National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

National Register #05000273: John Spencer House in San Francisco 27 May 2010
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National Register #05000273
John Spencer House
1080 Haight Street
Built 1895

The John Spencer house has survived 109 years of the vicissitudes of earthquakes, weather, and neglect with the great majority of its historic fabric intact due in large part to the diligence of its architect, the builder, and the minute attention to detail of all the anonymous artisans and carpenters who contributed to the both the structural integrity and the artistic harmony of the house.

The John Spencer House represents a serendipitous combination of first rate design, sound engineering, great dexterity in construction, and use of the highest quality materials.

Key to its preservation is the fact that it has remained a single family dwelling for most of its history and has thus escaped the butchery to which so many San Francisco Victorian dwellings were subjected during the rush to provide more housing in the mid-twentieth century.

A broad cross section of the major decorative arts of the period survives in stunning condition, both interior and exterior. The conjunction of inexpensive skilled labor, steam-powered milling shops, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of old growth Douglas fir and Redwood, made houses such as this accessible to upper middle class merchants like the Spencer family. In addition to a massive body of handwork, early methods of mass production, although cumbersome by today's standards, are well represented in products used in its construction.

Perhaps most striking is the enormous body of wood carvings that adorn both interior and exterior. In an age when so much of the architectural ornament was cast of plaster, this must have represented a considerable additional cost to the owner. It was, however, a wise investment.

In 2001, when this author supervised the painstaking restoration of the exterior, he found this legacy of artisanry fresh and intact beneath the myriad layers of paint that had long since obscured the finer details.

Although the San Francisco building department was destroyed in the fire that followed in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, it is possible to date construction of the Spencer house to 1895.

In all, both inside and out, the house is a fine example of the elements of Queen Anne architecture in all its magnificence and caprice. The joy of craft is evident to both the eye, and the intellect. Order and ornament rule the structure and nothing seems out of place. It is evident that many artisans and tradesmen have loved this house and imbued it with the charms necessary to endure.

Source: NRHP Nomination Form

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