The Haas-Lilienthal House is San Francisco's only Victorian house open to the public year-round for guided tours. It's one of the most grandiose houses in the city; the 1886 structure has elaborate wooden gables and a splendid Queen-Anne-style circular corner tower. Inside are a series of finely preserved Victorian rooms, complete with authentic period furniture.
In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Haas-Lilienthal House as a National Treasure in America. The San Francisco Heritage and the National Trust are developing a long term strategy to restore and sustain the house. We highly recommend taking a tour to get a glimpse into the rich history of the city.
Designed by Peter R. Schmidt in 1886, the house exemplifies upper-middle class life in the Victorian era. Built in the Queen Anne style, H-L features prominent open gables, various shingle styles and a turreted corner tower topped by a witches cap roof.
Built of redwood and fir, the H-L on Franklin street has stood up to the rigor of time, surviving both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. The house cost $18,500 to construct while the majority of houses at that time cost between $700 and $2,000
Home to the rich and famous, the Haas-Lilienthal house was built by a prominent and wealthy Jewish family. The vital statistics are staggering — 11,500 square feet, twenty-four rooms, a ballroom, parlor, dining room, bedrooms, playroom, a vast kitchen, and a train room filled with Lionel trains. The tall ceilings are thirteen feet high.
Let's now step back in time to learn about the two families whose names are attached to the house. We'll start with the patriarch of the house and find out how a poor Bavarian youngster came to be a prominent and wealthy San Franciscan.
William Haas was born in Bavaria in 1849 to a large family of modest means, the youngest of nine children. In 1865, 16-year-old William and his older brother Abraham sailed to New York City to seek their fame and fortune. William moved to San Francisco in 1868 to join the wholesale merchant grocery firm of Loupe & Haas, where his cousin was one of the partners.
In 1880, the 31-year-old William Haas married Bertha Greenebaum, the 19-year-old daughter of a prominent German-Jewish family. William and Bertha had three children, Florine, Charles William, and Alice. The Haas firm prospered and in 1897 it was incorporated with William as its first president. However, William Haas died suddenly on May 31, 1916 and his son became the new president of Haas Bros.
Charles William Haas was the second child and he did not leave home until 1913, when, at twenty-nine, he married Fanny Stern. She was the daughter of the president of the Levi Strauss Company. Charles and Fanny had two children, Madeleine and William. Meanwhile, in 1903, Florine, the eldest daughter of William and Bertha, married Edward Brandenstein.
In 1909, Alice, the youngest child of William and Bertha, married Samuel Lilienthal at the Haas home in a lavish ceremony, and that's where the Lilienthal name enters our story. For the wedding, San Francisco's most stylish decorators transformed the house into a flower garden with yellow chrysanthemums and autumn foliage. After the ceremony, the young couple sailed by steamer to Honolulu for their honeymoon.
Samuel Lilienthal's family was also of German-Jewish descent, but were wealthy in their homeland of Bavaria. Samuel's grandfather came to New York in 1840 where Samuel's father, Ernest, was born in 1850. In the summer of 1871, Ernest moved to San Francisco to open a business as a wholesaler of Cyrus Noble whiskey. This was the beginning of Lilienthal fortune; it was the largest wholesale liquor company in the west until 1890.
In 1876, Ernest married Hannah Isabelle Sloss, whose family had amassed a fortune in the lucrative fur trade. A San Francisco newspaper wrote, "Heiress Weds Prominent Merchant". After their wedding, they moved into a home on California Street (the house is still standing) given to them by her parents as a wedding gift.
The fourth child of the heiress and the merchant was Samuel, and he would be Alice Haas' future husband. He was born in 1884, attended the University of California at Berkeley, and traveled east to study the operations at several distilleries. In 1904, he joined the family firm, Crown Distilleries. Samuel arrived on the scene just in time for the earthquake of 1906 to destroy the firm's offices.
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Crown Distilleries was rebuilt and, in 1909, Samuel married Alice Haas. And that's how the Haas and Liliental families came together. Samuel and Alice had three children and their family moved in with Bertha Haas at the Franklin Street house shortly after William Haas' death. In 1917, Ernest Lilienthal, anticipating Prohibition, liquidated Crown Distilleries (so to speak) and joined Haas Bros. When Alice's brother Charles Haas died in 1927, Samuel Lilienthal became president of Haas Bros. Charles' two children, Madeleine and William, came to live in the Haas-Lilienthal household after both their parents died.
During these years, the house was as full — living with the extended family were a laundryman, cook, upstairs maid, a second maid, a waitress, and a nursemaid. After Samuel Lilienthal's death, Alice continued to live there until her own death in 1973. It was Alice's heirs who donated the house and its furnishings to the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage.
The house has never been remodeled and remains one of the very few examples of its era. The Haas-Lilienthal House is open three days a week — Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Volunteer tour guides lead tours and explain details about Victorian architecture. Tours start every 30 minutes and last about one hour. All visits to the house are guided. Reservations are not required.
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