Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Victorians Project: Alamo Square

In which we find that, with Victorians, the devil's in the details -- and in the tales they tell
Built in 1889, the Westerfeld House, above, is a postively epic example of high San Francisco Gothic "stick" (i.e., made of wood) architecture. This house, which stands on the corner of Scott and Fulton Streets, across from Alamo Square Park, has been known as "The Czar's Consulate" since 1928. It served as a sort of landing pad for "White" -- that is, Czarist -- Russians fleeing Bolshevik oppression in their homeland. The White Russians who owned the house also turned the ground floor ballroom into a night club, called Dark Eyes, frequented by Russian emigres.

Later, as the neighborhood declined in the 1960s, it briefly became a hippie hangout, and was immortailized in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kook-Aid Acid Test." Recently, I've seen a film crew and actors in Victorian costumes coming and going from the place.

This gorgeously painted bit of detail decorates a house on Scott Street, not far from the Czar's Consulate. When these Victorians were built, in the 19th century, they were not as gaily painted as they are today, but were rather painted in solid and stately whites or grays with white trim. In the 1960s and '70s, hippies began painting them in bright, varied colors, though often to disastrous effect. (Drugs are bad, OK?) In the 1980s and '90s, color consultants began to ply their trade among Victorian house-holders, allowing them to display their individuality but with better taste. It is attractive yet costly. Our building, on Central Ave, which dates from the early 'oughts of the 20th century, and which was renovated in the Art Deco era, was repainted a year or so ago at a cost of some $30,000.


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