Secretly Awesome: the Abner Phelps House

By Andrew Dudley - Published on July 15, 2010.
Did you know that what's believed to be the oldest house in San Francisco sits right here on Oak Street? Well, it's true. Probably.

It's the Abner Phelps House, on Oak just west of Divisadero. Built around 1850 for one Abner Phelps, who served as a colonel in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, (back when wars only lasted two years -Editor), the house has a storied and somewhat ambiguous history. Some folks say it was built in New Orleans, dismantled, shipped here, and reassembled, all at the request of Phelps's homesick Louisiana bride. Others claim its sections were built in Maine and shipped to San Francisco, as supposedly there weren't any sawmills here yet in 1850. And still others insist that researchers discovered California redwood in the building's bones during restoration, thus contradicting the first two theories. WHO CARES? The point is, this house is old! Here's what we do know about it. Phelps had a law office downtown on Montgomery, but apparently wanted to live out in the 'burbs. So he chose a sandy, 160-acre plot of land at the base of Buena Vista Hill, and had a farmhouse built there. He would regularly commute to work on horseback through Hayes Valley, not even once stopping at La Boulange for an Orangina, as neither yet existed. Phelps originally built his house facing Divisadero St, which at the time was a lowly cow path for folks to bring their cattle to and from the Mission, which was then a cow pasture (and still smells like one! -Editor). But as Divisadero evolved into a bustling commercial street, Phelps's house shifted position and orientation a few times. Finally, it ended up in the middle of the block, where it sits today -- so tucked back from Oak street and so incongruous from its neighbors, you might not even realize its historical significance. The house is currently a privately owned historic landmark, and the bottom floor is occupied by a business called All Star Consulting. Sadly, the house is not open for visitors. The Abner Phelps House -- now that's what we call... Secretly Awesome!
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