ARCHITECTURE | Therese Poletti
In one of the more unusual examples of architectural ornament in San Francisco, a circle of lady bugs surrounds what appears to be a 1915 Ford Model-T Roadster. They adorn the facade of the architecturally significant 94-year-old garage that is home to Hayes Auto Repair at 2401 Bush Street, between Pierce and Scott.
Perhaps it was just a whimsical detail added by the architect, James R. Miller, or his favorite draftsman, then-24-year-old Timothy L. Pflueger.
Miller & Pflueger would become well-known in the 1920s and 1930s for projects such as the city’s first high-rise at 140 New Montgomery, the Stock Exchange building and club, the medical building at 450 Sutter, the Castro and Paramount Theaters and other major buildings, many in what is now referred to as the Art Deco style.
But before these high profile projects, where Pflueger would make a name for himself as a master of the style, Miller was building their architectural practice. Residential and commercial work came into the office consistently after the 1906 earthquake, and Miller and his crew, including the young Pflueger, a San Francisco native who grew up in the Mission District, were busy.
The garage at 2401 Bush Street is an example of Miller’s eclectic take on the Renaissance revival style, which he and his chief draftsman Pflueger would use again in the Redwood City Firehouse — now the Redwood City Public Library— three years later. Like the firehouse, the Bush Street garage is faced in brick and highlighted by graceful arches. The long building dominates the block, which it shares with the California Tennis Club. The garage is characterized by an unusual broken-pitch roof and three arched entrances, two for vehicles and one for the office. Mullioned windows add a French twist to the Italianate arches. The roofline is richly carved.
In 1901, Pardon A. Cook, who owned a large swath of real estate in the neighborhood, hired a contractor to build a one-story building with an attic on the Bush Street lot. But he suffered “a stroke of apoplexy” on March 15, 1901, which rendered him mentally incompetent. When he died later that year, his wife Lizzie J. Cook inherited about $15,000 in cash and property all over the Western Addition valued at more than $120,000, according to a probate listing in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Two of his three daughters, Inez Cook Noble and Alice Cook Swan, ultimately inherited the property from their mother. In December 1915, they filed a permit seeking to build a brick store and garage, with Miller as the architect, for $14,700.
It appears that the sisters quickly found a tenant — two brothers who operated a garage just across the street from the Cook family home at 2212 Sutter Street. The brothers, Edward and Charles Fisher, were both in their early 40s and had moved to San Francisco from Marin County. Inez and her husband, Paul Noble, a physician, lived on the same block at 2298 Sutter Street. The Nobles must have been pleased with the work of Miller and his protege, because they hired the two again in 1916 to design a small bungalow in Los Altos.
By June of 1917, the two brothers were operating their garage, known as the Fisher Brothers, at 2407 Bush Street, one of several addresses used through the years for this expansive building, according to city directories.
The firm also began selling Ford automobiles at the same address, becoming one of 12 Ford dealers around the city. Most of the big auto showrooms congregated on Van Ness Avenue, also known as Auto Row, where Miller & Pflueger were among many local architects to design elegant selling rooms in the 1920s.
The car business continued to boom in the ’20s, along with the economy and the stock market. By 1925, another partner, William B. Teall, joined Fisher Brothers. The dealership changed its name to Fisher Teall Motor Co. and moved to 1955 Post Street. Another garage operator took over the Bush Street space.
Today, the building is owned by Alan Yukawa, whose father bought it 41 years ago. Yukawa said he believed AT&T had occupied the site at one point, and also a plumbing supply company. His family turned it back into an auto repair shop.
As for the ladybugs that grace the front of the building, they remain a mystery.
Therese Poletti is a San Francisco-based journalist and author of Art Deco San Francisco, The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger, published by Princeton Architectural Press.