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Then & Now: Latham Mansion/666 Folsom Street

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Public spaces change fast here in San Francisco, and for better or worse, it can be pretty crazy when you see what the City used to look like. Every week, we'll bring you Then & Now, a comparison of historic photos of the Bay Area with current views from the same perspective. Have a suggestion for a photo comparison that looks totally different (or shockingly the same)? Drop us a tip in the Curbed Inbox or leave a comment after the jump.

Quick note: See that vertical green bar in the middle of the then and now photos? You can move it horizontally to see the photos side by side.

[Then photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY/ Now photo: Alex Bevk] After the Gold Rush of the 1840s and 50s, many California pioneers were rich - very rich. By the 1860s, Rincon Hill was the fashionable part of the city for many of San Francisco’s wealthiest to set up home and the area was covered in palatial mansions and estates. One such mansion belonged to one-time Governor Milton S. Latham, and was located on Folsom Street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Ever wonder why New Montgomery Street ends at Howard? Blame this guy.

Latham was a lawyer who came to San Francisco in 1850 during the Gold Rush. After serving as a member of the House of Representatives, he was inaugurated as governor on January 9, 1859, but immediately pursued a vacant seat in the senate, and holds the distinction of having the shortest governorship in California history, lasting for five days til January 14, 1860. Throughout the late 1860s and into the 1870s, Latham helped finance the California Pacific and the North Pacific Coast Railroad, earning recognition as one of California's rail barons.


He built a massive estate located at 636 Folsom Street, complete with a large mansion and gardens. In the late 1860s, real estate promoters wanted to extend Montgomery Street south from the financial district to the Potrero and Mission Bay area, right through the swanky Rincon Hill residential area. A similar plan for 2nd Street had been enacted the previous year through a lot of political back-door deals, and no one was happy about it. The road cut also destroyed the integrity of the hill and many homes sat precariously on the brink of a sixty-foot ditch.

Latham and his neighbor shipping baron John Parrott refused to sell their properties, holding up the plans to extend the New Montgomery Street. A whole lot of political maneuvers went down, but in the end the expansion was blocked and New Montgomery stopped at Howard Street.

Sanborn Insurance Map from 1900 showing the mansion as a boarding house (click to enlarge) [Photo: ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970]

By the 1880s the hill, already partially leveled, started to become a working class district. The last remnants of the palatial mansions were destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake. Latham died in 1882, by 1887 the massive house was operating as a boarding house. (Ironically by 1887, property was split by Hawthorne Street anyway.) Eventually the site was sold to Western Electric Co, who built a warehouse on the site in 1905. The warehouse survived the earthquake and fire, and housed Western Electric until 1930. It was then occupied by W & J Sloane Furniture Co, holding their warehouse and showrooms.

Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company Building pre-renovation [Photo: Google Maps]

In 1963, Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company constructed the giant concrete structure that’s on the site now, originally addressed 666 Folsom. The building elicits some pretty strong reactions out of people, usually negative. In 2008, developers announced a renovation and expansion of the new 680 Folsom Street designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill. The renovations have just started, and are on track to be completed in late 2013.

Proposed design for new renovations at 680 Folsom
· Thurlow Estate - Milton Latham [Menlo Park]
· The Silver Era [Found SF]
· 2nd Street Cut [Found SF]
· New Glass, New Tenant, More Corner Offices at 680 Folsom Street [CurbedSF]

680 Folsom Street

680 Folsom, san francisco, ca