Painted Ladies

San Francisco, California | C.1892

Photo Credit: Cosma

Along with steep hills that would make any manual driver nervous, the City by the Bay is also known for its ladies—-Painted Ladies, that is. Famous for their cheerful colors, this row of seven Victorian homes is one of the most iconic images of San Francisco, though their colorful futures weren’t always so bright. 

Constructed between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, the “Seven Sisters” all display trademarks of the Queen Anne style in their facades. Prominent bay windows were framed by symmetrical columns, with balustrades and brackets sitting alongside “gingerbread house” ornamentation. Before the Great Earthquake of San Francisco in 1905, this sloped row of houses was a part of over 48,000 Victorian homes in the city. 

As these decadently decorated homes began to fall out of favor and into disrepair, the row of houses were all painted a somber “Battleship Gray” in the 1940s due to the surplus of the color from the U.S. Navy, providing a cheap coat of outdoor paint for families who couldn’t afford the upkeep of the grand homes. The Postcard Row, as it’s known today, would sit in a gloomy gray until 1963, when resident and artist Butch Kardum decided to bring color back to his old Victorian. At first taking criticism from neighbors, many began to follow Kardum’s brush, birthing a Colorist movement of repainting all of San Francisco’s Victorian homes in an effort that continues to this day. 

Featured in films, television shows, and 500-piece puzzles, the seven homes on Alamo Square are a trademark of one of the most picturesque views of San Francisco. Surviving earthquakes and a fall out of fashion, these lively living places continue to be a colorful presence amongst the distant city skyline. No Battleship Gray necessary. 

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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