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The shah’s consulate

Built as a home, 34-- Washington was later a flashpoint for Iranian protests.

Built as a home, 3400 Washington was later a flashpoint for Iranian protests.


Constructed in 1927 by insurance executive Henry Foster Dutton for his second wife, Violet, the classically inspired house at 3400 Washington Street was acquired by the Imperial Government of Iran to serve as its official San Francisco consulate in the mid-1950s.

The house was designed by architect Erle J. Osborne, who had a steady stream of wealthy clients and produced interesting houses in Presidio Terrace, St. Francis Wood and Atherton — in addition to a few Southern California commissions — throughout the ’20s and ’30s. His corner lot house for the Duttons replaced a house built there earlier by Judge James Monroe Allen.

The wood frame house is stuccoed to resemble stone, with quoins flanking the formal entry facing Washington Street. There is a nicely detailed front stair leading to an arched entryway with a balconette centered above it on the second story. This ensemble is then capped by a dormer into the attic level. The house was originally U-shaped, with what was likely a spacious rear garden. A bay window and more quoining is found on the Walnut Street side. An addition to the rear, likely constructed to accommodate the consulate, encroaches on the rear yard, and is awkwardly placed into the roofline of the original house.

Dutton was the grandson of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. founder, also named Henry Dutton, and his was likely a grand Presidio Heights home when completed in 1927. Dutton had married June Dunn, daughter of the founder of the American Biscuit Co., in 1899, but after 25 years of marriage the two divorced.

A year later, Dutton quietly married Violet Phillips Dunn, who had previously been married to his ex-wife’s nephew. The Chronicle had reported a year earlier, on February 1, 1925: “Mrs. Phillips Dunn [later to become Dutton’s wife], who accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Henry Foster Dutton to Palm Beach yesterday, was the center of the luncheon party at the Hotel St. Francis the Monday prior.” Violet Phillips, a native Angelino, had married James Dunn in 1918 and the Chronicle enthused that she was “acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful girls who has graced society in either city for many years.” It added: “Miss Phillips is still very young; she has not made her debut, and for this reason the marriage will not take place for half a year at least.” Apparently, however, several years later she fell in love with her husband’s uncle.

Henry and Violet Dutton had two girls, and also raised Mrs. Dutton’s son, Witcher Dunn, from her first marriage. Henry Foster Dutton died in November 1953. Violet Dutton outlived her husband by more than 20 years, but did not hold onto their house for long.

By 1957, a building permit was issued allowing the 3400 Washington Street home to be renovated and converted for use as the Iranian Consulate. It was the scene of many parties and the home of Dr. Parviz Adle, the consular general, and his family. The building also functioned as the Iranian government’s official San Francisco business office. The consulate was established at the height of the Iranian monarchy, headed by the Shah of Iran, and the site became the focus of a number of demonstrations against the Shah’s government. There were hunger strikes on the sidewalk and a horrific event: A young Iranian student set himself on fire in front of the consulate and later died.

On the night of October 14, 1971, a bomb — then believed to be the most powerful detonated in San Francisco history — exploded at the consulate. A month later, Moira Johnston, a neighbor, published an account of the bombing in California Living, the Sunday magazine of the joint Chronicle/Examiner. Describing the evening’s events, Johnston detailed the damage to her house, the terror inflicted on her son, and the shock of her husband and neighbors. Far along with her second child, Johnston recalled that her husband left the house just a few minutes before the explosion only to return to find the consulate engulfed in flames, the neighborhood shrouded in smoke and fire trucks blocking the street.

After the bombing prominent attorney Vincent J. Mullins, who lived across the street, sued in federal court to have the consulate declared a public nuisance and shut down. The suit claimed that on every major Iranian holiday hundreds gathered in the residential neighborhood to protest. “Residents of the area are in constant fear of violence,” the suit said.

Protesters had timed the blast to coincide with a lavish party thrown by the Shah in Iran celebrating the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian empire. After the bombing, the Iranian Consulate’s business office moved to the Embarcadero Center, but the consular general’s residence remained at 3400 Washington Street. The Embarcadero Center office was subsequently bombed in 1976 before Iranian officials were expelled from the United States during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-80.

The government of Iran still owns the building at 3400 Washington Street.


UPDATE: “Iranian embassy is empty, but U.S. cuts the grass