2004 Dolores-Fair Oaks House Tour

The 2004 Victorian Alliance House Tour took place in the Dolores Street-Fair Oaks neighborhood. It lies between Noe Valley and the City-designated Liberty-Hill Historic District and the two commercial portions of 24th Street in the Mission District and Noe Valley. This area is entirely residential except for a few corner groceries and a scattering of churches and schools.

It’s a neighborhood of astonishing architectural variety within a fairly narrow scale and economic range: mostly medium- to small-sized houses, no mansions, very few high-density buildings, and a lot of small front yards. Almost every building is unique, with a few groups of nearly-identical houses obviously put up on speculation by the same builder.

Most of the houses seem to have been an individual project originated by the particular owner who expected to live there. Often, neighboring houses look as if they were built many years apart. The styles present a fascinating range, beginning in the 1870s with Italianate and continuing with Stick in the 1880s, Queen Anne in the 1890s, Colonial/Classical Revival and Arts-and-Crafts in the early 1900s, and Mission or Mediterranean in the 1920s and 1930s. Construction has continued right up to the present, and several decades are represented in each block.

Before the Gold Rush, the land had been part of Jose de Jesus Noe’s over-4,000-acre Rancho San Miguel, which stretched from San Jose Avenue on the east to Junipero Serra Boulevard on the west, and north partly beyond 17th Street. It was cattle range until the early 1850s, when John Horner bought it. In addition to his significant farm, Horner had the eastern section from 22nd to 30th Streets surveyed into streets and blocks and lots. This subdivision, called Horner’s Addition, was officially recorded in 1863, but development was slow, as the closest public transportation came only to 17th and Valencia.

In 1867, a horse-car line opened from the waterfront to Market and Valencia Streets to 26th. Also, a steam railroad to San Jose passed through the area on a diagonal from 26th and Guerrero to 27th and Dolores. Diagonal lot lines still show where it was.

In 1883, the Valencia line became cable cars, and after 1906 it was rebuilt as electric. In 1887 a cable-car line opened on Castro Street out to 26th, and it stayed cable until 1941. About 1895, a new cross-town electric line was built from Mission and 22nd Streets to 24th and Hoffman via a loop that ran outbound on Chattanooga from 22nd to 24th, and inbound on Dolores from 24th to 22nd. This streetcar line remained well into the 1930s.

Even after the arrival of public transportation, development was slow and scattered in the neighborhood. The 1867 U.S. Coast Survey Map shows only about 14 structures from 21st to 26th and Church to Guerrero. An 1877 map still shows a complete blank on the west (uphill) side of Church Street from 21st to 24th. Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of the 19th century show many structures in the area, but there were still quite a few vacant lots or large side gardens waiting to be filled in.

This neighborhood was not touched by the 1906 fire, which stopped at 20th Street, but the earthquake did cause some problems. A 1906 photo of the street, from 1070 Dolores toward Market, shows streetcar tracks going up to 22nd. In the middle of the street are a lot of three-sided, roofed wooden boxes, the outdoor kitchens everybody had to use until chimneys were inspected, to prevent another fire.

In the photo, Dolores Street has no palm trees or center strip. These were put in later. By 1921 the median, and presumably the palm trees, existed on all of Dolores except the two blocks with streetcar tracks. The rest came in the 1930s after the streetcar line was converted to buses.

The people of the neighborhood were well served by public schools. The 1908 city directory shows four primary schools nearby for the youngest children: Agassiz at Bartlett and 22nd, Clement at Day and Noe, Edison at Church and Hill, and Haight on Mission near 25th. There were two grammar schools, now middle schools: Horace Mann on Valencia near 22nd and James Lick at 25th and Noe. Attendance was not mandatory for teenagers, so one high school, Mission at 18th and Dolores, served everyone south of Market. There were parochial schools too, and a few private schools, one in the building across from Mission Dolores.

The ethnic and cultural variety of the neighborhood is revealed by its churches. There were/are three big Catholic ones: Mission Dolores, St. Paul’s at 29th and Church, and St. James at 23rd and Guerrero. Speakers of German could choose between St. Johannes Methodist on Army near Guerrero, and St. Johannes Lutheran at 22nd and Capp (which also had a “German and English Day School”).

A Swedish Mission Tabernacle was at Dolores and Dorland, with another Lutheran Church, St. Matthew’s, at the same intersection. Congregation B’nai David and Mikva Israd met on 19th between Valencia and Guerrero, and Mission Dolores Park was originally two Jewish cemeteries. Presbyterians could choose between Lebanon at Sanchez and 23rd and Stewart Memorial on Guerrero between 22nd and 23rd. Besides these, there were Emmanuel Baptist on Bartlett near 22nd, Bethany Congregational at Bartlett and 25th, Second Unitarian at Capp and 20th, and finally the 2004 house-tour church, Holy Innocents Episcopal on Fair Oaks.

– The Late Anne Bloomfield, Architectural Historian