San Francisco’s Painted Ladies: Everything to Know
Easily one of the most recognizable and photographed sights in San Francisco, the “Painted Ladies” have become a staple of The Golden City’s culture and history.
The term was first coined in the book, Painted Ladies: San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians written by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in 1978. Although the homes had been around for some time, their colorfulness was unprecedented throughout most of their history.
This article will help you find out more about these beautiful architectural icons: how they came to be, why they’ve become famous, some interesting details and trivia, and even some travel tips for visiting them yourself.
Table of contents
History of the Painted Ladies
These Victorian homes have been around well before their nickname. Construction of around 48,000 Victorian and Edwardian houses were built in the city between 1849 and 1915.
This large demand was fueled mostly by the Gold Rush of 1849. The population of San Francisco skyrocketed from only 800 all the way to 25,000 in just that year. The city truly hit the ground running!
Historical Color Scheme
The homes were mostly painted in varying shades of white to hide their redwood structure. It is not difficult to imagine the entire city of San Francisco gleaming white under the California sun; like a city of marble.
1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Sadly in 1906, San Francisco was ravaged by a record-breaking earthquake which took 3,000 lives and destroyed about 80% of the city. Most of the Victorian/Edwardian mansions of Nob Hill were destroyed, but the more modest homes on the south and west side were mostly spared.
Why are the Painted Ladies famous?
In 1963, San Francisco artist Butch Kardum painted the exterior of his Victorian-style house with rich green and blue colors. This was following a period after WWII in which many Victorian and Edwardian homes were painted gray using surplus paint from the Navy.
Many of the antique homes were either lost in the historical 1906 earthquake, or remodeled. What followed Kardum’s bold move was his neighbors mimicking his colorful style and thus, the Colorist Movement took off in San Francisco.
Where a charming aspect of the city’s history and architecture was slowly disappearing, the movement injected a new life into the facades and gave us one of The Golden City’s greatest phenomena.
Since then the movement has spread to other American cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Chicago.
Sprinklings of these colorfully-painted Victorian and Edwardian homes can be found all over the city, but it is the row along the eastern side of the Alamo Square Park that have become the most famous.
Perhaps the backdrop of the wide skyline of Downtown offers a photogenic view that is too pretty to resist visiting and taking pictures of. Photos of the homes are a common site on San Francisco postcards and other memorabilia, even adopting the nickname, “Postcard Row”.
They are also sometimes called “The Seven Sisters” due to six of them being so structurally similar, with the bigger “sister” on the north end of the row.
The homes were built between 1892 and 1896 by Matthew Kavanaugh, a San Francisco developer who lived just next door to them.
Does anyone live in the Alamo Square Painted Ladies?
Many people who plan to visit Postcard Row often wonder if they are open for tourist viewings of the interior. All seven of the houses are privately-owned, thus visitors to the homes should do their best to respect the privacy of those within.
That said, at least one resident does offer private tours inside one of the painted ladies.
How much does a Painted Lady cost?
As of 2022, the painted ladies along Alamo Square are estimated to be between $3 and $5 million. When these homes do get listed on the market however, the asking price may be considerably higher.
Which painted lady is the Full House?
Those of you with a keen eye may have noticed something familiar, even possibly nostalgic, about the houses along Postcard Row.
During the music intro of the 1980s-90s sitcom Full House, the Tanner family can be seen enjoying a picnic in the grass of Alamo Square with Postcard Row in the background. Many went on to assume that, within the fiction of the show, the Tanners actually lived on Postcard Row.
However, this is a common misconception. The Tanner home was actually located about a mile north of Alamo Square at 1709 Broderick Street. Many die-hard fans of the show go on pilgrimage to it for some quick photos and bragging rights.
Visiting the Painted Ladies
You can visit the Painted Ladies by navigating to Alamo Square in San Francisco. For a unique experience, book a tour to see the inside of one of these iconic homes.
Although the Seven Sisters on Postcard Row are the most iconic of the city’s Painted Ladies, they can be found almost all over the city.
If you’re up for a little “Victorian expedition”, here are a few other homes and streets that are definitely worth seeing in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood:
- 144-146 Central Avenue
- The “Four Seasons Houses” at the intersection of Waller Street and Masonic Avenue
- The “Grateful Dead House” at 727 Ashbury
Those are some of the most notable sights in the colorful, 60s hippie atmosphere of Haight-Ashbury. And what better way to experience the hippie vibes of Haight-Ashbury then in a vintage Volkswagen bus tour?
San Francisco is a city which has become inseparable from its charming aesthetic and colorful personality. Today it stands as a shining result of its upstart history from the Gold Rush, through its vivid evolutions in the decades following.
The Painted Ladies are standing testaments to San Francisco’s character, and one cannot fully appreciate the Golden City without recognizing the significance of their contribution.
Hopefully, through reading about their story you have come away with a better idea of what makes San Francisco what it is today.
So plan a day, or even half a day, and get out there and get to know the Painted Ladies personally.