813 Grove Street
The Mitchell House
My Christmas decorating is generally done by respecting the architectural beauty of the house. I do not believe the house is enhanced by stuffing it with every trinket collected or inherited over long periods of time. I prefer something far simpler which celebrates the festiveness of Christmastime and the beauty of the house itself. Therefore, I generally limit my Christmas decor to door wreaths, a Christmas tree and some scattered table decorations.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s our family Christmas tree was heavily weighted with metallic balls. I hated them. So, while I have lots of them in my basement, I only use decorations which are unique, sentimental, or reflect nature in the winter. To further simplify the tree, I use only white lights to highlight ornaments which have interest and meaning to me. I have collected the ornaments I now use for over 50 years from stores, garage sales, auctions, and a few Christmas decorating parties.
By Phil Strauss, home owner
813 Grove Street History, the Mitchell House
THE MITCHELL HOUSE, AN ITALIANATE RESIDENCE at 813 Grove Street, was constructed in 1871 for insurance broker John C. Mitchell and is the oldest of all the houses erected on either side of this tree-lined block. San Francisco Planning Department records indicate the builder was contractor and plasterer, David Mulrein. predating the Mitchell House on its 100' x 40' lot was a small one-story cottage, once valued at $1,000 and inhabited from 1868 by David Mulrein and his wife Mary.
In 1871, the Mulreins sold the property for $3,000 to watchmaker Julius Wallman, who transferred it as a gift to Elizabeth Mitchell. Arriving on the Pacific coast from Massachusetts about 1853, the Mitchell family resided at 104 Eighth Street before relocating to the Western Addition. According to the 1870 census, their household consisted of John, his wife Elizabeth, their four children, and John's younger brother, George, age 35, a carpet dealer.
Shortly after the turn of the century, after John C. Mitchell died, George Marion Mitchell and his wife Eleanor, who had married in 1885, inherited the house. Socially active, they were listed until 1914 in the San Francisco Blue Book, the social register of the day. Keeping Eleanor company was her widowed aunt, Frances A. Porter, who resided at 813 for over thirty years. After seventy-one years, the Mitchell family's ownership ended in 1942, when George Marion's widowed and childless second wife Lucy sold the house. Later, long-term owners included Stella Rogoway in the 1940s and attorney Joseph Filipelli in the mid-1960s. Dr. Thomas Waddell (1937-87), organizer of the Gay Games, held the property briefly before selling it in 1973 to its current owner, Philip Strauss, a retired lawyer from the Office of the San Francisco District Attorney.
The exterior ornamentation of 813 Grove includes corner blocks (quoins), bracketed eaves, slanted bays, arched windows flanked by colonettes, and paired front doors inset with panes of brilliantly hued stained glass. The porch balustrade was restored in 1996. Permit records state that the garage, or carriage house, was built in 1917 for $3,500.
In 2004, 813’s wall of ivy-covered wooden fencing was demolished to be replaced by a stately Victorian-inspired wrought iron fence with elaborate brick posts and concrete urns. Below the fence stands a new rusticated stone retaining wall similar to those fronting other nineteenth century neighborhood dwellings.
According to testimony given decades ago by an elderly former neighbor, Michael Nicholson, 813 Grove suffered an attic fire in 1913. Despite fire and multiple ownership, most vintage interior features remain. Among them are Lincrusta-Walton wainscot, gasoliers and sconces made in the 1870s, ceiling moldings, oak flooring, a mahogany staircase, and an intact gaslight system throughout the house. The house is heated by its original hydronic radiator system.
Furnishings are Victorian, with an emphasis on Renaissance Revival pieces representing manufacturers Herter Brothers, Pottier and Stymus, Thomas Brooks, Alexander Roux, John Jelliff and Killian Brothers. Following traditional floor plans of the 1870s, 813 Grove's long, narrow hallway opens first to two parlors separated by figural brackets. The large ceiling medallions here and elsewhere are reproduced from neighborhood examples. The two working gasoliers were made in the 1870s by the Cornelius Company.
Beyond the parlors, and accessible only from the hall, is an intimately-scaled but elaborately-decorated formal dining room. Wallpapers from Bradbury & Bradbury's Neoclassical room set in a Pompeian color scheme are hung to the designs of interior decorator Paul Duchscherer. Vintage embellishments include a ceiling of wood and Lincrusta-Walton, a dado paneled in walnut grained redwood, and an oak floor with inlaid borders. Showcased is a grand Eastlake (or aesthetic) sideboard of American manufacture.
The March 2004 issue of Old House Interiors profiled the striking remodel and expansion of the former 1950s style kitchen at the end of the hall. Incorporating period design elements such as tile flooring, pressed tin ceiling, and detailed wooden cabinetry in soothing shades of green, it also includes granite countertops and the most up-to-date utilities. To the rear of the kitchen is the remodeled servant's quarters.
At the base of the front stairway near the entry is a figural gas-lit newel lamp. The painting of the lower front hall area, in silver, gold and copper, representing the three California ores, is the work of Larry Boyce, an accomplished artisan and stenciler practicing in the 1980s, who resided briefly at 813 Grove. Directly above, on the stair landing, is a “coffin” corner niche, typically found in local Italianates. On the staircase wall are hung photos of various members of the Mitchell family, donated to the present owner in 2021 by Carol Allen, a direct descendent of John Mitchell.
Outdoors, a spacious veranda, designed by local craftsman Erik Kramvik, opens to a side yard planted in poplar and palm trees.
NOT ON THE TOUR TODAY, BUT FOR YOUR INFORMATION:
Upstairs on the second floor are three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a solarium. The two front bedrooms have been papered in Bradbury & Bradbury papers, to the design of Paul Duchscherer. Connecting these two chambers is a full bath lined with an original green faux marble wainscot. The tile floor was installed by a Florentine artisan. Down the hall is a spacious library and study containing another set of chandeliers installed by the Mitchells. It also contains a fine bookcase purchased by the current owner at auction in Massachusetts, a pair of signed George Hunzinger side chairs, and an extra grade Wooton patent desk.
The intricately laid mosaic tile floor of the sunroom at the rear of the house replicates the pattern found in the tile flooring of San Francisco’s historic Ninth Circuit Court House at Seventh and Mission Streets.
2023 Edited by home owner Phil Strauss
2015 Victorian Alliance House Tour of Alamo Square, adapted by Catherine Accardi from “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square” by Joseph Pecora with updates from Philip Strauss.