Chronological listing of 10 selected architectural works in the San Francisco Bay Area (1895-1897).
1895, Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Bishop William Kip monument,
El Camino Real, Colma
Coxhead's patronage from the Episcopal church through the early 1890s appears to have been in large part due to bishop Kip. Beginning in 1888, a drive was launched to create the position of assistant bishop, who would be responsible for operations in southern California. This effort may well have influenced Coxhead's decision to relocate in San Francisco, where the diocese was headquartered. The position was filled in 1890; thereafter Kip concentrated his efforts in northern California. Kip died in 1893, and Coxhead designed his tomb, which was constructed two years later (Longstreth 1998: 374 n.35).
1895-97, Presidio, Barracks,
Montgomery St., San Francisco.
Along Montgomery Street, facing the present parade ground, is a fine group of brick barracks. (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 163).
1896, Pacific Heights, Bourn House,
2550 Webster St., San Francisco.
Another grand town house by Polk is the William Bourn house, built in 1894 at 2550 Webster Street. This massive Georgian style house shows Polk's astonishing versatility. The Georgian style town house of klinker brick, with massive chimneys, seems a bit ponderous by modern-day standards, but it makes an impressive statement. Obviously the Bourns liked his work, for they commissioned him to design a stone house at the Empire Mine, which they owned, near Nevada City, as well as a large country house, "Madrono." Finally they called him in as a consultant for their magnificent country house, Filoli, built in Woodside in 1917, now the property of the National Trust. At about the same time (1916) Polk was busy with the design of Carolands, the enormous mansion built by Harriet Pullman in Hillsborough, which has perhaps the grandest stair hall in the Bay Area (Alexander and Heig 2002: 337).
William Bourn, who was head of the Spring Valley Water Company, had made a fortune from his Empire Mine near Grass Valley. In 1897 he commissioned young Willis Polk to design this handsome town house in the Carolingian style, at 2550 Webster Street. It is a masterpiece of the bricklayers' and stonemasons' arts, with beautifully carved decorations and fine fixtures, such as the bronze lantern... Nothing like it was being built in the city in 1897. Polk also designed the offices and main residence at the Empire Mine, and contributed much of the design for Bourn's magnificent estate, Filoli, on the Peninsula (Alexander and Heig 2002: 258).
A compact clinker-brick block with Willis Polk's bold Classical detailing, this was designed for the president of the Spring Valley Water Company for whom Polk also designed two great estates: Filoli, near Woodside, a few miles from the city, and the so-called Empire Cottage at his Empire mine near Grass Valley (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 84).
Following the [George W.] Gibbs house, the one opportunity Polk had to realize such a project was for William Bourn's residence in Pacific Heights. The budget was generous, over $50,000, but the site still presented a challenge. Bourn had purchased a relatively small and inexpensive lot on a side street, where far more modest dwellings and service buildings normally were located. In response to this situation, Polk designed the house with an English basement, which eliminated the need for extensive excavation and allowed the principal rooms to be placed well above the street, thus receiving more natural light and better views. The arrangement, similar to that of many larges houses in eastern cities, fills almost the entire property in front and on both sides. However, since the lot abuts the rear yards of neighboring residences, three elevations are visible from the street. The exterior thus needed to have both a formal facade and an overall treatment that acknowledged its freestanding position.
Polk's design reflects this dual role, with front and side elevations that are differentiated from, but also complementary to, one another. The facade is rigorously ordered, but in contrast to many urban houses of comparable size, the order is implied. The repertoire of classical devices often used to achieve continuity from one zone to the next is minimal. The main floor is enunciated by a single, very large window ornately enframed; above, there is a triad of openings rendered like sharp incisions in the wall surface. These opposing strata are sandwiched between a heavily rusticated basement story and an equally pronounced cornice and attic. Contrasting materials enliven the play. Delicately carved sandstone trim rests amid expanses of rough clinker brick, which transposes the animated surface effects of shingles in rustic buildings to a monumental context. Clinker bricks afford a rich, durable veneer that was also cheap, for the standard practice at that time was to discard them after firing. Rather than using an expensive material on the facade and turning to a less costly one for the sides, Polk employed these bricks on the whole exterior. Their textural qualities are as appropriate to the picturesque side elevations as they are to the symmetrical street front, and thus give a rare sense of cohesiveness to the entire building. The studied, but seemingly casual, relationship between these elevations is equally unconventional for a house of this type. The idea may well have come from postmedieval vernacular precedent, in particular from the Eastgate House in Kent, a work Polk was familiar with from publications.
Passage into and through the house conveys a sense of its owner's prominence and love of power. Set beneath the living room window, the entrance is subordinated to the point of imparting an act of submission. The front door is deeply recessed and flanked by striated courses of brick that appear to eat into the sandstone trim, turning inward toward the vestibule. Beyond lies a low, lavishly decorated corridor extending to the rear hall, where the main stair is situated in dim light. Right by the entry are two reception rooms, one vaguely Georgian, the other aggressively rustic. A third, more private, upstairs reception room was for friends, but other visitors were kept entirely apart from the principal rooms of the house.
In contrast to the warren at ground level, the main floor is unusually open for a city house of the period. The central hall affords the essential unifying element, with wide thresholds connecting to each room so that the entire layout can be perceived at once. Wood trim painted ivory forms a visual frame, defining the boundaries of the space. The wall surfaces are covered with a dreamlike landscape mural by Bruce Porter, which creates an ethereal interplay between spatial progression and pictorial illusion. The other rooms are given a strong architectural order. elaborate, large-scale elements are accentuated by contrasts of light and dark zones. The effect is especially pronounced in the dining room, with all the natural light concentrated at one end where a wall of glass surrounds a massive freestanding fireplace. The space recalls Stanford White's dining room at Kingscote in Newport, Rhode Island, updated with a contemporary taste for classical order, yet retaining a sense of freedom and of being integrated into a sequence of spaces that characterizes the best Shingle Style work (Longstreth 1998: 211-17).
The massive brick structure at 2550 Webster Street was built in 1896 for William B. Bourn, President of the Spring Valley Water Company. Architect Willis Polk, who also designed Bourn's palatial Peninsula estate, Filoli, created a powerful variant of Georgian forms for this residence on property which then embraced the entire block. The house has been maintained in superior condition perhaps because it has had so few owners during its life (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 24).
1896, Lands End, Cliff House and Sutro Baths,
Point Lobos Ave., San Francisco.
Emile Lemme and C. J. Colley.
In 1894 the Cliff House burned to the ground in a huge fire. Undaunted, Sutro built a resort hotel designed by Emile Lemme and C. J. Colley in the style of a French Château on the site. The new building, five stories on the south side facing the road, featured a large dining room, a bar, numerous private dining rooms, art and photography galleries, and an elevator to take guests up to the observatory in the central tower. When the new Cliff House opened in 1896, it was served by a new electric trolley line constructed by Sutro. In an article in the Wave titled "San Francisco's Architectural Monstrosities," Willis Polk included a photo of the Cliff House with the caption "Showing how the beauty of the most picturesque and romantic spot on the Pacific Coast has been heightened by the erection of a wooden bird cage and a half-gross assortment of triangles."
When Sutro opened the new Cliff House, he also opened an even more elaborate structure--an aquarium and bathouse fed by the tides through a tunnel drilled beneath the headlands just north of the Cliff House. When it was finished, the Sutro Baths and Museum consisted of six saltwater swimming pools and a freshwater pool under a steel and glass structure large enough to accommodate 1,600 bathers. Visitors entered the building through an entranceway in the form of a classical Greek temple and descended a broad staircse, lined with tropical plants and fountains, to the pools. In addition, there were three restaurants, each large enough to accomodate 1,000 people, an amphitheater with seating for 3,700 people, and three floors of balustrades, alcoves, and arcades, which served as galleries for Sutro's collections of shells, natural history specimens, and artifacts from Mexico, Egypt, Syria, Japan, and China. All of this was uder a roof made of 100,000 square feet of rainbow-colored stained glass supported by 700 tons of iron girders. Admission: 10 cents, 25 cents for a swim.
The Baths burned in 1967, leaving remnants of the foundations of the swimming pools, the bathhouses, and the saltwater collecting pools (Wiley 2000: 375-77).
1896, Golden Gate Park, Bridge,
Kennedy Drive, San Francisco
(Longstreth 1998: 425).
1896, Haight-Ashbury, Spencer House,
1080 Haight St., San Francisco
Fred P. Rabin.
1896-97, Union Square, Admission Day Fountain,
Market, Post, and Montgomery Sts., San Francisco.
Douglas Tilden, sculptor, Willis Polk, architect.
[James] Phelan's attitude toward architecture is revealed by his role in erecting two commemorative monuments. The first he financed himself in 1896 to honor California's admission to the Union and to demonstrate locally the virtues of civic art. Douglas Tilden, recognized as the region's most talented sculptor, was charged with the design. Tilden asked Polk to collaborate, and Phelan acquisced to the partnership but gave Polk scarcely any credit for his contribution (Longstreth 1998: 231).
1896, Presidio Heights, Russell Osborn house,
3362 Clay St., San Francisco
Another fine shingle-sheathed house (Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 44).
By the mid-1890's, the idea of the rustic city house began to win acceptance among well-to-do businessmen. Following Horatio Livermore's move to Russian Hill, where a rustic ambiance predominated, several contemporaries commissioned sizable rustic houses in Pacific Heights, where such work was still a novelty. These houses are not only larger, but also more elaborate and formal in their expression. At the same time, they possess the same unconventional mix of disparate qualities found in their less expensive counterparts. The house Coxhead designed for insurance broker Russell Osborn is an important example of the larger type (Fig. 84). Inspiration for the exterior appears to have come from seventeenth-century English tradesmen's houses, where classical details and order are mixed with late medieval verticality and picturesqueness (Fig. 85). These dual characteristics are emphasized in the Osborn house, with rustic and refined elements isolated from one another. Elaborate, overscaled Georgian details are concentrated in a single projecting bay, forming an emphatic center axis that stands alone on a large, shingled wall surface. The formal, symmetrical composition and grand scale are opposed by an awkward side bay, which looks like an afterthought but which helps to enliven the elevation and is an integral part of the plan.
All suggestion of rustic informality is abandoned on the interior. Even more than in the Murdock house, the typically English device of arranging spaces of different character in a sequence that elicits surprise and delight is used here. The unfolding of grand allusions behind a placid facade in relatively confined quarters was a favorite eighteenth-century contrivance, one that was now being used by Shaw and his followers in their London houses.24 Here the effect is intensified by the constricted approach from a low, dark vestibule up a straight flight of steps to a skylit central hall, patterned after much larger ones in Georgian country houses (Figs. 86, 87). In the hall, thick, deeply undercut corner moldings bulge from the wall, colliding with one another at junctures and vying for space. But these elements also transform each plane into a giant panel, unrelieved save for small paired windows set at the upper level. The large scale and sense of abstractness is reinforced by the continuous molding on the staircase soffit, which seems to float as it directs the eye diagonally upward. Directly above is a delicate, even fragile, balustrade that contrasts with the adjacent features and with a robust counterpart that screens the stairwell running down to the entrance level. Restlessness also pervades the living room, where Baroque fluidity is combined with Georgian reserve in a most unusual fashion (Fig. 88). The plan itself seems agitated, with great spaces compressed to fit the confines of the lot. Yet a sense of axial order and continuity is maintained by the diagonal alignment of front and rear bay windows with the hall thresholds (Fig. 89).
The design's complexities appear to stem from more than aesthetic factors. Coxhead had to work with a relatively low budget of about $8,000.25 The layout thus conforms to the existing grade, with the entrance level only one room deep and the main floor meeting the slope at the rear. Under these conditions, a straight flight of stairs was the most inexpensive way to connect the two levels. The kitchen had to be adjacent to the dining room, rather than below as was common with an English basement plan. Hence, the main rooms could neither be axially aligned nor reached by a grand staircase from the entrance. Cost was also a likely factor in the inexpensive exterior treatment, which allowed more money to be spent on the fittings inside. Nevertheless, the fact that such imagery was used on an otherwise formal townhouse indicates the increasing respectability of rustic expression (Longstreth 1998: 134-40).
Clay Street, from Presidio Avenue west, has a number of fine homes and many of more than ordinary distinction. At 3362 Clay Street is a particularly attractive four-story, shingled Georgian Revival town house designed by Willis Polk in 1896 for Russell W. Osborn. At this time Polk had recently returned from a trip to England, where he had been much impressed by Georgian architecture.
The tall, narrow effect of 3362 Clay, with its windows arranged in a vertical line over the entrance, is further heightened by its neighbors, which have crowded forward from the original set-back. A bay with windows on two floors dominates the front, leading the eye upwards to a dormer topped by a heavy, segmented pediment. Originally the house had ornate copper downspouts, much like those of the Maybeck-designed house at 3233 Pacific.
The interior plan of the house centers around a three-story rotunda; curving wall lines are carried into other rooms, leaving few right-angled corners. The Period ornamentation is consistent with the exterior appearance of the house, but not at all what one would expect if only the brown-shingle effect had caught the eye (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 150-152).
1896-1905, Union Square, City of Paris rotunda,
Stockton and Geary Sts., San Francisco.
Clinton Day and Bakewell & Brown.
Replacing a revered landmark, the 1896-1908 City of Paris store by Clinton Day and Bakewell & Brown, this design preserves the latter's great stained glass rotunda but not in its original central location (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 7).
Paul Verdier and his sister, Madame Tessin, were fourth generation San Franciscans, and heirs to the beautiful City of Paris department store. Mme Tessin's house, on Pacific east of Divisadero, a large Queen Anne with fine art-glass windows, has kept its tall chimney with a bulbous top; most such chimneys were lost in the 1906 quake (Alexander and Heig 2002: 252)
After the 1906 disaster it [the house of Aimee Ashe nee Crocker, a.k.a. "the madcap heiress"] became the temporary home of the City of Paris department store. Clerks sold ladies' evening clothes, fans and opera cloaks in the elegantly appointed drawing room. Men's outer garments were displayed in the library, while such items as ladies lingerie, nightwear, linens and underwear were sold in the bedrooms. Customers passing from one room to another could pause in the great hall to admire some of the large paintings which the owners had left behind. The mansion was demolished in 1918 to make way for a parking lot--an ominous sign of the times (Alexander and Heig 2002: 227).
Designed by Clinton Day in 1896 and rebuilt after the fire by Bakewell and Brown with Louis Bourgeois. The exterior of the building is Day's design except for the cast iron store fronts of the bottom two stories and the wonderful sign on the roof. It was originally built for the Spring Valley Water Works Co. as an office building with retail space for the City of Paris Dry Goods Co. at the lower levels. The City of Paris store was established in 1850 in a ship bearing that name, and was located in many places before it occupied the present building. After the fire, the interior of the building was entirely remodeled for use by the City of Paris, to include for the first time a great central skylit space. In composition, the building is a stacked vertical block with modified Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation. The composition itself is modified by the articulation of a central pavilion on Geary and an end pavilion on Stockton. The building was an early example in San Francisco of an orderly design with Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation. This new style followed the example of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, and was in contrast to the prevailing Romanesque and eclectic designs of the period. With the exception of the Hibernia Bank, the building is the earliest downtown building remaining which represents this extremely important change not only in style but in attitude toward design for the city. Apart from its great interior space with its superbly detailed columns and stained glass dome, the real importance of the building is in its relationship to Union Square, to Geary and Stockton streets, and to the architecture of the retail district.
Following the example of the success of the Chicago World's Fair as a triumph of urbanism, the articulation of the facade, the large but subsidiary glass area, the stylistic references of its details, and the colors and textures of its materials all relate to the city around it. The buildings around the City of Paris, all of which were built later, relate to each other not so much out of a conscious effort to do so, but rather out of a shared attitude toward design and toward the urban function of a building on a street. The building is presently threatened by a Philip Johnson design for a new Neiman Marcus store which fails to understand the urban importance of the existing building. A new design which recognized these values would find less resistance in the community. A (Corbett 1979: 127).
1897, Lone Mountain, Columbarium,
1 Loraine Ct., San Francisco.
Today the only reminder that these burial sites [Calvary, Masonic, Odd Fellows, and Laurel Hill cemeteries] ever existed near Lone Mountain is the beautiful domed San Francisco Memorial Columbarium, which stands at what was once the entrance to the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
The elegant Columbarium, built in 1898 to house cremated remains, technically was not a burial site, and so did not fall under the ordinance prohibiting burials within the city limits; it escaped demolition when the surrounding cemeteries were removed. Its architect, B. J. S. Cahill, created a domed circular temple in the Roman Baroque style, with a rotunda reaching a height of 75 feet. At the apex is a stained-glass cap some twenty feet in diameter. After many years of neglect, the Columbarium was acquired by the Neptune Society, and has recently been beautifully restored and painted. Memorial services and even concerts and weddings are held in the magnificent rotunda, one of San Francisco's least-known architectural treasures, at 1 Loraine Court, off Anza (Alexander and Heig 2002: 341).
The San Francisco Columbarium: Neptune Society's Alternative to In-ground Burial
Let Your Eyes be Drawn SkywardThe San Francisco Columbarium is both grand and intimate. As you enter the rotunda, your eyes will be drawn skyward to the star burst stained glass ceiling seventy five feet over your head that helps illuminate all in a sunny positive glow. As you tour, you will be drawn down to the niches, many of which tell a life's story, decorated to memorialize a life's journey. The rooms on the ground floor facing the rotunda bear the names of the winds of mythology. The first floor rooms are named for major constellations. And many rooms bear specific themes honoring the lives memorialized therein.
HistoryThe San Francisco Columbariium's one hundred year tradition is part of a legacy traced from the Roman Republic nearly twenty five hundred years ago. For over two centuries, beautiful columbarium buildings have been constructed as final repositories for the cremated remains of the dead. The San Francisco Colubarium is one of the world's finest, and one of San Francisco's most prized architectural treasures.
The San Francisco Columbarium was dedicated in 1898, designed by Englishman B.J.S. Cahill [who also did the presidents' heads on Mount Rushmore] who was inspired by The World Columbian Exposition of 1893. It combines elements of classical Greek and Roman design. Architectural journals of the day said it had "all the quiet expression and endurance characteristic of a beautiful church, while at the same time it is a cheerful, well-lighted and appropriately decorated place.: The Columbarium's builders, The Order of Odd Fellows, wanted the rotunda to have the appearance of an ordinary Victorian living room. In their journal The Odd Fellows wrote: "...a delicate and refined atmosphere prevails here, divesting the mind of the unpleasant feeling that so often goes hand-in-hand with anything associated with the burial of the dead." Today the Columbarium rotunda continues to reflect the builder's interest in a cheerful celebration of life.
The San Francisco Columbarium survived the '06 earthquake without damage, and endured the political upheavals to move San Francisco cemeteries to Colma in the teens and twenties. The exodus of cemeteries from San Francisco began with 1910 and 1914 ordinances requiring cemeteries to relocate out of the city. Though there was opposition, ultimately all did relocate except for the San Francisco Columbarium which had been part of a 27 acre memorial park. The Columbarium was excepted from the law and declared a memorial under the Homestead Act. Today the San Francisco Columbarium is the only non-denominational columbarium in The City.
Ownership of the columbarium changed twice in the thirties, then passed to the Neptune Society of Northern California in 1980.
Neptune Society's StewardshipThe San Francisco Columbarium is an extension of Neptune Society's philosophy to offer families a unique, uplifting, personal alternative to in-ground burial. The Neptune Society takes seriously its role in preserving and expanding The San Francisco Columbarium. Since taking on the stewardship of this San Francisco historic treasure, renovation haas been ongoing, beginning with the preservation of the facility to insuire the basic viability of the structure; roofs, walls, windows. Focus then turned to renewal of the decorative aspets of the interior, restoring the priceless stained glass with piece-by-piece cleaning and meticulous releading. The marble-inlaid floor and ceiling mosaics were polished and reset. The walls have been waterproofed, sealed and repainted with care given to the authenticity of decor details. Today restoration of the outside grounds is underway to create a commemorative garden park, to be used as a meditative retreat.
The Neptune Society has also expanded the Columbarium's choice of rooms which adhere to the high architectural and artistic standards evident throughout the rest of the structure. In the Dome Room you will find crafted brass niches fronted by classic beveled glass. An exquisitely tiled star burst in the center of the room provides a dramatic focal point. a stained glass skylight illuminates the beautiful room. Neptune Society's stewardship secoures the tradition of yesterday as it looks to the future.
Visit The San Francisco ColumbariumPrivate tours for individuals, families and groups may be arranged by calling 415.752.7892. A Columbarium counselor will be happy to guide you through San Francisco's most unique architectural treasure. (Promotional literature by Neptune Society)
Abbreviationsadd = Additions; nm = No Mention; rem = Remodelled; rest = Restoration