The Westerfeld House
Illustrations by Kit Haskell
In September 29, 1889, in a column headed “A Highly Favored and Rapidly Improving District,” an Examiner critic noted that “Among the newest residences in the district is the beautiful mansion, just completed for William Westerfeld, the Market Street caterer, which, with its pure white walls and lofty towers, is a striking object in the landscape, standing as it does upon an elevated site on the northeast corner of Fulton and Scott Streets, just opposite Alamo Square.” Over the 126 years since that first profile, this remarkably ornate Stick style, twenty-six room house has become one of the most frequently reviewed, often photographed and best loved Victorians in the City. Designed by German-born architect Henry Geilfuss 1198 Fulton Street was completed in 1889 at a cost of $9,985.
William Westerfeld, 1198’s first owner, came from Germany to San Francisco at age 16 via the Isthmus. A leading member of the large local German community, he learned his trade as an apprentice in his uncle Louis’s Kearny Street bakery before joining Gustave Page to open a Market Street confectionery. In the 1880s he established his own bakery and restaurant at 1035 Market Street. William, his wife Pauline, a native of Hanover, and their four children Otto, Paul, Ella and Walla lived at a number of other Western Addition addresses before the move to their big house on the Square. Despite the substantial estate William left when he died in 1895 at age 52, his family could ill afford the maintenance costs of 1198 and relocated that same year to 1118 Turk Street. Irish-born contractor Jonathan (John) J. Mahony (1842–1918) bought 1198 from the Westerfelds for his family, who then resided there from the mid 1890s to the late 1920s. The Mahony household, in addition to John and his wife Mary, included four children, an Irish servant, and a Japanese cook. John widened the Westerfeld House’s main hallway, redecorated it in the latest finishes, such as its high oak dado, installed a garage and, in 1902, sold the old rose and palm garden on the east side for residential development. By 1920 only two Mahony daughters, Ellen (Nellie) and Mary, and their two maiden aunts, Catherine and Margaret Curry, remained at 1198, and in 1928 they sold it to Clarence Herman, a neighboring property owner. In the 1930s a group of Russian emigres operated the house as a private club. Among those living at 1198 from the late 1950s into the early 6os were several African-American jazz musicians including John Handy Sr. and Art Lewis, a drummer with the Monty Waters band. In 1966, when investment banker Charles Fracchia purchased the then neglected and moldering old house for $43,000, it was home to a group of hippies. Mr. Fracchia, whose wife refused to move into 1198 because of the neighborhood’s dangerous reputation, evicted the hippies to rent to Kenneth Anger, an underground filmmaker and friend of Satanist Anton LeVey. Anger brought to live in the house and star in his movies a young man named Bobby Beausoleil who later gained notoriety as a member of the infamous Manson family. By 1968 the majority of rooms had been crudely transformed into loft apartments and the elaborate gas lighting fixtures (which were stolen about that time) served as the sole source of heat. In 1968 French native Daniel Ducois, a hairdresser, and his partner, William Von Weiland, purchased the house for $45,000 with plans for its restoration. When applying for a water hook up, they did so in the name of “The Imperial Russian Consulate,” happy to perpetuate a long standing rumor that the house had once served this function. After restoration, the partners sold it in 1983 to Anne Warner who operated 1198 as the Warner Embassy Bed & Breakfast Inn. Present owner Jim Siegel acquired the residence in 1986 and has spent the last twenty-nine years renovating the building, including restoration of the original basement ballroom.
The upstairs first floor features fourteen foot ceilings, while the second and third floors, with six bedrooms each, have twelve foot and ten foot ceilings respectively. Jim Siegel has decorated most of the interiors with Renaissance Revival Style furnishings and Bradbury & Bradbury wall coverings. On the exterior he has, to great effect, retiled the roof and painted the house in dark earth tones.
The first floor public rooms to the left of the expansive hall include double parlors, the second of which has a built-in bookcase and a thirteen foot high walnut mantle piece, while the dining room to the rear features built-in cabinetry. Doorways are capped with crown moldings inset with bear head medallions. The fourth floor tower room, with its unparalleled city views, replicates a Victorian Turkish smoking room.
Adapted by Gary Goss from “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square” by Joseph B. Pecora
— taken from the Victorian Alliance‘s “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square 2015 House Tour” catalog