Views and history as you explore Russian Hill on foot Essay

You can take the #60 Powell-Hyde cable car or the #59 Powell-Mason
cable car. Our loop walking tour begins at the intersection of Vallejo
and Mason streets. Nearby Italian and Chinese food shops sell picnic
supplies. Starting where the 1906 fire stopped



The Vallejo Steps lead up through pines to Ina Coolbrith Park
(number 1 on our map), on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city’s
downtown. Look for the plaque at the Taylor Street entrance. Coolbrith
was associated with Bret Harte in editing the Overland Monthly during
the late 1860s, became the librarian for the city’s prestigious
Bohemian Club, and was crowned poet laureate of California in 1915. She
lived nearby on Macondray Lane.

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If you had been standing at this spot a few days after the 1906
earthquake, you would have been singed but saved–fire-fighters saw the
defiant raising of the American flag over the shingle house at 1652-56
Taylor (2, shown in the historic photograph above) and rushed up to save
the structure and the flag, using wet sand and seltzer water in the
process. Tudor bordello to million-dollar condos



Cross Taylor and continue up the steps beside a large,
Tudor-inspired stucco house (once reputed to be a bordello) to the crown
of the hill. This area survived the fire. The Livermore family has
owned part of the hilltop since the late 1800s, doing much to establish
the quiet, woodsy character so appreciated today.



At the brow of the hill, you’ll pass a double-gabled,
brown-shingle structure at 1013-19 Vallejo (3) built by Willis Polk in
1892 as apartments for his own family and that of a painter (note the
studio-size window in the right-hand gable). Legend has it that Polk
installed a secret passage for his own use–to evade creditors or to
visit a lady next door.


Across the street is a brand-new condominium complex (4) by the
firm of Esherick, Homsey, Dodge ; Davis, which fits amid its
shingled and balustraded neighbors surprisingly well. It was built by
neighborhood investors who had earlier prevented a high-rise from going
up on the site. The price for each units is in the million-dollar
range.



At 1034 and 1036 Vallejo (5) are two brown-shingle houses from the
original row, reminiscent of New England farmhouses in their simple
gables and unornamented windows and doors.



Two picturesque alleys split off from Vallejo at this point, adding
to the blend of architectural styles. Running south toward a distant
view of Grace Cathedral is Florence Street. A row of pueblo revival
houses (6), a style popular in the 1920s, lines the west side, solid and
slightly exotic images of permanence and comfort.



Running north is Russian Hill Place, a brick-paved lane lined with
stuccoed Mediterranean villas, some by Willis Polk (7). These houses
also open, to the west and below, onto Jones Street and from there form
a single massive structure, demonstrating Polk’s cleverness in
relating the building to two very different site conditions.



The lane dead-ends against the back of a 24-story apartment house,
the Eichler Summit (8), built by the developer who popularized the
Eichler tract house in many parts of the Bay Area during the 1950s and
’60s. This building, which radically alters the scale of the
neighborhood, bankrupted him. Because it was built at the top of a
hill, it blocks relatively few views. Nevertheless, one was enough:
there is now a 40-foot height limit. Octagon house to firehouse



Follow Vallejo down the right-hand ramp to Jones. Proceed north up
Jones and go left to the 1000 block of Green Street. Here you’ll
find a delightful mix of houses, many dating from before the fire. Note
the octagon at 1067 (9), built in 1857. It’s one of two in the
city. Across the street, at 1088, is a firehouse (10), built in 1907
and later remodeled as a private residence. You can see the original
fire pole, relocated to the doorway.



If you’re hungry, continue west on Green one block to Hyde
Street, where you’ll find several eating spots; a block north on
Hyde, at Union Street, is the original Swensen’s ice cream store.



Retrace your steps to Jones, then go left half a block and turn
right on Macondray Lane (11), which becomes a cobbled footpath lined
with huge eucalyptus trees and a row of little bay-windowed frame
houses, some from the 1870s. You eventually descend the steep slope to
Taylor by a series of wooden steps. Go right on Taylor to return to
Vallejo.

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