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the homes

The Rountree Residence

110 Lyon

One of seven Queen Annes that climb Lyon from Oak Street, 110 Lyon was sold for $3,200 in 1891 when it was new. The San Francisco News Letter declared these houses “Artistic Homes of California,” and lavished them with glowing praise. Tired of the previous decade’s penchant for clusters of look-alike homes, these were a breath of fresh air—each was unique in appearance, well appointed, and solidly built!

110 Lyon
Illustration by VASF member Kit Haskell

The responsible architect was William H. Lillie, a talented, active and well respected professional who we would undoubtedly hear more about it typhoid fever hadn’t caused his early death in 1898 at age 36. Lillie’s designs here were commissioned by the Texas-born Moses E. and James Rountree, who arrived in San Francisco about 1887. Known as the Rountree Brothers, these builder-brothers constructed many dozens of houses in the city, especially near the Golden Gate Park Panhandle.

In June 1893, not even two years after the home was complete, a catastrophic early morning fire started nearby and swept through the neighborhood. (One report was that the fire started in the stable behind the Rountree brothers’ mansion next door.) By the time the blaze was out, three firemen had died, and more than a dozen houses along Page Street were destroyed, 110 Lyon’s roof and attic were so badly damaged that early reports assumed the entire house would be torn down. But, as it was fully insured, it was returned to its original pristine condition in short order.

Today we can still experience how 110 Lyon’s angles and corners, arches and fanciful decoration breathe life into this gem. The band of decorative shingles that wrap horizontally between first and second stories seem almost staid next to the three fabulous sunbursts above the portico. The attic’s window and balcony peek through an ornamented arched cutout in the gable. The bay, front, and side windows, and art glass accents bring light and color from the street and gardens into both downstairs public rooms and upstairs bedrooms, making every room feel spacious and airy.

In 1891, the widow Kate Johnson purchased 110 Lyon from the Rountree Brothers, and rented it to another widow, Jane Birdsall. By 1895, yet another widow, German-born Margaretha Gingg purchased it from Mrs. Johnson. Margaretha lived here for more than four decades, until her death in 1937. At first, her family numbered six or eight, but as most of the sons married and started their own families, only the unmarried Herman and Freda stayed on with their mother. Herman outlived his mother by just a decade, and in 1948, the house was sold, apparently as investment property, to local grocer Italian-born Victor Dacquisto and his wife Beatrice.

After the Dacquistos’ purchase, this single-family home was subdivided into multiple units. One set of tenants who moved here in the mid-1950s was an African-American family from Texas: Ernest Baugh (a longshoreman), his wife Mabel, and their daughter Laversa. In 1961 the Baughs bought out the Dacquistos, and remained as tenants and owners until the current owners purchased from them in 1992.

When people own 110 Lyon, they tend to stay for a very long time: first the Gingg family, then the Baughs, and now the current owners. Architect Lillie and the Rountree Brothers certainly created a gem here.

by Eileen Keremitsis

— taken from the Victorian Alliance’s “2014 House Tour” catalog

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