David Baker Architects


Modern Architecture Hill Climb: September 18, 2010

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PDF IconSecond Bay Traditions Bicycle Tour Bicycle Cue Sheet

T-Shirt for the 2010 ride.

Thanks to those who geared up and joined architects David Baker and Robin Levitt and planner Rob Bregoff for a guided hilly ride to the city's most spectacular post-earthquake homes. Given as part of September's Architecture + the City Festival, this ride benefited the AIA San Francisco and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The tour focuses on notable modern residential architecture outside of San Francisco’s downtown core. It looks at works by Second Bay Area Tradition architects and contemporaries, including buildings by Richard Neutra, William Wurster, Gardner Dailey, Henry Hill, Joseph Eichler and Anshen + Allen. Part of a rich architectural tradition, these buildings are also a feature of our everyday landscape.

You are welcome to download the map and cue sheet for a self guided version of this tour. Please allow about five hours for the ride. The terrain is hilly: following the cue sheet faithfully will ease the pain.

mile 0.0
Justin Herman Plaza

Armand Vaillancourt

Start at Vaillancourt Fountain on Justin Herman Plaza. This fountain,designed by Armaud Vaillancurt, is from 1971. Originally conceived as counterpoint to the now demolished Embarcadero Elevated Freeway the piece has been the subject of much contreversy, with many people considering it ugly.
mile 0.7
66 Calhoun Terrace

Richard Neutra

View from Union Street of 66 Calhoun Terrace, a hillside house by Richard Neutra finished in 1939. One of the few built works of the well known modern architect in San Francisco this view from below is exordinary.
mile 2.9
San Francisco Art Institute

Bakewell Brown


Paffard Keatinge Clay

The San Francisco Art Institute complex juxtaposes two incredible buildings: a subtle Bakewell Brown (architects of SF City Hall) historic confection from 1926 with a rough muscular Brutalist addition by Paffard Keating Clay in 1970. The two share beautiful board form concrete construction and go together amazingly well: opposites attract! Don't miss the wonderful Diego Rivera mural in the gallery space of the older structure.
mile 3.3
2745 Larkin

Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons

1951, Russian Hill, Walters "ferryboat" house 2745 Larkin St., San Francisco Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons

This large town house is handled with a splendid disregard for formality. Its casual exterior covers an interior of great dignity and spatial interest, organized to take maximum advantage of the view (Woodbridge, Woodbridge and Byrne 2005: 135; Gebhard, Winter, and Sandweiss 1985: 53). A comparison of [Joseph] Esherick's second townhouse of 1951 with one of the same year by W. B. and E. illustrates the difference. Although both houses have splendid views of the Bay, the latter is a thorough response to the site; its most important statement is the dramatic orientation of the living areas to the view. The de-emphasis of the entrance and the closing of the basement story create an appropriate nautical image; the house is often called the "ferryboat" house. By contrast the Esherick house [3700 Washington Street] deals equally and formally with the Bay view and the position of the house on a corner lot (Woodbridge 1988: 184, 189, 190).
mile 5.2
2660 Divisadero


mile 5.3
2795 Vallejo Street

Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons

This beautifully maintained Wurster "box" features the trademark exposed eave rafters. Note the elegant minimal corner sideing detail as well.
The stairway is indicated to the outside world by a diagonal across the hall window (Woodbridge, Woodbridge and Byrne 2005: 162).
mile 6.1
2944 Jackson

Henry Howard

mile 6.8
250 Locust

Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons

This lovely house bridges the gap between Modernistic formality and Modern Bay Region informality (Woodbridge, Woodbridge and Byrne 2005: 211-12). It features a Tommy Church garden behind the wall on Clay.
The white brick urbanity contrasts with the 1954 design by these architects at 250 Locust Street, diagonally across the intersection with Clay (Gebhard, Winter, and Sandweiss 1985: 40).
mile 6.5
3323 Pacific


This house is near the "Shingle Row" by Coxhead, Polk, Maybeck, and Julia Morgan. It's an example of a modern design that "plays well with others".
mile 6.9
3700 Washington

Goldman House


A straightforward wooden box that balances the barnlike informality of vertical siding and double–hung windows with delicate railings and concrete columns that used sonotubes as forms. The L–plan creates an elegant garden court and a processional entranceway sheltered from the street (Woodbridge, Woodbridge and Byrne 2005: 213).

Walk west on Jackson and turn left on Spruce. As you approach Washington, note the Goldman House (47) (1951) on your right, which sits on the corner of Washington and Spruce. You are entering another enclave of the extended Haas family, which owns Levi Strauss. Rhoda Goldman is a Haas. The delicacy of the framing and the expanses of glass give Esherick's design an airy, see–through look (Wiley 2000: 279).

The Bay Region blending of informality and elegance is shown here in the unexpected but successful combination of barn siding and double–hung windows with delicate iron work and a formal entry (Gebhard, Winter, and Sandweiss 1985: 39)

By contrast [with a 1951 townhouse by Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons] the Esherick house deals equally and formally with the Bay view and the position of the house on a corner lot. The L–shaped plan creates a private garden and processional entranceway culminating in a two–story, glazed entrance and stair hall. The vertical emphasis of the focal space is carried throughout the living areas. The stark simplicity of the form is lightened by a generous use of glass—welcome in foggy San Francisco—on the south and east elevations (Woodbridge 1988: 184, 185–88).

At the turn of the century, the 3700 Washington Street property belonged to the Charles Stetson Wheelers (1863–1923). The house that occupied the lot was evidently built by J. C. Newsome for O. D. Baldwin, who sold it to Wheeler in the late 1890s. The original brick retaining wall serves as the base of the house designed by Esherick. Therefore, the site is of particular interest, as it is associated with more than three generations of San Francisco history dating back to the late 19th century (C. Walton, personal communication).

mile 7.0
3778 Washington

Russell House

Erich Mendelsohn


One of the few San Francisco works of the noted German architect Erich Mendelsohn. Note the gravity defying trellises and the flying "satellite" view room.

Mendelsohn is famous for his earlier Eisenstein Tower in Potsdam, the seminal expressionistic style work built from 1919 to 1921.

Richard Neutra, architect of the Schiff Duplex, worked for his Berlin practice.

mile 11.1
2058 Jefferson

Schiff Duplex

Richard Neutra


This duplex at 2058 Jefferson St in the Marina, originally built in 1938 for two doctors, Dr. William Schiff and Dr. Ernest Wolfes, has been completely overhauled over the past ten years by its current owner, architect Chad Overway, and is now for sale. Architect Overway purchased the house from the original owner, Isle Schiff in 1993.

Neutra's design thought has been described as being based on a proposed "new realism" of focus; the realism of the "needs of the user," the human. All of these elements were part of Neutra's effort to "dematerialize" the wall. Neutra's affinity for designing spaces which incorporate the outdoors throughly seemingly transparent walls of windows is very evident throughout all of the living areas of this space. The Schiff house was featured in the Architectural Record of 1939.

Neutra worked for Mendelsohn, architect for the house at 3778 Washington, in Berlin early in his career.

mile 14.4
Finish at the Vaillancourt Fountain in Justin Herman Plaza.

Use this Google map to view the tour's featured architecture.

View Bay Area Second Tradition Tour in a larger map

The 2009 ride arrives at the Schiff Duplex. The owner graciously gave us a complete tour. After purchasing the property from Mrs. Schiff in 1993 he meticulously restored and fully modernized the entire building.


San Francisco Architecture, An Illustrated Guide to the Outstanding Buildings, Public Artworks, and Parks in the Bay Area of CalifornisSally B. Woodbridge,  John M. Woodbridge FAIA, Chuck Byrne 2005 Edition
also earlier editions, 1992, 1982, and 1960. All are slightly different.

San Francisco, Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area: A History & Guide Michell Schwartzer

NorCalMod Pierluigi Serraino