the homes

The Mitchell House

813 Grove

The Italianate residence at 813 Grove Street was constructed in 1871 for insurance broker John C. Mitchell and is the oldest of all the vintage houses erected on this tree-lined block. San Francisco Planning Department records indicate the builder was contractor and plasterer, David Mulrein. Antedating the Mitchell House on its 100' x 40' lot was a small one-story cottage, once valued at $1,000 and inhabited from 1868 by David Mulrein and his wife Mary. In 1871 the Mulreins sold the property for $3,000 to watchmaker Julius Wallman, who transferred it as a gift to Elizabeth Mitchell.

813 Grove
Illustration by VASF member Kit Haskell

Arriving on the Pacific coast from Massachusetts about 1853, the Mitchell family resided at 104 Eighth Street before relocating to the Western Addition. According to the 1870 census, their household consisted of John; his wife Elizabeth; their four children and John’s younger brother, George, age 35, a carpet dealer.


Shortly after the turn of the century, after John C. Mitchell died, George Marion and his wife Eleanor, who had married in 1885, inherited the house. Socially active, they were listed until 1914 in the San Francisco Blue Book, the social register of the day. Keeping Eleanor company, was her widowed aunt, Frances A. Porter, who resided at 813 for over thirty years. After seventy-one years, the Mitchell family’s ownership ended in 1942 when George Marion’s widowed and childless second wife Lucy sold the home.


Later, long-term owners included Stella Rogoway in the 1940s and Joseph Filipelli in the mid-196os. Dr.Thomas Waddell (1937–87), organizer of the Gay Games, held the property briefly before selling it in 1973 to its current owner, Philip Strauss, a retired lawyer from the office of the San Francisco District Attorney.


The exterior ornamentation of 813 Grove includes corner blocks (quoins), bracketed eaves, slanted bays, arched windows flanked by colonettes, and paired front doors inset with panes of brilliantly hued stained glass. The porch balustrade was restored in 1996. Permit records state that the garage, or carriage house, was built in 1917 for $3,500.


In 2004, 813’s wall of ivy-covered wooden fence was demolished to be replaced by a stately Victorian-inspired wrought iron fence with elaborate brick posts and concrete urns. Below this stands a new rusticated stone retaining wall similar to those fronting other nineteenth century neighborhood dwellings.


According to testimony given decades ago by an elderly former neighbor, Michael Nicholson, 813 Grove suffered an attic fire. Despite fire and multiple ownership, many vintage interior features remain. Among them are Lincrusta-Walton wainscot, chandeliers and sconces made in the 1870s, ceiling moldings, oak flooring, a mahogany staircase, and an intact gaslight system throughout the house. The house is heated by its original hydronic radiators.


Furnishings are Victorian, with an emphasis on Renaissance Revival pieces representing manufacturers Herter Brothers, Pottier and Stymus, Thomas Brooks, Alexander Roux and John Jelliff. Following traditional floor plans of the 1870s, 813 Grove’s long, narrow hallway opens first to two parlors separated by figural brackets. The large ceiling medallions here and elsewhere are reproduced from neighborhood examples. The two working gasoliers were made in the 1870s by the Cornelius Company.


Beyond the parlors, and accessible only from the hall, is an intimately scaled but elaborately decorated formal dining room. Wallpapers from Bradbury & Bradbury’s neoclassical room set in a Pompeian color scheme are hung to the designs of interior decorator Paul Duchscherer. Vintage embellishments include a ceiling of wood and Lincrusta-Walton, a dado paneled in walnut grained redwood, and an oak floor with inlaid borders. Showcased is a grand Eastlake sideboard of American manufacture.


The March 2004 issue of Old House Interiors profiled the striking remodel and expansion of the former 1950s style kitchen at the end of the hall. Incorporating period design elements such as tile flooring, pressed tin ceiling, and detailed wooden cabinetry in soothing shades of green, it also includes granite countertops and the most up-to-date utilities. To the rear of the kitchen is the remodeled servant’s quarters.


At the base of the front stairway near the entry is a figural gas-lit newel lamp. The painting in the lower front hall area, in silver, gold and copper, representing the three California ores, is the work of Larry Boyce, an accomplished artisan and stenciler practicing in the 1980s, who resided briefly at 813 Grove. Directly above, on the stair landing is a “coffin corner” niche, typically found in local Italianates.


Upstairs on the second floor are three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a solarium. The two front bedrooms have been papered in Bradbury & Bradbury papers, to the design of Paul Duchscherer. Connecting these two chambers is a full bath lined with an older green faux marble wainscot. The tile floor was recently installed by a Florentine artisan.


Down the hall is a spacious library and study containing another set of chandeliers installed by the Mitchells and a fine bookcase purchased by the current owner at auction in Massachusetts. The intricately laid mosaic tile floor of the sunroom at the rear of the house replicates the pattern found in the tile flooring of San Francisco’s historic Ninth Circuit Court House at Seventh and Mission Streets.


Outdoors, a spacious veranda, designed by local craftsman Erick Kramvik, opens to a side yard planted in poplar trees.


Adapted by Catherine Accardi from “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square” by Joseph B. Pecora with updates from Philip Strauss

— taken from the Victorian Alliance‘s “The Storied Houses of Alamo Square 2015 House Tour” catalog