Significant architecture can be found throughout the Excelsior District, and while Mission Street and Geneva Avenue feature important and prominent commercial structures, the slope leading up to McLaren Park is sprinkled with eclectic and historic homes that generally escape notice. With the caveat that a great deal of subjectivity is involved in making this list (there are some terrific houses in Modern styles, which we like too!), here are our top five Excelsior residential buildings:
750 Persia Avenue
(built circa 1890)
750 Persia Avenue between Vienna and Athens Streets, around the corner from its original location.
The Frank R. Smith house is one of the earliest still standing in the neighborhood, although the distinctive “eyebrow” window hoods of the Victorian building have experienced changing views. For almost a century it was at 503 Vienna Street beside a corner grocery run by the Smith family. When the entire property was sold in the 1980s, to make way for the three houses currently at 501, 503, and 505 Vienna Street, the grocery was demolished and the Smith house relocated around the corner to face north instead of west.
(35 Russia Avenue at London Street, built 1915)
The apartments at 35 Russia Avenue are in a former telephone company building.
The brick Classical Revival style apartment building on the northwest corner of London Street began life as a telephone exchange for the area. Built by the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, some 27,000 phone lines connected to switchboards inside. Its past use is memorialized in the building’s entryway tile work.
Entryway mosaic of the bell logo of the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company.
Engine Company 43
(724 Brazil Avenue, built 1911)
The retired Engine Co. 43 firehouse, now a private home.
The City of San Francisco auctioned off the old Engine Company 43 firehouse in 1976, and it’s been a unique Excelsior residence ever since. Built in the days when horses pulled the equipment and a tower was necessary to hang up fire hoses to dry, it has local fame for being featured in the 2001 film, “The Princess Diaries.”
Jerry Garcia Home
(121 Amazon Avenue, built 1930)
Jerry Garcia’s first home at 121 Amazon Avenue.
The Mediterranean Revival Style house between London and Paris Streets is where the future Grateful Dead guitarist and vocalist spent his earliest years after his birth on August 1, 1942. When his father died in 1947, the Garcia family moved less than a mile away to 87 Harrington Street off Alemany Boulevard. Today, Jerry Garcia may be the Excelsior’s most famous native son and has a music amphitheater named after him in nearby McLaren Park.
291 Munich Street
291 Munich Street is humble in size but grand in style.
Described by architectural historian Hannah Lise Simonson as “an exceedingly rare example of Richardsonian Romanesque residential architecture,” the heavily-elaborated brick cottage built just after the city’s 1906 earthquake and fire is very likely unique in San Francisco. We challenge you to find another!
So much for our top 5 residential buildings in the Excelsior—we want to hear from you! From cottages to bungalows to high-style Victorians there are many good candidates…