1198 Fulton Street At Scott
“Up at Fulton and Scott is a great shambling old Gothic house, a freaking decayed giant, known as The Russian Embassy” Tom Wolfe wrote in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).
The Westerfeld House, designed by Henry Geilfuss, was built in 1889 for banker and candy baron William Westerfeld, one of many prosperous German immigrants who built grand homes in the area around Alamo Square. This great wooden palazzo is a pure expression of the style, Stick Italian Villa, with its tower, square bay windows and strong vertical line.
Among its subsequent owners was John J Mahoney the builder of the Palace Hotel, the St. Francis Hotel, and the open air Greek theater on the campus of the University of California in Berkeley. But by The Summer of Love and The Autumn of Love, like many of San Francisco’s grand but derelict old mansions, its roof leaked and it was home to a commune and it was this commune, Calliope, that Wolfe visited.
San Francisco tour books and tour guides, eager to flaunt The City’s perverse past, have decided that Charles Manson once lived here. He did live in San Francisco, but not here.
But Bobbie Beausoleil did live here just before he joined The Manson Family. He and his buddy Kenneth Anger, also in residence, would spend nights in the tower on the look-out for flying saucers. According to Anger he had “a couple of very good flying saucer sightings.”
The Westerfeld House sits prominently on the northwest corner of Alamo Square Park . Constructed in 1889 at a cost of $9,985, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is San Francisco Landmark Number One.
William Westerfeld, a German-born confectioner, arrived in San Francisco in the 1870s. By the 1880s he had established a chain of bakeries. He hired builder Henry Geilfuss to design for his family of six a 28-room mansion with an adjoining rose garden and carriage house.
When Mr. Westerfeld passed away in 1895, the home was sold to John Mahoney, noted for building at St. Francis and Palace hotels after the 1906 earthquake. Mr. Mahoney replaced the rose garden with flats to meet the city’s dire need for housing. For the next half a century, the house went through as many changes as the City herself.
1928 — A group of Czarist Russians buys the home. They turn the ground floor ballroom into a nightclub called Dark Eyes and use the upper floors for meeting rooms.
1948 — The home is converted into a 14-unit apartment building. For about the next two decades, the units are rented mostly to African-American musicians who play in the neighborhood jazz clubs. John Handy is one of many to call the Westerfeld House his home.
1965 — Charles Fraccia purchases the building to use as a residence but never occupies it. It becomes one of the first hippie communes and is documented in the book the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The Calliope Company, a fifty-member collective, moves in.
1967 — Underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger takes up residence. He films Invocation of My Demon Brother starring Manson family member Bobby BeauSoleil and Anton LeVey and featuring music by Mick Jagger.
1968 — Members of the Family Dog occupy the house while promoting acid rock concerts at the Avalon ballroom. Members of the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company are frequent visitors.
During the 1970s, the first attempts to rehabilitate the building began. Two gay men purchased the home for $45,000 in 1969. Unfortunately they remodeled the fourth floor servants’ quarters beyond recognition. This was the time of urban renewal. The Redevelopment Authority tore down 6,000 Victorian era buildings over a 60 square block area in the Western Addition.
Jim Siegel had admired the building since his childhood; it reminded him of the Addams family house. In 1986 the home came up for sale, and Siegel purchased it. He has since retrofitted the foundation; removed the dropped ceilings; re-wired, re-roofed, and re-plumbed; restored the interior and exterior woodwork and the historic, ground-floor ballroom, and decorated the 25-foot ceiling with period wallpaper crafted by Bradbury & Bradbury.
From 1999 to 2000, Thump Radio used the Westerfeld tower as a recording studio and the ground floor as its headquarters.
Jim Siegel currently lives communally in the Westerfeld House with a circle of long-time friends.