San Francisco’s National Treasure
The Haas-Lilienthal House: From San Francisco Icon to National Treasure
In 1887, a local journalist wrote of the Haas-Lilienthal House: “beautiful residences have been erected along Franklin Street, but none finer than this one.” Since 1973, this building has been Heritage’s headquarters and an icon of San Francisco’s historic preservation movement. Today more than ever, the Haas-Lilienthal House stands as a site of national cultural and architectural significance. Its status was formalized in 2012 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation—the largest private, nonprofit preservation organization in the country—identified the Haas-Lilienthal House as one of thirty-four inaugural National Treasures in America.
The new designation marks a watershed moment in the life of the Haas-Lilienthal House. By granting this status, the National Trust recognizes our San Francisco landmark as a site of national prominence. Their designation, however, also identifies the Haas-Lilienthal House as a national asset in peril. The Haas-Lilienthal House is a rare survivor, a structure that emerged from earthquakes and economic cataclysm mostly unscathed. Today, the House is threatened by the ravages of time: mounting preservation, maintenance, and operational costs jeopardize its future.
The Haas-Lilienthal House embodies both the progressive spirit that distinguishes San Francisco’s cultural landscape and the Victorian grandeur of its built environment. Constructed in 1886 by Jewish immigrants, this Queen Anne gem was spared destruction in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, and survives miraculously intact today with its original furnishings. As the only Victorian-era residence open to the public in the city of San Francisco, the Haas-Lilienthal House has attracted visitors from around the nation and world. Dubbed “the acme of San Francisco’s Victorian houses” by San Francisco Chronicle “native son” Carl Nolte, the House is also the bedrock of Heritage’s educational platform. Since 1982, thousands of third-grade schoolchildren have explored Victorian life and architecture through our Heritage Hikes program.
The Haas-Lilienthal House is an important piece of cultural history, a monument to the special role Jewish immigrants played in the early development of San Francisco and the American West. San Francisco’s Jewish pioneers transcended traditional social and political boundaries, shaping the very creation of the city’s infrastructure and institutions in an unusually diverse and integrated urban center. Unlike many American cities of the period, where Jews adapted to existing power structures, San Francisco was a place where Jewish residents became central players in public life. As recognized by the National Trust’s National Treasure selection, the Haas-Lilienthal House—with roots extending to the founders of Wells Fargo Bank, MJB Coffee, and Levi Strauss—has “tremendous potential to tell the story of the significant contributions of the Jewish-American community in San Francisco to a national audience.”
Calling on the brightest minds in historic site stewardship, San Francisco Heritage and the National Trust are re-imagining the future of the Haas-Lilienthal House. Together, the two organizations are developing a long-term plan to restore and sustain the House, diversify and broaden its audience, and increase revenue. Our aim is to create an empowering and financially sustainable national model for integrating historical interpretation and historic preservation. Visitors, whether they are tourists or San Francisco residents, will take the values and message of historic preservation back to their communities. Please check back for regular updates on our progress.
Heritage commissions Michael Murphy limited edition illustration
In commemoration of the National Treasure’s designation, Heritage is pleased to introduce a new illustration of the Haas-Lilienthal House by local artist and architect Michael Murphy. Known for his widely acclaimed series “Forgotten Modernism” of San Francisco, Murphy’s interpretation of the House reflects his interest in capturing the underlying essence of a highly complex historic piece of architecture and re-presenting it in a fresh and new way. By distilling the architecture to its basic geometries and using stylized graphics and color, a different viewpoint of the building emerges, emphasizing its relevance and place in 21st century San Francisco.
The Haas-Lilienthal House in the News, Books and On Film:
Downton Abbey in America: San Francisco’s Haas-Lilienthal House (National Trust for Historic Preservation, February 20, 2013)
Kosher Christmas at the Haas-Lilienthal House (SF Weekly, December 20, 2012)
A Treasure Awaits Discovery (San Francisco Chronicle, October 14, 2012)
Haas-Lilienthal House Declared “National Treasure” (SF Weekly, October 11, 2012)
Haas-Lilienthal House Now a ‘National Treasure’ (J Weekly, October 11, 2012)
Recent Acquisitions: Two-Story Dollhouse Isn’t Child’s Play (SF Weekly, October 5, 2012)
Searching for San Francisco’s History: Hidden Gems Edition (National Trust for Historic Preservation, October 4, 2012)
If Betty White Were A Green Building (U.S. Green Building Council, May 15, 2012)
Kosher Christmas (Joshua Plaut, 2012)
Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area (Fred Rosenbaum, 2009)
The Haas Sisters of Franklin Street (Frances Bransten Rothmann, 1979)
The Haas-Lilienthal House is also represented in the Historic American Building Survey Collection at the Library of Congress.