LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY
A flurry of recent renovations along the north side of Jackson Street facing Alta Plaza Park are nearing completion. The two blocks include a string of historic residences that have been home to many prominent San Franciscans. The exquisite French Revival style house at 2570 Jackson Street has been meticulously renovated and is again a private residence, after serving for decades as the official residence of the French consul general.
The home was designed in 1924 by architect Albert Farr for Domingo Lyle Ghirardelli and his wife, Alice. After attending Stanford University, the grandson of the famous chocolatier married Alice Belau Elliott in 1907. The San Francisco Call gossiped in a two-tiered headline: “Divorcee Weds Son of Millionaire Merchant: Free of Bonds, Mrs. Elliott at Once Marries Lyle Ghirardelli.” The couple had two children, Ynez, born in 1910, and Domingo Kent, born nine years later.
The family’s first residence was at 2741 Vallejo Street, near Divisadero. It sat immediately adjacent to a classic San Francisco 1902 Shingle Style house, also designed by Albert Farr. A block away, Farr in 1904 had designed neighboring homes for Grace Mortenson (2881 Vallejo) and Marie McCrae (2891 Vallejo).
The Ghirardellis lived in the Jackson Street house fronting Alta Plaza Park until Alice’s death in December 1956; Lyle died two years later. During the time they lived on Jackson Street, neighbors included Reuben W. Hills Jr., of Hills Brothers Coffee, at 2590 Jackson; and Edward Zelinsky Sr., one of San Francisco’s largest painting contractors, at 2502 Jackson.
The Ghirardellis’ house was purchased in the late 1950s by Lot D. Howard Jr., a surgeon, and his wife, Elizabeth, who had four children. Then, in January 1966, the government of the French Republic acquired it to use as its consular residence. It remained French territory until recently, when it was purchased, remodeled and returned to private residential use.
For their Jackson Street house, Lyle and Alice Ghirardelli selected an established architect, indicating their desire for a fashionable new residence designed by a known hand. In 1924, Farr was 52 years old, a respected architect in San Francisco’s social circles, and had already completed many outstanding commissions. They included the Presidio wall homes of H.W. and R.H. Postlethwaite in the 3300 block of Pacific (1902); a very Cape Cod-like house for Edwin and Virginia Newhall at 2950 Pacific (1907); the Ethel Park Roeder House at 1020 Broadway on Russian Hill (1909); Wolf House, the Sonoma retreat of Jack and Charmian London (1911, burned 1913); and a series of houses stepping up the 2600 block of Green Street in Pacific Heights (1911-16).
Farr’s early works were soundly within what became known as the First Bay Tradition — the Bay Area’s version of the New England shingled home. Yet he often employed more revivalist styles, as seen in the Ghirardelli’s French-inspired home.
Farr was a native Nebraskan whose family spent considerable time in Japan, where his father developed that country’s modern postal system. Returning to Oakland in 1890, Farr apprenticed with architects Clinton Day and the Reid Brothers before establishing his own practice around 1897. Farr lost his downtown office in the 1906 earthquake and worked out of his own home for a period of time before re-establishing an office at
68 Post Street.
After the earthquake, wooden homes in the Shingle Style fell out of favor to revivalist-inspired styles that could be easily executed in stucco, a more fireproof material. Just prior to his commission for the Ghirardellis, Farr brought on an associate, New Zealand native Francis Ward, who remained a collaborator until Farr retired.
The French Revival style, sometimes referred to as Chateauesque, suited California’s warm climate and was a frequent choice for both high-end and middle class single family homes, as well as many apartments, from the mid-1910s into the 1930s. In the design of the Ghirardelli home, Farr made use of corner quoin detailing, shuttered windows, a mansard roof with attic dormers, stately pillars, a front terrace, elaborate cartouches and decorative chimney caps. This ensemble resulted in a dignified, elegant and imposing facade projecting the splendor of the 1920s onto Alta Plaza Park.
Albert Farr’s career spanned more than 40 years, with significant works throughout the Bay Area, but his designs are often overshadowed by those of his peers such as Ernest Coxhead and Bernard Maybeck. The recent thoughtful renovation of 2570 Jackson Street brings back one of his residential landmarks in the neighborhood.