National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

National Register #80000847: Theodore F. Payne Residence in San Francisco
18 May 2010
National Register #80000847: Theodore F. Payne Residence in San Francisco
18 May 2010
National Register #80000847: Theodore F. Payne Residence in San Francisco Photograph From Artistic Homes of California
March 1887

(Click Photos to Zoom)

National Register #80000847
Theodore F. Payne Residence
1409 Sutter Street
Built 1881

The Payne House is the last of a number of large homes which stood on Sutter between Franklin and Gough. Its importance may be found in its architecture, in the role of the Payne family in early San Francisco history, and in William Curlett, its architect.

Designed by architect William F. Curlett, the house is a dignified combination of earlier Victorian styles such as Eastlake and Stick and the later Queen Anne Style with an emphasis on spaciousness and openness.

The building was designed to include the most advanced plumbing, central heating, machine-made hardware, and materials of the day. The toilet rooms were fully integrated into the house and not just hung on a porch or verandah - an intermediate step between the back yard privy and a modern bathroom. Lavatories and tubs had hot and cold running water.

The Payne House is one of the few examples of virtually unchanged pre-fire homes of San Francisco's wealthier class. It is a reminder of an adolescent city built of wood by California gold and Comstock silver. The 1906 Earthquake and Fire was the turning point. The main commercial district of the rebuilt city soon scaled the nabobs' bastion, Nob Hill, and grew westward to Van Ness Avenue. Only a few of the homes of San Francisco's rich remain in this area.

By the time the house was built, the Payne family had been established as people of importance in San Francisco. In fact, Payne wealth and influence had roots in the first years of the California Gold Rush.

The house was built for Theodore Payne's son, Theodore F. Payne, and his wife, Mary Pauline, who had the good fortune of being the niece of a very wealthy man. Her unmarried uncle, William S. O'Brien, one of the Comstock Silver Kings, had at the time of this death amassed a fortune from the Great Bonanza, the fabulously rich Consolidated-Virginia Mine in Virginia City, Nevada.

O'Brien did not live long to enjoy his fortune. He passed away on May 2, 1878, about the time bonanza ore from the Consolidated-Virginia ran out and the mine and Virginia City entered its final decline, marking the end of San Francisco and Virginia City's intimate connection of two decades.

Mary Pauline received more than twice as much as any other heir which made her a very wealthy woman. One can safely conclude that Comstock silver paid for the Payne House and the lot it stands on, at least in part.

Adapted from the NRHP Nomination Form

I had driven this heavily-trafficked block of Sutter Street hundreds of times without noticing this whimsical Victorian building, one of the most unusual in San Francisco. Like so many of San Francisco's architectural wonders, it hides behind a row of trees and can only be viewed from the sidewalk, piecemeal with odd perspectives, and it can be seen on Google Maps only from the waist down.

San Francisco Street Trees

Consider Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Lovely building.

Consider the Taj Mahal, the Doge's Palace, the Parthenon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Sagrada Familia, the Winter Palace of the Tsar, the Hagia Sophia, San Francisco's own City Hall and Opera House and Legion of Honor.

Lovely buildings, all. Essential to their appeal is that they stand unobstructed to be admired from any angle and at any distance.

Over the past twenty years or so, many of San Francisco's most distinctive buildings have gone into hiding behind ill-considered street trees. Except for the Spreckels Mansion Spite Hedge which clearly flips the bird to San Francisco, most of these trees were planted in good faith to beautify the streetscape, filter the air, increase property values; but like the cute SPCA puppy who grows up to be a two hundred pound mastiff, many of our street trees would be more at home in the country than the city.

Here is a short list of some striking San Francisco buildings which I wish were more clearly visible. I'm sure the Hop-On Hop-Off tourists would enjoy them too. They can see an ineptly pruned ficus or an ailing plane tree anywhere.

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