There is no shortage of great homes in San Francisco. From ornate Victorians to sprawling hilltop mansions, these ornate houses often have a distinctive feature in their midst – a plaster shield or coat of arms on the facade.

Some buildings even have several. As soon as you spot them, you can’t see them anymore – you suddenly find that everyone from your neighbor to the rundown apartment building on the block has at least one small one hidden in an upper corner. While it is easy to assume that these are meaningful family crests that mark homes with an ancestral trait that could be passed down through generations, most of them appear to be simply ornamental plants. They’re not necessarily that old either.

In the 19th century, Victorian houses were often “cartouched” to indicate wealth or status through their home decor. These decorative, carved decorations were rather classic and did not show anything in the middle. Bob Buckter, an architectural colorist named Dr. Color, who is creating new color schemes for Victorian buildings in the Bay Area, said cartridges have been growing in popularity for thousands of years. They started with Egyptian papyrus art and usually had vertical ovals with a little message in them. “They are remnants of architectural details from ancient Europe and earlier,” he said.

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE

In the past century, architects typically added coats of arms or cartouches to give the building “an interesting, classy look,” he said. Today, when he advises on renovation projects, clients often ask if they would like to add these. “I recommend adding them only if they fit the era of the architecture and could possibly have been there originally,” said Buckter.

In the 20th century, the shields and coats of arms appeared more frequently in San Francisco, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, and showed “heraldry” in the decorative pieces.

“They’re most common in Mediterranean and Spanish style homes that are common in the United States [Richmond, the Sunset] and the marina, ”said Amy Firman, partner and mold maker at Lorna Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster. “While we see specific coats of arms in some of these designs, it’s hard to tell if these were made specifically for their customers or if they reflect something from the designer’s family history and were only mass-produced to be decorative.”

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point Shipyard.

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE

San Francisco homeowners with a crumbling crest on their home can head to Lorna Kollmeyer’s store, the only place in the Bay Area that still does this type of cleaning job. The team can restore it, or even design and create a mold for a whole new one – a small shield can cost as little as $ 75, while more custom engineering on a larger crest can cost $ 2,000 or more.

From the sketch to the renovated house: Lorna Kollmeyer designed a new cartridge for this Sunset house.

From the sketch to the renovated house: Lorna Kollmeyer designed a new cartridge for this Sunset house.

Lorna Kollmeyer

While Kollmeyer said that most of the coats of arms they make are decorative and usually use popular elements like a lion and lily, they occasionally have customers who want to recreate a family crest, or at least include the family initial in a shield. For the house of Queen Anne on 2307 Broadway (formerly owned by the film director Francis Ford Coppola), the late designer Jessica McClintock commissioned Kollmeyer with an individual coat of arms in 2019, which she designed around her family history and which is still visible today.

The late designer Jessica McClintock commissioned an individual coat of arms for Queen Anne's house on 2307 Broadway.

The late designer Jessica McClintock commissioned an individual coat of arms for Queen Anne’s house on 2307 Broadway.

Lorna Kollmeyer

San Francisco historical writer Lorri Ungaretti agreed that most people consider them to be family crests, even if most don’t. “I know they were all the rage in the 1930s. … They were just one possible object to build houses (often at sunset) by stairs. “

And I’m not the first to wonder about their origins. Danielle Baskin, an artist living in SF, asked a question about the meaning of the coats of arms on Twitter back in January and received a multitude of responses. But a joke answer spurred an idea.

This was the blue check on Twitter

– Adam Scheuring (@admsch), January 29, 2021

Baskin created a website for “Blue Check Homes” within two hours of the initial idea and soon had 495 applicants for the fake service that “would prove to people outside your home that you are an authentic public figure”. The application required applicants to submit their names and social media accounts, and contained absurd qualifications such as “thought leader” or a member of a professional esports league. The prank went so viral that Snopes even conducted an official fact-checking of the company, calling it satire.

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point Shipyard. 1of14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point shipyard. 2of14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE3of14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point Shipyard. 4thof14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point shipyard. 5of14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE6thof14th

Amy Firman, Lorna Kollmeyer and Mike Dyar from Lorna Kollmeyer Zierputz in the Hunter's Point Shipyard. 7thof14th

Amy Firman, Lorna Kollmeyer and Mike Dyar from Lorna Kollmeyer Zierputz in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point Shipyard. 8thof14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

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Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point shipyard. 10of14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point shipyard. 11of14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE12thof14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter's Point Shipyard. 13thof14th

Lorna Kollmeyer decorative plaster in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

Patricia Chang / Special on SFGATE14thof14th

Despite the joke’s popularity, a crest with a little secret seems a little more enticing than a blue tick.