by Woody LaBounty
The Hanson House, 126 27th Avenue, is City Landmark #196. (Heritage photo)
My recent daily “shelter-in-place” walks around the neighborhood often take me on the 100 block of 27th Avenue between El Camino del Mar and Lake Street in the Outer Richmond district. I always make a point to admire 126 27th Avenue, a shingled house with a dramatic flared cross-gable roof. The roof slope curving down to the entry door must tempt many a hopeful X-Games medalist.
A 1990 view of the Hanson House and its “ski-jump” side gable. (David Bricker photo for Heritage, 1990)
Known as the Hanson House after the names of its first residents, Alfred G. and Johanne B. Hanson, 126 27th Avenue was designated City Landmark #196 in 1989. Alfred G. Hanson was a master mariner and an instructor at the United States Naval Training Station on Yerba Buena Island when he commissioned 126 27th Avenue to be built in 1907.1 In 1904-1905, Hanson bought adjoining lots just being subdivided out of the vast acreage purchased in 1860 by dairy rancher John H. Baker (namesake of Baker Beach)—an estate that covered most of the land between the Presidio, Lincoln Park, and modern-day Geary Boulevard. Hanson first had neighboring 120 27th Avenue constructed and lived there for a short time. It’s just as interesting as its landmark younger sister, sporting a charming peek-a-boo bay window at one corner.
Alfred G. and Johanne B. Hanson had 120 27th Avenue, at left, and 126 27th Avenue built in 1906-1907. (Heritage photo)
Alfred and his wife Johanne had used neighborhood architect John Charles Flugger and contractor Henning P. Otten to design and build a set of flats at 4042-4044 California Street (extant, just east of 3rd Avenue) in 1903, and the team was used again for 120 and 126 27th Avenue.2 Since none of the other known designs by Flugger approach in style the 27th Avenue Hanson residences, perhaps we can thank the mariner and his wife for pushing the more fairy-tale details on both.
The Hanson House is the sole City Landmark in the Outer Richmond, with the next closest being the Richmond Branch Library on 9th Avenue between Clement Street and Geary Boulevard. Just blocks away in the Sea Cliff development are many excellent landmark candidate designed by master architects. Why is 126 27th Avenue a landmark and some of its grander neighbors not? The answer is instructive, as it shows how buildings, especially residential ones, usually achieve landmark status in the city.
Speculators purchased 126 27th Avenue in the mid 1980s, arranging a lifetime lease with the owner. After she passed away, neighbors heard that the demolition of 126 27th Avenue was in the works. A campaign to save the cottage, led by neighbors Jill Hallinan, Bev Klein, and Julie Ray, launched before the permit applications were even filed. The group hired architectural historian William Kostura to research the property and discovered that it was called out in a 1976 citywide survey as significant. A recommendation for landmark status was brought to the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board with success. At a subsequent Planning Commission meeting the neighbors rallied to have 35 people attend to show support for the preservation of the house. They received a mixed decision: the demolition permit was denied, but landmarking rejected. Neighbors pushed on, appealing to the Board of Supervisors for landmark designation and, with support from Heritage, succeeded. The Hanson House became City Landmark #196 in late 1989.3
Yet still the house was imperiled, with the intractible owners still fighting to push through their demolition and development plan despite losing again on appeal. Then, on February 3, 1993, an unidentified arsonist set 126 27th Avenue on fire.4
126 27th Avenue boarded up after arson. (David Bricker photo for Heritage, 1993.)
The building was damaged, but survived, boarded up. The owners again applied, in April 1994, to demolish the house, despite its city landmark status. Finally, in early 1995, the property was sold to new owners committed to conserving the house.5
Design, materials, workmanship, and connections to significant individuals or events are cited as reasons that buildings are worthy of landmark status. There are hundreds of structures in the city identified as potential landmarks. It usually takes dedicated people with the will, time, and tenacity for the actual designation.
The Hanson House is a beautiful, rare, and living artifact of early Richmond District history, but almost as significant to me as its design and 1907 history is its role as a tribute to the neighbors who saved it thirty years ago.
Entry to 126 27th Avenue. (Heritage photo)
1. “San Francisco Landmark #196,” NoeHill in San Francisco website, https://noehill.com/sf/landmarks/sf196.asp
3. “Neighborhood Activists Get Results,” The Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage Newsletter, Spring 1990.
4. “The Hanson House,” The Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage Newsletter, May/June 1994.
5. “Issues Update,” The Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage Newsletter, May/June 1995.