"Victorian Architecture" Architecture Tip by zChris

Architecture, San Francisco: 32 reviews and 59 photos

  Victorian houses in the Haight
by zChris

Favorite thing: Of course, when most people think of the physical character of the city of San Francisco, they think of two things: the forty-thre massive hills on which the city is built, and its world-famous Victorian architecture. Indeed, the craftsmanship of wood used on some of the homes in city city is exquisite. the city's most treasured and grandiose homes are affectionately known as 'Painted Laidies' for their pastel colouring and 19th century whimsy. Interestingly, the majority of the city's Victorian housing stock lies outside the tourist's haunt of the city's northeast corner. It was this region which was most badly damaged by the fire after the famous 1906 earthquake, and very few Victorian homes survive here. The few notable remaining examples stand around the Vallejo Steps in Russian Hill. The vast majority of the city's Victorian stock lies west across Van Ness Avenue, the width of which served as a firebreak during the post-earthquake fire. The best homes are located in the districts of Pacific Heights, the Western Addition, Hayes Valley (where the famous Postcard Row along Alamo Square sits before the skyline), the Mission District, Noe Valley, the Castro District, and the Haight District, where the examples in the photo at left stand. The Haight (see below) is the place I recommend one see Victorians- they are in abundance here more than any other locale in the city, and their conservative apprearance provides an interesting contrast to the neighbourhood's countercultural roots. The description 'Victorian' for these homes is actually a misnomer. While quite a few were built during the reign of Queen Victoria, a disproportionate number more were built during the Edwardian period directly following. The distinction is subtle architecturally but is made by San Francisco realtors. The 'Victorian' category itself is actually a composite of several late 19th century architectural styles. One can distinguish amongst them:

Fondest memory: The Italianite Style is the earliest, appearing in the 1860s and lasting through the 1880s. Italianite homes feature high, rounded windows and heavy cornices building outwards. These homes will generally be quite plain save a bay window projection.

The Stick Style became fashionable in the 1880s and features windows more elongated than those of Italianite homes with tops much flatter. The cornices of Stick homes are less ornate as well.

The Queen Anne Style is a radical departure from both and was used mainly in the 1880s-1910s. Queen Anne homes were either built of wood plank or shingle and often feature fanciful assymetrical designs including turrets and rounded window indentations.

Colourful streets full of these homes make for a favourful impression as well as a convincing argument that San Francisco has easily asserted vernacular architectural styles and that, en masse, they help to shape the city and define its uniqueness.

Review Helpfulness: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jun 17, 2003
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