The Bruce-Reutlinger House
Illustrations by Kit Haskell
The Western Addition house that well-to-do liquor merchant Henry Brune built 129 years ago at 824 Grove Street has survived to become one of the country’s most celebrated Victorian dwellings—a time capsule of period furnishing and ornament. Designed by architect Henry Geilfuss and featuring both Italianate and Stick style elements, the Brune-Reutlinger House was constructed in 1886 at a cost of $7,500.
The Henry Brunes, 824 Grove’s first family, resided there twenty years until shortly after the 1906 earthquake, and their successors, the William J. Gallaghers, a large Irish-American Catholic family, lived there for the next forty-five. From 1952 to 1964, 824 housed the Antioch Baptist Church; its present owner acquired the property in 1965.
In 1863, Henry Brune, a native of Wiesbaden, Germany, immigrated to the U.S. at age 15. In 1871, he and Frederick Koster ran the Central Saloon on the northwest corner of Kearny and Geary. Eight years later, in partnership with William Alfs and Henry Nabers, he established a liquor wholesale and import firm, which touted itself on the concerns business card as the sole local agents of Phoenix Old Bourbon Whiskey. Henry and his first wife, the former Emilie Mohr of Sacramento, along with their three children moved to Grove Street from a previous residence at 101 Capp Street in the Mission. Emilie enjoyed only four years in her new home, for in 1890, at age 31, she died while traveling in Europe. In 1892 the widowed Henry married Louise (LuLu) Von Ortendorff and fathered an additional three children. The Brunes, listed in the San Francisco Blue Book, entertained guests in their large downstairs ballroom, which doubled as a playroom for their six children.
In 1907 the Brunes relocated to Ross in Marin County and sold 824 to William J. Gallager, proprietor of the Woodlawn Stables located two blocks away at 617–33 Grove. Mr. Gallagher, a native San Franciscan born of Irish immigrant parents, had apprenticed as a carriage maker at age 17, worked as a blacksmith at 20, and in 1891 joined with his father Patrick to form the wood and coal firm of P.J. Gallagher & Son on the northeast corner of Hayes and Buchanan Streets. William expanded his operations to include his livery stable in 1898. Keeping pace with the changing times, William’ƒs stables evolved into Gallagher Automotive and then Town Taxi, a forerunner of the Yellow Cab Company. The Gallagher household in 1910 included William, his wife Mary, five children and one domestic, Pauline Mahler.
After the sale in 1952 to the Antioch Baptist Church, the ballroom was converted into a chapel and plans were proposed to remove 824’s elaborate Victorian façade and combine the two lower levels into a single large meeting hall. Daunted by neighborhood opposition, the church sold the property in 1964 to Elizabeth Heller, a member of the Wells Fargo banking family. Although she had planned to restore the house, which she had been using as a rental, she changed her mind and put the house back on the market.
The next owner and present occupant is Richard Reutlinger, who found his new home in severely dilapidated condition and has been restoring, renovating, decorating and furnishing 824 for fifty years. His efforts, which have been illustrated in a number of national publications, so impressed a former publisher of the Old House journal, that the latter declared 824 Grove to be “the most famous Victorian home in America.”
Each of the house’s dozen or so rooms is finished in the style of the 1880s. The spacious fifteen-foot high parlors on the first floor, completely redecorated in 1994 by members of Artistic License, a local guild of artisans, lead into a dining room which features built-in floor-to-ceiling walnut cabinetry. Also on this floor are a conservatory, a morning room and a large kitchen with two vintage stoves. The second floor has five bedrooms, the first of which is decorated with ornate stenciling by artisan Larry Boyce while the others are hung with Bradbury & Bradbury wallpapers designs by Paul Duchscherer. The rear bedchamber has been transformed into an extravagantly ornate Turkish room.
The ballroom is now a music hall, stocked with music boxes and player pianos of all kinds, including a Foto Player which was used in movie houses of the silent film era. In addition to playing piano rolls, it can produce, when operated manually, an array of vintage audio effects: horns, whistles, drums, hoof beats, pistol shots and castanets.
Mr. Reutlinger first furnished his home by attending Butterfield auctions and by shopping at the many second hand stores lining a nearby commercial strip on McAllister Street that dealt in nineteenth century furnishings and ornament. In the early 1970s, these stores were vacated so that the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency could complete its second phase of Western Addition demolition which eliminated hundreds of Victorian structures between Geary and Fulton Streets. Were it not for community resistance, the agency would have continued its “renewal” as far south as Market Street, and homes such as the Brune-Reutlinger house would have been lost.
In 1991, Marion Brune, Henry Brune’s niece, celebrated her 85th birthday at 824 Grove. So touched was she by her host’s fascination with his house’s history that she declared him to be "a gentleman of sentiment."
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