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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 house was built for the daughter of a prominent early California businessman, Ephraim Willard Burr, who served from 1856 to 1859 as the ninth mayor of San Francisco. Mary Newell Burr married oil magnate John Winslow Allyne. They built a large home at the corner of Green and Gough Streets and had two daughters, Edith and Lucy.

The Allyne family home. Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The Allyne family home. Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

When Allyne died in 1901, he left the house to his daughters, neither of whom married. Edith and Lucy Allyne resided in the house until the early 1960s. The sisters donated a portion of their land to the Colonial Dames of America, who in 1952 moved the Octagon House from mid-block across Gough Street to its present location, where they restored it as a house museum. Five years later, the Allyne sisters offered up the corner lot at Union and Gough for the Dames to create a small formal garden adjacent to the Octagon House.

The benevolent Allyne spinsters supported many causes. Gifts detailed in their wills resulted in the California Historical Society’s purchase of the Whittier Mansion at Jackson and Laguna Streets, which became its headquarters for many years. The sisters also gave a significant contribution to the San Francisco Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society, of which they were members, for what was simply called the Ladies Home. Designed in the 1920s by noted architect Julia Morgan, it stands at the corner of Laguna and Bay in the Marina, and is now the Heritage, a residence for seniors. The sisters were active members of the First Unitarian Universalist Society and funded construction of its center at Geary and Franklin.

Edith Allyne died in 1960, followed by Lucy in 1963. They had lived in the house at Green and Gough their entire lives.

After their deaths, the Allyne house was threatened by the development of a 140-unit apartment building on the site. But the project was shot down with the help of petitions from the Dames, the neighbors, the Union Street Association, the Sherman School P.T.A., the Horticultural Society and other organizations. The city ultimately purchased the property to use as a neighborhood park and the house was torn down, creating the open space.

A nicely designed, unpainted wood picket fence encloses the park on both the Green and Gough Street sides — another reason dog owners and parents love this park. It’s unclear if this is a remnant from the Allyne’s garden, incrementally repaired over time, or if the fence was added by the city after taking over the site.

While the Allyne house was certainly a neighborhood landmark, the park is a much-loved community gathering place with mature trees, winding paths, a large lawn and a variety of colorful flowers. In sharp contrast to the formality of the Octagon garden down the block, Allyne Park is an easy going, informal landscape with ever-moving benches and welcoming green space.