Victorian Houses, San Francisco
HistoryThe architectural face of San Francisco is characterized on the one hand by the skyscrapers of the city center and on the other by the wooden houses of the residential suburbs. The latter, dating mainly from the 19th century, are on that account generally referred to as "Victorian". The city's swift development - from a mere village in 1850 to a town of 150,000 inhabitants 20 years later and a city of more than 300,000 at the turn of the century - demanded an economical way of building.Although the very finest Victorian houses, built between 1870 and 1906, were destroyed in the earthquake (in particular those on Nob Hill and Van Ness Avenue), more than 13,000 still survive in various parts of the city - Bernal Heights, Duboce Triangle, Eureka, Glen Park, Haight-Ashbury, Mission District, Noe Valley, Potrero Hill and Western Addition.Roughly half of them have undergone alteration, with new façades of asbestos sheeting, plaster and stone.Italian styleBetween 1870 and 1880 narrow-fronted houses were built in what became known as the Italian style on account of the arches and other Roman elements on the façades.San Francisco "Stick"This Italian style developed in the 1880s into the distinctive San Francisco (as opposed to the simpler East Coast and Mid West) "Stick", so called because of the strong vertical emphasis of both the overall structure and the ornamentation, "like so many sticks". The term was first coined by the American architect Vincent Scully, though only after the houses had been built. Stick houses too have arches on their façades, the latter often being crowned by a gable and simple dormer window. The practice of painting the houses in pastel shades, recently revived for some restored houses, also dates from this time.Queen Anne styleIn the 1890s the Queen Anne style came into favor, especially for the more expensive, detached type of house (with conical-roofed towers, loft gables and mass-produced ornamentation).In the construction of all these houses extensive use was made of the redwood readily available near San Francisco. It was durable and reasonably resistant to fire and insect damage.Where to see Victorian housesSome particularly fine examples of Victorian houses can be seen in the area centered on the western half of Union Street, roughly from Gough Street to Divisadero Street (and Cow Hollow). There are also some very attractive houses around Alamo Square. This however is not a safe district for tourists to venture into on foot and care should be taken even if driving.Cast-iron housesSan Francisco has only a few so-called cast-iron houses, recognizable by the iron stanchions inside and out on every floor. Perhaps the best-known of these buildings in San Francisco is Columbus Tower (920 Kearny Street, on the corner of Columbus Avenue). Dating from 1907, it is painted green and stands out from among the surrounding buildings all of which are low. Nowadays people like to photograph it with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background; the contrast in styles is striking.
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