In 1852 Captain Andrews built his home on the Eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, on this perch for a direct view of ships sailing into the shipyards below. The home remains virtually unchanged as later photographs show, neighboring homes disappearing, steep streets being graded over the hills, Coit Tower rising, and a forest of skyscrapers growing in the distance.
31 Alta survived the 1906 earthquake and fire under wine-soaked burlap sacks and traded hands several times prior to the 1920’s, when it was purchased by Charles F. Sawvelle and his wife Myrtokleia, or “Myrtle.” Myrtle brought notoriety and excitement to Alta Street by converting the bottom of the home into a speakeasy. Raided by the authorities in February of 1927, Myrtle was arrested for her activities and reported to have said, “No one was disturbing anybody. We are going to start all over again with a tea room and this time there will be no nights in jail.” Her timing couldn’t have been worse for “tea” as the Prohibition landed her in jail again, 90 days later.
The meticulously re-pointed, first floor, brick walls are all on display with an updated wainscot to conceal the new electrical systems. It’s believed they were originally designed by brick masons-who may have been gold miners and the walls were built with raised brick lip at the entire perimeter of the first floor wall, creating a pocket sill plate as an early seismic solution that has stood the test of time.
A 2005 restoration restored a breathtaking original staircase from the first level to the main living level. The custom railing and replacement of balusters was done by a retired Haas woodworker who commented “this is the San Francisco baluster” so called because Haas Woodworking in the East Bay specialized in hand turning that style and providing them to builders in San Francisco in the 1850s.
The exterior redwood siding is original to the home. During the restoration when the siding was recently repainted the only thing that had deteriorated were the hand-cut iron nails. The siding was re-attached with new stainless steel nails, stripped of paint, primed, and repainted. The original plan was to look at the benefits of siding replacement and weigh up whether it would be worth trying to salvage the original siding instead, no choice was the right one, however, choosing to keep the original siding keeps some of the vintage aesthetic of the house.
Sold for $960,000 in 2002 (prior to said renovation). Additional details and images online.
UPDATE: Speaking of the house’s (permit) history and that renovation…
? Listing: 31 Alta Street (3/2) -$3,800,000 [31alta.com] [MLS]