From the sidewalk, the house at 1266 Hampshire Street that city planners have pegged as possibly the oldest standing home in San Francisco, appears out of place.
“This definitely looks like something you’d see on the East Coast,” said Frank Nolan, a real estate agent for Vanguard Properties, a home development and marketing firm on Mission Street, as he studied a photograph of the home.
The structure is a beige, two-story box with blue trim, basic wooden window frames and an unusually configured roof –- a telltale sign of a 19th-century farmhouse, historians said.
“It’s not a mansion, but in its day it was a substantial structure,” said Jonathan Lammers, an architectural historian in the Mission. “It’s incredibly exciting -– just that [with] the amazing amount of development and redevelopment in San Francisco –- to have this survivor.”
The house was built when the Mission was mostly marshland, a time before the neighborhood was a neighborhood, when pioneers came west chasing the original California dream.
Set back on its lot between 24th and 25th streets and guarded by a black iron gate, the flat-faced structure lacks the ornate sheen of the Mission’s Edwardians, Victorians and 20th-century revivals. It hasn’t been restored –- the exterior has barely been altered, save for a rear addition.
Inside, the house is divided into four units, two on each floor, each with sheetrock walls, kitchen installations and other modern fixtures. A stairwell to accommodate second-floor residents was constructed in the 20th century.
It makes sense that the oldest homes in San Francisco would be nestled in the South Mission, historians said.
The neighborhood south of 20th Street survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. Today it has the widest array of architectural styles of any neighborhood in the city, Weintraub said. Despite its minor additions and lack of the architectural flare so proudly displayed by many of the Mission’s older dwellings, Lammers considers the house “a little treasure.”
Lammers works for Page & Turnbull, the consulting firm hired by the city Planning Department to evaluate roughly 3,800 buildings in the South Mission for their historic significance. The South Mission Historic Survey, completed in September, identified nearly 1,000 buildings as “historic resources” as well as 13 potential historic districts –- clusters of homes sharing a common root.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the homes and the neighborhood, city planners hit the pavement, traversing each block in the survey area, observing architectural patterns, and taking photos of each building. Matt Weintraub, the city planner who led the survey team, recalled spotting the house on Hampshire Street.
“Before I knew anything about it, we picked it out [as historic]…. It confirmed everything [we saw] on first impression,” Weintraub said.
The building’s side-gabled roof slopes at the front and back in a style historians associate with rural pioneer homes that faded away during the 1860s and 1870s, as San Francisco evolved a more urban edge.
If the theories are correct, the home outstrips the Tanforan Cottages at 214 and 220 Dolores near 15th Street as the oldest confirmed home in the city. The cottages are dated to 1853.
The house on Hampshire, historians said, was likely built in 1849 — the year a pair of influential pioneer brothers arrived in San Francisco — or 1850.
Archival maps and city directories indicate that the home originally belonged to John Treat, the brother of George Treat, for whom Treat Avenue was named.
The Treats were born in Maine in the early part of the 19th century and moved to San Francisco in 1849, following a brief stint of military duty at the end of the Mexican-American War.
While historians have been able to track the major milestones in George Treat’s life, notes on John Treat provide only a murky picture of a farmer and landholder who may have died in 1907.
George Treat was a prominent businessman, silver investor and “ardent Abolitionist,” according to a brief biography published by the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. In 1851 he helped found the city’s first Committee of Vigilance, a group of citizens who acted as judge, jury and, notoriously, executioners. He owned a prize horse named Thad Stevens and raced him at the city’s first race track, Pioneer Racing Course, which the Treat brothers helped to establish.
An 1861 city map shows the course occupying an area from what is now Capp Street east to Alabama Street between 24th and 26th streets. Just east of the race track is a tiny rectangular island labeled “Treat.” Another map, from 1870, shows the Treat family name emblazoned over sizable tracts of land in the South Mission and Sunset.
The first clear image of the Treat home as it stands today on Hampshire Street appears on a fire insurance map from 1889. The find narrows the likelihood of error.
“You link all those pieces of evidence together, and unless there’s more than one John Treat, which I didn’t see any others in the city directories, that just wouldn’t be the case,” Weintraub said.
Historians believe the house was lifted and moved about 100 feet east of its original location as streetcar lines were extended into the Mission –- reoriented to comply with a grid-style layout as the neighborhood took shape.
The Treat property was subdivided several times after the 1906 fire and is now 3,070 square feet.
Joey Neal, 25, moved into one of the building’s upper units about five months ago, knowing nothing about its history.
“Oh, that’s why it’s falling apart,” Neal said after hearing the news. A new kitchen and bathroom were installed in her unit shortly before she moved in, but the home’s idiosyncrasies betray its age.
“The whole place leans a little bit,” Neal said. “It’s definitely an old house.”