Willis Polk (1867-1924)

Tobin House by Willis Polk
Tobin House
1969 California Street
Built 1915
Photographed 14 May 2012

Willis Polk, the son of a carpenter architect, was born in Jacksonville, Illinois. He apprenticed to a carpenter when he was fourteen. At fifteen, he won a competition for the design of a six-room schoolhouse in Hope, Arkansas.

In 1885, Willis and his father and his brother founded W. W. Polk & Sons in Kansas City. For several years, Polk traveled extensively and acquired experience working for many architects including Ernest Coxhead and A. Page Brown.

In 1889, Polk joined the office of A. Page Brown and moved with Brown's firm to San Francisco. After Polk's family moved to San Francisco in 1892, they formed the firm of Polk & Polk with Willis providing the creativity, Daniel doing the drafting, and their father supervising construction.

During the 1890s, Polk produced unusually diverse architectonic forms, space, scale, and imagery. He drew from post-medieval vernacular sources and from classical schemes.

In 1901 Polk and his wife moved to Chicago to work with Daniel H. Burnham who had inspired the American Renaissance known as the City Beautiful Movement. Burnham's firm had already designed two important building in San Francisco, the Chronicle Building in 1889 (San Francisco Landmark 243) and the Mills Building in 1890 (San Francisco Landmark 76).

Polk returned to San Francisco in 1903 and worked with Burnham on a master plan for San Francisco following the precepts of the City Beautiful Movement. The 1906 Earthquake and Fire ended any hope of implementing the plan.

Polk was placed in charge of Burnham's west coast office after the catastrophe. The association lasted until 1910 when Polk converted the office to his name.

Polk and his partners completed more than one hundred major commercial buildings and residences in the Bay Area.


Name Year Address City Sort Address Sort Name
Alvinza Hayward Building1906400 MontgomerySan FranciscoMontgomery 0400Alvinza Hayward Building
Atkinson-Escher House19001032 BroadwaySan FranciscoBroadway 1032Atkinson-Escher House
Barreda House19002139-41 Buchanan StreetSan FranciscoBuchanan 2139Barreda House
Batten House1892116 Cherry StreetSan FranciscoCherry 0116Batten House
Beach Chalet19251000 Great HighwaySan FranciscoGreatBeach Chalet
Blake, Moffitt and Towne Building (Demolished)191141 First StreetSan FranciscoFirst 0041Blake, Moffitt and Towne Building (Demolished)
Bourn Mansion18972550 Webster StreetSan FranciscoWebster 2550Bourn Mansion
Building at 50 Fell Street193250 Fell StreetSan FranciscoFell 0050Building at 50 Fell Street
California Volunteers' Memorial 1903Dolores Street at Market StreetSan FranciscoDolores 0001California Volunteers' Memorial
Carolands1915565 Remillard DriveBurlingameRemillardCarolands
Carroll and Tilton Building1908735 Market Street San FranciscoMarket 0735Carroll and Tilton Building
Chancery Building1923562-566 Market StreetSan FranciscoMarket 0562Chancery Building
Coryell Carriage House 191248 Lloyden DriveAthertonLloyden 0048Coryell Carriage House
Cottage1905726 44th AvenueSan Francisco Avenue 44 0726Cottage
Dickinson House189026 Alexander AvenueSausalitoAlexanderDickinson House
Ehrman House19002880 BroadwaySan FranciscoBroadway 2880Ehrman House
Filoli191786 Cañada RoadWoodsideCañadaFiloli
Finance Building1923576-580 Market StreetSan FranciscoMarket 0576Finance Building
First Church of Christ Scientist 1905East St. James at St. James ParkSan JoseSt. JamesFirst Church of Christ Scientist
First National Bank19081 Montgomery StreetSan FranciscoMontgomery 0001First National Bank
Flood Mansion19061000 California StreetSan FranciscoCalifornia 1000Flood Mansion
Four Townhouses1917831-849 Mason StreetSan FranciscoMason 0831Four Townhouses
Fuller Company Glass Warehouse190750 Green StreetSan FranciscoGreen 0050Fuller Company Glass Warehouse
Gibbs House18942622 Jackson StreetSan FranciscoJackson 2622Gibbs House
Griffith House19122820 Pacific AvenueSan FranciscoPacific 2820Griffith House
Hallidie Building1917130 Sutter StreetSan FranciscoSutter 0130Hallidie Building
Hobart Building1914582 Market StreetSan FranciscoMarket 0582Hobart Building
Hooker House19133277 Pacific AvenueSan FranciscoPacific 3277Hooker House
Insurance Exchange Building1913433 California StreetSan FranciscoCalifornia 0433Insurance Exchange Building
Jessie Street Substation1909220 Jessie StreetSan FranciscoJessie 0220Jessie Street Substation
Keith House19003204 Washington StreetSan FranciscoWashington 3204Keith House
Livermore House189140 Florence StreetSan FranciscoFlorence 0040Livermore House
McCullagh-Jones House190118000 Overlook RoadLos GatosOverlook 18000McCullagh-Jones House
Merced Manor Reservoir1912601 Sloat BoulevardSan FranciscoSloatMerced Manor Reservoir
Merchants' Exchange Building1903465 California StreetSan FranciscoCalifornia 0465Merchants' Exchange Building
Mills Building1906220 Montgomery StreetSan FranciscoMontgomery 0220Mills Building
Mission Dolores1918Dolores Street at 16th StreetSan FranciscoDolores 0100Mission Dolores
Moffitt House191286 Sea ViewPiedmontSea View 0086Moffitt House
Moore House1895416 Golden Gate AvenueBelvedereGolden Gate 0416Moore House
Naphtaly House19132960 BroadwaySan FranciscoBroadway 2960Naphtaly House
Native Sons Monument1896Market Street at Montgomery StreetSan FranciscoMarket 0500Native Sons Monument
One Lombard Street19001 Lombard StreetSan FranciscoLombard 0001One Lombard Street
Organ House1900433 Golden Gate AvenueBelvedereGolden Gate 0433Organ House
Osborne (Fanny) House19002319-23 Hyde StreetSan FranciscoHyde 2319Osborne (Fanny) House
Osborne (Lloyd) House19001100 Lombard StreetSan FranciscoLombard 1100Osborne (Lloyd) House
Path of Gold Light Standard1908Market StreetSan FranciscoMarket Path of Gold Light Standard
Petit Trianon1892De Anza College CampusCupertinoDe AnzaPetit Trianon
Post Office190883 Stevenson StreetSan FranciscoStevenson 0083Post Office
Residence19202255 Lyon StreetSan FranciscoLyon 2255Residence
Residence19103255 Pacific AvenueSan FranciscoPacific 3255Residence
Jolife House18942015 Pacific AvenueSan FranciscoPacific 2015Jolife House
Residence: Steiner 2400-240219002400 and 2402 Steiner StreetSan FranciscoSteiner 2400Residence: Steiner 2400-2402
Residences19141-7 Russian Hill PlaceSan FranciscoRussian Hill 0001Residences
Rey House1893428 Golden Gate AvenueBelvedereGolden Gate 0428Rey House
Robert Louis Stevenson Monument1897Portsmouth PlazaSan FranciscoPortsmouth PlazaRobert Louis Stevenson Monument
Russian Hill Crest Double Access Ramp1914Vallejo Street and Jones StreetSan FranciscoVallejo 1100Russian Hill Crest Double Access Ramp
San Francisco Water Department1922425 Mason StreetSan FranciscoMason 0425San Francisco Water Department
Seacliff House #119149 Scenic WaySan FranciscoScenic 0009Seacliff House #1
Seacliff House #2191425 Scenic WaySan FranciscoScenic 0025Seacliff House #2
Seacliff House #3191445 Scenic WaySan FranciscoScenic 0045Seacliff House #3
Sheppard House18903203 Pacific AvenueSan FranciscoPacific 3203Sheppard House
St. Francis Yacht Club192599 Yacht RoadSan FranciscoYacht 0099St. Francis Yacht Club
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church 1908El Camino Real and Baldwin AvenueSan MateoEl CaminoSt. Matthew's Episcopal Church
Sunol Water Temple1910Niles Canyon Road and Paloma Way SunolNilesSunol Water Temple
Tobin House19151969 California StreetSan FranciscoCalifornia 1969Tobin House
Uplands1913400 Uplands DriveHillsborough Uplands 0400Uplands
Villa Veneta189316 San Carlos AvenueSausalitoSan Carlos 0016Villa Veneta
Welch House19172840 BroadwaySan FranciscoBroadway 2840Welch House
White Memorial Retreat 19132 El Capitan AvenueMill ValleyEl Capitan 0002White Memorial Retreat
Williams-Polk House18921013-1019 Vallejo StreetSan FranciscoVallejo 1013Williams-Polk House
Wilson Building1900973-977 Market StreetSan FranciscoMarket 0973Wilson Building
Wright House1907950 Lombard StreetSan FranciscoLombard 0950Wright House
Crocker national Bank19081-25 Montgomery StreetSan FranciscoMontgomery 0001Crocker national Bank
House at 2840 Broadway Designed by Willis Polk The Willis Polk house is on the right behind the trees. The house on the left was designed by William Wurster in 1958 for Anna Spreckels Coleman. It was extensively remodeled by a Silicon Valley billionaire.

The house on the left is associated with Oracle and the house on the right is associated with Shaklee. I've worked for both companies. How small the Bay Area is.

House at 2840 Broadway Designed by Willis Polk

House at 2840 Broadway Designed by Willis Polk

Andrew and Julia Welch House
2840 Broadway
Built 1916
Photographed 17 October 2019

Willis Polk designed this residence for Andrew and Julia Welch. Andrew Welch was heir to a shipping fortune.

The twenty-two room residence includes a Spanish Renaissance courtyard modeled on the atrium of the Casa de Zaporta in Saragossa, Spain. After the original was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, it was rebuilt based upon Polk's design.

Julia Welch, who was a devout Roman Catholic, willed the building to the Archdiocese of San Francisco. It was the Archiepiscopal Palace until 1979 when it was purchased by Dodie and John Rosekrans Jr.

John Rosecrans was heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune. Dodie Rosecrans was a fashionista whose father had owned United Artists. John died in 2001 and Dodie died in 2010.

Albert Ehrman House at 2880 Broadway Designed by Willis Polk

2898 Broadway Designed by Bliss & Faville and 2880 Broadway Designed by Willis Polk 2898 Broadway Designed by Bliss & Faville and 2880 Broadway Designed by Willis Polk

Albert Ehrman House
2880 Broadway
Built early 20th century
Photographed 17 October 2019

Designed for Albert Ehrman, this stone and reinforced concrete house was inspired by Italian Renaissance palazzi. It has a courtyard and elaborate interior paneling. (Source: Here Today: San Francisco's Architectural Heritage by the Junior League of San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1968.)

Here Today states that the house was built in 1913. Other sources indicate that the house was built in 1915. Let's compromise with early 20th century.

Naphtaly House
2960 Broadway
Built 1913
Photographed 1 August 2012

Polk designed this residence for S. I. Naphtaly as a stucco adaption of Spanish city architecture built around a central courtyard.

The Naphtaly House, the Welch House and the Ehrman House are in the stretch of Broadway called the San Francisco Gold Coast or Billionaire's Row.

Barreda House
2139-2141 Buchanan Street
Built 1880
Remodeled 1904
Photographed 4 November 2019

This finely detailed Italianate was the setting for many lavish parties when it was owned by Frederico Barreda, Minister Plenipotentiary from Spain and Peru to the Court of Saint James and the United States. After 1904, Willis Polk married the Barreda's daughter, Christine Barreda Moore, and Polk proceeded to remodel the house, making it two flats. The upper flat was used by Madame Barreda and her daughter, while the Polks lived in the lower.

Source: Here Today: San Francisco's Architectural Heritage by the Junior League of San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1968

Insurance Exchange Building
433 California Street
Built 1913
Photographed 28 November 2019
Merchant's Exchange Building
465 California Street
Built 1903
Rebuilt 1906
Photographed 28 November 2019
2233 and 2255 Lyon Street in San Francisco 2233 and 2255 Lyon Street
2233 and 2255 Lyon Street in San Francisco 2233 and 2255 Lyon Street
2255 Lyon Street by Willis Polk
2255 Lyon Street by Willis Polk
2233 Lyon Street Designed by Bliss & Faville
2233 Lyon Street by Bliss & Faville
2233 Lyon Street by Bliss & Faville
2255 Lyon Street by Willis Polk
Photographed 24 December 2015

Both houses turn a side to Lyon Street to face each other across a landscaped open space. The uphill house on the corner (2255 Lyon Street) turns its back on prestigious Pacific Avenue.

Although this configuration is not typical in San Francisco, it is not uncommon in older residential neighborhoods where homes were designed by architects for affluent clients. Other examples are 2600 Washington Street by Edgar A. Mathews, 2241 Sacramento Street by Edward E. Young, and Mark Zuckerberg's home above Dolores Park.

Our website attributed both of these houses to Polk until a San Francisco architect contacted us with convincing evidence that 2233 Lyon Street was designed by Bliss & Faville.

2015 Pacific Avenue Designed by Willis Polk 2015 Pacific Avenue

2015 Pacific Avenue Designed by Willis Polk 2015 Pacific Avenue and Neighbor

2015 Pacific Avenue
Built 1894
Photographed 17 October 2019

Exuberant architectural styles were all the rage in late 19th century San Francisco - both the new Queen Anne style and the highly ornamented revival styles.

Polk scorned the "wild and untrammeled efforts of local architects to outdo each other in unique and crazy effects." He called the Western Addition "an architectural nightmare conceived in a reign of terror and produced by architectural anarchists."

Perhaps that is why Polk went out of his way to strip this Tudoresque residence to its essentials. Its neighbor on one side is a flamboyant classical revival residence. Its neighbor on the other side is a haughty Queen Anne.

But, by the 20th century, Polk himself was capable of some unique and crazy effects as in the Naphtaly House.

Occasionally, when a historic property is listed for sale, we can get a glimpse of the interior.

Griffith House
2820 Pacific Avenue
Photographed 24 December 2015

2820 Pacific, built in 1910 for the Misses Alice and Caroline Griffith, is one of the few Pacific Heights homes with a lot that stretches all the way from Pacific to Broadway. It was the first San Francisco Decorator Showcase home in 1977.

Source: SocketSite.com 2 October 2007

The garage enters on Pacific, but goes a good way underground like a total James Bond tunnel towards the house, and at the end is a rotating disc, so you never have to back in, or back out. Just pull up on the disc, sip coffee, rotate, and gun it out the garage door - watch out for tourists staying at the Hotel Drisco, and be on your way. Return home and do the same in reverse, but never use Reverse. You get what I'm saying?

For what it is worth, the house is amazing! The views are incredible. They've remodeled it quite nicely. Pacific Avenue is hot, and the lot is prime to say the least. The best part, you can practically look down on Ellison, Traina, and the Gettys. You'd be above all of them - literally.

Source: the FrontSteps.com 3 October 2007

3255 Pacific Avenue
Photographed 24 December 2015

The house at 3255 Pacific Avenue was possibly designed by Ernest Coxhead around 1910 and subsequently remodeled by Willis Polk.

The house downhill to the right at 3277 Pacific Avenue is the Hooker House, also designed by Willis Polk.

Sheppard House
3203 Pacific Avenue
Photographed 24 December 2015
Hooker House
3277 Pacific Avenue
Photographed 24 December 2015

Catherine Hooker commissioned Polk to design her home patterned on palazzi she had seen in Italy.

2400 Steiner Street
Photographed 5 February 2019

An exemplary First Bay Tradition residence.

The high-rise in the background at 2500 Steiner Street was designed by Conrad Meussdorffer and built in 1927.

Architectural Styles | Architects