Popping up on the market for the first time in two decades is San Francisco Historic Landmark No.270. Known as the Cowell House and built in 1933, it stands as the city’s earliest known example of the Second Bay Tradition architectural style.
A regional interpretation of International Modernism developed in the Bay Area during the 1930s, it merged the rustic, hand-crafted, woodsy aesthetic of First Bay Tradition architects such as Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan with the sleek Machine Age design and rectilinear forms seen in work produced by vanguard European architects and artists, particularly Bauhaus movement leaders Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Located southwest of the city’s center in the Forest Hill neighborhood, the home was commissioned by Olive Thompson Cowell, a patron of the arts and the founder of San Francisco State University’s International Relations Program. Cowell was also the stepmother of the influential avant-garde composer, pianist, and teacher Henry Cowell, whose protegés included John Cage and Burt Bacharach.
To design the home, Mrs. Cowell hired the husband-and-wife architectural team of Irving and Gertrude Morrow. Irving Morrow is best known for his role in designing the Golden Gate Bridge, while Gertrude, one of the first women to be licensed to practice architecture in the state of California, designed the St. Francis Woods housing tract in San Francisco as well as the Women’s Athletic Club of Oakland. The Morrows were also enthusiastic supporters of modern music, making them the natural choice for the job, as Mrs. Cowell wanted to to provide a setting amenable to her stepson’s musical endeavors and suitable for public performances by him and others in their overlapping artistic circles.
Measuring 3,570 square feet, the redwood-clad residences disperses five bedrooms and four bathrooms throughout four levels. A curved staircase leads from the sidewalk down to the primary entry, which boasts a snazzy curved portico and glass front door with horizontal muntins. On the other side is the impressively expansive and open living/dining room that once hosted concerts and salons. Along with 11-foot-high ceilings and walls covered with stained wood wainscoting and inlaid Japanese grass, it features mahogany floors, built-in bookshelves, a handsome tiled fireplace, and dramatic corner bay windows.
Also on the main level is a study with built-in bookcases and a lengthy galley kitchen with Viking appliances, tile backsplash, and massive windows. Other highlights include sliding glass doors in the bedrooms that open to private balcony decks, copious built-in closets and cabinetry, and fluted glass windows and doors.
The house also comes with a sizable roof deck offering glorious city and mountain views, a decent-sized, if somewhat steeply sloped backyard that’s currently a blank slate, and a two-car garage.
On a 6,586 square-foot lot, the landmark property is listed with Bert Keane of Vanguard Properties at an asking price of $3.7 million.