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the homes

The John A. Whelan House

1315 Waller

In 1896 a shipwright named John A. Whelan developed I this row of four nearly identical Victorian Queen Anne style houses that advance towards Delmar Street. He and his family lived in number 1315 Waller (then numbered 1305) until about 1905, but he sold it the next year. He rented out the adjacent houses, eventually also selling them in 1912. A different developer built the two houses that are closest to Masonic Street.

1315 Waller
Illustration by VASF member Kit Haskell

These four Whelan houses are remarkably akin to those of another more noted builder, William Hinkel, as exemplified in rows on nearby Cole Street and in others found in the 1500 block of Waller, although Hinkel was not the designer of these latter buildings. Exactly who actually designed Whelan’s houses is unknown, and no records of their contractors have been unearthed. It is presumed that Whelan himself knew something about creative construction methods from his ship making experience and that he probably hired day workers and journeymen carpenters who collaborated on the design and building process. Nineteenth century houses, especially those constructed in the mid-1890s in San Francisco, were generically built as wooden balloon-frame structures with similar floor plans, yet with variegated, often flamboyantly decorated façade, aimed to appeal to popular taste and prepared for quick sale.

Whelan’s four cookie cutter houses appear to have less overall structural variety than do the nearby Hinkel rows, and yet obvious differences from one to the other are apparent in their embellishment. All of them have recessed second floor bay windows with angled sides at both ends, set under the projecting cornices beneath the gables. The upper floors also feature a decorated medallion in the central area between the two bays. The medallion on this house is rectangular, containing a feathered compass-point motif, while next door a fancy foliate urn lies under an arched bracket. Stylized foliage appliqué also fill in the spaces between the windows and the dentil-edged cornices on the gable.

The attics under the triangular pointed gables have paired, double-hung windows. All four front porches display rounded arches at the tops of the staircases, gracefully framing the single or double entry doors. Some of the homes have been sub-divided into two or three flats. Repeated across the façade on both levels of number 1315, and between the cornices and moldings, are small gargoyle-face masks flanked by curvilinear leafy appliqués that are now painted an ivory hue, attractively contrasting with the slate blue background.

Builder and occupant John Whelan and his wife Anna were of Irish heritage, born respectively in 1836 in Pennsylvania and in 1838 in New York. Theirs was a large family, common for the time, but only four of their seven children survived by 1900. The oldest, Catherine, had been born in Pennsylvania around 1865. The others were native Californians: William arrived in 1870, Mary in 1874, and Isabella in 1881.

The 1900 Census indicates that only two of the male residents were gainfully employed—the father as a shipwright and the son as a dentist. Also residing in the home were Emma Buck, a 16-year-old servant from Kansas, and Margate Eley, an English nurse. It is not known who may have required her services for the seven months of that year, during which her presence in the home is recorded.

In 1906, Whelan sold 1315 Waller to a Gustav Miersch, who is listed in city directories variously as a waiter, a steward, a bakery proprietor, and finally as a restaurant owner along with his wife Bertha. In one such enterprise he partnered with Paul Westerfeld, who was a related to the owner of the fabled, now beautifully restored towered house on the northwest corner of Alamo Square at Fulton and Scott Streets. Gustav retired in 1910 and passed away about 1918, while Bertha carried on in the restaurant business. Their son Curt held various positions at Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Both mother and son remained in the home until approximately 1925.

—Written and edited by Tamara Hill, based on 1994 research by Victorian Alliance members, including the late Anne Bloomfield, and others

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