San Francisco Landmarks
The Feusier Octagon House is one of only two surviving houses in San Francisco built on the octagon plan. The other is the Colonial Dames Octagon on Gough Street. Both houses retain their original exterior construction and reflect their eight-sided shape in the interior.
Although the year of construction is uncertain, the Feusier Octagon House is one of the oldest houses on Russian Hill. The most informed estimate indicates that it was built in 1857 or 1858, with one source alleging construction as early as 1852. The house appears in early views of the city showing Russian Hill, including views dated 1858, 1861, 1862 and 1863. It was near the summit, not closely surrounded by other building and was indeed an outstanding landmark of the city's skyline.
The original two-story house was modified (not to its detriment) late in the century when the Feusiers added a third story with Mansard roof, surmounted by an octagonal cupola. Like other buildings on Russian Hill, the Feusier House escaped the 1906 Earthquake but was menaced by the Fire; the outbuildings were dynamited but fortunately the main house was saved.
Octagon houses were a national fad in the mid-19th century as the result of a book by Orson Squire Fowler, A Home for All; or, the Gravel Hall and the Octagon Mode of Building. Fowler, a New York phrenologist who identified one's well-being with the shape and construction of his domicile, proposed a new and cheap way to construct houses for the new age. The octagon form was prescribed so that every room could receive sunlight at some time of the day.
A hundred or more octagons houses survive in the United States.
At one time there were at least five in San Francisco, as well as others in the Fruitvale section of Oakland and elsewhere in the Bay Area.
Of the San Francisco Octagons, all but one were on or near Russian Hill, the sole exception being Cyrus Palmer's home on Rincon Hill. It is likely that all of these were built by a single builder from the eastern United States.
The Feusier House and the Colonial Dames Octagon are apparently the only two remaining in the entire Bay Area.
The first known occupant of the house was George L. Kenny, whose grandson Robert W. Kenny was Attorney General of California from 1943 to 1947. George Kenny was a salesman or agent for H. H. Bancroft, the famous bookseller, publisher and historian.
In 1875 Louis Feusier first appears as the owner and occupant, and the house is commonly associated with the name of Feusier, in whose family it was to remain for some eighty years.
According to the family history, Louis Feusier arrived in California about 1852, spent the years 1857-1867 in Nevada, and then returned to San Francisco, later marrying Louise Guerne, daughter of the pioneer for whom Guerneville was named.
Feusier is said to have been a companion of such San Francisco notables as Leland Stanford and Mark Twain. Feusier's many business interests include wholesale produce, mining, salmon canning, winemaking, and importation of oriental goods. His wife Louise lived in the house until her death, as did their son Clarence who died in 1951. In 1954 the Feusier Octagon was sold by the family.
Source: Adapted from City Planning Commission Resolution 6633 dated October 1, 1970.