Building Exterior Description Spreckels Mansion, San Francisco California
The steep hillside site upon which the Spreckels Mansion was built necessitated elevations that suggest a two-story house on Washington Street and a three-story house on the back, facing the view north. This was further emphasized in the original design by a major stair of access to the principal living floor (the "main" floor, actually the second level) in the center of the Washington Street front. Garden terraces and planting in framing urns, as well as a bronze marquee at its head, gave visual prominence to this stair and to the principal living floor it services. Conversion to apartments within the framework of a one-family residence called for suppression of the main entrance on Washington Street, and use of the porte-cochere entrance at the east side of the house. Although this has not marred the general effect of the house, it has made the original interior plan less obvious. The dimensions of the house are approximately eighty feet on the north and south sides and fifty feet on the east and west sides.
George Applegarth chose a form of late French Baroque hotel facade as his stylistic motif here. The principal articulation is in the form of giant composite half or three-quarter columns, with decorated lower shafts (cabling, etc.), which rise past the main living floor and the top floor windows. Across the Washington Street face, the columns are coupled, with the exception of the single columns at the corners, nestled beside the corner wall sections which masquerade as very wide Tuscan pilasters. Along the east and west, there are single giant columns, as on eastern and western portions of the north face (now somewhat modified). A richly garnished entablature (with luxuriant rineeaux in the frieze, and massive cornice with modillions and other enrichments) crowns the building. Above, rises a chaste balustrade with sections of stone balusters and walls alternating around the building's top; this balustrade aids in masking the actual roof which is flattened or raised (in the central section). The windows on the main floor are headed with arches; these windows are actually French doors (each leaf has eighteen panes) with an arched window above. The windows on the top floor are a form of French door of lesser size and elaboration of pane. Each of the principal top-floor windows has a balcony with a richly scrolled metal balustrade; the masonry balconies appear to be supported by elaborated escutcheons in the center and heavy garlands at the sides. Stylistically, the effect is partly based on l9th century French sources and partly on later 19th-century revivals of the late Baroque moving into Neoclassical. A Parisian hotel in the Rue Cherche-Midi is an obvious Gallic relation for the ornamental details. George Applegarth states that he had no specific buildings in mind, as sources, but drew freely on his six-year period of study in France at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The house was built of reinforced concrete (for fire protection), with an exterior facing of dressed Utah limestone in the color and effect of French Caen stone. (Protective coverings suggested by the architect to preclude erosion from the moist, warm, salt air of San Francisco were delayed by Mrs. Spreckels; this has resulted in less perfect preservation than might have been obtained.)
The structural contracts were approximately $750,000, and indicate the scale and finesse of detail in this superb residence.
On the north face, the central section of the facade comes out in a semicircular bay. Originally the top portion of this semicircular projection was an open porch; this has been glassed in to serve as Mr. and Mrs. Munn's bridge room and solarium. Aside from the suppression of the Washington Street stair of access, there has been comparatively little modification of the exterior, with the minor exceptions already noted above. On the west face, the central arch of the main floor, (originally filled in) has a small square window for Mrs. Spreckels' bathroom. Some of the original terracing and almost all of the original enclosing talustrade-fencing around the property remains. A former garage on the northeast corner of the property (facing onto Jackson Avenue) is now the headquarters of the Salvage Shop of the Patrons of Art and Music (California Palace of the Legion of Honor), The large swimming pool - one of the very rare private enclosed swimming pools in San Francisco - dates from more recent times. It was built into the hillside northeast of the house by means of thirty-foot caissons sunk into the slope with a ten-foot high fence around but not roofed. After bad weather and flying leaves made this open pool impractical, it was covered with a sliding electric roof designed by George Livermore and built by Maddock and Company. Architect Ted Moulton added decorative enrichments to the interior and air-conditioning.