The "Painted Ladies" Victorian Houses In San Francisco At Alamo Square

The "Painted Ladies", a row of Victorian San Francisco houses on Steiner Street, sit majestically across from Alamo Square Park. The street is known as known as "Postcard Row" and are, in fact, one of the most photographed landmarks in San Francisco.

But, did you know that these Victorian houses of San Francisco didn't get the title of "Painted Ladies" until 1978 when the book of the same name was published? Amazingly, you can still find that book for sale at Amazon nearly 40 years later!


Painted Ladies History

Victorian San Francisco Houses

"Painted Ladies" generally refers to Victorian and Edwardian houses painted in distinctive bright colors. About 50,000 Victorian and Edwardian style houses were built in San Francisco between 1849 and 1915 (houses built after Queen Victoria's death in 1901 are called Edwardian).

While many of the Nob Hill Victorian mansions were destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, most of the modest houses in the western and southern neighborhoods survived. Today, a row of them stand proudly at Alamo Square. In total, about 14,000 Victorians are preserved in San Francisco — west of Van Ness Avenue in Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights and Alamo Square.

Over time many of the originally brightly colored Victorian San Francisco houses were painted over with battleship grey surplus paint from the US navy. Also thousands of these historic homes were demolished. Some homeowners stripped off the Victorian decor or covered it with horrible finishes like tarpaper, stucco, even aluminum siding.

Finally, in the early 1960s, San Francisco artist Butch Kardum painted his Victorian house with vibrant blues and green tones. Although he drew some criticism, the trend caught on. In 1984, the Alamo Square Historic District was declared by the city of San Francisco.


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About Alamo Square

Although its boundaries are not legally defined, Alamo Square is generally considered to be bounded by Webster Street, Golden Gate Avenue, Divisadero Street and Fell Street. Alamo Square Park, the famous hilltop park that overlooks downtown is bordered by four iconic SF streets: — Hayes, Steiner, Fulton and Scott Street.

In case you're wondering, Alamo means "lone cottonwood tree" in Spanish. (You probably knew that!) Back in the 1800s, when the major mode of transportation was horseback, Alamo Hill was a popular watering hole on the trail from Mission Dolores to the Presidio. In 1888, Mayor James Van Ness created the park surrounding the watering hole, naming it Alamo Square Park.

Alamo Square's Victorian architecture was largely untouched by urban renewal, unlike other neighborhoods in San Francisco. In fact, Alamo Square has the second largest concentration of mansions over 10,000 square feet, trailing closely behind Pacific Heights. Today, the Victorian houses have become a major tourist attractions and have appeared in many movies, TV programs, commercials, and web pages!


Painted Ladies Color Expert

Painted Ladies

Bob Buckter knows a thing or two about San Francisco Victorian landmarks. Since 1970, he's been a color analyst on over 22,000 projects. Nicknamed Dr Color, he loves bright, bold colors and has transformed many Victorian and Edwardian structures in San Francisco and around the globe.

One of his most loved project is the Bayview Opera House, which he did pro bono. Buckter transformed the oldest standing SF opera house from blah to spectacular using a grey exterior with lively accents of red, green and gold.

According to Dr Color, not all Painted Ladies are adorned with bright, bold colors. Some are in neutral, warm hues with gold leaf window treatments. Dr Color also transforms Painted Ladies with jewel tones like deep purples, greens and golds. Many of his projects bear a plaque with his name on it.

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