The Lacey Residence
Illustrations by Kit Haskell
The residence that is 508 Cole Street is a perfect example of a quintessentially charming Victorian. Although not designed by a prominent architect, this residence has a unique story all its own.
The San Francisco Call real estate transaction section reports the sale of the lot from one Mary J. Farran to carpenter and builder Robert D. Cranston on March 18, 1898. Spring Valley Water tap records indicate Cranston signed for water service at several addresses in the area as early as 1889. Although the water record date for number 508 appears to be elusive, it is likely the water connection was made in the late 1890s.
Robert Dickie Cranston was the son of Scottish immigrant, Alexander Cranston. As a young man, Robert worked as a carpenter in Nevada before moving to San Francisco where he was employed by D.A. MacDonald and Company. Robert’s son William was the father of U.S. Senator Alan Cranston.
The 1889 San Francisco Directory lists Robert as “architect and builder” in partnership with Hugh Keenan, both prominent builders in the Haight-Ashbury. Cranston sometimes lived in a house while finishing it, selling it, and moving on to another project. Their houses were designed and built in the traditional way handed down from master carpenter to apprentice. Ideas for decoration probably came from other houses, pattern books and architectural periodicals. 508 Cole is fashioned primarily in the Queen Anne style. One could further categorize the house as a Free Classic Queen Anne subtype recognizable by classical columns, often grouped in pairs, and decorative motifs such as garlands and swags derived from Greek and Roman traditions. The above elements can be seen in this residence.
During the late 1800s, hundreds of developers, builders, contractors, and carpenters constructed houses on speculation. Cranston and Keenan were such entrepreneurs quite well known for rows of Queen Anne residences sometimes mistakenly called “row houses.” Traditional row houses share a common wall—which is not the case with their houses lined up in a row making for a streetscape of similar house sizes. In 1900, houses like these would have sold for around $7,000. It has been reported that owners have found Cranston’s business card in newel posts during remodeling projects. This was the builder’s way of signing his work.
The San Francisco Call reports a real estate transaction of the property at 508 Cole from Robert D. Cranston to Albert E. Lacey on April 27, 1899. Lacey was listed in the 1900 census as the head of household with two additional occupants, Joseph Lacey, Albert’s brother and Albert’s cousin, Ada Josselyn. Records do not indicate any residents prior to 1900. Albert Lacey was the secretary/treasurer, and later president, of Joseph Wagner Manufacturing Company, producer of flour mill machinery and mill supplies. The house was his residence until his death in 1932, after which cousin Ada resided in the home until her death in 1940. Ada was a teacher at the Golden Gate School. Various residents and owners came and went over the years and for several years in the mid 1970s, the San Francisco City Directory lists the house as “vacant.”
Take a careful look at 508 Cole and you can see that, despite its 114 years, the residence retains its delicate Victorian ornamentation and unmistakable Victorian charm. Let your gaze begin at the peaked roof with finial and then down to the entry which appears to be topped with two winged felines. What could this mean? Is it simply whimsical or is there a deeper, hidden meaning? Perhaps they are guarding the door of this elegant confection of days past.
by Catherine Accardi
— taken from the Victorian Alliance’s “2014 House Tour” catalog