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181 Buena Vista East

Queen Anne Victorian

Located in San Francisco

Perched on the crest and offering sweeping views of the city and bay from almost every room, this very special mansion is of a grand scale and features exquisite period details and extensive renovations. It enjoys magnificent private grounds which provide serenity in the heart of the city.  7 bedrooms, 3 full and 4 half baths. Separate artist studio. 4+ car parking.

 

181 Buena Vista Avenue East

A History by: William Kostura, architectural historian, for Dona Crowder, of Coldwell Banker December 2011

In April of 1897 an advertisement for this house appeared in a San Francisco newspaper.  It read “10-room house for rent, large grounds, stable, etc.  Cor. South Broderick and Buena Vista Avenue.  A Country Home in the City.”  The street names have changed since then, the house has been enlarged, and the stable has vanished.  Nevertheless, the ad captures something of this house’s present character.  It is expansive in size, and being across the street from Buena Vista Park, still remains remote from the busy pace of the city around it.

The house was built at an unknown date, almost certainly sometime during the late 1880s or the 1890s. In 1899 it was substantially enlarged and remodeled for a new owner, bringing the house to its present appearance. The architect for the addition and alteration was Nathaniel Blaisdell, who is known to architectural historians today for his many elegant residences and several very fine commercial buildings.

For several decades, from 1899 onward, the house was owned by the de Urioste family, which had lived in San Francisco and worked as commission merchants since the 1870s.

This history will also discuss Buena Vista Park, which is the commanding geographical feature in the vicinity; and the Park Hill Homestead Association, the tract that the house is part of.

Buena Vista Park

Buena Vista Park was created in 1870 by the same legislation that created Golden Gate Park.  At that time the area had long been owned under pre-emption claims, but remained unsettled except for a very few farm houses. Owners whose land was taken for the park were compensated, and the city’s Park Commissioners allowed the park to remain in its natural state for some decades, until the neighborhood became more settled.  Thus, the decision to purchase land for Buena Vista Park, for the benefit of a future generation, was far-seeing.

The main change to the park in its early years was the result of grading Haight Street as a thoroughfare.  This grading left a bluff at the northern edge of Buena Vista Park, and whenever there were heavy rains, earth would collapse from the hillside onto the street.  The earth was then carted off for gardening use in Golden Gate Park.

A plaque in the park states that the park was developed in the 1890s.  However, the concrete staircases and paved paths in the park appear to date from a later time.  A newspaper article from 1895 describes the park as “neglected and barren,” adding that “no one would now believe that it is a public park.”  Another article in 1896 reports that neighbors had organized as the Park Hill Improvement Club, and were urging the Park Commission to make improvements.  At present, the paper reported, “the Park in its present condition is declared to be a disgrace to the city.  It is a barren piece of land containing thirty-six acres and is covered with a growth of scrub oaks.”

As far as is known, not until 1910 did the Park Commission request $25,000 from the city supervisors to develop the park.  Work finally began in 1912 and was completed in 1913, to a plan devised by Parks Superintendent John McLaren.  This work, costing $15,000, included grading the eastern slope of the hill, making a driveway to the top of the hill, widening an esplanade there, grading a new footpath from Buena Vista Avenue to the top, building a staircase from a sidewalk to the top of a terrace, and planting thousands of trees.  This work was formally dedicated in April 1913. The next year, the Haight and Ashbury District Improvement Association requested another $25,000 for Buena Vista Park improvements.  It may be that the staircases leading into the park and the pathways in the park were built in stages over time.

The Park Hill
Homestead Association

Just as the land that became Buena Vista Park had been owned under pre-emption claims for many years, so had the land surrounding the park.  In the 1860s and 1870s the city surveyed this land, dividing it into blocks and streets and making intensive development possible.  Once this was done, speculators moved in, bought the land, and formed homestead associations.  Their purpose was to survey the land they had purchased, demarcating small lots for residences, and then market the land to individuals who would build residences for themselves.  Invariably, homestead associations would form after the streets had been surveyed, but long before residential development had occurred close to the area.  These were long-term investments, ones that would pay off many years later, after the land came into demand for development.

The Park Hill Homestead Association was formed in 1869, after Buena Vista Park had been surveyed but a year before legislation creating it had passed, by about a dozen investors.  Over the next decade they donated land to the city for use as South Broderick Street (now Buena Vista Terrace), petitioned the city to grade other streets within and near their tract, and made certain improvements, such as grading their land to make it suitable for building.  In 1878 and 1879 the homestead association trustees fully surveyed their land, which comprised some or all of six city blocks, dividing it into 25-foot wide lots.  Lots were finally offered for sale in 1884, and by 1887 they were selling briskly.  Some of the buyers did indeed build houses on their lots, while others were small-time speculators who bought lots with the expectation that their value would rise over time.

One of the major investors in the homestead association was the sugar manufacturer, Claus Spreckels. He had retained ownership of 38 lots at the north end of the tract, including the land now occupied by 181 Buena Vista Avenue East.  In 1889 he resurveyed his portion of the tract, adjusting lot boundaries for easier sale.  The boundaries of the lot where 181 Buena Vista Avenue East stands remained unchanged, however.  It is possible that a house already stood on the site in that year.

By 1891 there were enough residents in the Park Hill Homestead and the adjacent Flint Tract to organize in protest against the planned construction of a hospital on Park Avenue (as the road surrounding the park was then called).  They feared that the hospital would spread disease, making their land worthless.  The hospital they protested against was probably St. Joseph’s, which was first constructed in wood, and then was rebuilt in 1927 to designs by Bakewell and Brown.  (It has since been converted into condominiums.)

181 Buena Vista Avenue East and the de Urioste family

No notice of a building contract for the construction of this house could be found in San Francisco newspapers, or in California Architect and Building News, for the period around 1896-1897.  The newspaper ad quoted at the top of this paper, and a notation in the Spring Valley Water Company records, does prove that the house had already been built by 1897.  This may have been one of the first houses to be built in the Park Hill Homestead Association.  If it was, it probably was Queen Anne in style, this being the style that predominated for large houses in San Francisco during the mid-1880s and early 1890s. The two rounded towers with witch’s caps could be survivors of the house’s original appearance; such features were common on Queen Annes.

In February 1899 Hannah de Urioste, the wife of George de Urioste, purchased lot 1 of block B of the Spreckels Subdivision of the Park Hill Homestead No. 2, from Jean M. Babcock. This lot, measuring about 105 feet along Buena Vista Avenue east by 40 feet along Duboce Avenue, was where the house stood.  At the same time, Mrs. de Urioste also purchased the three narrow adjacent lots to the east, measuring 75 feet in width, from Sadie M. Morgan.  Two months later she hired contractor E. C. Bletch to make alterations and additions to the house, to designs by Nathaniel Blaisdell, at a cost of $4,228.  The cost of painting, plumbing, gas fitting, mantels, and hardware was to be added to that amount as separate work.  The house then became the de Urioste home.

George de Urioste was born in Guatemala in 1854.  His father, Jose de Urioste, was a Basque from Bilbao, Spain who had moved to Guatemala in 1846.  The elder de Urioste became a merchant and then a poet who was known throughout Central America.  His Basque heritage was his “life pride,” according to his obituary.

George de Urioste came to the United States in 1873 and to San Francisco a year or two later.  Here, he worked for many years as a commission merchant in partnership with his brother Adolph and two in-laws, as Urruela and Urioste.  He was also active in shipping between San Francisco and Guatemala, and retained close ties with the country of his birth.  With his profits, he invested widely in San Francisco real estate.  In 1901, two years after he and his wife Hannah moved to Buena Vista Avenue, he also became the consul for the Argentine Republic in San Francisco.  He seems to have died in the mid-1910s.

In 1916, his widow Hannah built a very attractive apartment building, the Corinthian Court Apartments, at 512 Van Ness Avenue, directly across the street from City Hall.  For some years she and her son and daughter, Adolfo and Anita, moved back and forth between this apartment building and 181 Buena Vista Avenue East.  Adolfo managed the apartment building for his mother and sometimes had an auto dealership in one of the storefronts.  By the late 1920s Hannah de Urioste, and her children Adolfo and Anita, had moved permanently back to 181 Buena Vista Avenue East.

Adolfo de Urioste continued to live at 189 Buena Vista Avenue East for many years.  As late as 1953 he lived there while selling insurance from 512 Van Ness, while his sister Anita worked as an underwriter for Aetna Casualty and Surety.

Architectural description

This house is located at the northeast corner of Buena Vista Avenue East and Duboce Avenue, and thus has two fully-finished facades.  The massing is irregular and employs both rectangular and rounded forms.  The latter include the towers with conical caps at the corners on Duboce, and may be surviving elements from an earlier Queen Anne style that the house once had.  On the Buena Vista Avenue side, a central entrance pavilion projects forward from the rest of the house.

Wall cladding is primarily horizontal wood siding, laid flush.  Exceptions include some stucco and rustic siding on the low walls flanking the main entrance, and rustic siding at the basement level on the Duboce side.

Ornamentation and trim are Classical Revival in style.  At the main entrance, a paneled door is topped by a transom and flanked by narrow sidelights, and delicate moldings surround these openings.  Larger sidelights with curvilinear muntins project slightly forward from this entrance and are flanked by Doric columns.  The stoop is marble with a band of colorful, decorative tile.  Above the entrance composition is an entablature with a blank frieze, cornice, and crowning balustrade.  These relate to the blank frieze and dentilated cornice at the top of the house and at the top of one corner tower.  Finely detailed classical trim also surrounds the subordinate entrance to the left.  Windows are framed by classical moldings and retain their original double-hung wooden sash.  The survival of all of these details and sash allows the house to fully convey its delicately restrained and highly effective Classical Revival treatment, which probably dates to the alterations of 1899.

The architect for the alterations, Nathaniel Blaisdell

To what degree did the alterations of 1899 by Nathaniel Blaisdell give this house its current appearance?  To what degree did the original house look the way it does now?

If the house was built in the 1880s or the early 1890s, when the Queen Anne style predominated, then it would have had a very different appearance than it does now; and one could be confident that the Classical Revival style that the house now has was the result of the alterations by Blaisdell.  If the house was built only a few years before it was purchased by the de Uriostes, then it might have looked originally the way it does now.

Because the 1899 owner who sold the house to the de Uriostes, Jean Babcock, never lived in the house, it seems likely that she had purchased the house as an investment for later resale, and that the house was built much earlier than 1899 for a previous owner.  This likelihood, plus the substantial cost of the alterations by Blaisdell (over $4,200, which was enough then to build a small two-story house), argue that he was responsible for the house’s current appearance.

Nathaniel Blaisdell (1862-1956) was born in Providence, Rhode Island, graduated from Brown University, and moved to San Francisco at age 23.  He gained a solid training by working as a draftsman for thirteen years, at least eleven of them for Clinton Day, a very prominent architect.  Blaisdell is said to have contributed in important ways to the design of Day’s Spring Valley Water Company Building – later known as the City of Paris Building – at Union Square (1896).

Blaisdell opened his own architectural office in 1897.  His practice grew slowly at first, for he received only eight known commissions, one of them the subject house, during his first three years.  Some others were for houses in Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights, and one was for major additions to a large downtown commercial building.  By 1902 he had designed three downtown buildings of five or more stories in height, two of them very prominent, and one of them with a steel frame.  With these commissions his future was assured.

After the earthquake and fire Blaisdell continued to design commercial buildings, of which three survivors are especially notable: 727 Sansome Street (1906), a small but beautifully detailed brick building; a ruggedly handsome granite and brick warehouse at 100 Potrero Boulevard (1910-1911); and a concrete loft building with brick facing for the jewelers, Shreve and Co., at 539 Bryant Street (1912). The latter was used as Shreve’s manufacturing plant.

Blaisdell is best known today, however, for his fine residences in Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, and the Richmond District.  Four of the best are in the Georgian style and include 2810 Pacific Avenue (1910), 2830 Pacific Avenue (1910), 2160 Lake Street (1912), and 2050 Lake Street (1915).  All of these have finely detailed classical trim that is painted white, in contrast with the red brick walls.

Blaisdell was a member of many clubs, some of them exclusive, including the Pacific Union Club and the University Club, and probably met some of his clients through such social circles.  He loved tennis, and was one of the founders of the California Tennis Club, as well as the designer of its building at Bush and Scott streets (1926).  He retired in 1927 and spent his last decades in travel and playing tennis.

Sources

On the physical structure of the house:

Classified ad, San Francisco Call, April 20, 1897 building contract for alterations by Blaisdell in San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 1899, p. 8

1900 Sanborn insurance map

On Buena Vista Park:

“A Neglected Square,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 1895, p. 9.

“Demands of the Outside Districts,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1896, p. 11.

“Park Commissioners Ask for Thousands,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 16, 1910, p. 11.

“Improvements Being Made at Buena Vista Park,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 2, 1913, p. 3.

“Will Dedicate Park Today,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 27, 1913, p. 68.

“Seeking Improvements for Buena Vista Park,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1914, p. 51.

On the Park Hill Homestead Association:

“Incorporations,” Sacramento Daily Union, May 1, 1869

“Incorporated,” Sacramento Daily Union, June 22, 1869 sales of lots reported in the Alta California, 1884-1887

subdivision maps at the City and County Surveyor’s office (Book C&D, pages 103 and 109, Book E&F, page 18)

On the de Urioste family:

San Francisco city directory listings, 1875-1950s

1910 and 1920 U. S. censuses “Jose de Urioste,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1887

On Nathaniel Blaisdell:

author’s research on the architect’s individual buildings and timeline of his career David Parry, “Pacific Heights Architects #25: Nathaniel Blaisdell,” from his website obituary, San Francisco Examiner, September 14th, 1956

Read More
Status: Sold
6 Bed  |  5 Baths
Sold: $7,200,000
List: $7,500,000
8,066 Sq. Ft.

Queen Anne Victorian

Located in San Francisco

Perched on the crest and offering sweeping views of the city and bay from almost every room, this very special mansion is of a grand scale and features exquisite period details and extensive renovations. It enjoys magnificent private grounds which provide serenity in the heart of the city.  7 bedrooms, 3 full and 4 half baths. Separate artist studio. 4+ car parking.

 

181 Buena Vista Avenue East

A History by: William Kostura, architectural historian, for Dona Crowder, of Coldwell Banker December 2011

In April of 1897 an advertisement for this house appeared in a San Francisco newspaper.  It read “10-room house for rent, large grounds, stable, etc.  Cor. South Broderick and Buena Vista Avenue.  A Country Home in the City.”  The street names have changed since then, the house has been enlarged, and the stable has vanished.  Nevertheless, the ad captures something of this house’s present character.  It is expansive in size, and being across the street from Buena Vista Park, still remains remote from the busy pace of the city around it.

The house was built at an unknown date, almost certainly sometime during the late 1880s or the 1890s. In 1899 it was substantially enlarged and remodeled for a new owner, bringing the house to its present appearance. The architect for the addition and alteration was Nathaniel Blaisdell, who is known to architectural historians today for his many elegant residences and several very fine commercial buildings.

For several decades, from 1899 onward, the house was owned by the de Urioste family, which had lived in San Francisco and worked as commission merchants since the 1870s.

This history will also discuss Buena Vista Park, which is the commanding geographical feature in the vicinity; and the Park Hill Homestead Association, the tract that the house is part of.

Buena Vista Park

Buena Vista Park was created in 1870 by the same legislation that created Golden Gate Park.  At that time the area had long been owned under pre-emption claims, but remained unsettled except for a very few farm houses. Owners whose land was taken for the park were compensated, and the city’s Park Commissioners allowed the park to remain in its natural state for some decades, until the neighborhood became more settled.  Thus, the decision to purchase land for Buena Vista Park, for the benefit of a future generation, was far-seeing.

The main change to the park in its early years was the result of grading Haight Street as a thoroughfare.  This grading left a bluff at the northern edge of Buena Vista Park, and whenever there were heavy rains, earth would collapse from the hillside onto the street.  The earth was then carted off for gardening use in Golden Gate Park.

A plaque in the park states that the park was developed in the 1890s.  However, the concrete staircases and paved paths in the park appear to date from a later time.  A newspaper article from 1895 describes the park as “neglected and barren,” adding that “no one would now believe that it is a public park.”  Another article in 1896 reports that neighbors had organized as the Park Hill Improvement Club, and were urging the Park Commission to make improvements.  At present, the paper reported, “the Park in its present condition is declared to be a disgrace to the city.  It is a barren piece of land containing thirty-six acres and is covered with a growth of scrub oaks.”

As far as is known, not until 1910 did the Park Commission request $25,000 from the city supervisors to develop the park.  Work finally began in 1912 and was completed in 1913, to a plan devised by Parks Superintendent John McLaren.  This work, costing $15,000, included grading the eastern slope of the hill, making a driveway to the top of the hill, widening an esplanade there, grading a new footpath from Buena Vista Avenue to the top, building a staircase from a sidewalk to the top of a terrace, and planting thousands of trees.  This work was formally dedicated in April 1913. The next year, the Haight and Ashbury District Improvement Association requested another $25,000 for Buena Vista Park improvements.  It may be that the staircases leading into the park and the pathways in the park were built in stages over time.

The Park Hill
Homestead Association

Just as the land that became Buena Vista Park had been owned under pre-emption claims for many years, so had the land surrounding the park.  In the 1860s and 1870s the city surveyed this land, dividing it into blocks and streets and making intensive development possible.  Once this was done, speculators moved in, bought the land, and formed homestead associations.  Their purpose was to survey the land they had purchased, demarcating small lots for residences, and then market the land to individuals who would build residences for themselves.  Invariably, homestead associations would form after the streets had been surveyed, but long before residential development had occurred close to the area.  These were long-term investments, ones that would pay off many years later, after the land came into demand for development.

The Park Hill Homestead Association was formed in 1869, after Buena Vista Park had been surveyed but a year before legislation creating it had passed, by about a dozen investors.  Over the next decade they donated land to the city for use as South Broderick Street (now Buena Vista Terrace), petitioned the city to grade other streets within and near their tract, and made certain improvements, such as grading their land to make it suitable for building.  In 1878 and 1879 the homestead association trustees fully surveyed their land, which comprised some or all of six city blocks, dividing it into 25-foot wide lots.  Lots were finally offered for sale in 1884, and by 1887 they were selling briskly.  Some of the buyers did indeed build houses on their lots, while others were small-time speculators who bought lots with the expectation that their value would rise over time.

One of the major investors in the homestead association was the sugar manufacturer, Claus Spreckels. He had retained ownership of 38 lots at the north end of the tract, including the land now occupied by 181 Buena Vista Avenue East.  In 1889 he resurveyed his portion of the tract, adjusting lot boundaries for easier sale.  The boundaries of the lot where 181 Buena Vista Avenue East stands remained unchanged, however.  It is possible that a house already stood on the site in that year.

By 1891 there were enough residents in the Park Hill Homestead and the adjacent Flint Tract to organize in protest against the planned construction of a hospital on Park Avenue (as the road surrounding the park was then called).  They feared that the hospital would spread disease, making their land worthless.  The hospital they protested against was probably St. Joseph’s, which was first constructed in wood, and then was rebuilt in 1927 to designs by Bakewell and Brown.  (It has since been converted into condominiums.)

181 Buena Vista Avenue East and the de Urioste family

No notice of a building contract for the construction of this house could be found in San Francisco newspapers, or in California Architect and Building News, for the period around 1896-1897.  The newspaper ad quoted at the top of this paper, and a notation in the Spring Valley Water Company records, does prove that the house had already been built by 1897.  This may have been one of the first houses to be built in the Park Hill Homestead Association.  If it was, it probably was Queen Anne in style, this being the style that predominated for large houses in San Francisco during the mid-1880s and early 1890s. The two rounded towers with witch’s caps could be survivors of the house’s original appearance; such features were common on Queen Annes.

In February 1899 Hannah de Urioste, the wife of George de Urioste, purchased lot 1 of block B of the Spreckels Subdivision of the Park Hill Homestead No. 2, from Jean M. Babcock. This lot, measuring about 105 feet along Buena Vista Avenue east by 40 feet along Duboce Avenue, was where the house stood.  At the same time, Mrs. de Urioste also purchased the three narrow adjacent lots to the east, measuring 75 feet in width, from Sadie M. Morgan.  Two months later she hired contractor E. C. Bletch to make alterations and additions to the house, to designs by Nathaniel Blaisdell, at a cost of $4,228.  The cost of painting, plumbing, gas fitting, mantels, and hardware was to be added to that amount as separate work.  The house then became the de Urioste home.

George de Urioste was born in Guatemala in 1854.  His father, Jose de Urioste, was a Basque from Bilbao, Spain who had moved to Guatemala in 1846.  The elder de Urioste became a merchant and then a poet who was known throughout Central America.  His Basque heritage was his “life pride,” according to his obituary.

George de Urioste came to the United States in 1873 and to San Francisco a year or two later.  Here, he worked for many years as a commission merchant in partnership with his brother Adolph and two in-laws, as Urruela and Urioste.  He was also active in shipping between San Francisco and Guatemala, and retained close ties with the country of his birth.  With his profits, he invested widely in San Francisco real estate.  In 1901, two years after he and his wife Hannah moved to Buena Vista Avenue, he also became the consul for the Argentine Republic in San Francisco.  He seems to have died in the mid-1910s.

In 1916, his widow Hannah built a very attractive apartment building, the Corinthian Court Apartments, at 512 Van Ness Avenue, directly across the street from City Hall.  For some years she and her son and daughter, Adolfo and Anita, moved back and forth between this apartment building and 181 Buena Vista Avenue East.  Adolfo managed the apartment building for his mother and sometimes had an auto dealership in one of the storefronts.  By the late 1920s Hannah de Urioste, and her children Adolfo and Anita, had moved permanently back to 181 Buena Vista Avenue East.

Adolfo de Urioste continued to live at 189 Buena Vista Avenue East for many years.  As late as 1953 he lived there while selling insurance from 512 Van Ness, while his sister Anita worked as an underwriter for Aetna Casualty and Surety.

Architectural description

This house is located at the northeast corner of Buena Vista Avenue East and Duboce Avenue, and thus has two fully-finished facades.  The massing is irregular and employs both rectangular and rounded forms.  The latter include the towers with conical caps at the corners on Duboce, and may be surviving elements from an earlier Queen Anne style that the house once had.  On the Buena Vista Avenue side, a central entrance pavilion projects forward from the rest of the house.

Wall cladding is primarily horizontal wood siding, laid flush.  Exceptions include some stucco and rustic siding on the low walls flanking the main entrance, and rustic siding at the basement level on the Duboce side.

Ornamentation and trim are Classical Revival in style.  At the main entrance, a paneled door is topped by a transom and flanked by narrow sidelights, and delicate moldings surround these openings.  Larger sidelights with curvilinear muntins project slightly forward from this entrance and are flanked by Doric columns.  The stoop is marble with a band of colorful, decorative tile.  Above the entrance composition is an entablature with a blank frieze, cornice, and crowning balustrade.  These relate to the blank frieze and dentilated cornice at the top of the house and at the top of one corner tower.  Finely detailed classical trim also surrounds the subordinate entrance to the left.  Windows are framed by classical moldings and retain their original double-hung wooden sash.  The survival of all of these details and sash allows the house to fully convey its delicately restrained and highly effective Classical Revival treatment, which probably dates to the alterations of 1899.

The architect for the alterations, Nathaniel Blaisdell

To what degree did the alterations of 1899 by Nathaniel Blaisdell give this house its current appearance?  To what degree did the original house look the way it does now?

If the house was built in the 1880s or the early 1890s, when the Queen Anne style predominated, then it would have had a very different appearance than it does now; and one could be confident that the Classical Revival style that the house now has was the result of the alterations by Blaisdell.  If the house was built only a few years before it was purchased by the de Uriostes, then it might have looked originally the way it does now.

Because the 1899 owner who sold the house to the de Uriostes, Jean Babcock, never lived in the house, it seems likely that she had purchased the house as an investment for later resale, and that the house was built much earlier than 1899 for a previous owner.  This likelihood, plus the substantial cost of the alterations by Blaisdell (over $4,200, which was enough then to build a small two-story house), argue that he was responsible for the house’s current appearance.

Nathaniel Blaisdell (1862-1956) was born in Providence, Rhode Island, graduated from Brown University, and moved to San Francisco at age 23.  He gained a solid training by working as a draftsman for thirteen years, at least eleven of them for Clinton Day, a very prominent architect.  Blaisdell is said to have contributed in important ways to the design of Day’s Spring Valley Water Company Building – later known as the City of Paris Building – at Union Square (1896).

Blaisdell opened his own architectural office in 1897.  His practice grew slowly at first, for he received only eight known commissions, one of them the subject house, during his first three years.  Some others were for houses in Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights, and one was for major additions to a large downtown commercial building.  By 1902 he had designed three downtown buildings of five or more stories in height, two of them very prominent, and one of them with a steel frame.  With these commissions his future was assured.

After the earthquake and fire Blaisdell continued to design commercial buildings, of which three survivors are especially notable: 727 Sansome Street (1906), a small but beautifully detailed brick building; a ruggedly handsome granite and brick warehouse at 100 Potrero Boulevard (1910-1911); and a concrete loft building with brick facing for the jewelers, Shreve and Co., at 539 Bryant Street (1912). The latter was used as Shreve’s manufacturing plant.

Blaisdell is best known today, however, for his fine residences in Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, and the Richmond District.  Four of the best are in the Georgian style and include 2810 Pacific Avenue (1910), 2830 Pacific Avenue (1910), 2160 Lake Street (1912), and 2050 Lake Street (1915).  All of these have finely detailed classical trim that is painted white, in contrast with the red brick walls.

Blaisdell was a member of many clubs, some of them exclusive, including the Pacific Union Club and the University Club, and probably met some of his clients through such social circles.  He loved tennis, and was one of the founders of the California Tennis Club, as well as the designer of its building at Bush and Scott streets (1926).  He retired in 1927 and spent his last decades in travel and playing tennis.

Sources

On the physical structure of the house:

Classified ad, San Francisco Call, April 20, 1897 building contract for alterations by Blaisdell in San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 1899, p. 8

1900 Sanborn insurance map

On Buena Vista Park:

“A Neglected Square,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 1895, p. 9.

“Demands of the Outside Districts,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1896, p. 11.

“Park Commissioners Ask for Thousands,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 16, 1910, p. 11.

“Improvements Being Made at Buena Vista Park,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 2, 1913, p. 3.

“Will Dedicate Park Today,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 27, 1913, p. 68.

“Seeking Improvements for Buena Vista Park,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1914, p. 51.

On the Park Hill Homestead Association:

“Incorporations,” Sacramento Daily Union, May 1, 1869

“Incorporated,” Sacramento Daily Union, June 22, 1869 sales of lots reported in the Alta California, 1884-1887

subdivision maps at the City and County Surveyor’s office (Book C&D, pages 103 and 109, Book E&F, page 18)

On the de Urioste family:

San Francisco city directory listings, 1875-1950s

1910 and 1920 U. S. censuses “Jose de Urioste,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1887

On Nathaniel Blaisdell:

author’s research on the architect’s individual buildings and timeline of his career David Parry, “Pacific Heights Architects #25: Nathaniel Blaisdell,” from his website obituary, San Francisco Examiner, September 14th, 1956

Read More
Dona Crowder

Dona Crowder

Direct: 415.310.5933