One of the famous and much-photographed Painted Ladies in Alamo Square is for sale, an event that resembles a unique astronomical orientation or a visit from a foreign dignitary – not uncommon, but still rare enough to make everyone flutter.
Aside from the Golden Gate Bridge, no other place in all of San Francisco may be featured as frequently as this row of, by no means unusual, houses on the east side of Steiner Street.
Indeed, that’s part of the hotspot’s appeal: it’s not a feat of engineering or the location of a major historical event. Their attraction is of a purely organic and elemental nature; To people around the world, this means San Francisco, an image one would think of as a platonic ideal of a place far away.
But of course these once humble homes are a reality, and as expected, their walls contain quite a bit of history, including:
- The nickname “Painted Ladies” is surprisingly new. Most SF historians attribute the invention, or at least popularization, of the term to the 1978 book Painted Ladies: San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians.
- Popular myth has it that the Victorians were originally painted white and only later adopted light-colored pallets, but that’s not true. However, a vivid color fashion in the 1960s revitalized the image and popularity of classic Victorians across the city.
- These particular houses on Steiner Street are usually referred to as the “Postcard Row” for short, although they are also nicknamed the Seven Sisters, which is less common.
- Note that the number of seven includes 722 Steiner on the corner of Grove that stands out from the rest but is the oldest on the property and the former home of Matthew Kavanaugh, the original builder of the Painted Ladies.
- The addresses of the six more recognizable houses are 710-720 Steiner, which the city dates between 1892 and 1896.
- The house at 720 Steiner previously belonged to writer Alice Walker of The Color Purple, and her esteemed neighbors on both sides sometimes complained about the volume of their music.
- These are what are known as the Queen Anne Victorians – in fact, they could be the final Queen Anne homes in all of San Francisco at this point. The main distinguishing features of the style include steep roofs with ornate forward-facing gables, patterned surfaces with clapboard or brick, bay windows, raised verandas, decorative lacy spindles, and notable asymmetries.
- Speaking of Kavanaugh’s home in the heavyweights corner, prior to this new listing, this home was the last one on sale. It was trading at $ 4 million in 2010 but sold for $ 3.1 million four years later. For comparison: the previous owner Michael Shannon paid $ 65,000 for it in 1975 – less than $ 321,000 in today’s currency.
- Other recent sales in 2012 were $ 2.38 million for 710 Steiner, $ 1.21 million for 720 Steiner in 2001, and $ 920,000 for 712 Steiner in 1998 – the last post-inflation sales were about 1.46 Million USD. The lot currently for sale is 714 Steiner, so only two out of seven without a listing remain in recent memories.
- It is noteworthy that none of these seven properties are on the SF Register of 200+ Historic Landmarks, nor are they mentioned on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the seven houses are part of the historic Alamo Square district.
- The best times for photos are usually in the early afternoon between 1pm and 2pm. Since the seven houses face west, morning photos put their world-famous facades in the shade. This may sound like common sense, but it’s a surprisingly common mistake. Tourists interested in the perfect Instagram image are sometimes disappointed – so plan ahead.