The Haas-Lilienthal House has just been declared a "National Treasure," an honor bestowed on the Victorian residence by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The purpose of the designation is to highlight historic and architecturally significant sites across the country. The house is the sole cultural institution in San Francisco to earn the accolade, which comes with perks that may prove vital to the house's future.
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Mike Buhler has been working closely with the National Trust for Historic Preservation for months, benefiting from the organization's unparalleled expertise in heritage tourism and historic stewardship. The executive director of the San Francisco Architectural Heritage, who owns and operates the house, is quick to point out that the city's only Queen Anne-style Victorian open to the public is not on a sustainable path. Site rentals have steeply declined since 2000, and maintenance needs far exceeds revenue from visitors.
This is a distressing trend: Historic house museums in every state are facing a crisis. "We benefit from their national perspective, which pinpoints which approaches have worked across the country, and which have not," Buhler explained. "The trust, in selecting us, hopes to create a replicable model to chart a new path." With the Trust's help, the San Francisco Architectural Heritage team is hard at work on a new business plan that will ensure the house, which faces critical deterioration that must soon be addressed, will be financially viable in the future.
Authentic furniture and artifacts aside, most locals are unaware of the central reason the house earned the National Treasure distinction: The Haas-Lilienthal House is the only tangible link to the domestic life the city's influential Jewish families. In the mid-19th century, most Jewish communities had to adapt to a preexisting power structure, but San Francisco Jewish pioneers built the city's infrastructure and institutions, playing a substantial role in the early development of the American West. Large, recognizable American businesses, including Levi-Strauss and Wells Fargo Bank, can be traced back to the Haas-Lilienthal family. A section of the Contemporary Jewish Museum
's exhibition, "California Dreaming," features the house. Much scholarship on this connection is forthcoming, including the documentary American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco
, which features reenactments filmed at the house.
Now that the Haas-Lilienthal House has been declared a national treasure, let's make sure it isn't unsung by locals. An exciting roster of public programs celebrating the house's cultural, ethnic, religious, and architectural heritage are on the way, including an upcoming Community Free Day on Sunday, October 21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. All ages are welcome, and tours will be led by docents teeming with fun facts to situate visitors in Victorian San Francisco, when any mix of ingredients put in a bottle could be labeled "medicine," including opium, and the city was a hotbed of crime, averaging two murders and six acts of arson a day.
The Haas-Lilienthal House is located at 2007 Franklin (at Washington), S.F. Admission is $8.