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Then & Now: The Octagon House

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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] Back in 1848, a scientist named Orson Squire Fowler published a book claiming the octagon was the most efficient shape for a house, since it enclosed more space with less material, provided more light, and was more efficient to heat in winter and cool in summer. Who knows if he was right, but people of the day ate it up, and the octagon-shaped house became a popular building type in the 1850s. One surviving example is the McElroy Octagon House at Gough and Union.

The house was built by miller William C. McElroy in 1861, but it's original site was on the east side of Gough. It remained a private residence until the 1920s, when it was bought by a utility company. By 1951, the house was abandoned and falling apart when the Colonial Dames of America made a $1 offer to buy and restore the house - and move it across the street onto donated property by society members. They undertook the restoration, headed by UC Berkeley's former Dean of Architecture Warren C. Perry, and the building opened as a museum in 1953. It's a local landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sitting on its former site now are apartments built in 1955.

The Octagon House at it's current location, across the street on the west side of Gough [Photo: Flickr user Frank Hamm]

The original layout of the house (two floors with four rooms on each floor, for a total of eight rooms and sixteen windows, with a winding staircase in the middle) was changed with the restoration to accommodate Colonial Dame offices and event space. There's also a museum with a collection of decorative arts from the Colonial and Federal periods, if that's your sort of thing. You can visit the museum, but the hours are kind of wonky - Noon to 3:00 PM on the second Sunday and the second and fourth Thursdays of each month except January, and closed on holidays (did you catch all that?).
· The Octagon House: A Home for All [Google Books]
· Octagon House [Union Street Shops]
· Octagon House (1861) [Colonial Dames]
· Landmark 17: Octagon House [Noe Hill]

Octagon House

1067 Green St, San Francisco, CA