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Pioneer House Gave Early Glimpse into Preservation Efforts

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed Contributor Alex Bevk highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.


In a city famous for its Victorians, the early remnants of San Francisco pioneer days are few and far between. Some of the City's oldest houses were once located near Russian Hill, including the Humphrey House at Chestnut and Hyde Streets. Not only was it once believed to be the oldest house in San Francisco, it sparked an early preservation movement among citizens, long before battles like the North Beach Library or Harding Theater.

The mansion was built in 1854 by William Squires Clark, supposedly from oak that came to San Francisco to become a clipper ship. Clark was known for building San Francisco's first pier at the foot of Broadway. In 1868 it was bought by a sea captain named William Penn Humphrey, and moved down the street to the corner lot. Long known as "Humphrey's Castle," it remained in the family until the late 1920s.

Humphrey House in 1948, right before demolition [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

By 1936, plans were in the works to replace the house with an apartment building. There was an effort to save the old house, with the De Young Museum expressing interest in retaining it as a typical building of early San Francisco. The new owner, M. Edward Heymes, even offered the old house for free to anyone who would pay for moving it. Although some money was raised to move the house, it wasn't enough, and the building was eventually demolished in 1948 to make way for a 3-story single-family house.

Existing 1948 building designed by John Funk [Photo: Google Maps]

In an interesting twist, the new building was designed by local Modernist master John Funk, and is now considered a great early example of Second Bay Region post-World War II residential architecture.
· Russian Hill II - The North Slope [Russian Hill Neighbors]
· John Funk Collection [CED]