On a recent visit of California my adventurous brother suggested we head out in search of the “Painted Ladies” of San Francisco. Giving him my ‘Is this going to be another epic-almost-get-us-thrown-in-jail-kind-of-outing?‘ look, he quickly reassured me we were on the search of architecture not interesting companions.
The term “Painted Ladies” refers to Victorian or Edwardian styled buildings, usually houses, painted with three or more colors to embellish their architectural and angular details. Following the release in 1978 of the book ‘Painted Ladies – San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians’, where the phrase was coined to describe these pretty houses, the term has become commonplace. Well apparently not to me but definitely if you live in San Francisco.
Although the term “Painted Ladies” would not be known until the late 1970’s the architectural history began much earlier. By 1915 48,000 Victorian and Edwardian homes had been built in San Francisco and many adorned in multiple bright colors.
During World War I and II many of these beauties were stripped of their make up and painted in battle ship gray with surplus paint from the Navy. Much of the intricate decor was removed and another 16,000 homes were demolished completely.
In 1963 Butch Kardam, a San Francisco artist, began painting his own Victorian style house in bright blues and greens. Although some of the neighbors were not amused, the majority began copying his style on their own homes.
As the ‘colorist movement’, as it came to be known, caught on a group or San Francisco artists began to transform dozens of houses into “Painted Ladies.” The happy and colorful epidemic continues throughout neighborhoods in San Francisco today.
Where Are the Painted Ladies?
The most famous grouping of “Painted Ladies” can be found at ‘Postcard Row,’ so named for the multiple photos and postcards taken of the homes with downtown San Francisco in the background. The houses, sometimes referred to as the ‘Six Sisters’, sit across the street from Alamo Park between 710 and 720 Steiner street. The hilltop park which covers four blocks park is bordered by Hayes Street to the south, Steiner Street to the east, Fulton Street to the north, and Scott Street to the west.
How Can I Get to Alamo Park?
If you are not staying within walking distance the best way to Alamo Park is by bus. Depending on where you are in the city you can take bus number 5, 21, 22 or 24 to get there. For more information on transportation in San Francisco click here. You can always take a taxi as well.
A Word About the Weather
Standing on any hill in San Francisco be prepared for wind and the possibility of fog. Dress in layers or at least have a jacket with you. That goes for all of the city not just when seeking out these pretty houses.
Can the Painted Ladies Be Seen Anywhere Else in San Francisco?
Yes the beautiful houses can be seen frequently, particularly in the districts of Haight, Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, Western Addition and Outer Mission. For a map of the neighborhoods click here.
Have you seen “Painted Ladies” in San Francisco or in other cities?