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by Linda Kaye
San Antonio, Texas
April 1, 2002
Jay Gifford, our guide and owner of the business, has been doing this for 5 years after he was "downsized" from a computer company. He has been resident of San Francisco for 20 years and his passion is his own Victorian home.
Our tour started was a short walk and a 10-minute bus ride to a beautiful Queen Ann Style building built in 1890 as Miss Mary Lake’s School for Girls. It was also The Cosmos Gentlemen’s Club and the Episcopal Diocese Girls Friendly Society Lodge and went through several ownership changes before being boarded up in 1970. It is now a completely restored as the Queen Ann Bed and Breakfast; and if not seeing the sprinkler system menacing a perfect view of a richly endowed design, you would swear that you had stepped back into the 19th century when this fine home was built.
Jay seemed to know everything about every house on the tour- all 200 of them, when they were built, when they were restored and all the famous people that have owned them. We walked by the home where Robin Williams once resided, just two doors down from the house where "Mrs. Doubtfire" was filmed. We saw where Don Johnson lived while he was filming the TV show "Nash Bridges" with its beautiful babbling brook along the front of the property and the home once owned by Bill Cosby and Mary Martin of Peter-Pan fame.
It was an easy walk and a moderate pace through Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow. The tour ended on Union Street after a fantastic overview of the harbor and the Golden Gate Bridge. Jay collected his $20.00 fee from each person and we were given a choice to either return to the Hotel with him by bus, or to stay in the area for more sightseeing.
Tours run daily at 11:00 a.m. and last approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours.
From journal ONE INCREDIBLE IGOUGO WEEKEND
March 28, 2002
During his brief introduction, Jay touched upon the history of San Francisco relevant to the tour: the economy that once allowed more than 80% of the population to own single family homes (Times have certainly changed!), the abundance of redwood building materials that influenced the city’s early design, and the 1906 earthquake that sparked the fires that burned most of the 50,000+ Victorians that once stood in San Francisco to the ground.
We hopped a bus to Union Street where we would begin the bulk of our walking.
Jay proved to be an energetic and engaging guide. In addition to Victorians, he pointed out other buildings of architectural or historical interest. He added even more color to the "Painted Ladies"--lovingly restored and brightly painted Victorians—we viewed along the way by interjecting engaging tidbits that explained historical circumstances that affected style.
For instance, many of the row houses during WWII were painted navy ship gray because of the color surplus at the time. Other homes were painted white because white paint does not fade or need as many touch-ups. Therefore, while this period in American history was conservative by nature, the color schemes of homes were purely a matter of economics. I found it interesting to learn, too, that much of the wrought iron that adorned front lawn gardens during the Victorian period disappeared after the Depression, all donated to the war effort.
In addition to walking through quiet residential sections in Pacific Heights where several celebrity homes were pointed out, the walking tour explored the interior of the Queen Anne Hotel (www.queenanne.com). This classic Queen Anne Victorian was built as a finishing school in 1890. Today it is filled with heirloom antiques typical of the Victorian period.
While San Francisco can be challenging to navigate on foot, the tour proved to move at a leisurely pace. Jay did an excellent job of circumventing many hills while still leading the group to fantastic views of the Bay.
The tour ended in a shopping and café district where many of the people in my group opted to stay and spend more time.
The tour begins at 11 a.m. daily, rain or shine. If weather is truly not cooperating, Jay told me that the tour might be cut short (with refunds or no money collected) or stalled for a respite in a coffee shop along the route! Remember tour buses cannot go down many of the residential streets this tour covers, so even San Francisco locals might see something new.
From journal A Couple in the City by the Bay