1400 Montgomery Street offers spacious hillside home

San Francisco Chronicle   July 24, 2011

By Nathan Spicer

Custom-built in 1984, this Contemporary home on the 1400 block of San Francisco's Montgomery Street is perched near the top of the Filbert Street Steps, on the steep eastern slope of the historic Telegraph Hill.  The lush plants and trees of Grace Marchant Gardens border three sides of the home, a showcase of roses, flowers, palm trees and banana trees, while Italian stone pines flank the cul-de-sac.

The main residence, 1400 Montgomery St., a three-bedroom, 5.5-bath home, stands out among the foliage in the historic area. The property includes an attached two-bedroom condominium at 1404 Montgomery. The main residence is approximately 4,500 square feet, and the condominium adds approximately 1,000 square feet - an unusually large amount of living space for the area.

The properties in the surrounding area are smaller and vary in both design and purpose.  "You have pre-earthquake, late-1800s fishermen's cottages mixed in with 1960s mid-century-designed apartment buildings," said Joseph Lucier, senior marketer for Sotheby's International Realty. "Most single-family homes on Telegraph Hill are the 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot range, and most condominiums are in the 1,000- to 2000-square-foot range."

The 1400 Montgomery St. home is notable not only for its size and location but also for its layout. The home, which has never been on the market and is being listed at $5.995 million by Sotheby's International Realty, has five levels. The first floor is introduced by a foyer, which leads to a sweeping spiral staircase with a bent-oak banister.

This structure is a staple of the architectural firm Porter and Steinwedell, which designed 1400 Montgomery. Charles Porter and Robert Steinwedell started their firm in 1953 and had studied under another famous architect, Gardner Daily, who was also renowned for incorporating a core spiral staircase.  The home "is indicative of their earlier period," architect Jerry Gere said of Porter and Steinwedell's work, especially the staircase, bay window and sliding glass doors.

A chrome-lined elevator rests on the mezzanine level, lined in distinguished red oak hardwood floors.  "You pull in the garage and walk directly out onto a mezzanine level where the elevator begins," said Joseph Lucier, an agent for Sotheby's International Realty. A door on this level leads to the three-car garage.

One of the home's five terraces is accessible through two sets of sliding glass doors on the third level. Here, the master suite with a private bath sits on the eastern side, and across the spiral staircase is a room that has a wood-burning fireplace with an antique stone mantelpiece and custom shelving on either side.

The fourth level contains a formal dining room and kitchen. The dining room has parquet oak flooring and a large picture window that overlooks the gardens and the Bay. A swinging door leads into the chef's kitchen, complete with white Corian counters and a center island with a breakfast bar, all of which are illuminated by recessed and under-cabinet lighting. The kitchen level also features a breakfast room and solarium.

On the fifth floor is the living room, which "has 10-foot ceilings, a large eastern terrace with views of downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco Bay," Lucier said. "There's an antique, wood-burning fireplace and, of course, the all-important wet bar. It also has a western terrace with views of Coit Tower."

The attached condominium, accessible through a private covered porch and garage, contains two bedrooms, a combined living and dining room, oak flooring, a wood-burning fireplace and a private terrace. The kitchen has seashell-patterned flooring and a pantry.

From 1400 Montgomery, residents can also overlook Pier 27-29, which is where yachts for the 2013 America's Cup will dock. Coit Tower is a block away, and the waterfront is down the steps from the property.

The eastern slope is also protected from San Francisco's coarser climates.  "The eastern slope has the best weather in San Francisco because it blocks the prevailing winds from the Pacific Ocean, so it's calm," Lucier said. "It's all very sunny there. It also has a wonderful, kind of bucolic atmosphere from the surrounding gardens."

Silcox added, "It can be foggy in the Pacific Heights, and it can be eight to 10 degrees warmer on this side of Telegraph Hill.  It's an incredible place to be. I've been very fortunate to live within a block of this house for 25 years."


Inspired Design Enhances Daily Life

By Joseph Lucier

San Francisco has always been known as a city of bold moves, be they social, political, or found in our noteworthy personalities around town, but restraint bordering on insipidity seems too often plague San Francisco's architectural landscape.  Love it or not, fervent opposition is a native trait of the City's residents, but it has been hurdled before to yield landmarks known the world over.  The Transamerica Pyramid, designed by architect William Pereira in 1969, comes quickly to mind as detractors during planning and construction sometimes referred to the design as "Pereira's Prick". John King of the San Francisco Chronicle summed up an improved opinion of the building in 2009 as "an architectural icon of the best sort - one that fits its location and gets better with age."  Yet where is the opposition found today towards “safe bets” that developers deliver to planning and, thus, usher to the marketplace when current economic opportunities could equally fuel cutting edge design, top quality materials, and high caliber construction meant to inspire buyers and residents alike?

This high/low conundrum begs the proverbial question between developers and consumers of who is the chicken and who is the egg.  While we were all Millennials at one point, albeit as Baby Boomers, Gen Xers or Gen Y, who likely entered the market without a well-defined sense of taste, the question remains; can the risk of higher investment for quality materials coupled with exciting architectural design be delivered by developers and applauded by consumers?  In the late 1990’s the architect David Baker and Holliday Development redeveloped the Clock Tower building at 461 2nd Street as uniquely designated “live/work” lofts.  This 1907 building, originally constructed for the Max Schmidt Lithograph Corporation, offered a new product to buyers who excitedly embraced the exposed brick and timber components and were introduced to open plan New York loft living. Not only was the live/work designation tenaciously fought for by the developers, these lofts were cool!  The market responded positively leading to further investor confidence with the 1996 redevelopment of the Oriental Warehouse at 650 Delancey Street, ultimately adding more high quality housing stock of lasting integrity.

David Baker's innovative  clock tower lofts

David Baker's innovative clock tower lofts

Fast forward to 2014 with Stanley Saitowitz’ 8 Octavia Street rising from a triangular lot left bare after the destruction of the Central Freeway.  Saitowitz is a big thinker and a bright spot in the city’s architectural discourse.  He feels that "architecture is a frame, an open field which facilitates the dreams and desires of the inhabitants. In this way architecture can be viewed as an instrument, a way to extend the exuberant parts of life, a tool for liberation." In an ocean of floating milk toast that the SF Planning Department often unwittingly finds itself wading through, 8 Octavia gave the City an opportunity to embrace the shock of the new. DDG's (the developer) investment of economic and intellectual capital paid off hopefully inspiring future sentinel attempts to stave off less inspired designs imposed on residential marketing firms.  With 47 units and a ground floor retail component, 8 Octavia had the ability to spread out risk on the balance sheet, but what is to be done to support San Francisco’s tastemakers burning desire to express a bold move residing on a singular property?

stanley Saitowitz design  at 8 octavia

stanley Saitowitz design at 8 octavia

As the ante moves up in the world of luxury single family home redevelopment, we re-engage the chicken vs. egg paradox with all of the eggs falling into one basket.  I certainly applaud any developer who puts on his investor’s cap to accurately assess the economic factors and consumer tastes required to make a profit, but tastemakers must unflaggingly resolve the uncertainty of being rewarded for a project that rigorously takes on new design theory, uses exotic (and expensive) materials, and boldly informs the market on what THEY consider important. Do we really have to see yet another $8mm+ spec house with a bowling ball plan entertaining level punctuated with a Carrera marble kitchen island leading to a wall of glass Nano doors with no sense of progression, no mystery, and therefore, no true allure and passion? Please say no!  Real estate agents wave their hand to the tune of hundreds of thousands of additional dollars saying that the developer “offers a blank canvas” for the new buyer to make the property their own.  Let us encourage developers to play offense and personally take on these blank canvases instead of kicking them down the road to the marketplace.

uninspired formula  developer product delivered to 2015 market

uninspired formula developer product delivered to 2015 market

I believe there is a market for the tastemakers who are willing to risk investment and inform San Franciscan's on what is chic and how inspired design can enhance daily life.  Baker and Saitowitz have shown that we collectively await developers willing to show us what can be and what we can embrace.  Developers willing to harness the winds of innovation, creativity, and technology, the true lifeblood of the San Francisco Bay Area, will be patiently rewarded by those seeking the allusive framework of high quality design and construction during these interesting times.