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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tourism For Locals: McElroy Octagon House a Gem of Archtitectual Experimentation

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 12:00 PM

An eight-sided beauty now available in powder blue! - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • An eight-sided beauty now available in powder blue!

San Franciscans aren't strangers to eclectic architecture, and we at SF Weekly have made an earnest effort to highlight some of those hidden gems.

From the historic Spreckles' Mansion currently obstructed by Danielle Steel's bush to the private beach front home invoking the primary color art of Piet Mondrian, we have made it clear our disdain for the cliche attraction to the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square (The Full House houses) is deep and we much rather prefer the unique (aka authentically San Franciscan).

This week we highlight another home that quite frankly leaves us a bit bumfuzzled as it was an early experiment of Americana feng shui during the mid 1800s. At the time, there was a theory proposing that the most productive and intellectual of people didn't live inside a cramped boxy homes, but lived in a residence with more room.

The solution? Add four more sides to the floor plan.

The McElroy Octagon House is a historic residence located at 2645 Gough at Union in Cow Hollow; and this Nairobi blue house is one of only two octagon homes constructed in San Francisco during this now long-dead fad.

Also known as the Colonial Dames Octagon House, the two-story building was built in 1861 by architect William C. McElroy during a time when the nation worried about how the shapes of rooms and the interior decor could benefit or hinder human mental development.

  • San Francisco City Guides
  • Floor Plan.

Orson Squire Fowler, a phrenologist and lecturer, popularized this design of homes in his seminars/classes because the shape would allow more space and light to enter the home to stimulate intellectual growth and longevity, thus, making these the homes of the future. According to Fowler, a circle was the most efficient shape, but difficult to build and awkward to furnish, so making the octagon was a sensible approximation.

He became so influential that houses with an eight-sided floor plans began to be erected and constructed throughout the nation. Only a few thousand remain intact to this day and in San Francisco the only other example is the Feusier Octagon House in Nob Hill.

The McElroy Octagon House was a private residence up until the 1920s, and then where it remained vacant until 1951 when it purchased by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, California chapter. The organization promotes national heritage awareness through historic preservation and educational projects, according to tour information available on site.

The Colonial Dames moved this octagon house to the opposite side of the street onto a vacant lot and restored the home to its original grandeur and converted it into a free museum for the general public.

In 1968, Octagon House was designated an Octagon House, San Francisco Historical Landmark by the City of San Francisco, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

When visiting don't feel compelled to stay inside, which actually can feel quite stuffy at times when there is a high flow of visitors. Instead try the expansive outdoor garden area and nibble on some snacks. We'd like to think that the positive feng shui affect would influence one outside the home as well.

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

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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