St. Francis Wood

Official Opening: October 13, 1912

Location: Portola Drive and Sloat Boulevard on the north and west, Monterey Boulevard on the south, San Anselmo/Santa Paula/San Pablo Avenues on the east.

St. Francis Wood is justifiably lauded as one of the nation's finest examples of a "residence park."

After the resolution of Adolph Sutro's will in the early 1910s, the Residential Development Company bought from his estate 725 acres of the old Mexican land grant, the Rancho San Miguel. Shortly thereafter, the Mason-McDuffie Company purchased 175 acres of the land to create St. Francis Wood.

The "City Beautiful" movement, popularized by heralded landscape architect and planner Daniel Burnham, influenced the community plan, and restrictions of every kind shaped the development that arose. Mason-McDuffie banned businesses in the tract (only single-family homes), buried utilities beneath the sidewalks, and laid out wide streets. Restrictions set for houses included a two-story height limit, a minimum twenty-foot setback from the street and free space on either side to be no less than a total 25% of the lot width. House cost had to be over $3,500 initially and plans needed to be approved by the supervising architect employed by the St. Francis Homes Association. As with other residence parks and exclusive communities of the time, minority ownership and residency was also banned. It wasn't until the 1960s that St. Francis Wood became integrated.


Tract map of St. Francis Wood by Mason-McDuffie, circa 1918. - UC Berkeley, Environmental Design Archives

Landscape features meant to be "reminiscent of the loveliest gardens of the Italian Renaissance" ornamented the grounds, including an elaborate gateway and two fountains on the main arterial, St. Francis Boulevard. The famed landscape firm Olmsted Brothers laid out the curvilinear street plan. John Galen Howard acted as the first supervising architect, designing the elaborate lamposts, brick-diamond sidewalks, entryway pillars, and the main gate and first fountain. Henry Gutterson soon succeeded Howard, and designed the monumental upper fountain and numerous houses over the next three decades.

Prominent names in local architecture are attached many of the early houses, including Willis Polk, Martin Rist, Timothy Pflueger, Bernard Maybeck, and Julia Morgan.

The St. Francis Homes Association is still very active and responsible for maintaining and enhancing the lavish landscaping and tract amenities. For decades, two other community organizations, the Garden Club of St. Francis Wood and the St. Francis Wood Women's League, have also provided social functions and raised money to maintain San Francisco's "garden suburb."

Women and Cars, circa 1919 - (Courtesy of a Private Collector)

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St. Francis Wood Articles
  • Podcast # 194: Sloat Boulevard

    From the zoo to St. Francis Circle, stories about San Francisco's widest (maybe) street. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Oct 16, 2016)
  • Podcast # 4: St. Francis Wood

    Author Richard Brandi joins us to talk about one of the country's finest residence parks, San Francisco's St. Francis Wood. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jan 25, 2013)
  • A Short History of West of Twin Peaks

    Residence parks and other neighborhoods in San Francisco's West of Twin Peaks area. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Duncan McDuffie

    A first-person account of the building of St. Francis Wood from one of the partners of the real estate firm of Mason-McDuffie. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Henry H. Gutterson

    Supervising Architect of St. Francis Wood ( Jan 27, 2008)
  • St. Francis Wood

    A neighborhood justifiably lauded as one of the nation's finest examples of a residence park. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • St. Francis Wood Pamphlet

    Mason-McDuffie and Baldwin & Howell issued a small booklet promoting the St. Francis Wood development in November 1912. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Streetwise - Dad & Bill's Night Out

    Memories of the 1950s fight against the Western Freeway. ( Jan 28, 2009)
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