Painted Ladies: Enchanted, Historic Houses
I recently came across a photo of a lovely, ornate house painted in about twelve different bright colors. This was the first time I'd ever come across the term “Painted Ladies”, and I found it to be an extremely charming description of the old home. When I began investigating the term, I was quite surprised to see how well known they are. The Painted Ladies of San Francisco are practically a tourist attraction. I can only guess that I've missed out on the phenomena because I don't live near any of the well known areas of interest.
If we're being precise, Wikipedia defines a Painted Lady as a Victorian or Edwardian house painted three or more colors in order to embellish or enhance architectural details. This was a term coined by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larson in their 1978 book, Painted Ladies- San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians. The term caught on, and is now used to describe homes of this style in many cities. That being said, San Francisco remains the most popular location.
The initial trend began in 1849 and continued on until 1915. Almost 50,000 Victorian and Edwardian style homes were built in San Francisco during that time. Many of these were painted in bright and shocking color combinations, to the delight and dismay of many other residents. However, time was not kind to these lovely homes. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed many of the most impressive ones. The majority of those remaining were either destroyed or repainted and remodeled to fit trends of the day. By the 1960's few remained in the original style. However, in 1963, an artist by the name of Bob Kardum repainted his grey home in brilliant shades of blue and green. Once again, the colorful aesthetic was polarizing. Many disliked the flashy colors, but many others were inspired to copy the trend. By the 1970's, Painted Ladies had begun to pop up in neighborhoods all over San Francisco.
The most famous Painted Ladies in San Francisco might be the group of seven homes which sit directly across from Alamo Square Park. It's often called Postcard Row due to the number of postcards, prints and other paraphanalia that show a picturesque view of the colorful homes. It's also commonly, but mistakenly, believed that the home from Full House is on this street. It's not, but that doesn't stop excited tourists from stopping by to take some pictures. The constant bustle and scrutiny of tourists and passersby may be one reason why one of the corner residents moved out this past June, selling the house for a cool $3.1 million.
San Francisco isn't the only home to these lovely buildings though. While I'm sure that they can be found individually throughout the country, there also a few hubs which, much like Postcard Row, are well known for groups of the Painted Ladies. Charles Village in Baltimore is another well known area for these homes.
Lafayette Square in St. Louis:
Cape May, New Jersey:
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of Painted Ladies, but it does demonstrate how widespread and beloved they are. If you happen to live near any of these locations, or near any other Painted Ladies which didn't make it to the list, I encourage you to go take a look. Respectfully, of course. On top of being historical icons, they're just a lovely a cheerful sight to enjoy.
Also, if you're interested in Painted Ladies, here are a couple books that you might like:
- Painted Ladies- San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larson
-Victorian Wooden and Brick Houses with Details by A.J. Blicknell & co.
-Victorian Glory in San Francisco and the Bay Area by Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister
-Cape May's Gingerbread Gems by Tina Skinner and Bruce Waters
-New Orleans Streets: A Walker's Guide to Neighborhood Architecture by R. Bruno and Walter Isaacson