by Michael Farfan
(Originally appeared in WNP newsletter, July 2011.)
There’s something especially unique and intriguing about one particular image of a large Victorian house by an anonymous photographer that was artistically captured during the early years of the inner Sunset District’s development. As this same image appeared in the April 2011 WNP newsletter for the subject of that month’s photo trivia contest, I decided I wanted to share some additional background I’ve learned not only about that particular photo, but of the house as well.
I was fortunate to come across this photo about twenty years ago after learning about a San Francisco photographer/historian named Greg Gaar who had large collections of local vintage photos that he sold from his Haight-Ashbury home. My father and I arranged a visit to Mr. Gaar and eagerly flipped through the endless photographs he set down in front of us to peruse. We had hoped to find historic scenes of our old neighborhood (the inner Sunset District), and we put aside pictures we thought we might like to buy. It was fascinating and fun, much like browsing through vendor boxes at antique shows, looking for hidden family treasures. My father and I loved doing that.
Then a photo seemed to suddenly jump up from the rest of the stack, stop us, and even take our breath away. This one photo turned out to be of our own house long before it was ours!
In an unusual way, the picture framed the home as its primary subject matter and centerpiece; not merely as a building off to the side somewhere, or as part of a collection of similar structures the way the Painted Ladies of San Francisco always appear in calendars and postcards. Here it was almost stately because no other building around it appeared as large or as regal.
Yes, Greg. We’ll take five of these, please!
Once we regained our composure and took a closer look, however, it became clear to us that something wasn’t quite right. The house, it turned out, was not located on Funston Avenue near Irving Street at all, the streets we had lived on, but was instead somewhere altogether different. The position of the University of California, San Francisco in the background helped establish this geographic anomaly.
Greg told us that the house most likely had been moved at some point, and that his best guess for the location in this photo was on the south side of Irving between 9th and 10th Avenues. The picture was probably taken around 1915, he said, pointing to the vintage automobile and the extent of the neighborhood development completed up to that point in time as proof.
The minor amount of research I conducted myself years later concluded that the house was indeed built in 1900, but the identities of the builder and the architect unfortunately remain unknown to this day.
The only other information I have (or at least from what I’ve heard through rumors as I was growing up) was that the water had been turned on in 1906—and because the home’s back lot was very large back then, people regularly led their horses and carts through the garage doors into stables on the other side.
That was obviously not the case by the time the house was moved to Funston, but it’s anybody’s guess as to what happened while it remained on Irving Street. Several other photographs we also purchased from Greg Gaar show the house on Irving Street circa 1905 (taken from Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park) and on Funston Avenue circa 1935 (in a photo taken from an airplane). My best guess as to when the house was moved is that it must have occurred sometime between 1915 and 1935, but I haven’t yet found any other conclusive evidence to help narrow down that time line.
In 1965 my parents were newlyweds living in a small apartment on 12th Avenue near Irving Street, and they decided they wanted a larger place so they could raise a family. During one of her walks, my mother passed 1322 Funston Avenue and noticed a “For Rent” sign up in the living room window that had been put there by Marx Realty (locals may remember that Marx had an office on the corner of Funston and Irving for many years, a few doors down from the statuesque Victorian which still towers over its neighboring homes today).
My parents ended up renting that house and eventually purchased it a year or two afterwards. From there they raised my two brothers and myself until times eventually changed, and we ended up selling it in 1987.
Fortunately, since then, the various owners have continued to take good care of the house and have even made a number of desirable improvements along the way—that is, at least from what I can tell by looking at it from the outside. I haven’t actually had the opportunity to go back in since we sold it all those many years ago, but I do look forward to it someday.
The presence and classic San Francisco style of this Victorian home continue to cast their glow on the beauty of the inner Sunset District, especially over Funston Avenue. Although I have seen many Victorian homes over the years that clearly are duplicates of one particular architectural style or another, I have never seen one quite like this house.
It is my hope to someday uncover more of the exciting historical details and secrets of the house I grew up in, and to continue to add a little bit more to the ever-evolving story of the Outside Lands.
WNP Member and Sunset District native
Contribute your own stories about western neighborhoods places!
Page launched 18 May 2012.