San Francisco Landmarks

San Francisco Landmark #32: Abner Phelps House 23 June 2003
(Click Photo to Zoom)
San Francisco Landmark #32
Abner Phelps House
1111 Oak Street Between Divisadero and Broderick
Built 1850

Although accounts vary as to its date and builder, the Gothic Revival Abner Phelps house is generally considered to be the oldest residence in San Francisco and dates from 1850-51.

The earliest published account (August 8, 1934) states that the house was "built in 1850 by John Middleton & Sons, one of the first real estate concerns in the city...(and) constructed of lumber into sections brought round the Horn from Maine, there being no sawmills here at the time."

However, Mrs. Victor E. Rosenstein, Abner Phelps' great-grandaughter declared in 1961 that the house had been purchased in New Orleans in 1850 and shipped in sections around the Horn to ease the homesickness of Phelps' bride, born Augusta Roussell. It was then re-erected here about 1850-51.

The San Francisco Junior League book Here Today favors the latter explanation: the house is raised on a high foundation, reminiscent of southern riverfront cottages ot the 18th and 19th centuries; furthermore, the upper story balcony and the veranda are also reminiscent of Louisiana homes of the day. This book further states with certainty that Phelps, who had been a colonel in the Mexican War, lived in the house in 1851; and suggests the possibility that John Middleton's firm assembled the house for Phelps when it arrived.

At the time the dwelling was erected, it stood in the midst of Phelps' 160-acre homestead at the foot of Buena Vista Hill, well beyond the city limits which did not reach Divisadero until 1854. A portion of Golden Gate Park Panhandle was then part of the Phelps property.

Phelps was a lawyer who had his office in the Montgomery Block, and made what was then a long dusty journey to town daily by horseback. At that time, Divisadero was no more than a path which served as the western boundary of the new city from 1854 to 1856 when the city and county were consolidated.

The house has been moved twice. With the grading and building of Divisadero in the 1890's, the house was repositioned on the land. In 1904, it was moved backward to its present location in the middle of the block to enable Phelps to build stores on Divisadero Street. (When this case study was written, the address of the Phelps house was 329 Divisadero Street. It now has an Oak Street address.)

(Source: San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board Revised Case Report Approved 20 August 1969)

The Phelps House is also National Register Listing #71000187. When we photographed it in 2008, the former residence housed a business office.

Buildings that Moved

It's not just that the people of the American West are restless, the buildings themselves sometimes pack up and move when - for one reason or another - the neighborhood no longer suits them or the neighbors no longer want them or opportunity waits down the road.

And when buildings remain in place, they are often searching for their identities.

Acting Superintendent's Office, Yosemite
Alford-Nielson House, Ferndale
Alpine Hotel, Markleeville
Ashland Depot Hotel, Ashland, Oregon
Auburn Fire House No. 1, Auburn

Bagby Stationhouse, El Portal
Bayview Hotel, Aptos
Bridgeport Elementary School, Mono County
Calvary Presbyterian Church, Bolinas
Carter House, Ashland, Oregon
Christian Church, Gilroy
Choller Mansion, Virginia City, NV

Chuck's Railroad Room, Westwood
Colfax Freight Depot (Moved Twice), Colfax
Commodore Watkins House, Atherton
Coyle-Foster Barn, Shasta State Historic Park
Croll Building, Alameda

Dallam-Merritt House, San Francisco
Davis Creek Community Church, Davis Creek
Duatre's Store, Monterey
Errea House, Tehachapi
Fairwind, Eureka
First Baptist Church, Sonoma

Fort Bragg Storehouse and Commissary, Fort Bragg
Galarneaux House, Sacramento
Glass House, San Ramon
Glendale School (Moved Twice), Sparks, Nevada
Goleta Depot, Goleta

Gray's Station, Truckee
Hostess House, Palo Alto
Hodgdon Homestead Cabin, Yosemite
House at 2214 Clay Street, San Francisco
Hutton House, Saratoga

Independence Hall, Woodside
J & T Basque Restaurant, Gardnerville, NV
Jamestown Branch Jail (Moved Twice)
Jax Truckee Diner (Moved Twice), Truckee
Jorgensen Studio, Yosemite

King City Depot, King City
La Gloria Schoolhouse, King City
Lagunita Schoolhouse, Salinas
Lake Mansion (Moved Twice), Reno
Lathrop House, Redwood City

LeConte Memorial Lodge, Yosemite
Little Church on the Hill, Oakhurst
Mansion House Hotel, Watsonville
Marcus Books and Jimbo's Bop City, San Francisco
McCredie House, Central Point, Oregon

Meherin House, Pismo Beach
Mendocino Masonic Hall, Mendocino
Methodist Episcopal Church, Placerville
Migliavacca Mansion, Napa
Milton Masonic Hall, Milton

Moab Cabin, Moab, Utah
Mt. Buckingham School, Darrah Nevada-California-Oregon Railway Depot, Alturas
Old Log Jail (Moved Twice), Markleeville
Old Mammoth Saloon (Moved Twice), Mammoth Lakes

Old North San Juan School, North San Juan
Old St. Mary's Church, Rocklin
Old St. Patrick's Church (Moved Twice), San Francisco
Perry's Dry Goods, Gardnerville, NV
Phelps House (Moved Twice), San Francisco

Rengstorff House, Mountain View
Reno Arch (Moved Five Times), Reno
Roper House, Ashland, Oregon
San Rafael Improvement Club, San Rafael
St. James Catholic Church, Georgetown

Sylvester House , San Francisco
Tribune-Republic Building, San Luis Obispo
Tubbs Cordage Company, San Francisco
Tucker House, Martinez
Twenty Mile House, Cromberg

United Methodist Church, Nevada City
Webber House, Yountville
Wood House, Modesto
Yosemite Transportation Company
Yosemite Valley Chapel

Of the buildings and structures we have visited, the original Reno Arch holds the record for number of moves. It has been moved five times since it was built in 1926.

Jax Truckee Diner holds the distance title. The building moved from New Jersry to Pennsylvanis in 1948, then from Pennsylvania to Califonia in 1992.

Probably the most ambitious relocation occurred on July 4th 1904, when the Southern Pacific Railroad loaded most of the town of Wadsworth, Nevada, onto rail cars and transported the town thirty miles west to create a new town which became known as Sparks.

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