Illustrations by Kit Haskell
The Victorian Alliance recommends a stroll down Cottage Row even though its houses are too small to accept a tour.
This narrow opening between 2113 and 2115 Bush Street leads to an enchanted, tiny enclave of plum trees and ivy, where a brick footpath leads by six identical houses. They’re all invisible behind the other houses lining Bush and Sutter Streets.
The houses are as tiny as the walkway, only 20 feet wide and 23 feet deep. The inside is even smaller, subtracting for wall thicknesses, stairs, bath, kitchen and storage. Yet each has a back yard, all of five feet deep.
Each house shares side walls with its neighbors, and so close are they that the right side of each one's eaves dies into the next-door roof. Only the left side of the eaves ends “properly,” supported by a single bracket and with moldings carried around the comer. Miniaturization extends to narrow doorways and a window's trim melting into the eaves trim. Expertly managed proportions give the impression the house is bigger than its actual size.
The style label here is Stick, for the vertical sticks of wood that express the framing within and decorate the gable’s triangle. Note the delightful brackets at door hood and left eave: jigsaw cut simply from one-inch boards, with a doughnut hole cutout.
Minor changes have occurred over the years, making the houses no longer strictly identical. One has lost the divisions in its windows and gained security grills. Another acquired plywood panels below the windows and shingles on the basement. One has new windows with Post-Modern divisions. But the overall effect remains unimpaired, enhanced by the garden setting.
They were built in 1882, as rental property for “Colonel” Charles L. Taylor, whose company owned them for the next 30 years. The houses, the walkway and the masking house at 2113 Bush together were a single piece of property, all developed by Taylor as rentals. A Maine native, Taylor had sailed to San Francisco in 1850, had carried on lumber and shipping businesses, and settled prosperously into marine insurance in the 1860s. At different times he was on the school board, the State Board of Harbor Commissioners, and the SF Board of Supervisors.
The folks who lived on Cottage Row are hard to trace. The first known inhabitant of No. 3 was Abigail Nash, born in Canada in 1831, widow of Thomas Nash, the carpenter-builder who had constructed the houses in 1882. Nash may have received part of his pay in future lodgings, for in 1882 and 1883 he lived in one of Taylor’s houses, 2103 Bush, and 1886–1889 he was at 2 Cottage Row.
After his death, Abigail Nash continued at No. 2 through 1892. Then she moved to one of the units at 2113 Bush for 1893–1896. Directories failed to list her for a few years, as they often did to women in those days, and she reappeared in 1900–1901 at No. 3. In 1900 the U.S. Census taker found her living there alone.
The 1910 census reported three residents in No. 3 Cottage Row. John Laibo, 29, was a steam schooner sailor who had come to the U.S. from Finland in 1906. His bride Elinor also came from Finland. Their lodger Mary Green was a dressmaker from Sweden.
In the 1930s so many Japanese-Americans lived on Cottage Row that it was nicknamed “Japan Street.” They grew vegetables in their tiny back yards, and offered them for sale at an informal open market held Saturdays along the Row.
— taken from the Victorian Alliance’s “Pacific Heights South 1997 House Tour” catalog