Noe Valley Voice June 2005

Noe Valley KIDS Voice

Especially for Kids and Their Families

Written and Illustrated by Laura McCloskey

Victorian Houses Named After a Queen

More than 100 years ago, people started building Victorian homes in Noe Valley. Victorians are named after Victoria, Queen of England, who ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to 1901. During this long period, the styles of clothes and houses in England greatly influenced the styles in the United States. So, people refer to the homes built during Victoria's time as Victorian.

Victorian houses were first built in San Francisco starting in the 1850s. Most of the ones in Noe Valley were built from 1870 to 1910. These Victorians often had high ceilings and large "bay" windows, so light could pour in at the front and back of the house. Some Victorian houses also had fancy decorations. Builders would construct the house with a flat front, then decorate it with wood strips, some shaped like flowers, leaves, and even donuts. This wood trim, was like icing on a cake and was often called "gingerbread." Later, people painted the houses many different colors and gave them the nickname Painted Ladies.

There are three main styles of Victorian houses in Noe Valley: Italianate, Stick/Eastlake, and Queen Anne. Each style has features that set it apart from the other styles.

The earliest style of Victorian in Noe Valley is the Italianate Style. This style copied homes built in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of its features are a flat roof, angled bay windows, and a front porch with columns like those they had in ancient Rome. Many Italianates have a false front and cornice (wood strips along the top of the building) to make the house seem taller. Italianates often had quoins, or different-size blocks of wood, on the corner of their outer walls to make the building look as if it were made of stone.
The Stick/Eastlake Style became popular in the 1880s. This style is named after Sir Charles Eastlake, a furniture designer from England known as "the man who hated curves." The style is also called Stick because with all the straight lines, you could design it using sticks! The Stick Victorian often has square bay windows and geometric-looking decorations. There are many rectangles and triangles. You may find "dentils," which look like square teeth. A Stick house also may have a portico, or roofed space, at the front door.
The Queen Anne Style is named after the queen who ruled England in the 18th century. However, the Queen Anne Style does not have a lot to do with the style of houses built during the 18th century. Instead, the Queen Anne shows the excitement people had in the 1890s for the many decorations machines could make. The Queen Anne is considered the most romantic style of Victorian, and many of the houses look like castles. The Victorian's special features include corner towers, gables (triangular-shaped roofs and canopies), rounded arches, and floral lacework. Queen Anne houses may have a tower with rounded bay windows that are topped by a witch's-cap roof.

Fernando Nelson, Noe Valley Builder

In 1876, at the age of 16, Fernando Nelson (1860­ 1953) came to Noe Valley to build his first house, at 407 30th Street. Fernando's business, eventually called Fernando Nelson & Sons, went on to build more than 4,000 homes in San Francisco, many in Noe Valley and the Mission. At its height, his company had 75 employees.

In 1897, Nelson built the Queen Anne Victorian at 701 Castro Street, on the corner of Castro and 20th streets. He lived there with his wife and sons for 12 years. Nelson kept a horse named Bill in his basement at his home on Castro. He used Bill to work a saw, so he could cut wood at night in preparation for his jobs the next day.

Nelson developed two basic designs for the homes he built, but he did not refer to them as Stick/Eastlake or Queen Anne. Historians came up with those names later. Nelson designed many of his wood carvings and decorations himself. He would often get an idea, draw it on a piece of paper, and take it down to one of the local sawmills to have it carved. One of his most famous designs he named "donuts"; another he called a "button board." He also designed sunbursts for the Queen Anne entrances.

What's Your Favorite Victorian?

We asked the third-graders at Alvarado and Fairmount schools to name their favorite Victorian style. Here are some of their responses:

Devin Reese, 8: My favorite style is Stick/Eastlake because it was named by a designer who hated curves. I also like the wood carvings. I hope that the government will make more Stick/Eastlake in the neighborhood and the city.

Luis Antonio Lopez, 8: My favorite style is Queen Anne Style because it has a tower and my house doesn't. It has something that other houses don't have.

Mayra Canchari, 9: My favorite is the Queen Anne Style because I want to live in a house like that. You have space to play, to run and to jump. I can have my own room. I can play in the house with my scooter.

Evelyn Barash, 8: My favorite style of Victorian is Stick/Eastlake because of the square windows and the stairs.

Zachary Patchell, 8: My favorite style of Victorian is the Queen Anne because it has a tower that's three floors high.

Hannah Walton, 8: My favorite style of Victorian is the Queen Anne Style because I think it's funny that they call part of the tower the witch's cap. What if a witch really lived in some old witch's cap?

Triana Mezey Anderson, 9: My favorite style is Italianate because I like its appearance and its name. Also, my house is similar to it in two ways: my house has Corinthian columns and it has angled bay windows.

Diego Martinez, 8: My favorite style of Victorian is Italianate because it has two bay windows and you can see the bay. I like it because it has a porch to stand on. It's really big, and if it's big, the bedrooms must be big.

Make Your Own Victorian House!

Directions: Get a piece of 81/2-by-11-inch paper, pencil, crayons, scissors, and glue. Draw the outline of a house on the paper. Cut out the parts to a Victorian house, and glue them onto your house. Draw any other features you want. Color your Victorian house with your crayons.

Angled Bay Windows: Three windows projecting from a house at a slant.

Balustrade: A short post or pillar forming a support.

Square Bay Windows: Four windows projecting from a house in a rectangle.

Cornice: Molding (strips of wood) along the top of a building or arch.

Sunburst Design: A carved wood design that looks like the sun's rays.

Pediment: A triangular decoration used above windows.

Witch's Cap: The cone-shaped roof for a tower.

Dentils: Square blocks used for decoration that look like square teeth.

Corinthian Column: A supporting pillar with fancy sculpture.

Button Board: A wood plaque that looks like a row of buttons.

Quoins: Blocks of wood on the outer corner of walls.

Brackets: A carved wood piece that looks like a scroll and is used to support weight.

Useful Books

- San Francisco Victorians by Michael Blumensaadt and Randolph Delehanty

- The Painted Ladies Revisited by Elizabeth Pomada et al.

- Victoria's Legacy by Judith Lynch Waldhorn and Sally Byrne Woodbridge

Special thanks to Laure Latham, Bill Yenne, Kristen Engler, the San Francisco History Center, and the San Francisco Unified School District. Also, a big thank you to Judith Lynch Waldhorn, for her transcript of an interview with Fernando Nelson's son on Aug. 31, 1974; and to Richard Brandi, for his article about Fernando Nelson on the Western Neighborhoods Project web site (