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A Look at Some of San Francisco's Most Unusual Homes

The Tobin House

Location: 1969 California Street between Gough And Octavia

In 1911, Michael H. de Young (one of the founders of the San Francisco Chronicle and the man who brought us the de Young Museum) purchased two lots on California Street between Gough and Octavia Streets. De Young hired prominent architect Willis Polk to design two adjoining houses on the lots for his daughters Constance (wife of Joseph O. Tobin) and Helen (wife of George E. Cameron). The houses were designed to be mirror images of each other, with the archway meant to be completed by the neighboring house.

When the Tobin House was completed in 1915, Constance and her family were happy to move in. Helen, for reasons unknown, decided she would prefer to live elsewhere. As a result, the second house was never built leaving the archway incomplete.

The Tobin House is San Francisco Landmark #260.

Pasquale's Tower

Location: Dunnes Alley in North Beach, just off the Peter Macchiarini Steps at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street

This unique house sits on a cliff on Telegraph Hill overlooking Broadway Street. The four-story, concrete, blue-domed building has always been shrouded in mystery, and many tales have been told about it. One such tale says that Pasquale Gogna, an Italian immigrant, built the house with his own hands. When he finished the house, he sent for the woman he loved back in Italy. When she arrived in San Francisco and saw the odd house, she declared that she was returning home immediately. Pasquale, left brokenhearted, locked up the house never to open it again.

In 1956, the San Francisco Chronicle finally revealed the truth behind the house when they interviewed Pasquale's nephew, Joseph Gogna. Pasquale immigrated to San Francisco in 1907 and became a baker. In 1921, his brother Eugene immigrated to San Francisco. Together, the two men went into the hotel business. Pasquale designed the house in 1930, modeling it after some of the homes in his native Italy. He added the dome to give himself a house unlike any other in San Francisco. He lived in the house until he developed arthritis and had to move in with his brother and nephew in 1956.

The Tiger House

Location: Frederick Street between Belvedere and Cole in the Cole Valley neighborhood

The "Tiger House" in Cole Valley was originally owned by artist Carlo Marchiori. At some time in the 1970's, Marchiori was inspired to paint a tiger on the exterior of his home. He now resides in Calistoga, but the tiger mural has been maintained by subsequent owners. The house has become a beloved fixture in San Francisco, with tour buses driving by to catch a glimpse of it.

The Keyhole House


The Keyhole House is the work of artist Dick Fosselman who has been doing mural graphics around the Bay Area since 1970. His style is similar to the French art style "trompe l'oeil" which translates to "fool the eye." The art technique is used to create the illusion of a three-dimensional object. Fosselman's website describes the Keyhole House as a "landmark condominium requiring oversize key for entry to the universe."

The "Reflections" House

Location: 641-643 Bay Street in Russian Hill

This house was painted by Bay Area muralist Bill Weber. Weber has been painting murals since 1974. His style ranges from surreal to whimsical to realistic. In San Francisco he is best known for his large "Jazz" mural at Broadway and Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Though there is very little information available about the "Reflections" mural, it depicts the Palace fo Fine Arts, as well as a couple of characters from the 80s/90s television show "Cheers".

Victorian Firehouse, former Engine Company No. 32

Location: 3022 Washington Street, between Broderick And Baker Streets in Pacific Heights

The white Victorian firehouse was constructed in 1893 and was designed by the architectural firm Henriksen & Mahoney. For 71 years it served as the San Francisco Fire Department's Engine Company No. 23. After it was decommissioned in 1964, it was sold at public auction to a developer who had planned to turn it into an apartment building. When he was unable to do so because of building restrictions, the firehouse was then sold to well-known interior decorator and furniture design John Dickinson. Dickinson remodeled the structure and converted it into a house and studio.

In 1989, the house was purchased by former California Governor, Jerry Brown. Brown lived in the house during his 1992 race in the Democratic presidential primaries against Bill Clinton. In 1995, he sold the house to advertising executive Hal Riney. Riney was esteemed in the advertising world with three of his campaigns, including the 1984 "Morning in America" political campaign that helped re-elect Ronald Regan, listed in the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century.

The Fire house changed hands a few more times over the years, and today it remains a private residence.

The Jungle House

Location: 1079 Church Street in the Dolores Heights neighborhood

In 1992, the residents of 1079 Church Street wanted to change the facade of their house to make it fit in with the neighboring houses. They considered remodeling, but after seeing the work of muralist Nicolai Larsen, they chose to commission a mural instead. After consulting with Nicolai, the owners, who were passionate about rainforest conservation, decided on a watercolor rainforest design. The mural went on to be awarded the title of "Most Unusual Mural in San Francisco."

In 2014, the owners wanted to do a reimagining of the house. They commissioned Prairie Prince (a graphic artist and drummer for the San Francisco based band The Tubes) for the project. Before Prairie accepted the commission, he reached out to Nicolai for his blessing. With Nicolai's blessing, Prairie Prince, along with muralists Amanda Lynn and Lindsey Millikan, transformed the Rainforest House into the Jungle House. The leaves on the roof and the butterfly gate were created by Metal Artist Morgan Raimond.


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