Historic Structures

Building Description Whittier Mansion - California Historical Society Mansion, San Francisco

The best introduction to the architectural character of the former Whittier house is the preview account in the San Francisco Chronicle for December 24th 1894:

"Edward R. Swain, the architect, has just completed the drawings and plans for the residence of W. F, Whittier, which is to he erected at the northeast corner of Jackson and Laguna Streets on a site commanding a magnificent view of the hay and the Golden Gate. The house, which will be completed at a cost of about $90,000, will be ready for occupancy in November, 1895. It will be the first residence in town built entirely of stone._ The lot is 80 x 127 feet, fronting on Jackson Street, The main portion of the house will be 55 x 75 feet, with a wing on the east side, the full width of the lot. The first story up to the water table will be of Sespe stone, and all above that line, including the chimney and pediments, will be in red Arizona stone. The roof will be covered with red Spanish tiles.

"The architecture of the house, which will be a two story structure with basement and attic (technically there was a third story built with attic above it), is Renaissance in feeling. A handsome portico, seventeen feet wide, projects nine feet from the face of the building. It will be very handsomely carved and highly ornamented. The base stones on which the porch rests, including the steps and platforms leading to it, are of red beach granite. The treads of the steps will be of the same stone, polished. The vestibule, finished in handsome foreign marbles, will be ten feet wide and six feet deep. The floor will be in mosaic.

"Passing the doors one will step into an entrance hall twelve feet square, which leads through an arch into the main hall, 22 x 30, The main staircase will be on the right of the main hall. Both halls will be finished in natural-colored Eastern oak, with beamed ceiling. The design, which will be in keeping with the general design of the building will consist of a pilaster and arch finish. From the main hall access will be had to the dining room by means of a lobby 8 x 12 feet. The dining room door is opposite the front door. On the right of the entrance hall is the reception-room, entered through open doorways, which will be handsomely draped with portiers. Arches for statuary are on either side of the entrances* The room is octagonal in form and sixteen feet in diameter, The round corner window will project somewhat beyond the octagon, and the space between will be upholstered for seats. The reception-room will be finished in 'vernis martin', a light wood veneered and spangled with gold.

"The living-room, 20 x 46, will be on the left of the entrance hall. At a distance of fifteen feet from the front it will be divided by an arch, the side openings of which will be hung with portieres. The room will be finished in east coast Mexican mahogany. The handsome mantel will be eight feet wide. There will be a large open fireplace with facings in 'Jaune antique claire' Numidian marble. The hearth will be in Florentine mosaic. This room will also have a beamed ceiling.

"To the rear of the living-room in the northwest corner of the house, the visitor will be ushered into the smoking or lounging room, a circular apartment commanding a magnificent view of the bay and the surrounding landscape. The lounging room will be finished in oriental style in vermilion wood. Through this room access may be had to the dining room. This will be a very handsome apartment, 18 x 25, exclusive of a bay window thirteen feet long and four feet deep. It will be finished in natural white oak. There will be a wainscoting nine feet high, finished with buffets and backed with plate-glass mirrors. The mantel will be finished with oak and faced with "Rose Carnagione" Numidian marble. The ceiling will be domed and paneled in plaster. Just above the wainscoting a frieze, in oils will add greatly to the appearance of the dining-hall._ Adjoining the dining-room will be the butler's pantry, 13 x 16, in ash, with china cases, silver safe, filters and other paraphernalia. The kitchen, 16 x 24, will be in the northeast corner of the building. It will be finished in oak, and, instead of the usual pantries the necessary shelves and bins will extend along the side of the room to a depth of six feet.

"Next to the kitchen, on the Jackson Street side, is a servants diningroom, 12 x 14, which will be entered from a passage off the rear hall. The side entrance to the house also communicates with this passage.

"Just off the main hall is the rear hall with the rear stairs. Near these stairs is a passenger elevator, five feet square, which will run from the basement to the attic. In the front part of the basement will be rooms for coal, furniture and general storage. In the central portion of the basement, under the main hall and part of the livingroom will be an apartment in oak, 30 x 50, which may be used for suppers and dances. It may be reached from the main stairs. The rear of the basement will be taken up with the servants' rooms, cold storage, laundry, servants, bathroom and other departments of the household.

"On the second floor will be six handsome bedrooms, to three of which private bathrooms will be attached. The recesses for the fixtures in the bathrooms will be lined with various fancy marbles, and the floors will be of hard wood. The various chambers will be finished in prima vera, birch, cherry and bird's-eye maple. W. F. Whittier's suite will be in the northwest corner of the second story. It will consist of a large bedroom, a sitting room, dressing room and bathroom, W. R. will revel in luxury in the third or "attic" story. The whole width of the building on that floor will be taken up by his apartments, including a chamber, bathroom, dressing room and sitting room, 16 x 40, in waxed redwood of natural colors. There will be a large open fireplace and a hardwood floor. On this floor, also, are a guest chamber, a trunk room, servant's room, servant's bathroom, a big linen closet and the "sporting-room". The latter is 8 x 13, and in it will be stored the guns, rods and other implements of the chase which the Messrs. Whittler may require in their sport.

"A handsome stable will adjoin the residence in the rear."

This account may stand as a substantial indication of the character of the house during the period from 1896 to 1941. The Nazi German Consulate was generally content to leave the building as they found it. Interior changes which occurred at this time or later replaced the shell-headed niches and buffets in the dining-room's south walls with glass exhibition cases, and added new lighting fixtures in the main living room and in the dining-room. The ceiling of the smoking room was lowered with a false ceiling; the original is preserved above it. In the living room, the awkardly placed bookcases on either side of the principal fireplace were removed altogether. Of the original first floor ceiling light fixtures, only that in the reception room (now the Members' Room), moved from the dining room, is left. Since the California Historical Society has occupied the building, the door between the dining room and pantry has been closed. The original carpet from the dining room has been replaced with a fine oriental rug. Most of the hangings at the windows are replacements, although they are appropriate to the character of the house and its period.

On the second floor, all of the original carpets were removed when the California Historical Society assumed ownership and green linoleum was placed over the wood floors. The original woodwork was painted white, and the walls have been repainted a number of times. (The walls of the "Supper room" and first floor have been repainted more than once above the fine wood dadoes and trim; original ceiling polychromy has been simplified to a neutral white. The paneling in the "reception room" has been painted over.) The bath room in the south-center of the second floor has been altered to provide a powder-room and a corridor between east and west chambers. On the third floor, a glass and wooden screen was erected during the mid 1950's for privacy, when it became an apartment. The only other significant interior change was the alteration of the original servant's room at the northeast to a simple kitchen, to service the former "lounging room", converted to a dining room.