The Hamilton Historic Flyer

Built as a hotel in 1929, converted to condominiums in 1962, and better known for its studios and one-bedrooms, the 3,879 square foot penthouse (#2101) atop The Hamilton (631 O’Farrell) has hit the market asking $4,500,000.

A bit of Hamilton history with respect to how the penthouse came to be:

A wealthy heiress by the name of Marcia McDonald created her fantasy apartment and spared no expense creating this lavish penthouse. As an early buyer, she combined four proposed units on the top floor into one large full-floor unit with its own private elevator access.

631 O'Farrell #2101 Floor Plan

She also expanded the unit outward onto the east and west terraces with a number of non-Art Deco appendages, the grandest being a full-length glass barrel-vaulted solarium held up by imported Greek-style columns. This amazing room when illuminated becomes a beacon in this part of the city. She also added hundreds of thousands of dollars in elaborate finishes.

631 O'Farrell #2101 Solarium

She was not able to finish the unit in her lifetime and never lived there. When her contractor told her she would have to spend another $500,000, she shut the doors and never returned, instead she spent her time in two apartments on the 15th floor…The spectacular unit was finished after her death [four years later] largely according to her original vision and it includes a 360 degree vista of San Francisco and all of it’s major landmarks.

At the other end of the building’s spectrum, the 520 square foot 631 O’Farrell #906 has been asking $275,000 since October 23, down from $299,000 in August.

43 thoughts on “High Atop The Hamilton (631 O’Farrell): Penthouse Listing And History”
  1. Hands down the coolest penthouse in a city with a lot of cool penthouses. But the price? Its not the greatest street scene down below.

  2. wow. that is one amazing architectural gem.
    Clearly a lot of the finishings are for/from a different era, but this place is just amazing.
    And that solarium is to die for.
    I hope that whoever buys this place leaves it pretty much as-is except for maybe changing some paint colors. It would really be a shame to modernize it IMO.
    That said: I think that the closed off DR/Kitchen would be a turnoff to many buyers in this price range. Given the layout, not sure how you could rectify that… maybe opening the DR to the kitchen would help but I doubt it. And not sure most would want to steal space from the master bedroom either. it’d be tough to reconfigure.
    but it’s an awesome place.

  3. This would go for twice what they are asking if were only a couple of blocks up the hill. That said, the views are amazing. Almost the ultimate bachelor pad.

  4. I actually like the location– super urban, very Batman, very NYC. You could have some wild parties here without Nob Hill ladies whining about it.

  5. I love this place – which looks like Donatella’s SF cousin’s crib – and I love the neighborhood and the building. It’s clearly not for everyone, and there are times when you really want this to be a few blocks up the hill.
    I wonder why they went for that style (not criticizing, just wondering). It’s an Art Deco building, and that’s really a Versace-ish fantasy décor. And I wonder whether the not-for-everyone neighborhood will support this kind of valuation.

  6. Not crazy about the interior, but this unit is the real deal. Legitimate, full floor penthouses are scarce in this city, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sell at that price.

  7. Anyone have any idea about the prior sale price? The 2008 tax valuation is under $3M.
    Wonder what the rest of this building is like, given its location.

  8. The mls says it comes with two parking places. All of the other condos in the building are on a wait list since there are only about 30 parking spots for the entire building.
    I have shown many of the other condos in the building through the years because they are so low in price. Great use of the space in the studios because they were designed so that the bed is in an alcove that can be partitioned off.
    Supposedly the building’s systems don’t support dishwashers or washer and dryers in the units. But I have seen some remodels that do have dishwashers.
    My buyers would have purchased if there had been parking available. They felt like the neighborhood was too dicey to be out walking from a nearby parking garage returning late at night. I have to agree.

  9. I live in this building and can help to answer some of the questions. Overall it is a great building with some fantastic social people living here. Our community is a cross section of SF: young, old, straight, gay, couples, singles.
    We have great (sometimes – whole floor) parties!
    (We also offer the lobby, back patio and ballroom as an event rental space to anyone inside or outside the bldg.)
    The neighborhood can grate on your nerves but is changing. As a community we regularily have discussions about our surroundings with the police and supervisors. Most of us are tring to improve our area – we are not the type to sit around and whine.
    The building contains 186 units which are mostly studios. There are two 1-bedrooms per floor and one two bedroom. The corner studios have some of the best views in the city!
    The unit does include leased parking in the basement – the current penthouse owner paid a significant amount of money to jump the line. That being said the parking list is turning over very fast right now – maybe a year to get to the top. This change could be attributed to the economy. But I do know of some residents who have gave up their cars to walk / use the car shares instead.
    The building does have somewhat high dues. Not sure what the dues on the penthouse include but my dues include utilities (water, steam heat, electricity), full time manager, full time maintenance/cleaning staff, 24hr security/doorman, package hold service + reserve fund contribution. We have never had an assesment.
    Over the last 10 years, the owners have spent a lot of money to restore the lobby, back patio, ballroom and 16th roof deck along with the regular maintenace for a 80 yr old bldg. Next month we are adding a gym to the building.
    I belive the unit sold for $2.5 mil around 2000.

  10. That solarium is luscious.
    It just goes to show how ridiculous modern developers are to call their high floor, slightly higher ceiling units “penthouses”.
    This is a penthouse.

  11. @ hamilton resident: Thank you for your post. It’s one of the more informative, least judgmental I’ve read since joining this community. I intend on relocating back to SF (from Newport Beach) in the coming year and as a cash buyer, your lack of snarking inspires me. Thank you for your candid input. I hope that more people realize there are those of us out here that can endure these times and are looking for our next home. Thank you again and to SS.

  12. The HOA is astronomical for such a ‘low amenity’ building. Albeit thats usually what happens when you combine units.

  13. Spectacular! I actually wouldn’t choose this interior from scratch because it’s too “old style” for these days. However this is a slice of old San Francisco. Not too thrilled with the neighborhood, but for that price with that solarium, I’m game (if I were in the market for something), and I would keep it just the way it is… except perhaps do something with the kitchen.

  14. Are the sellers a very fine couple who used to live in one of the cottages in the “village” on the south side of Vallejo Street between Franklin and Gough?

  15. As RSVP pointed out, the penthouse sold for $2.5 mil in the spring of 2000. Before that it sold for $750,000 in 1989.
    I would love to buy a unit in this building; especially a corner unit. I will have to wait a bit longer as there are only 3 units for sale currently, the two described above, and #612.
    For folks that live there currently any guidance on the best floors, best positioned units? I’m assuming that the north facing units other then 7 and 3 may be a bit dark. What floors have obstructed views, 7 and below? Still watching all of them, but trying to get a better idea from those living there. Thanks!

  16. Wow, that is a large amount of McIntosh (power)equipment and huge Martin Logan speakers for that sized theater. If they open the windows, you could hear it a few blocks away.
    I hope they invite the downstairs neighbors for movie night.

  17. to Walsh92663: your welcome. I am tired of all the negative talk on this site, too. There are so many aspects to consider when buying real estate and it is rare to find everything in a single place.
    I am tired of so many people talking negative things about my hood, too. It is a great area to live in. As a female, I have never been put in a difficult situation walking around. I just make sure to be aware of my surrounding and try not to walk alone at midnight.
    Zach – I looked at this building for two years before buying. It is a gem. And then I found out about its fantastic community. I have not had any regrets.
    The best corner unit depends on your lifestyle: sun rise, sun set, downtown view, west view, north light, south light, etc.
    This is the info on units up to the 16 floor where the setbacks change the unit numbers. 02 and 08 are 1-bed, rest are studios.
    unit 15 – SW corner ton of light with southwest view from att park to cathedral hill. plus a bonus sun rise in nov/dec/jan
    unit 16 – SE corner downtown view + sun rise
    unit 02/03 NE corner: downtown view + sun rise
    unit 07/08 NW corner: west view + sun set.
    I would say anything about the 9th floor has a view. Some of the lower units have a view, too
    The west corner units has the best cross ventilation.

  18. Hamilton resident,
    I would like to personally thank-you for your informative and positive e-mail. There is so much negativity in the media, that I am beginning to stop reading this site due to all of the negativity. Your post was also very informative, and I wish more would be. I used to live a few blocks near Hamilton, and actually loved the area. It is real-city living close to shopping, great restaurants, and PUBLIC transportation. My gf and I want to move back from the Marina, which is beautiful, but not very diverse. Any recommendations for 1-bedroom rentals around $2000 or below? Thanks!

  19. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I don’t care for views like this at all – where the Bay and the bridges are far away. For a quarter of the price of this place one could buy a Telegraph Hill home with a postcard view, where you look out at the Marin Headlands and East Bay Hills, not the ugly skyscrapers that have ruined our skyline.
    What is not a matter of personal taste is the price. If the property taxes don’t kill you, the HOA fees will.
    For the cost of the HOA fees alone you could rent an apartment with a better view than this place. It wouldn’t be the same size as this penthouse, but the main selling point on the agent’s very awkward web site and the main appeal to folks commenting here seems to be the view.
    This unit strikes me as a white elephant – interesting to visit or view online, but given the location and the design, a very limited appeal for people actually buying in this price range. It might make more sense to gut it and convert it into two or four units with, as another commentor suggested, a common space for the rest of the building “community” to enjoy.
    At the risk of stating the obvious, this is going to sit on the market, go through the usual price reductions, and still be priced too high and have too many other negatives to sell.

  20. This layout is really bizarre, although much of it seems the fault of the building itself. You can’t get into the 3rd bedroom without going through the solarium, and you can’t get into the 2nd bedroom without going through the library or the bathroom? The master bedroom layout is a bit quirky too.
    Wonder what this would have looked like as 4 small units. Even more bizarre, I’d guess.

  21. My first SF condo was in the Hamilton, an 11th-floor studio with views toward Nob Hill. I’ve lived in many places since then–larger and in better neighborhoods, and on higher floors. But I don’t think I’ve ever liked any of them as much or been happier than in my little place in that building. Many improvements have been made to the Hamilton since I lived there. But even then, it was a great place. I miss it.

  22. This really is a great building with a fun mix of folks living here along with 24-hour security, and great maintenance staff! The ballroom, which you can rent, is a fun place to throw parties, weddings, etc. Everyone knows your business, so if you crave privacy, this is good to know.
    You are allowed to have dishwashers if you remodel, but no disposals. Location really is convenient to a lot of things, but the HOA dues are on the high side, going up 6.5 percent in January 2010.
    Be warned the HOA is ruled with an iron fist by its president, his boyfriend, and their good friend, who all sit on the board. The other members on the board seem to do as they’re told, but there are some dissenters among the bunch, which in a democratic society is a good thing. Antics at board meetings keep many people away, as they feel they really don’t have a say in matters of how our money is spent. Pity.

  23. The listing for the penthouse atop the Hamiliton (631 O’Farrell #2101) has just been withdrawn from the MLS after 215 days on the market without a sale.

  24. Briefly back on the market, the listing for the penthouse atop the Hamiliton (631 O’Farrell #2101) has been withdrawn from the MLS once again without a sale.

  25. YIKES! I lived in this building over 20 years ago and sold my unit at a handsome profit. The neighborhood was terrifying back then, and now I can’t even imagine. I wouldn’t want to drive through it. There are something like 30 parking spaces, max, and all rented for years ahead. I was on the 7th floor. There were gaps between the floor and the outside walls. (Pull up the carpet and look for yourself). Place a ball on the outside wall and watch it rapidly roll across the room. This building is not safe! Its feng shui is totally out of whack! I’ve been gone for over 20 years and still have nightmares about this place. Couldn’t wait to get out!

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