890)

This one is all about the decorative detailing, using the wall itself as a decorative element with “sticks” applied to the surface. Chalk its popularity up to house pattern books in the 1860s and 70s. The townhouse version is mostly what you see around San Francisco. Features: steep gabled roof, exposed rafter tails, squared bay windows, wooden cladding with patterned stickwork that’s decorative instead of structural. Example: Shotwell Street in the Mission

7 Eastlake

This style is often hand-in-hand with the Stick style. So-called “Eastlake” millwork included details like sunburst brackets, rosettes, and flowers and plant imagery. Most of the exterior detailing came from local mills or ordered from catalogs, and these were often painted in a kaleidoscope of colors. Many of these survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire in neighborhoods like the Mission, Eureka Valley, and Pac Heights. Example: Sarah Mish House (SF Landmark #62)

8 Queen Anne (1880-1910)

The granddaddy (grandmamma?) of San Francisco Victorian architecture, this is the style that most people imagine when they think of “Victorians”. Ignore the Queen Anne reference – the style has little to do with her reign (1702-14) and more with Medieval influences. The gingerbread-y details are a more American addition, where no surface was left untouched. The style was super popular to large summer houses, but was alter adapted for the urban row house and even smaller workers cottages like those found in Glen Park and Potrero. Features: steep roofs with a ornamented front-facing gable, patterned surfaces with shingles or tiles, bay windows, elevated front porch, lacey decorative spindlework. Example: Postcard Row

9 Turreted Queen Anne

Some Queen Anne’s have “turret” towers, usually at the front corner. In SF, these are usually free-standing house (often on corners or large double lots) as opposed to row houses. Needless to say, the extra space required for the large houses meant the owners were usually on the wealthier side. Example: Haas Lilienthal House (SF Landmark #69)

10 Half-Timbered Queen Anne

Others utilized decorative half-timbering giving them a Tudor vibe. Example: 2500 Broadway

11 Second Empire (1860-1880)

Extensively revived in France during the mid-19th century, the uniquely pitched roof was particularly functional for providing of full upper story of useable space. Other than the specific roof type, the style has many similar characteristics as Italianate. There aren’t many in SF, but builders would often slap a mansard roof on houses of other styles. Features: mansard roofs with dormer windows, molded cornices, decorative brackets. Example: Audiffred Building (SF Landmark #7)

12 Shingle/First Bay Region Tradition (1880-1915)

Transplants from the East Coast may think of these as Cape Cod style, and its popularity was due to those houses popping up in magazines at the time. Starchitect Willis Polk was the style’s most notable utilizer in San Francisco. Along with Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, the style took its own San Francisco life with the First Bay Region Tradition (though that’s pushing the line on Victorian period and entering Edwardian territory). You can find these in Russian Hill and Presidio Heights, as well as the Oakland and Berkeley Hills. Features: cladding and roofing in continuous wood shingles, asymmetrical façades, natural materials, large front porches, oversized arches on porches or entrances. Example below: Ferguson House

13 Richardsonian Romanesque (1880-1900)

Not super common in San Francisco, we threw it in the mix because it influenced many other styles. Named after Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson (who habitually wore a monk’s robe like a boss), these basically look like a fortress. Most of the San Francisco examples are churches. Features: wide rounded arches on squat columns, rough-faced masonry walls, recessed windows towers with conical roofs. Example: SF Gas & Light Company (SF Landmark #58)

14 Folk Victorian (1870-1910)

Think of this as the farmhouse version. Simple vernacular houses applied decorative detailing in attempt to mimic the more ornate styles of Queen Anne and Italianate. The growth of the railroad suddenly made woodworking machinery available to the masses, and carpenters were able to produce inexpensive detailing that any home owner to add for a little flair. As a traditionally rural form, these aren’t found often in San Francisco. Features: wide porches with spindlework, jigsaw cut trim, symmetrical façades, cornice line brackets. Example: Fort Mason (while more traditional Queen Anne in massing and asymmetry, it’s the closest to Folk Victorian within SF city limits)