The Fisk House
Illustrations by Kit Haskell
This architecturally eclectic mansard roofed and domed tower house on the corner of Hayes and Buchanan has drawn admiring glances for over 130 years. Commissioned in 1884 by Asa Fisk, a New England-born moneylender, the residence, built to the plans of architect Edward Hatherton, along with a two-story stable, was erected for $20,000. Originally placed on the uphill lot to its left, the house was relocated to its present site by Lydia Fisk, Asa’s wife, in 1899. On the vacated site, Lydia constructed a three flat building numbered 710–714 that she used for rental income.
The Fisks started a tradition of staying in the home for roughly 30 years, which each subsequent owner has followed. The Fisks raised two children during their initial stewardship. When their daughter Florence created a scandal by eloping with a Jewish cigar merchant, she was disowned until her brother, Arthur, fell in love with his brother-in-law’s sister and married her. Parents, both married children, and their spouses and grandchildren resided together until 1916.
In that year, the new owners of the Asa Fisk House were Victor Duhem, a photographer, and his wife, Julia. Victor and his sons, Charles and Raymond, were pioneers in California’s filmmaking industry, forming the Duhem Motion Picture Company in 1912. Briefly named the Frisco Film Company, it first operated out of Victor’s former until it was moved to 700 Hayes.
Victor and Julia Duhem’s daughter, Elaine Duhem Klien, eventually took over the house and remained until 1958; often, she used the large parlor and attic ballroom for concerts and other cultural events. Selling to James and Opel McClemore in 1972, the house remained an active place with 13 other family members sharing the three floors. The McClemores sold the house in 1972 to the Chan family, and the Chans raised three daughters here. In 2003, current owners, Gail Baugh and Jim Warshell, purchased the Fisk House and began a labor of love to restore the home to its current splendor.
Reinvigorating the otherwise unimproved house involved a variety of tasks. These included extensive woodwork refinishing, decorative plaster repair, upgrading the foundation, and rebuilding twenty of the eighty redwood windows. The more obvious changes include a period appropriate kitchen update; rich, saturated room colors; and authentic gas and electric lighting.
Interesting to note is the tall mahogany door at the back of the entry hall that once opened to the west garden and is embellished with the overlapping initials of A.F. for the original owner. (Remember, this house was moved from the lot to the west!)
The house is notable for its unique combination of stylistic elements. It has a Second Empire mansard roof, Italianate body, classical columns and a Queen Anne domed tower. Spacious and airy with fourteen foot ceilings on the first and second floors, the house has eight fireplaces with beautiful Minton and American art tile surrounds. Rare Cuban mahogany is used lavishly throughout the interior. The top floor has a ballroom, roof garden, and conservatory. Ascend the main staircase to see all three areas and take time to enjoy the cityscape views of City Hall, Nob Hill, and the Transamerica Pyramid.
Adapted by Jason Allen-Rouman from “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square” by Joseph B. Pecora with additions by Jim Warshell and Gail Baugh
— taken from the Victorian Alliance‘s “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square 2015 House Tour” catalog