908 Steiner Street
The Iversen House
Decorating for Christmas and the holidays
During the Christmas Season, 908 Steiner features numerous holiday decorations, but most significant of all is one of the city’s most spectacular Christmas trees, a silver tip spruce hand carried from the Sierra which is bedecked with over 500 glass ornaments.
Many of the ornaments are antiques dating to the early 20th century, and several are family heirlooms. The ornament collection also includes a large number of glass Radko ornaments, and vintage clip-on birds roost on the branches. To complete the Victorian decoration of the tree, each year Chris and Maurice hand-string hundreds of feet of cranberry and popcorn. Of special note are the many antique bubble lights dating from the 1940s-1950s which may evoke childhood memories for many tour participants. In addition to the bubble lights, Duran and Ward pay tribute to Niels Iversen and the Old World Scandinavian tradition of using real candles on their Christmas tree. The candles, set in antique German candleholders, will be lit on this tour at 5:30 and will burn for about one hour. Although the thought of real candles on a Christmas tree brings to mind explosions and house fires, be assured that so long as the tree is fresh it is completely safe. The owners break off a small branch and test it each time before lighting the candles. The 908 Steiner Christmas tree has developed a following over the years and each season several Christmas cards arrive addressed to “the tree.” The 11.5 foot silver tip takes about one week to decorate, a process which starts just before Thanksgiving.
Other decorations in the double parlor include antique German lead reindeer, a festive squirrel, antique papier mâché pine trees, angels, and, next to the Christmas tree itself, Humphrey—a large stuffed camel bedecked with miniature presents. Other stuffed animals also sit beneath the tree.
Radko glass garlands crown the dining room, sections of which were acquired over many years. The dining table is set for an elaborate Victorian Christmas Dinner and features turn-of-the century Wallace Carmel sterling silver and antique china. Each Christmas ten to twelve guests partake of a Victorian feast, often featuring goose with all the trimmings.
A creche, given to the house by the late Joe Pecora—the man who personally embodied Christmas in San Francisco—is located in the hallway and includes figures from Chris’ childhood.
The large collection of antique furniture and Victorian oil paintings round out an atmosphere that makes 908 Steiner one of San Francisco’s wonderful Christmas homes.
By Chris Ward and Maurice Duran, October, 2023
908 Steiner Street, the Iversen House
Designed by the architects Schmidt and Shea, the ornate façade of the Iverson House remains largely unchanged since its construction in 1888. It is a flat-roofed, highly ornamented example of the rectilinear Stick-style townhouse. Fence-like cresting originally lined the roofs of such houses. Stick work is represented here by the vertical panels of the pilasters bordering the arched window frames and by the long, ribbed corer strips that merge into the cornice brackets. Despite retaining its original details, the house has had a remarkable history because of the many paint treatments it has had over the years. Indeed, during the 1970s the residence became known as the Psychedelic /Rainbow House because of the exotic paint job designed by the noted artist Maija Peeples-Bright who received the house as a dowry gift in 1966. Peeples-Bright’s multicolor paint treatment was one of the foundations for the modern-era “Painted Ladies” movement, being one of the first instances of a Victorian house receiving a polychrome color treatment on its front façade.
The early history of the house is well documented in Joseph Pecora’s book on Alamo Square. His pages reveal that the original owner of the house, Niels Iversen, was a Norwegian immigrant who established a successful lumber operation in Mendocino County (another house in Point Arena also bears his name). The Iversens lived in the house only a few years before moving to a larger house on McAllister Street. The next owner, James Griffith—a bachelor drapier—lived with his sister’s family at 908 from the mid 1890s up until the early 1920s. A series of owners held title until 1956 when the St. Anthony’s Dining Room purchased the property, at which time it was subdivided into 7 apartments to house homeless men who were employed by St Anthony at their food distribution kitchens at the corner of Jones and Golden Gate.
As noted above, Peeples-Bright took ownership in the mid 1960s and the house became a hippie hangout during that decade when San Francisco was the exciting focus of attention for a new generation emerging during troubled times. Peeples-Bright and her husband, David, began the process of turning the property back into a single-family residence, a restoration that was continued under the ownership of Dr. Marvin Palmer. An excellent article on the history of 908 Steiner during this period can be found online here. John Michaud and Douglas Bray made further restorations during their long tenure (1993-2009), including the installation of the wallpaper in the principal rooms. The current owners, Maurice Duran and Dr. Christopher Ward have made still more restorations, so that today, both on the exterior and the interior, the house is an excellent example of a home from the Victorian Era.
Edited and updated by the current homeowners, October, 2023
Original history from 1994, written by Joseph Pecora, and published in his book The Storied Houses of Alamo Square, 2014