Like all great cities, San Francisco is a city of icons. While we can argue about the best – Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, TransAmerica Pyramid – the Painted Ladies are sure to make the list.
Although the term “Painted Ladies” refers generally to Victorian and Edwardian houses or buildings in the US painted in three or more colors, the most famous by far are these in San Francisco’s Western Addition. The houses, also sometimes called Postcard Row, are on Steiner Street alongside Alamo Square Park. This area is a bit hidden, despite having such a good view – north of Haight but south of Japantown and Pacific Heights, and only really accessible by the 21-Hayes trolleybus.
According to Wikipedia, 48,000 houses in this general style were built in San Francisco between 1849 and 1915, and they survived the 1906 earthquake largely because of their location south and west of the city center. Apparently they were originally quite colorful, but that styling was largely lost over time, due to houses being painted “battleship gray” around the two world wars and the general woes of old houses falling into disrepair. In the 1960s, San Francisco artists began to re-introduce bold colors on the exteriors, and a trend began.
In person, though, I thought the houses were actually pretty weak. Maybe the UK has made me feel that old houses are plentiful, or maybe they’ve just been too over-exposed (ever see Full House, or any one of a million other TV shows or movies?). They are perfectly fine houses, don’t get me wrong, but I saw plenty of others that I thought were just as interesting, and even more unique, in our walks around the rest of the city.
I’m not sorry we made the trip out there, though. The view was pretty amazing, and the park was actually quite a nice neighborhood kind of place. On the Painted Ladies side we saw a movie shoot (big surprise!), but in the middle we saw a shoe garden and a kid playing with a ball (not a good idea in a very hilly park, as we watched him chase it all the way down to the street at the bottom!).