SF’s oldest home was listed for $16,000 a month, with a catch

The old farmhouse at 1111 Oak St. looks like it fell into town from another world, which isn’t too far from the truth.

The colonial house’s bright white balcony and porch overlook a pretty, manicured lawn and garden, oblivious to the hustle and bustle of Oak Street and the Divisadero Corridor a few yards away.

The cottage is believed to be the oldest surviving house in San Francisco, and it is now available for rent, not as a residence but as a business office. While the interior has been remodeled over the years to provide 3,500 square feet of office space, the exterior looks much the same as it did more than 170 years ago, when it was a distant lakeside homestead beyond the city limits, and long before it stood on one of the busiest Streets in San Francisco.

It’s not easy to verify the provenance of a pre-1906 building in San Francisco — most of the city’s ownership records were destroyed by earthquakes and fire — but a little digging has revealed a home with a very long and unusual history. Here’s what we know.

The most romantic (and most repeated) origin story for the house is about a lovestruck lawyer and former Mexican-American War colonel, Abner Phelps. Phelps is to ship the house from New Orleans around Cape Horn to convince his young bride from Louisiana, Charlotte Roussell, to move with him to San Francisco.

The romantic ruse apparently worked, and the home, then a few blocks from its current location in the center of a 160-acre homestead at the foot of Buena Vista Park, was home to the Phelps and their six children for decades. The small, hilly ranch featured a 100-foot-deep lake “for the boys, who used to swim and duck-hunting.”

The Abner Phelps House from behind, 1111 Oak St., San Francisco

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A profile of the home in the San Francisco Call reports that the lake easily burst its banks on rainy days, and excitedly recalls the fate of a neighbor who lost his home to the flood: “It’s a matter of history that his Piano and A cask of whiskey that belonged to him was found in the mission.”

While living there and raising his family, Phelps practiced law in San Francisco, riding his horse every day through the hills from his home to his law office on downtown Montgomery Street (perhaps he was one of the first horsemen to ride The Wiggle used). ).

However, a 1934 account contradicts the Louisiana home’s origin story, stating that the home was instead built for Phelps by a San Francisco home builder, with the lumber shipped from Maine. A later report from the 1970s, based on an analysis of the wood by UC Berkeley scientists, states that the house was built with California redwood. Another story from the San Francisco Examiner states that the house was built as early as 1846.

Many of these later finds, coinciding with the home’s designation as a San Francisco landmark in the 1970s, seemed to debunk and contradict the more romantic all-around-the-horn story. In researching this story, however, a previously uncited article in the 1907 San Francisco Call interviewing the original family matter-of-factly stated that the house was “built in Louisiana and came ready to be erected around the horn.” was anchored to the ground.” This article also reveals that for a long time the house was painted gray rather than white and was a center of San Francisco society.

“Horses came and went with the merry crowd of guests. Long tables were laid for a multitude of guests each Sunday, and there were few of the celebrities of the time who were not at one time or another under the Abner Phelps umbrella.”

No matter where the house is from, the construction date of 1850 or earlier makes the house the oldest in San Francisco. (Although Mission Dolores and the adobe walls of the Presidio Officers’ Club, as far as non-residential buildings are concerned, both date back to the Spanish colonization of 1776.) And while we cannot be sure the house moved from Louisiana or Maine, we do know that it, once it got to San Francisco, it didn’t stay in one place for long.

The Abner Phelps House, 1111 Oak St., San Francisco

The Abner Phelps House, 1111 Oak St., San Francisco

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After the death of Abner Phelps in the 1890s, as the city’s apartment blocks expanded and encroached on the farms in the western half of the city, the Phelps children moved the family home to its first numbered address a few blocks from what is now the Panhandle – 329 Divisadero Street. The siblings reportedly disassembled the house again in 1904 and rebuilt it nearby, turning it aside at the back of that property to set up a haberdashery shop in Divisadero, run by two of the Phelps sisters.

There, surrounded by newly built shops and apartments, the white house could not be seen from any street. It was only accessible via a 75-foot alley, “barely wide enough for two people walking side by side,” according to the San Francisco Examiner, who described the home as “the beautiful home of Abner Phelps that few San Franciscans find.” be able”.

(Interestingly, the entrance down the alley that once led through the haberdashery to the Phelps family’s hidden home is now the unmarked entrance in the same building, directly to the left of Gamescape, 333 Divisadero.)

“It cost us more than building a new house,” Abner Phelps’ son Walter told the call as he moved the house off the street to the back lot, “but we’re happy to keep the old house.”

The interior of the Abner Phelps House, 1111 Oak St., San Francisco

The interior of the Abner Phelps House, 1111 Oak St., San Francisco

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The last Phelps to live in the house, Abner’s son George, remained there until his death in 1940.

Still not visible from the street, the house was purchased in 1969 by a real estate agent named David Finn. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the house was relocated again in 1977. Almost a century later, this move would finally allow the house to be seen by the passing public again.

Finn told the Examiner in 1986 that when he acquired the property it faced south, but after an adjacent Victorian building on Oak Street was moved to nearby Page Street he had rotated his new home 180 degrees to face north, where it was given the 1111 Oak street address it has today.

The entire 3,537 square foot building is now available for commercial lease at $54.48 per square foot per year, which translates to approximately $16,000 per month for arguably the most unique office space in San Francisco. An iconic building that has moved no less than four times by our count.

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