860 Fell Street

Designed by Albert Pissis and built in 1894, the Alamo Square Victorian at 860 Fell Street has been “meticulously renovated and restored” over the past twenty years by its current owners.  Think grand chandeliers, imported French drapery, and woodwork which was painstakingly stripped with dental tools to restore it to its original state.

Listed for $4,095,000 at the end of August and featured on SFGate a few weeks ago, in a piece that noted “the city’s century-old housing stock is one of its major attractions,” the list price for 860 Fell has just been cut by $496,000 to $3,599,000.

As we wrote when we revealed plans to gut the century-old Albert Farr-designed mansion on Pacific which was recently listed for $18 million: “a buyer might choose to keep the home in its current condition…but we wouldn’t bet on it.”

30 thoughts on “Renovated, Restored And Reduced $500K”
  1. “meticulously renovated and restored” – by Liberace?

    One could undo most of this monstrosity by yanking down the drapes, painting over that gold trim, and replacing the chandeliers with decent lights. I like this area a lot, but I don;t think I’d want to pay that kind of money to live right on Fell Street.

  2. Renovated and restored: Too gaudy. Paint it white.
    Modernized: Too ikea. Why’d you paint it white?
    Come on people.

  3. So, question – is that what people want when they bitch and moan about a place like Pincus’ Broadway home being gutted and turned into a white box? ‘Cause this just looks god-awful. Who are they trying to appeal to here?

  4. House doesn’t come with the furniture, and the drapes can be removed. What’s left is some very nice details, yes, even the chandeliers, that would play well with even modern furniture, as seen in Europe where they very nicely juxtapose a few pieces of very modern furniture in some very classic, sometimes even medieval rooms.

    That said, even if this decor is not one’s taste, one can appreciate the quality. One can walk into a nice French chateau decorated to the max, appreciate it, even enjoy it for a day or two if lucky, not think about destroying it, and then return to one’s own super modern loft. Yes, if one buys it, one can do whatever wants with it, but it just sometimes feels like someone marrying someone and then proceeding to have them change their hair color, job, friends, etc. I mean, sheesh, if that’s not what you wanted, then don’t get it and then ruin it. They don’t make any more Alamo Square Victorians anymore.

    1. A house isn’t a person. A house doesn’t have feelings. You don’t have to ask the house permission to make changes. You don’t have to ask the previous owners. You don’t have to ask the original architect. In my own house, yes, I am trying to complement the original architectural style and “undo” some of the previous renovations. But I don’t think there’s any moral dimension to it.

      1. Are you serious? Have you ever considered anyone but yourself

        Then, there would be no moral outrage to gut the Louvre and replace the interior with ill proportioned rooms.

        And by the way, economically you err–the public has value on the house interior–it just takes legislation to bring it into play–think Prop M

  5. Jenofla has the right idea. The furniture will not be there when the new owner moves in. The curtains are excessive, even by the standards of the very rich, as they are made to evoke a Victorian era which never was quite so effusive. Then the new owner will probably find that most of the wall and ceiling decoration is acceptable, and that which is not can be changed. They are selling a true SF Victorian house that has been modernized in many useful ways. Only someone who finds High Victorian SF appealing should consider this house. There are many later Victorian houses, especially the so-called big boxy ones, starting in the 1890s which are closer to modern floor plans and tastes, while still historical and comfortable. Such as the Pincus house, which is Arts & Crafts of a highly refined taste.

  6. Agree with Jenofla and Conifer. Take-out the drapes, light blue wallpaper, and contents. Refurnish in a more understated style and this place could be lovely. It would be a shame to white-box this place.

  7. @Woolie:
    There *is* a moral dimension to it. We need to stop living as if everything is disposable. If someone wants to live in a white box, then they should buy a white box. Posterity will not look kindly on this bunch of people whose bank accounts are out of proportion with their sense of taste and social resposibility.

    In France, owners of old homes are considered to be their temporary care-takers. None of us will live forever. Ownership does not confer the right to destroy.

    1. What about someone who wants to live in a specific part of the city, where there don’t happen to be any homes at all (much less on the market) in the interior style that person wants? They have to go live somewhere else because other people who are not themselves owners or potential buyers of the house in question have moral authority over the process?

      Take the Pincus house as an example. Not too many homes with those views in SF; even fewer on the market at any given time. Is the price of admission really that the buyer, in addition to shelling out $18M, must live in a dark wooden cavern? Because you (and supposedly “posterity”) prefer that someone else’s house remain that way forever?

      I do understand the urge. Everyone who hosteled around Europe in/after college is impressed by old city centers with 500 year-old structures interspersed with more modern buildings (though really, we’re just talking now about interiors that none of us is ever going to see in person). But in a place like SF, where land value generally trumps the value of the structure anyway — at least long-term — an insistent focus on interior preservation seems wrong (and itself exclusionary).

      This whole concern almost unavoidably comes off as classist (your comment is overtly so). Old-money neighborhoods that have been established as prestigious for a century are (a) the most likely to have prime geo-topographical locations and (b) the least likely to have “white boxes”/however-you-want-to-class-anything-contemporary. The conclusion is that people who have those tastes either need to change and conform to the old-money/100-year-old tastes, or find a wholly different neighborhood to live in.

      1. @Shza,
        For over 100 years, generations of homeowners have been able to live in these homes with maintenance and careful updating. The fact that these old homes exist now in generally authentic condition shows that people over many many years have been very happy to purchase and live in these homes substantially as designed. I am not suggesting that anyone do without modern appliances or central heating.

        Now, suddenly, a group of instant multi-millionaires feel that they can’t live in these homes without destroying much of their historical character. Cultural locusts. If the money dries-up here, they’ll move-on to some other city and leave-us with their wreckage.

        This is not much different from the destruction of the Victorian housing stock (admittedly in need of attention) in predominantly African American areas of The Fillmore during the 1960s. Done in the name of Urban Renewal and replaced with development that has not stood the test of time.

        There is nothing “classist” about this. The idea that The Market is Never Wrong has not only been proven to be incorrect, it is an only slightly less offensive way of saying “might makes right”.

    2. Buildings are built and rebuilt according to their owners needs. Tastes in floor plans change. Furniture changes. Design trends change. Family sizes change. Safety codes change. All buildings are in a constantly changing state between renewal and demolition. No building will last forever; without constant care, they waste away and collapse to ruins.

      1. @Woolie–Nothing in your comment supports the demolition of irreplacable cultural resources. I’m all in favor of “constant care” for older buildings. Gutting the interior to change the character of the building is not constant care.

        Please explain how gutting the detailing from the interior of a Victorian home is necessary to comply with safety codes or to accommodate families of different sizes. As far as I can tell, family sizes have been getting smaller but houses are getting bigger. And I am curious to understand how ripping-out period detailing prevents buildings from “collaps[ing] to ruins”.

        As you say, “no building will last forever”. But, in the great cities of Europe, homes and other buildings have been known to remain in continued use for centuries with continued maintenance and sensitive modernization.

        Someone commented on this blog recently that these beautiful older buildings should be photographed for posterity and then disposed of according to the wishes of their temporary owners. In the future, people will look at the photographs and want to know why they were destroyed.

    3. shza is exactly right. And it’s not just a matter of taste, although owners have the right to inject whatever “taste” they feel is appropriate and are not forever bound to stick with the arbitrary decisions made by someone 100 years ago. A lot depended on practicalities that are simply inapplicable now. For example, a lot of victorians were chopped up into many tiny rooms so that you could close off the ones you were not in and just heat the smallest footage possible. They did not choose many tiny rooms out of a sense of taste. But modern HVAC systems are far more efficient, and we can open up spaces now, which most people prefer.

      The place we bought a few years ago (1897 vic) had been gutted, expanded, and opened up by the prior owner. They did a great job. We never would have bought it had they kept the tiny, chopped-up original lay-out.

      Yeah, some europeans keep a small number of very old places as a permanent museum. Not that many do, and it is not a superior choice.

      1. “arbitrary decisions made by someone 100 years ago.”

        This home was designed by Albert Pissis, generally considered to be one of the greatest architects in the history of San Francisco. Great design tends to stand the test of time. Which specific features of *this* home are no longer workable for the needs of modern families and require white-box treatment?

      2. Perhaps we should set up a small government “taste” committee – you could be an unelected member – who reviews all remodeling plans and gives them a thumbs up or thumbs down based on their arbitrary sensibilities. If the remodel is to open up small rooms, I guess it’s a thumbs up, as long as it is not painted white. If it would affect a home designed by someone whom one arbitrarily deigns to be a great architect, then thumbs down. So, would this committee have “allowed” the awful “man in the iron mask” monstrosity that currently is in place here?

        Or, alternatively, we could let the actual owner of the home make these decisions.

        1. Nothing “arbitrary” about the statement that Pissis was a great architect.

          Morally, I believe that someone who wants to own a home designed by a widely acclaimed master (be it Albert Pissis or Frank Lloyd Wright) should be prepared to care for it properly. Having the money to buy a Rembrant or a Picasso and paint-in a mustache doesn’t make it right. Others may disagree.

  8. Horrible interior decoration, but basically a great old home. You can change the place to your liking. I think this place is not moving because it’s on the Fell Street Freeway.

  9. Not my style but I really appreciate that they didn’t gut the heart and soul like all the other “rehabs” in town. Nice craftsmanship. And yes, you can buy your own drapes.

  10. I think houses on the one-way freeway streets have always sold at some discount, Pinebush, Franklin/Gough, and Felloak. That does not diminish the quality of the interior of this fine house.

    1. I know this comment was intended to be irony, but except for the floor staining, I agree that all of these steps would be an improvement. But the walls need to be “swiss coffee.” That said, this place, on busy Fell Street, isn’t going to fetch 110% of the recent asking no matter what they do to improve the cosmetics. Either the realtor or the sellers are not being realistic on this one.

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