700 Hayes Street
The Fisk House
Decorations for the Holidays and Christmas
Decorating the Fisk House begins the day after Thanksgiving and takes about 3 days to complete the entire home. You’ll see the glittering front staircase, parlors, dining room, and kitchen. We use trees that can be stored and used each year, sometimes acquiring a new or replacement tree. We have half a large storeroom devoted to storing our decorations.
We place 50+ wreaths in the windows and there are more on the inside. You’ll see the window wreaths from outside, and as you tour the parlor floor, you’ll see more wreaths. In the front parlor will be our main tree, 10 feet tall, and covered with eight hundred mini white lights, which is Gail’s job to do. Then the placement of several hundred ornaments, collected over the past 25 years, is Jim’s job. He takes his work very seriously. Look carefully to see the variety of vintage and new, hand-blown Italian animals and people, large and small shapes, and hidden treasures.
Two other features of the front parlor decorations are on the vintage square grand piano: Jim’s small white feather tree with beautiful birds perched on its branches; Gail’s treasure from growing up, a village, complete with a church, trees, houses, people, animals, and snow, of course. With Jim’s help, it has expanded to become a town.
The large mantles and mirrors are richly decked out with boughs twined with red and gold ornaments. And you’ll see little touches added everywhere on other mirrors, tables and overhead.
The dining room is richly decorated with food-themed Radko ornaments and gold trim. The table is set for the holidays. Gail brought out her grandmother’s hand-painted, gold trimmed Haviland china (often a task for young women during the late Victorian times). Look carefully at the place cards at the table, one for each of the 5 homeowners. The kitchen, part of the principal rooms on the main floor, is a place for baking and cooking, so ornaments are at a minimum, but certainly did not escape decorations!
The Fisk House’s expansive space calls out for holiday and Christmas decorating. And we love answering its call. We celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, and especially the Winter Solstice, perhaps the genesis of all of our December time celebrations. Let’s keep our lives filled with light!
700 Grove Street History, the Fisk House
Picturesque and architecturally eclectic, the mansard-roofed, domed tower house at 700 Hayes Street at Buchanan Street has drawn admiring glances for 135 years. In the book Victorian Glory, author Paul Duchescherer describes this home as “Italianate/Second Empire/Classical Revival/Queen Anne style…” A large single family residence (approximately 5,000 square feet), it has been home to five families since its completion in 1884.
Built as their dream home by Asa and Lydia Fisk, it was designed for entertaining as well as family life. The house was originally sited 35 feet west from the Buchanan Street side, and a large garden was probably a major attraction in the neighborhood. The property included gardens on both the east and west sides of the home, a small barn that housed the family cow at the corner of Ivy and Buchanan, and a carriage house located behind the family home on Ivy Street. Asa Fisk and his wife Lydia commissioned architect Edward Hatherton, at one time the City Architect for San Francisco, to design their 15-room home in the grand style. The house features 13-foot ceilings on the 1st and 2nd floor, 8 fireplaces, beautiful tile surrounds in each of the 8 fireplaces, and old-growth Cuban mahogany wood detailing throughout. There is a ballroom, roof deck, and botanical conservatory on the top floor. Nearly all of the interior features are original, treasured by each family who has lived here.
Mr. Fisk came to San Francisco already a wealthy man. While in Boston he built one of the first streetcar lines and was elected to the Massachusetts legislature. He divorced his first wife and with his infant son and mother Lydia, moved permanently to California in 1870, settling first near Sacramento. It was an easy train ride back and forth to San Francisco, where he built a new business as a financial broker, amassing a new fortune through loans and investments. His 2nd child, daughter Elenore, was born in 1871. Lydia and Asa married in 1875, and moved to San Francisco, later moving into their grand new home in 1884. The house cost $20,000 to build, an enormous sum at the time. After Mr. Fisk’s death in 1897, the home was moved 35 feet east to its current location in 1899, and new income properties were completed by about 1900 at 710-714 Hayes and 709-711 Buchanan. After the move, 700 Hayes was remodeled by architect Albert Sutton, who also designed the new building next door at 710-714 Hayes Street. The carriage house still stands on Ivy Street. Note the identical iron fence on the front of 710-714 Hayes and on the Buchanan side of 700 Hayes.
Arthur G. Fisk, Asa and Lydia’s son, was a successful San Francisco attorney and politician. A graduate of Harvard, he was elected an assemblyman to the state legislature in 1901, and Speaker of the Assembly in 1903. In that same year, he was appointed San Francisco Postmaster, serving under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft. President Roosevelt arrived in San Francisco in 1903, on a 14,000 train ride across the country. Roosevelt met and traveled with John Muir to Yosemite, initiating Yosemite as a national park. Undoubtedly Arthur Fisk met the president, and soon after he was appointed to the Postmaster position by President Roosevelt. A post office in the Richmond district bears his name. It has been reported that President Taft was a houseguest of the Fisks in their home during one of his visits to the City. Arthur Fisk, his wife Katherine, their children, with his sister, her son and Asa’s widow Lydia, continued to live in the house until their move to Pasadena in 1914. Lydia sold 710-714 Hayes prior to the family’s move to Southern California. Arthur Fisk moved to Pasadena to manage the estate of Lucky Baldwin’s daughter. In 1914. In1914, Lydia transferred 700 Hayes to Arthur, who sold it in 1916 to fellow attorney William F. Humphrey. During the early 1920’s, Fisk was sentenced to 5 years in prison and disbarred for mishandling trust accounts for German nationals in the First World War. He died in Southern California in 1938.
William F. Humphrey sold 700 Hayes to Julia Duhem, wife of Victor in 1916. The Duhems, along with their adult sons Charles A. and Raymond, were the proprietors of the Duhem Motion Picture Manufacturing Company, which had offices on Market Street. Victor arrived in San Francisco in 1852 at the age of 9, along with his two older brothers and father, , seeking their family’s fortune in the gold fields of the Sierra. By 1861 Victor and his brother Constant joined the Union side at the start of the Civil War, participated in the Indian Wars after the Civil War, and eventually settled in Denver, opening a photography Gallery there. Their photos of Native Americans are archived at the University of Colorado. Victor and Julia moved to San Francisco, and with brother Constant, who moved to Oroville, continued to create inventions for the new technology, “moving pictures”. A film camera that the Duhems invented is now at the Niles Film Archive in Niles, California, that still bears their name. Daughter Elaine continued to live in the home, even as her mother passed away in 700 Hayes. In 1938, the estate of Julia Duhem sold the property to Elaine Duhem Kline. She and her husband experienced both the Great Depression and World War II, where housing was in short supply. Elaine Kline lived in the property with her husband until 1953, when her husband passed away. She sold her home to James McLemore in 1958.
As World War II drew closer, James and his brother JT came to San Francisco from east Texas in the late 1930’s escaping the racial violence and seeking economic opportunity. They purchased property in the Western Addition neighborhood for several years. He had purchased and was living in one of the Painted Lady homes, 714 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square. While living there, he purchased 700 Hayes Street, where he moved his 3 daughters and their grandmother (James’ mother, also known as “Mother” to the girls). The 3 daughters lived on the 2nd floor and Mother occupied what are now the parlors and dining room. The girls’ mother seems to have returned to Texas, with some of her children. Later, when the girls were older, James married Opal, and additional family members (Opal’s and James’ kids) moved into the third floor. James converted this floor to 4 rooms, including a small kitchen. It was one of the few alterations to the building. At one time there were 15 family members living at the home. James McLemore sold the house in 1972 to Donald Chan, capping economic success in San Francisco and moving to the Sierra foothills, buying ranches for himself and Mother.
Donald Chan had never owned a house before and lived there with roommates. It was a bachelor pad for a while. He later married Lily. They held their wedding reception in the front and rear parlors. Neither had ever owned a large Victorian home, with its deferred maintenance and neighborhood challenges. They found living here wonderful yet also complicated. They raised their 3 daughters here, while making many improvements to the property and converting the third floor back to its original use as a ballroom. They enjoyed their home, throwing lavish parties with and for their friends. The Chans lived here for 31 years, and sold the house to Gail Baugh and Jim Warshell in 2003.
Jim Warshell and Gail Baugh purchased the house in April, 2003. It was love at first sight for them both, just as it had been for the Duhems, the McLemores, and the Chans. Jim had restored historic brownstones in Brooklyn, and the charm of 700 Hayes was an immediate connection for both Jim and Gail. They are both engaged in their communities, offering their home for meetings, parties, dinners, intimate live concerts, historic home tours, friends’ weddings, and just getting together; oh, also raising their granddaughter Ren during COVID and beyond. They will continue the tradition of keeping this house a home with its nurturing and protective presence. The Fisk House is a unique home in San Francisco, and they consider themselves caretakers of a small part of San Francisco’s history. They both love to garden, as did the Fisks. It is their intention to enjoy the house, bringing light and warmth to Hayes Valley and those who enter their home. Please enjoy your time here!
Updated 2023 by Gail Baugh from 2015 House Tour. © 2023 Gail Baugh