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Friday, October 5, 2012

Recent Acquisitions: Two-Story Dollhouse Isn't Child's Play

Posted By on Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Notice the gun on the vanity chair? Things got real in the Haas-Lilienthal house.
  • Notice the gun on the vanity chair? Things got real in the Haas-Lilienthal house.
Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds every Friday.

Is a dollhouse from 1890 considered a recent acquisition? Yes, if this dollhouse just happens to be in a house built in 1886.

The impressive, two-story dollhouse is now considered an artifact, displayed in a room Bertha Haas' personal maid, Martha Ivanoff, once called her own, but it was originally kept in the attic of the Haas-Lilienthal House. Built in 1886 for William and Bertha Haas, the very same attic is now home to the offices of the San Francisco Architectural Heritage. In these rooms, the important work of preservation and education is done, but in the late 1890s those spaces were called home by most of the Haas servants, including a laundryman, cook, upstairs maid, second maid, waitress, and at times, a nursemaid.

See also:

Musem of Craft and Folk Art Closes Forever in December
Recent Acquisitions archives

Florine, Charles, and Alice Haas
  • Florine, Charles, and Alice Haas

A census from 1900 lists seven servants hailing from France to China, but Mortan Vrang, the longtime chauffer of the Haas family who built the dollhouse, was not among them. Vrang had his own house in Forest Hills, but he too spent much time in the attic where the Haas children, Florine, Charles, and Alice, used the space between the bedrooms to play. The dollhouse Vrang built for Alice when she was just five years old stayed there for nearly 40 years alongside a later addition, a Lionel train set Vrag built for Billy, Alice's nephew.

Alice and Samuel on their wedding day.
  • Alice and Samuel on their wedding day.

Vrang followed Charles Haas when he traded San Francisco for Atherton, where both he and his wife would soon meet their end. Charles was widowed by Fanny Stern Haas in 1920, and by 1927 son Billy and daughter Madeleine were orphans. Charles' younger sister Alice has since married Samuel Lilienthal and moved into her childhood home. Upon hearing of her brother's death, Alice sent for her his children to raise alongside her own, Ernest, Elizabeth, and Frances. While Vrang escorted them back to the Bay Area, Alice got to work renovating the garage wing of the house, depending on designer Gardener Dailey to accommodate her newly enlarged family.

The dollhouse's second floor sitting room.
  • The dollhouse's second floor sitting room.

Vrang stayed on to watch the dollhouse he built for Alice passed down to the next generation, to her eldest daughter Elizabeth, niece Madeleine, and finally to youngest Lilienthal, Frances.

The dollhouse's bathroom.
  • The dollhouse's bathroom.

The house is filled with Victorian era décor and furniture, much like the Queen Anne-style house it has always lived in, which remains San Francisco's only intact Victorian era home that is open as a museum. The details are charming and vast, speaking to an era during which it was enjoyed. Tiny playing cards and Chinese checkers are there to entertain the dolls, and the sugar and salt canisters in the kitchen reflect the family's German heritage, marked "Zugar" and "Salz." The girls each left a personal mark, including Elizabeth, who made a miniature doily using pins as knitting needs.


The dollhouse can be seen during the tour on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. On October 21, 2012 admission is free.The Haas-Lilienthal House is located at 2007 Franklin (at Washington), S.F.. Visit or call 441-3000 for tour times. Admission is $12.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.

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