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In Presidio Heights, This Was "The Very Last Word In San Francisco Houses"

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[Every so often, we'll post about a property that's not for sale but a nevertheless interesting part of the San Francisco's built environment.-PF]

German exile/emigre architect Erich Mendelsohn's only house in the Bay Area, 3788 Washington was built between 1947 and 1952 by the late philanthropist Madeleine Haas Russell on the site of her childhood home in Presidio Heights. But you might not notice it- the house is now almost completely engulfed in well-maintained shrubbery. Mendelsohn was a successful and very influential German-Jewish architect in the 1920s, bridging the nascent Expressionist movement and moving towards Streamline Moderne, but as we know, things changed in Germany in the 'thirties. He moved to London in 1933, going into into partnership with another exiled modernist, the Chechnya-born Serge Chermayeff. They both wound up in the Bay Area around 1940, Mendelsohn working in the offices of John Elkin Dinwiddie, and Chermayeff with Charles W.W. Mayhew. Mendelsohn taught at Berkeley, Chermayeff at the Art Institute.


The house about a year after being finished. The electrical lines have since been put underground.


Detail from Maple Street

Above, two images from the Charles W. Cushman Collection at Indiana Univerity. Cushman was a well-traveled businessman and avid amateur photographer, and the archive is an invaluable reference source for images of San Francisco in the 1950's and literally hours of digitized nostalgia. Cushman's c.1954 comment on Russell's new house was "The very last word in San Francisco houses."

After World War II until his death in 1953, Mendelsohn's practice was far-ranging, mostly projects for Jewish communities in the US and Israel. Although his influence can be seen in Dinwiddie's projects a at the time, Mendelsohn's only other solo building in San Francisco was Maimonides Hospital- now UCSF Mount Zion. If it hasn't been completely subsumed Mt. Zion's recent expansion, you may still catch a glimpse of what remains of his ribbon windows and portholes on the Bush Street side between Divisadero and Scott.
· Erich Mendelsohn [Wikipedia]
· Serge Chermayeff [Wikipedia]
· Clarence W.W. Mayhew [Wikipedia]
· Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection [University of Indiana]