Magazine article Sunset

Views and History as You Explore Russian Hill on Foot

Magazine article Sunset

Views and History as You Explore Russian Hill on Foot

Article excerpt

You can take the #60 Powell-Hyde cable car or the #59 Powell-Mason cable car. Our loop walking tour begins at the intersection of Vallejo and Mason streets. Nearby Italian and Chinese food shops sell picnic supplies. Starting where the 1906 fire stopped

The Vallejo Steps lead up through pines to Ina Coolbrith Park (number 1 on our map), on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city's downtown. Look for the plaque at the Taylor Street entrance. Coolbrith was associated with Bret Harte in editing the Overland Monthly during the late 1860s, became the librarian for the city's prestigious Bohemian Club, and was crowned poet laureate of California in 1915. She lived nearby on Macondray Lane.

If you had been standing at this spot a few days after the 1906 earthquake, you would have been singed but saved--fire-fighters saw the defiant raising of the American flag over the shingle house at 1652-56 Taylor (2, shown in the historic photograph above) and rushed up to save the structure and the flag, using wet sand and seltzer water in the process. Tudor bordello to million-dollar condos

Cross Taylor and continue up the steps beside a large, Tudor-inspired stucco house (once reputed to be a bordello) to the crown of the hill. This area survived the fire. The Livermore family has owned part of the hilltop since the late 1800s, doing much to establish the quiet, woodsy character so appreciated today.

At the brow of the hill, you'll pass a double-gabled, brown-shingle structure at 1013-19 Vallejo (3) built by Willis Polk in 1892 as apartments for his own family and that of a painter (note the studio-size window in the right-hand gable). Legend has it that Polk installed a secret passage for his own use--to evade creditors or to visit a lady next door.

Across the street is a brand-new condominium complex (4) by the firm of Esherick, Homsey, Dodge & Davis, which fits amid its shingled and balustraded neighbors surprisingly well. It was built by neighborhood investors who had earlier prevented a high-rise from going up on the site. The price for each units is in the million-dollar range.

At 1034 and 1036 Vallejo (5) are two brown-shingle houses from the original row, reminiscent of New England farmhouses in their simple gables and unornamented windows and doors. …

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