Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: Tracking Down the Oldest House In Sea Cliff

Here at the Front Steps we remain persistently divided over whether or not Sea Cliff is really part of the Richmond.

But we still like writing about it anyway, because it is after all such a singular redoubt, how can we resist?

That being the case, this new listing for an overwhelming $39 million home on 25th Avenue couldn’t help but catch our eye, claiming as it does that “Before there was a Sea Cliff neighborhood, there was 1 25th.”

Now you just know we’ve won’t be able to resist fact-checking a sentence like that. Well, according to the SF Assessor’s office, this property dates to 1909; truth be known though, those assessor records can be very spotty when it comes to things like dates on century-old homes.

Aggregate sites like Zillow peg the date of this house to 1917–but Zillow is even worse for historical records than the city is, as their automated process mindlessly scrapes errors from elsewhere on the Internet without anyone around to verify.

This distinction turns out to be very important for us, because historians date the founding of Sea Cliff to 1913.

Not every neighborhood has a specific founding date, but Sea Cliff is special (or weird, depending on your point of view), being one of the city’s “residence park” gimmicks of the early 20th century.

According to the SF Planning Department, resident parks were “an early 20th century form of housing development […] also known as ‘garden suburbs,'” intended to rebuild large swaths of earthquake-devastated San Francisco or to develop historically fallow tracts of land in creative and daring ways.

The results were…mixed. To this day, pretty much everyone likes neighborhoods like Forest Hill, Jordan Park, and Ingleside Terrace just fine, but they don’t really stand out as marked residential renovations. Places like St Francis Wood and Sea Cliff remain much more distinctive, but the primary thing that distinguishes them is still just being really, really rich.

In any case, for this historic home to be older than the neighborhood, it’s got to clock in before that crucial 1913 date.

Well, the lucky thing about Sea Cliff is that even before there were any homes here, China Beach and the surrounding cliffs made irresistable subjects for latter-day photographers.

And it only took a little poking around the historic China Beach photos at the Western Neighborhoods Project to come up on this:

Yep. A few details have changed over the years, but that’s clearly this same house. And the date on the photo? You guessed it: 1909. Score one for us and zero for Zillow once again.

Back in 2001 the Noe Valley Voice ran a story on this same property under the headline “The First House In Sea Cliff”; early 20th century San Francisco doctor Phillip King Brown built 1 25th Avenue in the aftermath of the 1906 quake, and philanthropist Phoebe Brown stuck with the family home until she died in 1990.

Phil Bronstein and Sharon Stone bought the place later. The last sale was in 2005 for $13 million–exactly one-third of the new asking price.

Industry leaders in real estate marketing, market data, gossip, and news…theFrontSteps.com

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