Classically inspired — and connected

Pacific Heights School was built in 1924 at the corner of Jackson and Webster Streets.

Pacific Heights School was built in 1924 at the corner of Jackson and Webster Streets.


A headline in the November 15, 1922, edition of the Chronicle proclaimed: “Board of Education Cites Pressing Need for Additional Quarters.” The ensuing article provided a long list of “needy schools.” City Architect John Reid Jr., a hometown boy who graduated from Lowell High School and UC Berkeley, was faced with a crisis in accommodating the city’s schools.

Within a few years, he and his colleagues designed almost 40 schools. Reid’s designs included several schools in the neighborhood: Pacific Heights Elementary, finished in 1924 at Jackson and Webster Streets, now San Francisco Public Montessori; Sherman Elementary, also completed in 1924, at Union and Franklin Streets; and Grant Elementary, dedicated in 1922, situated between Pacific and Broadway near Baker Street, now demolished.

Under his direction, his peers designed a number of other neighborhood schools, including the Emerson School at 2725 California, now Dr. William L. Cobb, and the Madison School at 3630 Divisadero Street, now part of Claire Lilienthal.


Architect to the stars

Photograph of 2555 Divisadero Street by Shayne Watson

Photograph of 2555 Divisadero Street by Shayne Watson


The house at 2555 Divisadero was designed by an “important, neglected California designer,” the Planning Department’s Citywide Historic Building Survey in 1976 noted. That architect, Paul Revere Williams, has since been rediscovered.

Williams, one of the few African-American architects working in California in the decades before World War II, is now well known, thanks to the perseverance and publications of his granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson. Her books lovingly tell the story of this remarkably talented and pioneering architect. A key designer of the Hollywood Regency style, Williams was a master at slenderizing and refining Classical forms and motifs, creating a Modern version of shapes and features extracted from traditional architecture.

Often referred to as “the architect to the stars,” Williams designed many Hollywood and Beverly Hills mansions, as well as some iconic Southern California buildings such as the Golden State Mutual Insurance Company — the largest black-owned insurance company west of the Mississippi — and the Music Corporation of America headquarters and the Saks Fifth Avenue store, both in Beverly Hills. He also made important renovations to two luxury hotels: the Beverly Hills and the Ambassador, which has since been demolished.

While Williams’ work in Northern California was limited to a few commissions, he partnered with his clients at 2555 Divisadero to create a Hollywood Regency style house set amidst the much more traditional Colonial Revival houses atop Pacific Heights.


A grand tour of St. Dominic’s

Photograph of St. Dominic's Church by Alex Mizuno

Photograph of St. Dominic’s Church by Alex Mizuno

THE DOCENT PROGRAM at St. Dominic’s Church at Steiner and Bush is sponsoring “The Grand Tour: An Overview of Church Art & Architecture” on Saturday, August 22, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Docents will lead visitors on a tour of treasures in wood, stone and stained glass inside and outside the church. The event — a “drop in and stay for as little or as much as you like” tour — is free and open to the public. For more information, call 415-517-5572, or email

VIDEO: “Restoring St. Dominic’s”

Father-son architects left their mark

E.G. Bolles designed one of the more interesting apartment facades in the neighborhood at 2360 Pacific.

E.G. Bolles designed 2360 Pacific Avenue, one of the more interesting apartment facades.


The apartment building at 2360 Pacific Avenue, near Fillmore Street, was built just prior to the 1929 stock market crash as an intense period of apartment development in Pacific Heights was ending.

The building, with both Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival influences, is a somewhat schizophrenic remnant of the Roaring ’20s. It oozes the glamour of an earlier era. Yet its multi-light, industrial sash windows, which dominate the front facade, were almost never used in residential buildings. Here these windows resulted in one of the more interesting apartment facades in the neighborhood — and a brilliant design decision by a not-so-well-known architect, Edward Grosvener Bolles.


Library a treasure in terra cotta

Photographs of the Golden Gate Valley Branch Library © Bruce Damonte

Photographs of the Golden Gate Valley Branch Library © Bruce Damonte


The terra cotta clad treasure that sits at the southwest corner of Green and Octavia Streets is often mistaken for a bank. This exquisitely designed building was built in 1918 as San Francisco’s fifth branch library funded through the Carnegie Corporation’s Library Program. Designed by architect Ernest Coxhead, known primarily for his ecclesiastical and residential works, this neighborhood library incorporates a rounded end resembling a church apse, a semicircular recess often containing the altar.


The castle on Vallejo

The complex of buildings at 1729 Vallejo. | Photograph by Shayne Watson

The complex of buildings at 1729 Vallejo. | Photograph by Shayne Watson


Some buildings stop you in your tracks.

That’s what happened to me the first time I walked by 1729 Vallejo, between Franklin and Gough Streets. Often referred to as Digby’s Castle, the complex of buildings evokes something out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Built into the hill, with a stone retaining wall forming a barrier to the private space beyond, it is a collection of small buildings, some constructed of a deep terra cotta-colored hollow clay tile. Set in a garden, the buildings dot the landscape, creating interlocking courtyards. While the buildings are small in scale, they still convey the feeling of a medieval fortress or castle.


‘Exposition Church’ inspired by the Swiss

Photograph of St. Vincent de Paul Church by Shayne Watson

Photograph of St. Vincent de Paul Church at Green & Steiner by Shayne Watson


Constructed a century ago amidst the frenzied preparations for San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — and conveniently located near the bayside fairgrounds — St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church soon became known as the “Exposition Church.” The church opened with a celebration mass on October 26, 1913, about 16 months before the exposition’s February 1915 festive opening day.

The building sits imposingly at the corner of Green and Steiner Streets, on land purchased for the parish by Henry Hoffman. Perhaps because of its location, but possibly also as a result of its unusual design, worshipers — both locals and visitors — flocked to the church. So popular was the church that the mass schedule was expanded during the run of the exposition.


Benevolent spinsters’ home now Allyne Park

Remnants of the Allyne house and gardens remain in Allyne Park.

Remnants of the Allyne house and gardens remain in what is now Allyne Park.


A llyne Park, at the corner of Green and Gough Streets, is a San Francisco gem for which I have a strong affection. It’s across the street from our home. The park, adjacent to the historic Octagon House, is a little plot of green that is a daily gathering place for neighborhood dogs and their human friends. While there is no playground, the park is a favorite hide-and-seek haunt for local kids, who mostly manage to co-exist with the dogs.

Named for the longtime owners of this large lot, the park includes the remnants of a garden landscape that once surrounded a grand Victorian-era house built sometime before 1886. A 1905 map of the property shows a large house with a rambling footprint and several small greenhouses.

At one point, the Allyne family owned all of the lots stretching from Green to Union along the west side of Gough Street, and several parcels along Green Street as well.


The gathering place

Photographs, Text and Video by ERIKA KOCOURKOVA-TETUR

Half a century has passed since the neighborhood had at least one barbershop on each side of every block. Back when churches were the places people gathered on Sundays, barbershops served that function the rest of the week. People went there not just for a haircut, but also to talk to their neighbors and get the news.

Over the decades, barbershops disappeared, one by one. Among the survivors in the Fillmore were New Chicago Barber Shop and the Esquire Barber Shop. The New Chicago, at 1551 Fillmore, was one of the oldest businesses on the street, finally closing in 2012. The Esquire, at 1826 Geary, remains one of the last local businesses of its kind.

Tucked between the Boom Boom Room on one side and Mr. Bling Bling, a maker of teeth grills, on the other, this small traditional establishment continues to be the place, five days a week, for conversation, news, gossip and even the occasional trim.

“A barbershop is a social media hub,” says Jon Kevin Green, owner of the Esquire.

The Esquire's Gail Pace is a rarity: a female barber

The Esquire’s Gail Pace is a rarity: a female barber

Since 1968, the shop has served a range of people, from businessmen in suits to the dudes hanging out on the Geary bridge.

A second-generation barber, Green remembers the days when gentlemen came to the shop, smoked cigars and discussed philosophy, religion and the weather while getting a haircut.

Walking through the shop door now is like stepping back in time. With a stash of magazines and newspapers lying around, an antique chessboard and a Bible in the corner, the Esquire Barber Shop has maintained its traditional character. The steel and leather chairs still have ashtrays, even though smoking is no longer allowed.

The major change since the old days, says Green, is that now he employs a female barber, Gail Pace, who formerly worked at New Chicago. Green says there weren’t many female barbers when he was growing up.

While the neighborhood has undergone massive changes in recent years, Green remains optimistic about his business. “Things change, but people will always need a haircut,” he says. “We just have to roll along with the times.”

EARLIER: “New Chicago: more than a barbershop

The Grateful Dead at Winterland, 1977

Winterland, Steiner & Post Streets in San Francisco, December 29, 1977

Winterland, Steiner & Post Streets in San Francisco, December 29, 1977


After my summer trip to San Francisco in August ’77, I was itching to get back to the Bay Area. The Grateful Dead provided the perfect excuse — their fabled year-end concerts at Winterland. As a young Deadhead who never got to see shows at the Fillmore, Fillmore West or Avalon Ballroom, Winterland represented the last of San Francisco’s legendary venues.

Armed with my new camera — a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm f1.8 lens — and a load of film, I left New York City on Christmas day, taking Amtrak to Chicago and switching to a Greyhound bus that took me to San Francisco.

After arriving late at night, I lost my wallet in the San Francisco Greyhound bus terminal. My wallet contained all of my money, plus a pair of tickets to each of the three sold-out shows. I freaked out! What was I going to do now?

A hippie I met on the bus let me stay at his place that night, and the next morning, December 29th, he drove me to the corner of Post and Steiner Streets, home of Winterland.

It was a rainy, dreary morning and here I was standing outside the venue with no tickets and no money. Not only did I lose my own tickets but my friend Joel’s as well. Fortunately I still had an ounce of Thai sticks that I had carried cross-country, and selling a few sticks gained me some cash.


When Joel arrived, I gave him the bad news about our predicament, and he wasn’t very happy about it, to say the least. We decided to take a cab to Winterland Productions’ offices downtown, since that was where the tickets had been mailed from. I remembered the name of the woman who had originally helped me get them — Gloria Pulido — and asked for her when we got to the offices. She helped out again by selling Joel and me new sets of tickets to the three sold-out shows.

The year 1977 was a great one for the band, and they closed it out in style with three fantastic shows at Winterland. The first night, December 29th, is one of my favorite shows, and it was released on CD as Dick’s Picks, Volume 10.

Sadly, Winterland is no more, and condos now occupy the corner of Post and Steiner Streets.

— From Live Dead: The Grateful Dead Photographed by Bob Minkin