The storied Liberty Hill home at 3690 21st Street, which sits on a nearly 6,000-square-foot, camouflaged corner lot and was built as a party/guest house for San Francisco Mayor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph in 1930, was purchased by Frederick Roeber, who was a graduate of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a Caltech staff scientist and a named inventor on a number of Google’s search engine patents, for $4.3 million in 2008.

Roeber spent another $8 million restoring, upgrading and expanding the now 4,700-square-foot home. And yes, that’s a hidden passage though the bookcase in the new double-height library and office space (which leads to a further hidden storage room).

Deeded to Caltech after Roeber passed away last year, the home was priced at $11.85 million by Compass and listed this past April. And having been reduced to $9.985 million in mid-May, the “Mayor’s Mansion” has now been on the market for 72 days, 39 of which have been at the reduced list price.

15 thoughts on “Restored “Mayor’s Mansion” Reduced, Still on the Market”
  1. Hmmm: sold for $4.3M in 2008 – that was three presidencies ago – and then “Roeber spent another $8 million restoring”; offered recently for $11.9M – which my First Grade math tells me is less than “cost” – and yet for all that actually reduced.

    Rolph’s theme “Smiles” was known for finding a rhyme for “Waikiki”….wonder what rhymes with “apples-to-apples-loss(big time)”.

    1. By definition, the sale won’t be “apples-to-apples,” even if accounting for the post-purchase investment. That being said, the sale is likely to be at a significant loss relative to the dollars invested, in large part due to the property being restored versus remodeled (in a more contemporary, and less costly, style).

      1. True, but I was thinking more along the line of “Dollar-value(-apples)” It’s the convention used for LIFO purposes for dissimilar inventory. Of course.

        Your mention of the value – versus the cost – of the improvements will be noted: sad to think they seem to matter little to anyone else…”invested” maybe not being the best word.

    2. I don’t understand this line of thinking – Roeber didn’t invest to make a profit, he spent to have what he wanted. His heirs (in this case CalTech) are going to do fine no matter what it sells for. Win, win, win for everyone except those that think homes are for nothing but speculation.

      1. And they’d do even better if the improvements had held more of their value. Is that the wrong way to view it ?? In this case – a [presumably] wealthy owner and a [n I’m assuming] well-off beneficiary – probably, yes. But this is a real estate site – indeed my original point was the (admittedly questionable)* point that this was an example of a declining market – which is frequently unsentimental about such things.

        * At least by some accounts a great deal of the work done wasn’t so much a salute to eclecticism as simple structural work…in which case, perhaps, the “declining market” angle may be more relevant.

  2. I was wondering what became of Sunny Jim’s eclectic house and see that his oceanic theme has been replaced with quasi steampunk classical. Retro futurism?

    A highly personalized remodel like this limits the sales price. I predict yet another remodel.

    1. It’s a magnificent library – made all the sweeter by the irony of it having been done for “the inventor on a number of ‘google’ search engines”! (and not much less so even if he merely restored it). But neither this page, nor the overly elaborate – and remarkably useless 🙁 – realtor’s site linked, seems to address what we all want to know: did the bedroom parquetry survive?

        1. Mon dieu! A grossly exaggerated grain that in the photos looks like plastic. (The phantasy schemes seem like less of a loss)

  3. I always knew I would love this property even inside. So much more character than that cookie-cutters renovations on Dolores Heights!

  4. $10mil for a 2 bedroom with a bad floor plan. I suspect the price might settle a bit before selling.

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