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Inside The Francesca, 1922

BY Damion Matthews - March 4, 2009


On April 29, 1922, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article noting that construction was about to begin for The Francesca, a 10-story apartment building atop Nob Hill at the corner of Powell and Sacramento Streets (850 Powell).

The Francesca would contain the ultimate of modern luxuries: private elevators for each apartment, no hallways of any kind, radio phone equipment, incinerators, service elevators, and the best accommodations possible for servants’ quarters. The site would also allow “a wonderful marine view for most of the apartments. ”

Promising to be the “last word in apartments,” the building was designed by three of the most notable architects of the day: Gustave Albert Lansburgh, Kenneth MacDonald, and Maurice C. Couchot.

G. A. Lansburgh is an architect known for his opulent theaters. He built the Loew’s Warfield, the Golden Gate Theatre, the New Orpheum, and the War Memorial Opera House (with Arthur Brown, Jr.), and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, former site of the Academy Awards. He also designed the famous Redwood Room bar at the Clift Hotel, and the Joseph Magnin building, which is now the site of Barney’s.

Kenneth MacDonald designed some of the most impressive residential buildings in San Francisco. He designed Houses 3, 4 and 5 at Presidio Terrace. With George Applegarth, he designed 30 Presidio Terrace (one of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s homes), and 34 Presidio Terrace (former home of Mayor Joseph Alioto), The Clift Hotel, and grandest of them all – the Spreckels Mansion at 2080 Washington (home now to Danielle Steel). A major estate of his in the Pacific Palisades, known as the Villa de Leon, was recently put on the market for $15,000,000.

Maurice Couchot, who was a structural engineer, worked on the Palace of Fine Arts and the Bellevue Club in Oakland among other landmarks. With Kenneth MacDonald, he built the historic Glendale Southern Pacific Railroad Depot and a 10-story hotel at 750 Sutter Street (now known as The Canterbury, it was constructed the same time as The Francesca.)

With such astonishing talents working together on The Francesca, we were thrilled to make a recent visit to one of the building’s penthouse apartments, where we could see how the place has held up since construction was completed in the Spring of 1923. Lansburgh, MacDonald and Couchot should be very pleased with themselves, because the old girl has held up beautifully!

It was a few years ago that TRI Coldwell Banker Realtor, Joel Goodrich, who has sold anywhere from 15 to 20 apartments at The Francesca over the years (he lost count), jumped at the opportunity to buy this penthouse unit the second he heard it was available. Since then, it has been featured in several publications, including both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, but he recently felt it needed to be refreshed with a few changes.

Goodrich tells us that he has seen “a lot of gorgeous remodels,” at The Francesca, and that two of the residences have been featured in Architectural Digest.

When one home went on the market recently— the penthouse that the late K. Hart Smith lived in since the 1960s (his family owned and operated the Mark Hopkins Hotel) – it sold quickly and renovated, to create what will surely be another notable interior.



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