699 Paris Street, center, has stood on the corner of Italy Avenue in the Excelsior District since the 1880s.
Our Heritage in the Neighborhoods program is focused on San Francisco’s Excelsior District for the whole month of March 2020. In combing our archives, we found a short article in one of our 1990 Heritage newsletters on a successful effort to save one of the neighborhood’s early houses. Julius and Magdalena Wolff, both originally natives of Germany, farmed and ran dairies in the Excelsior area beginning in the late 1870s, and likely built their house on the northeast corner of Paris Street and Italy Avenue in the mid-1880s. Variously addressed as 500, 559, and now 699 Paris Street, the simple structure was home for different members of the Wolff family deep into the twentieth century. When Julius Wolff died at age 65 in 1902, his funeral services were held in the house.
699 Paris Street
(“Preservation Notes,” Heritage Newsletter, Spring 1990.)
699 Paris Street, April 1990. (Photograph by David Bricker, Heritage Archives.)
“An historic Excelsior District house nearly fell victim to demolition recently. The owner had plans to tear down the building at 699 Paris Street and split the fifty-foot-wide lot for the construction of two new single-family homes. The building committee and the history committee of the Neighbors of the Excelsior took up the issue. According to the group’s president, Carol Taylor, they wanted to preserve the house both because of its architectural value and as a reminder of the district’s history.
“The house sits on the corner of Italy and Paris Street, just down the hill from McLaren Park. Its residential type and relatively open site, looming from the crest of a hillock, recall the agrarian character of early settlement in this neighborhood. Infill construction has isolated many such houses and small cottages on blocks of more recent residences.
“Neighbors of the Excelsior filed for a discretionary review of the demolition permit, and the Landmarks Board, which looked into the case at the request of Heritage, recommended retention of the house. At an April hearing, the Planning Commission decided that the old building would be saved.
“The neighbors and the owner worked out a compromise that will allow subdivision of the property along the rear of the lot for the construction of one new house. The compromise solution will also save the open space on one side of the historic building. The owner has agreed to address another concern of the neighborhood group by designing the new building to respond to the old in general form and surface materials.”
Whether 225 Italy Avenue, built in 1991, responds to 699 Paris in “general form and surface materials,” is a matter of opinion. The agreement to split the lot, however, saved one of the Excelsior’s significant houses, which still stands thirty years later.
225 Italy Avenue, built in 1991 when the lot for 699 Paris Street (at left) was split.