Hunken House

Perched high on 20th Street is this wonderful Fernando Nelson house, built in 1895 in the Stick Style—from the 1880s onward this was a popular architectural choice for homes in a rapidly growing San Francisco. It was designed as a two-family residence and has essentially retained this configuration. While there was a great deal of residential turnover throughout its early history, 4235 20th Street has finally found devoted long-term owners, which accounts for its current excellent state of preservation, including the just recently completed exterior painting and new garage doors.

Features of the Stick Style include an emphasis on the vertical as well as three-sided rectangular bay windows, which were more economical to produce than the previous decade’s five-sided bays. Moving away from the Classical and Neo-Classical forms—such as columns and acanthus leaves—that had adorned the preceding Italianate Style, these homes were further enriched with mass-produced but imaginative ornamental motifs and intricate redwood trims that were exuberantly applied to their straight structural lines.

The architect Nelson designed and named several signature details for his Stick houses, contracting with Townley Brothers Mills to produce them in quantity. Among his favorites were a long row of open-centered circles that he called “doughnuts” and a “button board” of circles on a raised plank that were nailed plentifully onto the more standardized forms of windows, doors and facades. See if you can find these fanciful details here!

The first residents on record are Heinrich and Inge Hunken, German immigrants who inhabited the unit at Number 4235 from 1897 to 1905. The next known owners were Frank and Mollie Halpin who lived in the lower unit until 1917, afterwards moving upstairs. Subsequent owners Antonio and Elvira Sernio then sold the property to David and Anna Langer in 1927. After only one year, the Langers passed it on to buyer Percival Brown, who was employed by the San Francisco Municipal Railroad. But he stayed in place for fully sixty-four years, living with his aging mother and his brother Luther until their respective deaths in 1943 and 1971. His sister Gladys and brother-in-law Ivan Wood occupied the upper unit with their children until the last of the parents died in 1980. Mr. Brown left the upper unit vacant during his waning years, while he resided alone in the lower unit until his demise in February 1991 at the age of 92.

House history research and text by Randall Laroche and Jim Warshell. Printed program writing and editing by Tamara Hill. Edited for the web by Jason Allen-Rouman