Famous Houses in and Around San Francisco

As the Scott brothers battle it out on the Bay in season six of Brother Vs. Brother, take a virtual tour of noteworthy addresses in the neighborhood.

San Francisco’s real-estate scene was dramatic long before Jonathan and Drew came to town for Brother Vs. Brother: Entrepreneurs, artists and eccentrics have flocked to northern California for centuries. Properties become famous there for all kinds of reasons: Some gain acclaim for their architecture, others occupy prime locations and more than a few have notorious former inhabitants. While the Property Brothers compete for their all-star judges’ approval, consider a few of the nearby homes that have found a place in history.

The Abner Phelps House

Abner Phelps House, 1111 Oak St, San Francisco

Abner Phelps House, 1111 Oak St, San Francisco

The stately Gothic Revival house that stands on Oak Street between Divisadero and Broderick is considered to be the oldest unaltered residence in the city — possibly dating back as far as 1850. While the house’s structure hasn’t changed, its location has: First constructed at the foot of Buena Vista Hill, it was repositioned in the 1890s, then relocated to its original site in 1904.

The Haas-Lilienthal House

A fusion of Queen Anne and Stick-Eastlake styles, what is now San Francisco's only Victorian house museum was built as a private residence in 1886. The lovely home nearly fell victim to the catastrophic fires that ravaged the city after the 1906 earthquake, but luck was on its side: The approaching flames were finally halted at Van Ness, just a few blocks away.

The McElroy Octagon House

McElroy Octagon House, 2645 Gough St, San Francisco

McElroy Octagon House, 2645 Gough St, San Francisco

The brief “octagon house” architectural craze of the 19th-century traces back to a builder named Orson Squire Fowler, who argued that his creations provided ample light, were easy to heat, and could be constructed more efficiently than houses with right angles. Only three octagon houses remain in San Francisco — and this one in Cow Hollow, bought for $1 in the 1950s, is now a decorative-arts museum restored and maintained by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in California.

The Grateful Dead House

During the Summer of Love, 710 Ashbury Street (in Haight-Ashbury, of course) played host to Jerry Garcia and his bandmates—and served as the venue for the press conference at which they argued for the decriminalization of marijuana. As drummer Bill Kreutzmann recalls in his autobiography, “I heard that Ken Kesey was driving down [Ashbury] one day and his brakes gave out and he had to make a quick decision: he could crash into the Grateful Dead house, or he could crash into the Hells Angel house [the gang’s local headquarters, and another San Francisco landmark]. He chose the Hells Angels. Wise choice from our perspective but probably questionable from any other.”

The Cliff House


Photo by: Roberto Soncin Gerometta / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Roberto Soncin Gerometta / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Wealthy locals have wined and dined at the Cliff House (and the second Cliff House, and the third Cliff House) since 1863, when Senator John Buckley built its first incarnation on the picturesque cliffs at the edge of what is now the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The 21st-century incarnation of the famous building boasts both neoclassical architecture and a new, modern wing — and, of course, those jaw-dropping Pacific Ocean views.

The Painted Ladies

Alamo Square Park

Alamo Square Park

Perhaps best known for being the setting of the Full House opening sequence, Alamo Square Park offers spectacular views of the city, perfect for a picnic of your own. But the best view is along the east side of the park, where the famous Painted Ladies sit along Steiner Street. Sometimes called “Postcard Row” for obvious reasons, the houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, who lived next door to the row houses, in the mansion at 722 Steiner Street.

Photo by: San Francisco Travel Association

San Francisco Travel Association

San Francisco’s rainbow-hued Victorians gained their nickname from a 1978 coffee-table book celebrating their classic looks and eye-popping color schemes. The Ladies on Steiner Street across from Alamo Square Park are also known as Postcard Row, and they’re some of the best-known buildings in town: They’ve appeared in countless ads, movies and television shows (including Full House and Fuller House, though the extended Tanner family did not live in one of them).

The Full House House

Photo by: Vanguard Properties

Vanguard Properties

The actual Tanner home — or the building that provided its exterior shots, anyway — is about a mile from Alamo Square Park, at 1709 Broderick Street in Pacific Heights. It doesn’t look much like it did in the ‘80s (and it’s still mysterious that a local newscaster was able to afford to live in it), but its value has skyrocketed: The building sold two years ago for a cool $4 million.

The Flintstone House

Photo by: Picasa 2.7�

Picasa 2.7�

South of the city on the scenic 280, the "Flinstone House" —a one-of-a-kind San Mateo home designed by architect William Nicholson and constructed by “spraying shotcrete onto steel rebar and mesh frames over inflated aeronautical balloons” — has been distracting motorists since the ‘70s. Once a comparatively tame off-white, the home was painted orange and purple about a decade ago — and sold for $2.8 million last year.

The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Winchester build the world's strangest home, containing 160 rooms and costing more than $5,500,000

Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Winchester build the world's strangest home, containing 160 rooms and costing more than $5,500,000

Photo by: Jorg or Christine Ruwe

Jorg or Christine Ruwe

Did the heiress Sarah Winchester truly believe that she needed to continuously build her 24,000-square-foot, 160-room San Jose Victorian home in order to appease the ghosts of the people her husband’s rifles harmed? Is her haphazard property the result of séances held in lieu of meetings with earthly architects. While we’ll likely never know, lucky (or unlucky) visitors can take special, flashlight-only tours of the Winchester Mystery House every Friday the 13th.

Tune in for Slam Dunk Bonus Spaces, another all-new episode of Brother Vs. Brother’s San Francisco showdown, this Wednesday at 9|8c.

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