Utopian Farmhouse for a Mariner

Historical Essay

by Anne Bloomfield and Arthur Bloomfield

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William Curlett carefully grafted popular Colonial Revival elements onto 2475 Pacific: the porch has Roman Doric columns supporting a proper entablature capped with a Grecian pediment, and the dentil moldings here are also a Colonial Revival trademark, and probably the urns on the roofline as well.

Illustration: Kit Haskell

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When built in approximately 1853, the house anchored a 25-acre dairy farm.

Photo: Chris Carlsson, 2019

Like a proper little lady “of a certain age” the Leale house at 2475 Pacific has left a mysterious trail of clues making it difficult to pinpoint the date it first saw the light of day in this—or nearly this—location. But almost certainly it’s one of the oldest houses still standing in San Francisco.

Or perhaps one should say sitting. Set well above the street, but not rising very high from its perch, it almost seems enthroned. Surrounded by open space, impeccably maintained, it remains a contrast to everything else on its urban, upscale block, including the relatively conventional houses of the Gerstle girls almost opposite. Call it a utopian farmhouse planted in the big city.

Although it looks and probably is very old, the fact is, much of what one sees from the street is later than Victorian and the house is bigger than it looks, with a full basement behind the front shrubbery and an extension deep into the lot.

The entry porch, right-side bay windows and rear extension were added between 1899 and 1913, if one goes by the less-than-annual fire insurance underwriters’ maps that show the “footprints” of buildings.

The family who added the porch, and owned and occupied the house from 1886 to 1964(!), were the Leales, as in Captain John Leale who tells in his Recollections of a Tule Sailor about his thirty-four years as a ferry boat captain.

In more than one hundred and twenty-five thousand round trips across San Francisco Bay he logged over a million miles of passages scheduled at eighteen minutes’ duration. Not bad compared to present-day on-bridge commute time.

The captain’s daughter Marian described him as follows: “Slight of stature, with sharp and piercing dark brown eyes, severe and well-groomed beard and black hair…(he was) punctilious, spartan, commanding, demanding the best of his fellow men at all times and bringing it forth.”

Not a captain of industry like Mortimer Fleishhacker or J. B. Levison across the street, this spartan Leale, but captain of a boat! The fluctuations of nocturnal and matutinal waves were, I suspect, more soothing at times than those of the stock market downtown. In retirement at 2475 Pacific, Leale entertained friends at the back of the garden in a replica of a captain’s cabin built of parts salvaged from various vessels, porthole included.

And that cabin could still be found on the property many years after the good mariner passed on.

Reprinted with permission 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.