The famed Haas-Lilienthal House is looking extra shiny these days, and thank goodness! As Alice Russell-Shapiro, whose family built the house and lived their for four generations said, “we thought we might have to close it to the public because it wasn’t safe.” Located on Franklin Street at the edge of Pacific Heights, this towering 24 room mansion from the Gilded Age nearly fell victim to the greatest enemies of wooden buildings — old age and dry rot.
The house was built of redwood and oak in 1886 in the Queen Anne style, with turrets, peaked roofs, balconies, and a brick chimney three stories tall. As happens, 130 years took their toll and the place needed serious work. But even in disrepair, this iconic San Francisco mansion remained the grand dame of the city’s Victorian homes.
The house is more than just a pretty face, however. It is also a monument to the radical possibilities the city is famous for. In 1868 a 19-year-old named Wolf (William) Haas landed in San Francisco to seek his fortune. He left Bavaria to escape anti semitism and oppression and came to work as a clerk in the SF grocery his family owned. Eventually he worked his way up to partner in the firm. The company prospered, and in 1880 Haas bought a house for $1,000. By 1886, William and his wife Bertha had done so well they were able to hire architect Peter Schmidt to design the grand mansion that stands today. The building cost $18,000, not including the land. The Haas family led the good life in San Francisco and occupied the mansion for four generations. When Alice Haas Lilienthal died in 1972, the family presented the home to San Francisco Heritage, as a gift of the past to generations to come.
And that’s why San Francisco Heritage raised the $4.3 million necessary to restore its former glory. Now the house gleams with polished wood, sparkling crystal, and all the grand furnishings of yesteryear. Just below the surface there are modern touches too, like updated wiring, and accommodations that make it accessible for people with disabilities. The house is open to public tours Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.