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.

Seven Polk buildings in San Francisco are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Carroll and Tilton Building, the Flood Mansion, the Fuller Company Glass Warehouse, the Jessie Street Substation, the Mills Building, One Lombard Street and the Tobin House.

Four Polk buildings in other California towns are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Carolands in Burlingame, Le Petit Trianon in Santa Clara, the Valentine Rey House in Belvedere, McCullagh-Jones House in Los Gatos.

Two Polk buildings are California Historical Landmark: Carolands in Burlingame and Filoli in Woodside.

Twelve Polk buildings are San Francisco Landmarks: the Atkinson-Escher House, the Alvinza Hayward Building, the Beach Chalet, the Bourn Mansion, the Flood Mansion, the Gibbs House, the Hallidie Building, the Hobart Building, the Jessie Street Substation, the Mills Building, One Montgomery and the Tobin House.

Polk directed the renovation and structural strengthening of Mission Dolores in 1920. Mission Dolores is a California Historical Landmark, a San Francisco Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Path of Gold Light Standards and Robert Louis Stevenson Monument are also San Francisco Landmarks.

You can view buildings designed by Polk in chronological order here, or use a link in the following table to visit a specific property.

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