Live in a Piece of History at This US$16m San Francisco Mansion

A prominent family built it right after an earthquake — 3 generations later, they’re selling it

by JAMES TARMY / Pic by BLOOMBERG

In 1906, Elizabeth Leslie Meyerfeld married Leon Lazare Roos. Her father, who owned a chain of theatres, promised the couple a new house. Under any circumstance, a new house would be a substantial wedding present.

But given that the newlyweds were in San Francisco, a city that had just seen 56% of its population rendered homeless by an earth-quake and the resultant fire, the area’s real estate was in a particularly acute state of flux.

“This was right after the earthquake,” said Mark Roos, the couple’s grandson. “There was a lot of movement from the Van Ness neighbourhood [which was used as a firebreak during the earthquake] to the Presidio.”

The couple chose a plot of land on Jackson Street. It “was the first house on the block”, Mark said.

After commissioning, then rejecting, an initial set of plans, the elder Rooses — who were both in their early twenties — hired prominent local architect Bernard Maybeck to build a 9,000 sq ft Tudor revival-style house.

Construction of the home, made entirely of redwood (“the basic, available building material of the time”, Mark said), took two years and was achieved for what Mark estimated was “less than US$50,000 (RM214,500)”.

The house has been passed down through generations. A full century later, Mark and his wife Sarah have put the house on the market, listing it with Nina Hatvany for US$16 million.

When the house was completed in 1909, the house had two bedrooms for its owners, as well as staff bedrooms for a chauffeur, upstairs maid, downstairs maid, butler and washer-woman. Staff quarters occupied most of the basement and attic.

The first and second floors were primarily dedicated to entertaining.

When Mark’s grandmother built the house, “she was very engaged in her social life, in the literary and theatrical worlds”, he said. “So, I’m absolutely sure that entertaining was a primary requirement.”

The ground floor has a massive, vaulted ceiling covered in redwood panelling, with a large picture window overlooking San Francisco Bay. There’s also a grand, formal dining room on the same floor.

Once Mark’s father Leslie was born, architect Maybeck was re-enlisted to modify the house. He added an upstairs living room that served as a nursery.

 

Improvements

Maybeck also enclosed several of the house’s porches. “They were less than useful” when open to the elements, Mark said, “given the weather in San Francisco”.

By the 1930s, the house had reached its current size — 10,313 sq ft — with seven bedrooms, six full bathrooms and one half-bath. (Four of the bedrooms have en suite baths.)

Subsequently, there were only minor modifications.

Mark’s father, who was an attorney, married a physician named Jane Schaefer. After her husband’s premature death in the 1960s, Jane became close to her mother-in-law (“they travelled together”, Mark said) and eventually moved into the house to take care of her.

“When my mom moved into the house, we were already in a different sort of world,” said Mark. “So, two major things were done: The garage was changed so that you didn’t have to enter it through a long, narrow drive, which was fine for a chauffeur and not great for a practising physician.

“And the kitchen, which had a separate butler’s pantry, was modified to be one large space with a breakfast room.”

There were a few other tweaks: The laundry room was moved upstairs and bedrooms were shifted, even added to the third floor, for instance. But most of the changes were made so “you could run the house with far fewer people”, Mark said.

Soon after, Mark and his wife, both freshly out of graduate school (Yale University for him, the Massachusetts Institute of Techno-logy for her), moved back to San Francisco and into the house.

They raised their children in the home. Then, when Mark’s mother died in 2016, her will stipulated that the house be sold. “Basically, the family is dispersed, and there are a lot of beneficiaries,” Mark said. “So, it’s time to sell it.”

Prospective buyers will find an interior that’s been updated, but largely unchanged since it was first constructed.

“The clear intention has been to preserve the house and not to change it,” Mark said. The chandeliers in the main room are original, as are most of the house’s ornamental details.

The house is situated so that many of its rooms have unobstructed views of the bay. From the third-floor bedroom on the north side, Mark said, “you can sit in bed and look at the Golden Gate Bridge”.

Despite a century of family memories, Mark — who now lives in his family’s country house in Marin County — said he doesn’t regret putting it on the market.

“It was really wonderful to live there for 30-plus years — and to raise our kids there and to share it with our mom,” he said.

“But we also acknowledge that things change. One has to adapt.” — Bloomberg