2023 Holiday Tours
Click on an address listed below or on one of the pins on the map to learn about each house and its festive decorations and history. The map can also guide you there.
The Victorian Alliance's 2023 Holiday House Tour in Alamo Square is dedicated to one of our long-time members, Joseph Pecora, local historian and author, and, most important, avid collector of vintage Christmas decorations. His collection was legendary, and he passionately sought out vintage Christmas to the end of his life. Most importantly, he shared his presentation annually with his lovely Victorian home, decked out in the most extravagant display imaginable. When you think of vintage Christmas decorations, think of Joe. We dedicate this Holiday Tour to him. He inspired us all to unabashedly celebrate and display Christmas.
Alamo Square Neighborhood History
The 2023 Victorian Alliance Holiday House Tour takes place in San Francisco’s beloved Alamo Square district. You will have the opportunity to view five breathtaking examples of the City’s Victorian architecture, this time featuring homes that are extravagantly decorated for Christmas and the holidays. The intricate details, loving care and restoration bestowed on the charming homes featured on today’s house tour is sure to delight. The homes’ architectural styles include Queen Anne, Italianate, and Stick, several with a unique mix of these different styles. Houses featured on the tour will be revealed closer to the Tour date of Dec. 10.
Alamo Square Park is San Francisco’s quintessential urban green, flanked by its celebrated rows of Queen Anne homes. Most of the homes date from the late 1870s through 1930, many architect-designed for affluent downtown merchants. This neighborhood is well known for its dense concentration of intact Victorian- and Edwardian-era structures exemplified by the ionic “Postcard Row” often featured in photographs, movies, and commercials.
The area began, as did much of San Francisco, as a wind-swept, unfriendly and rocky serpentine hill interspersed with sand dunes. Historic accounts indicate one lonely tree stood on the Alamo Hill, alongside a watering hole that served the horseback trail from Mission Dolores to the Presidio. Alamo means poplar tree in Spanish, and the watering hole was an outcome of the many underground springs trickling just below the surface, eight of which still exist in the park resulting in tufts of greener grass and patches of wet, spongy areas. In 1856, James Van Ness set aside 12.7 acres as a city park, naming it Alamo Square, and in 1857 the City officially established the park.
The San Francisco Parks Alliance, recounts the history of Alamo Square this way:
In 1892, the city began grading and landscaping the rocky hill, laying out the curving pathways, and constructing stairways and a masonry wall. Merchant businessmen,lawyers, doctors and teachers flocked in, hired architects and built homes. Among them was Matthew Kavanagh's endlessly-reproduced row of Queen Anne houses, the Painted Ladies.
By the early 1920s, apartment buildings began to replace the large corner mansions which once housed original pioneer families who later moved to newer neighborhoods. In the 1950s the beautiful park slid into two decades of deterioration. Homeowners moved out and sold their Victorians to entrepreneurs who divided them into multiple-bedroom rooming houses, many illegal and substandard. Some became halfway houses, drug rehab centers, or boarding houses for hippies. Displaced residents seeking housing flooded in when the Redevelopment Agency demolished large sections of the Western Addition. Safety in the park became a serious issue.
The Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA) was founded in the early 1960s when a group of concerned neighbors banded together to fight a plan by the City to slice off the crest of the hill, level it for playing fields and construct a large field house. Over subsequent decades, conditions improved thanks to the energetic efforts of a few key ASNA homeowners. Alamo Square's 12 blocks were designated a Historic District in July 1984, by San Francisco City Planning Commission Resolution 9962.
The District is bounded by Golden Gate Avenue, Divisadero, Webster and Fell Streets. The District achieved a historic designation because of its significant continuum of distinguished residential architecture by illustrious architects spanning the period from the 1870s to the 1920s. The towered Westerfeld House, the renowned "Postcard Row” with its background of the downtown skyline, and the neighboring streetscapes are as identified worldwide with San Francisco as are the cable cars and Coit Tower. With a variety of architectural styles, the Alamo Square Historic District is unified in its residential character, construction type, materials (principally wood), intense ornamentation (especially at entry and cornice), and use of basements and retaining walls to adjust for hillside sites. Most of the original owner-residents were moderately successful business people. A higher than average number of houses were designed by architects, including a virtual cross-section of the City's better-known professionals.
The present day neighborhood reflects the type of demographics typical of communities affected by gentrification. characteristics include a high number of younger people with children and upper-middle-class homeowners, many from the tech industry, along with a diverse older population. Divisadero Street divides Alamo Square from the North Panhandle and is the location of small businesses, trendy restaurants and bars catering to a younger, professional clientele. All in all, the local residents contribute to the local economy and are residents that value and enjoy Alamo Square's favorable weather and hospitable ambiance. Specifically recognized buildings within the Alamo Square Historic District include the Archbishop's Mansion, Green Apothecary, Russian Orthodox Church, and the Westerfeld House.
Rich in San Francisco history, the Square also provided temporary quarters for 1906 earthquake refugees. Images of residents observing from the park as the fire raging all around the city are strong reminders of the catastrophe that befell much of San Francisco at the time. Miraculously, the fires stopped at Laguna Street, the neighborhood saved by a shift in cool, easterly winds and by a pair of functioning fire hydrants, known as the Silver Twins. One is still there, painted silver, at the NE corner of Hayes and Buchanan. Give it a pat! On your walkabout today, note that despite several decades of hard times in the past, there remains a striking number of fine examples of Victorian architecture lining the streets.
Today, as you enjoy the 2023 Victorian Alliance Holiday House Tour, keep this neighborhood history in mind. Pause in Alamo Square and its neighboring streets, and take a moment to reflect beyond the present day to days past, but also to its future. This is a story constantly in the making and you are a part of it as well.
Neighborhood history edited by Gail Baugh and Adam Klafter, November 1, 2023
The Storied Houses of Alamo Square, by Joseph B. Pecora, 2014
Neighborhood history prepared by Catherine Accardi, August 29, 2013
Neighborhood Parks Council Report 43, Fall 2007
History of Alamo Square Park by Jeanne Alexander, Preservation Advisory Board, January 18, 1984