One day in 1908, the young Edwin Stadtmuller and his wife Elisabeth were out for a walk in one of their favorite neighborhoods along the crest of the hill skirting the Presidio Wall. They ran into a realtor selling lots out of a kiosk, and on the spot, Mr. Stadtmuller made a $20 down payment for the empty lot at 3235 Pacific Avenue.
Consulting with their architect, William Knowles, Elisabeth Stadtmuller asked for a living room with a high ceiling and a balcony. In response, Knowles created a design inspired by English church architecture. When viewed from the street, the house has a steeply pitched roof and a “steeple” with a lancet window attached to the left side. A brick platform at street level supports the first and second levels that are sheathed in brown shingle.
The Gothic theme and style are carried to the inside with the soaring cathedral ceiling in the living room and a choir-loft balcony. There are very few “boxy” rooms in the rest of the house; instead, the ceilings are rounded, pitched or pointed. Redwood paneling and molding enhance the major rooms. In the living room, sturdy beams surround the granite fireplace and continue upward across the cathedral ceiling. On the second floor, wrought iron and glass doors mark the entrance to the balcony. (According to city records, the doors were designed by Knowles’s mentor Ernest Coxhead.)
The lot at 3235 Pacific is evenly apportioned to the house and the rear garden. This was a typical approach for the period, but it is rare to find a house that still maintains such a large garden. Often, house additions nibble away at the planted area. The rear garden is divided into two levels. Its upper section is level with the house’s first floor, which allows residents in the house to be close to the greenery and color. Its lower section is at grade level.
The Stadtmullers lived in the house throughout their lifetimes. Elisabeth died in 1958, a few days shy of her 85th birthday. Edwin stayed there until his death at the age of 92 in 1969. Together they made two major changes to the house: they closed in a porch to make a breakfast room and transformed the coal scuttle into a garage. Few other notable changes were made to the property—perhaps due to the Stadtmuller’s long residency. A later owner made the only known modification to the original footprint of the house: in 2001 she added a conservatory to the rear of the house.
One of three houses that Knowles designed in this block, 3235 Pacific blends nicely with its shingle-covered neighbors designed by Bernard Maybeck, Willis Polk and Ernest Coxhead. The 3200 block of Pacific Avenue is mentioned in many architecture books. A recent guide states that “nowhere else in the city is there such a harmonious stand of … houses.” Last year the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects selected the entire block as one of the five best residential “buildings” in the city.