Koshland House

It was in 1902 that pioneer San Francisco wool merchant Marcus S. Koshland and his wife Corrine (Cora)—the first owner-occupants of 3800 Washington Street—commissioned architect Frank S. Van Trees to design their new home in Presidio Heights modeled after Le Petit Trianon, a stately palace and garden retreat at Versailles that they had admired while vacationing in France.

This expansive structure with twenty-two rooms and nearly 21,000 square feet accommodated the five-member Koshland family: Marcus, Cora and their three children, Daniel, Robert and Margaret. As the 1910 census notes, they employed seven live-in servants that year, whose countries of origin included Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Japan, but only one was a United States citizen.

Mrs. Koshland was a cultivated and noted philanthropist devoted to music, the opera and her synagogue. Every Hannukah from 1928 to 1940, Cantor Reuben Rinder of Temple Emanu-El conducted Jewish musicals in the home. Both Isaac Stern and Yehudhi Menuhin performed there as child prodigies. Marcus Koshland, generous in his patronage of Jewish charities, was a member of both the San Francisco Commercial and Concordia clubs, as well as a trustee of Temple Emanu-El.

The sandstone-faced Koshland Mansion (San Francisco Landmark 95) with its symmetrical squared form, roof with balustrades, and its quartet of soaring Corinthian columns is a stellar replica of its namesake, Le Petit Trianon, designed in 1761 by architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel in the Neoclassical style. Louis XV had it built for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Over a decade later Louis XVI presented it to his wife Marie Antoinette. In a whimsical historical tribute, the Koshlands celebrated the completion of 3800 Washington in 1904 with an elegant Marie Antoinette-themed costume ball; the event’s hand-delivered invitations were printed in Paris.

San Francisco poet, writer, sculptor and artist Bruce Porter (1865–1954) designed the three Art Nouveau stained glass windows on the Maple Street side, as well the estate’s landscaping. (Another two of his windows can be viewed at the Swedenborgian Church at 2701 Lyon Street, San Francisco.)

3800 Washington Street’s interior escaped the 1906 earthquake largely unscathed, but all four of the exterior columns, a huge portion of the cornice and the roof’s balustrade collapsed onto the porch and covered the marble steps with debris. A photo taken shortly after the quake shows the wreckage being loaded onto a horse-drawn cart for removal. An estimated sixty to eighty displaced people—friends and relatives of the Koshlands—took shelter in the mansion. According to the testimony of Daniel Koshland, the guests hauled their drinking water in buckets up from the Presidio. The water of the indoor fountain was used to wash hands; incidentally, it also hosted a school of goldfish!

The mansion’s five-car garage was installed in 1909. Three years later, in 1912, the Koshlands retained decorators Vickery, Atkins and Torrey to plan the greenhouse and the addition above that garage.

After Mrs. Koshland’s death in 1953, the family sold the property to Walter E. and Emily Buck for $100,000. Walter Buck was vice president of the American Distilling Company. The Bucks were the first to redecorate the house by “painting the mahogany library white, removing the dark green, gold-tooled leather from the dining room and developing small card rooms in the basement.”†

The second sale of the house took place in 1975 at a price of $675,000, when a neighbor, Paul Renne purchased the property to prevent its acquisition by developers. In 1982 the house was the setting for the San Francisco Decorator Showcase and in the same year was sold again to gallery owner Heidi Betz in partnership with art collector Charles Pankow for between $1.5 and $2.75 million. It has changed hands several times since then.

†Case Report: Landmark Preservation Advisory Board