Bliss & Faville (1898-1925)

2990 Vallejo Street 2990 Vallejo Street
14 May 2012

Bliss designed this house for himself and his wife. It occupies one of the most privileged sites in San Francisco, the Gold Coast of Pacific Heights bordering The Presidio high above San Francisco Bay.

 

Tavern of Tamalpais Built in 1924 Tavern of Tamalpais Built in 1924
1927 Photograph Courtesy Marin County Free Library

The original tavern on Mt. Tamalpais was built at the upper terminus of the Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway in 1896. It was destroyed by fire in 1923 and replaced in 1924 by a more modest building designed by Bliss & Faville. The Bliss & Faville building was razed in the 1950s after a windstorm destroyed the roof.

(Click Photos to Zoom)

Walter Danforth Bliss (1872-1956)
William Baker Faville (1866-1946)

Walter Danforth Bliss was born in Nevada. His father, a successful banker and entrepreneur, was able to send his five children to the Masssachusetts Institue of Technology. At MIT, Bliss met his future partner William Baker Faville who had been born in San Andreas, California, but reared in western New York State.

Bliss and Faville left MIT in 1895 to work for McKim, Mead & White in New York City. In 1898, they moved to San Francisco and formed a partnership. They leveraged the business connections of Bliss' father to secure residential commissions and build a reputation.

Charles F. Crocker selected the new firm to design the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square and sent the pair to Europe to study the finest hotels in London and Paris. In 1904, the hotel opened. Just two years later, it was being expanded from a U shape to an E shape when most of downtown San Francisco was destroyed by the 1906 Eathquake and Fire. The hotel was damaged, but it was repaired and reopened in 1907.

Bliss bought the lot at 2990 Vallejo Street in 1910 and built his house next door to that of architect Edgar Mathews. The house he built for himself and his wife was an early use of reinforced concrete in a residential building. From the front, the house appears to be two stories high, but it is located on a steep lot and in the rear it is at least eighty feet high. (Given the steepness of San Francisco's hills, many houses, like iceburgs, are largely hidden from view and more formidable than they at first appear.)

Bliss & Faville often imitated buildings designed by McKim, Mead & White. In those days, architectural critics did not fetishize originality for its own sake, and appropriation was praised rather than condemned:

The general resemblance of the [Bank of California to] the Knickerbocker Trust Company in New York will, of course, strike everyone who is familiar with the latter building; but the architects are to be congratulated rather than condemned for their frank and intelligent attempt to make under happier conditions a revised version of a good thing.

(Architectural Record 1906: 471)

Bliss and Faville terminated their partnership amicably in 1925.

 

Name Year Address City Sort Address Sort Name
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Bank of California1908400 California StreetSan FranciscoCalifornia 0400Bank of California
Bank of Italy - Hallidie Plaza Branch19201 Powell StreetSan FranciscoPowell 0001Bank of Italy - Hallidie Plaza Branch
Bliss Residence19152990 Vallejo StreetSan FranciscoVallejo 2990Bliss Residence
California State Building1926350 McAllister StreetSan FranciscoMcAllister 0350California State Building
Carnegie Library - Richmond Branch1914351 9th AvenueSan Francisco Avenue 09 0352Carnegie Library - Richmond Branch
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Masonic Temple191325 Van Ness AvenueSan FranciscoVan Ness 0025Masonic Temple
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Residence19052520 Pacific AvenueSan FranciscoPacific 2520Residence
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Residence19003020 Pacific San FranciscoPacific 3020Residence
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Residence19083540 Washington StreetSan FranciscoWashington 3540Residence
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Rialto Building1910116 New Montgomery StreetSan FranciscoNew Montgomery 0116Rialto Building
Saint Francis Hotel1907335 Powell StreetSan FranciscoPowell 0335Saint Francis Hotel
Savings Union Bank19081 Grant AvenueSan FranciscoGrant 0001Savings Union Bank
Southern Pacific Depot19265th and I StreetsSacramento Street 05Southern Pacific Depot
Southern Pacific Headquarters19161 Market StreetSan FranciscoMarket 0001Southern Pacific Headquarters
Tavern on Mt. Tamalpais1924Mt. TamalpaisMarin CountyMt. TamalpaisTavern on Mt. Tamalpais
United States Post Office1918315 West Sycamore StreetWillowsSycamore 0315United States Post Office
University Club1912800 Powell StreetSan FranciscoPowell 0800University Club

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