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San Francisco Landmark #260: Tobin House
14 May 2012
(Click Photo to Zoom)
San Francisco Landmark #260
Tobin House
1969 California Street
Built 1915

Willis Polk designed the Tobin House. It is representative of his penchant for medieval English architecture and restrained use of decoration as panaceas for what he deemed the architectural chaos of San Francisco's late nineteenth-century streetscape.

In 1911, Michael H. de Young purchased two lots on the south side of California Street between Gough and Octavia Streets, directly adjacent to his own estate and gave the deeds to two of his daughters, Helen, wife of George E. Cameron, and Constance, wife of Joseph O. Tobin, an executive at Hibernia Bank and member of one of San Francisco's oldest and wealthiest families.

Michael de Young also offered to build homes on these lots for his daughters and their young families, but for years nothing happened. Both the Tobin and Cameron families chose instead to live in affluent towns south of San Francisco.

Michael de Young was the patriarch of one of the most powerful and influential families in San Francisco. He arrived in San Francisco from Baltimore with his mother and brother Charles during the Civil War. The brothers founded the Daily Dramatic Chronicle, which changed its name to the Daily Morning Chronicle, and soon established their dominance in the newspaper industry.

By the 1870s their paper was so influential and widely read that the de Youngs could make or break a politician, policy, business deal, or any other matter of importance in Northern California. Though de Young's editorial policies elicited as much ire as they did new subscribers, his paper had become the mouthpiece for the Republican Party by 1880.

In 1889 M. H. de Young reinforced his newspaper's power by commissioning the first steel-frame sky scraper on the West coast, a ten-story building designed by the Chicago firm of Burnham and Root, and located at the comer of Kearny and Market Streets. He had also accumulated enough wealth to build the family mansion in one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of 1880s San Francisco, at the crest of California Street in the Western Addition.

The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 inspired de Young to spearhead efforts to stage a similar fair in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1894. Not coincidentally, the resultmg Midwinter Fair helped to raise the value of the tracts of land that de Young owned in the largely undeveloped sand dunes to the north and south of the park.

The fair also fueled de Young's passion for collecting all sorts of objects and artwork. In 1916, he built a museum in the middle of Golden Gate Park to house this collection, which can still be viewed at the De Young Museum.

The Tobin House is also National Register Listing #09000806.

Willis Polk

Some buildings designed by Willis Polk:

  • c1890: Eli Sheppard House, 3203 Pacific Avenue
  • 1891: Horatio Livermore House, 40 Florence Street
  • 1891: Batten House, 116 Cherry Street
  • 1892: Williams-Polk House, 1013-1019 Vallejo Street
  • 1892: House at 3203 Pacific Avenue (Remodel)
  • 1893: Valentine Rey House, Belvedere
  • 1894: George W. Gibbs House, 2622 Jackson
  • 1894: William Joliffe House, 2015 Pacific Avenue
  • 1897: William Bourn Mansion, 2550 Webster Street
  • 1898: Wheeler House
  • 1900: Fanny Osborne House, 2319-23 Hyde Street
  • 1900: Albert Ehrman House, 2880 Broadway
  • c1900: Barreda House (Remodel), 2139-41 Buchanan Street
  • 1900: Atkinson-Escher House (Remodel), 1032 Broadway
  • 1900: Lloyd Osborne House, 1100 Lombard Street
  • 1900: One Lombard Street
  • 1900: Wilson Building: 973-977 Market Street
  • 1901: McCullagh-Jones House, Los Gatos
  • 1903: Merchants' Exchange Building, 465 California Street
  • 1904: All Saints' Episcopal Church, 1350 Waller Street
  • 1905-1909: Jessie Street Substation (Remodel), 220 Jessie Street
  • 1906: Flood Mansion (Reconstruction), 1000 California Street
  • 1906: Mills Building (Reconstruction), 220 Montgomery Street
  • 1906: Alvinza Hayward Building (Reconstruction), 400 Montgomery Street
  • 1907: Seldon S. Wright House, 950 Lombard Street
  • 1908: Path of Gold Light Standard, Market
  • 1912: Alice Griffith House, 2820 Pacific Avenue
  • 1912: Merced Manor Reservoir, Sloat Boulevard Between 22nd and 23rd Avenues
  • 1913: S. L. Napthaly House, 2960 Broadway
  • 1913: Insurance Exchange Building, 433 California Street
  • 1913: House at 2880 Broadway
  • 1913: Catherine Hooker House, 3277 Pacific Avenue
  • 1914: Hobart Building, 582 Market Street
  • 1914: Houses at 1-7 Russian Hill Place
  • 1914: Russian Hill Crest Double Access Ramp, Intersection of Vallejo and Jones Streets
  • 1914: Seacliff House #1, 9 Scenic Way
  • 1914: Seacliff House #2, 25 Scenic Way
  • 1914: Seacliff House #3, 45 Scenic Way
  • 1915: Carolands, Hillsborough
  • 1915: Tobin House, 1969 California Street
  • 1916: House at 2233 Lyon
  • 1917: House at 2840 Broadway
  • 1917: Four Townhouses, 831-849 Mason Street
  • 1917: Hallidie Building, 130 Sutter Street
  • 1920: House at 2255 Lyon Street
  • 1922: San Francisco Water Department, 425 Mason Street
  • 1923: Women's City Club Building
  • 1925: Beach Chalet, 1000 Great Highway
  • 1925: Filoli, Woodside
  • 1928: St. Francis Yacht Club
  • 1929: House at 3450 Washington Street
  • 1932: New College of California, 42-58 Fell Street
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