Views and history as you explore Russian Hill on foot Essay

You can take the #60 Powell-Hyde cable car or the #59 Powell-Masoncable car. Our loop walking tour begins at the intersection of Vallejoand Mason streets.

Nearby Italian and Chinese food shops sell picnicsupplies. Starting where the 1906 fire stopped The Vallejo Steps lead up through pines to Ina Coolbrith Park(number 1 on our map), on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city’sdowntown. Look for the plaque at the Taylor Street entrance. Coolbrithwas associated with Bret Harte in editing the Overland Monthly duringthe late 1860s, became the librarian for the city’s prestigiousBohemian Club, and was crowned poet laureate of California in 1915. Shelived nearby on Macondray Lane. If you had been standing at this spot a few days after the 1906earthquake, you would have been singed but saved–fire-fighters saw thedefiant raising of the American flag over the shingle house at 1652-56Taylor (2, shown in the historic photograph above) and rushed up to savethe structure and the flag, using wet sand and seltzer water in theprocess. Tudor bordello to million-dollar condos Cross Taylor and continue up the steps beside a large,Tudor-inspired stucco house (once reputed to be a bordello) to the crownof the hill.

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This area survived the fire. The Livermore family hasowned part of the hilltop since the late 1800s, doing much to establishthe quiet, woodsy character so appreciated today. At the brow of the hill, you’ll pass a double-gabled,brown-shingle structure at 1013-19 Vallejo (3) built by Willis Polk in1892 as apartments for his own family and that of a painter (note thestudio-size window in the right-hand gable). Legend has it that Polkinstalled a secret passage for his own use–to evade creditors or tovisit a lady next door. Across the street is a brand-new condominium complex (4) by thefirm of Esherick, Homsey, Dodge ; Davis, which fits amid itsshingled and balustraded neighbors surprisingly well.

It was built byneighborhood investors who had earlier prevented a high-rise from goingup on the site. The price for each units is in the million-dollarrange. At 1034 and 1036 Vallejo (5) are two brown-shingle houses from theoriginal row, reminiscent of New England farmhouses in their simplegables and unornamented windows and doors. Two picturesque alleys split off from Vallejo at this point, addingto the blend of architectural styles. Running south toward a distantview of Grace Cathedral is Florence Street. A row of pueblo revivalhouses (6), a style popular in the 1920s, lines the west side, solid andslightly exotic images of permanence and comfort. Running north is Russian Hill Place, a brick-paved lane lined withstuccoed Mediterranean villas, some by Willis Polk (7).

These housesalso open, to the west and below, onto Jones Street and from there forma single massive structure, demonstrating Polk’s cleverness inrelating the building to two very different site conditions. The lane dead-ends against the back of a 24-story apartment house,the Eichler Summit (8), built by the developer who popularized theEichler tract house in many parts of the Bay Area during the 1950s and’60s. This building, which radically alters the scale of theneighborhood, bankrupted him.

Because it was built at the top of ahill, it blocks relatively few views. Nevertheless, one was enough:there is now a 40-foot height limit. Octagon house to firehouse Follow Vallejo down the right-hand ramp to Jones. Proceed north upJones and go left to the 1000 block of Green Street. Here you’llfind a delightful mix of houses, many dating from before the fire.

Notethe octagon at 1067 (9), built in 1857. It’s one of two in thecity. Across the street, at 1088, is a firehouse (10), built in 1907and later remodeled as a private residence. You can see the originalfire pole, relocated to the doorway. If you’re hungry, continue west on Green one block to HydeStreet, where you’ll find several eating spots; a block north onHyde, at Union Street, is the original Swensen’s ice cream store.

Retrace your steps to Jones, then go left half a block and turnright on Macondray Lane (11), which becomes a cobbled footpath linedwith huge eucalyptus trees and a row of little bay-windowed framehouses, some from the 1870s. You eventually descend the steep slope toTaylor by a series of wooden steps. Go right on Taylor to return toVallejo.


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