712 Steiner Street
The Blue Painted Lady
The Christmas holidays have always been important in the Horsfall household. Back in the 1970s, current homeowner George Horsfall was chosen to ride with Santa Claus on a cable car down Powell Street to Market Street in the Emporium's annual Christmas parade. George was featured in the “Big E” (Emporium) ice show in 1972 and 1973, as the father in “The Night Before Christmas” and as the Nutcracker in “The Nutcracker.” There are videos of the parade and George skating, floating out there on the internet if you look!
The Christmas tree at the Blue Painted Lady reflects at least 91 years of Sheehan-Horsfall family memories. Every year since former owner Catherine Horsfall's birth in 1932, a new ornament has been added that reflects a significant event of some family member from that year. For example: the Pinocchio ornament represents the year the current owner, George, did graduate work in Florence, Italy. Similarly, the pot of Boston beans represents the years George studied in Cambridge MA. The silver-framed puppy portraits are memories of every new Golden Retriever who was added to the family that particular year – just a few examples.
At the Blue Painted Lady we have the unique experience of having ornaments on our tree that we bought that actually feature our home! Note the whole fleet of Swedish fishing boats all named after close friends and family members. The owner's grandmother was from Sweden. She had 10 brothers, most of whom were fishermen. George lives 3 months a year on the same island, Resö, where his grandmother grew up. The candles on the tree are never lit, but are also a nod to George's Swedish grandmother, Magnhild Dagmar (Mary).
The 4 large solid wood nutcrackers are from France. The dozens of nutcrackers corralled in front of the fireplace have been collected by the family for over 60 years.
The oval portrait in the front parlor is of George's great-great Swedish grandmother, Josefine Hansson, 1880s.
The two gilded cherubs holding up the garland in the entrance hall are from the former City of Paris department store, demolished where Nieman Marcus store now stands in Union Square. The Victorian Alliance fought to preserve the glorious building, and the stained glass dome remains in place, and… also here. The antique glass icicles were a gift from beloved neighborhood house historian and author of The Storied Homes of Alamo Square (2014), Joe Pecora.
The tables have been set for the holidays with two of the family's many antique china sets. Notice the place-setting cards... the guest list is from our fantasy party of colorful San Franciscans whom we would have loved to entertain here... Can you imagine the conversations? The kitchen table is reserved for the rowdy crew!
As you leave this family home note the front hall wreath which was a gift from our dear friends and neighbors, John and Erinne at #720 Steiner, given as a house-warming present to George when he moved into the Nightingale House at 201 Buchanan. (George lived there almost 3 years).
2023 by homeowner George Horsfall
712 Steiner House History, the Blue Painted Lady
In early 1895, builder Matthew Kavanagh offered for sale six recently constructed Queen Anne style cottages across from Alamo Square. The first buyers of these dwellings, the now celebrated “Postcard Row” houses, were predominantly young couples eager to leave the older congested downtown area for the amenities of a more fashionable neighborhood. The young couple purchasing 712 Steiner in March of 1895 were Frank Lafayette Platt, a dentist, and his wife, Clare Emelia.
By the 1890s, the art of dentistry in urban areas had dramatically improved in technique, and Frank Platt was one of its foremost and respected practitioners. Dr. Platt practiced his profession out of an office in the Flood Building on Market Street. According to the Federal Census of 1900, Frank and Clare shared 712 Steiner with a boarder, Dr. Herbert Clement and a then 18-year-old Irish servant, Sarah McDonnell. The Platt's purchase of their picturesque four-story gabled dwelling in the Western Addition was their first venture into homeownership and they no doubt would have remained there longer than eleven years were it not for the consequences of the earthquake and fire of 1906. Faced with the loss of his downtown dental office, Frank relocated his practice to 712 Steiner and changed his residence to 2733 Russell Street in Berkeley. Eventually, Frank re-established his practice in downtown San Francisco, commuting from the East Bay by ferry boat. It is probably shortly after they left the city that Frank and Clare adopted their only child, Polly Elizabeth.
This house and its neighbors, important components of the Alamo Square Historic District, are representative of the front-gabled, generously ornamented Queen Anne style row house popular in San Francisco during the 1890s. Missing features of the homes on this block are once prominent brick chimneys and, with one exception, fancily-fenced front gardens.
Inside, Kavanagh's floor plans and built-in furnishings, like his exteriors, varied little from dwelling to dwelling. Although most of the interiors have been modified in some way, noteworthy features still shared by many of the houses include decorative plaster work that denotes the division of the parlors, ornate stairway balusters and the placement of a painted glass window above the first landing.
The first floor is relatively intact. The long entry hall, as it leads to the kitchen, opens to the parlors and dining rooms to the right and a small half bath near its end. The public rooms are decorated in Victorian style ceiling and frieze papers designed and manufactured by Bradbury and Bradbury of Benicia.
About current homeowner George Patrick Horsfall
Over the last decade, George and his mother, Catherine, have been part of the crew, put together by Cable Car gripman, Val Lupiz and VASF’s own Andra Young, to decorate the cable cars for the Holidays and sometimes, for Chinese New Year.
In recent years, George has started a new tradition at the Blue Painted Lady: Chamber Concerts. The Insight Chamber Players (a start-up chamber ensemble dedicated to providing musical insights to the performances and closeups with the musicians) perform in the double parlor-dining room setting, providing select audiences with sold-out intimate musical evenings in a classic San Francisco location. In 2023, George has expanded the concept, by welcoming other renowned musicians, such as international prodigy, Michael Andreas MAH, (who just happens to also be the great-great grandson of composer Franz Liszt), and Great American Songbook headliner, Sven Söderland. Sven usually works with a 17 piece orchestra, but for the Painted Lady, his holiday concert was scaled-down to an intimate 4 piece jazz combo. Ask about our email list!
NOT ON THE TOUR:
Upstairs, to the right, the hall passes a middle bedchamber and terminates in the light and airy, street facing master bedroom. Papered in pastel hues of yellow and green, it overlooks Alamo Square and is connected to the second chamber by a small restored washroom. At the opposite end of the hall, two of the house's smaller apartments were combined by a past owner to form a large bedroom, spacious full bath and large dressing room.
2023 edited by George Horsfal from 2005 VASF House Tour, Treasured Homes of Grove, Hayes, and Steiner