The Uninhabited House

Historical Essay

by Anne Bloomfield and Arthur Bloomfield

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The Ellinwood mansion at 2799 Pacific, a textbook Colonial Revival hunk complete with what was originally a barn with “eyelid” dormer and hay door, came for many years as close as any residence in this series to the category Haunted House.

Illustration: Kit Haskell

Dating from 1893-94, 2799 is one of the earliest houses built on the particular Pacific Heights crest centered at and around the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Divisadero. A cable car lumbering up Pacific had paved the way.

It’s a very balustradey affair, this house—note the angled or rounded balustrades on at least three levels, right up to widow’s walk altitude—and that comes as no surprise to history buffs when they’re told the architect of the Ellinwood mansion was J. Eugene Freeman, author of Oakland’s similarly endowed Dunsmuir House, that imposing landmark standing in its meadow at the foot of the East Bay hills.

By the way, the Connecticut-born Freeman lived in Pacific Heights, not far from his Ellinwood creation, and achieved the age of ninety-five.

The Pacific Avenue elevation of 2799 boasts an elaborate central portico accessed asymmetrically from the west. Above it a pair of oval windows in pointy surrounds suggest inflated hand mirrors transferred miraculously from some giant dressing table. Meanwhile the entire west elevation running down Divisadero toward Jackson Street is supported by a stone retaining wall above which sits the “barn,” which has graduated (new owners have elaborately remodeled the property) to a trendier, less rustic status.

All this summit luxe was designed for Welshman Dr. Charles Ellinwood (1834–1917), a Civil War surgeon who was an early member of the U.S. Public Health Service and founded the Marine Hospital in the Presidio. In due course he became professor of physiology and later the president of Cooper Medical College, the predecessor of Stanford Medical School in the Dickensian Gothic structure at Sacramento and Webster Streets that was only demolished about 1970.

Reprinted from Gables and Fables: A Portrait of San Francisco’s Pacific Heights by Anne Bloomfield and Arthur Bloomfield. Illustrations by Kit Haskell. [1]

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© 2007. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California.