Forest Hill Clubhouse: Architecture, History And The Heart Of A Community

Positioned between the Inner Sunset and West Portal, Forest Hill is a quiet neighborhood that once stood on the edge of the vast sand dunes and coastal scrub that characterized the Sunset District. The development of the land began in 1912, and featured wide, easy streets, which allowed for the horses and carriages of the time. With large homes and—to this day—no multi-tenancy buildings or condos, the area is one of only eight master-planned residence parks in San Francisco.

In 1919, the Forest Hill Clubhouse was built to serve as a gathering place for the newly created neighborhood. Membership in the Forest Hill Association still requires that members be title holders to properties in the community, but the Clubhouse hosts various events for non-members, including weekly Boy Scout troop meetings, Council meetings, weddings and the neighborhood's chamber music festival, Forest Hill Musical Days. (We reached out to the association for this story, but did not receive a response.)

The clubhouse is, as the Forest Hill Association website boasts, "one of the finest examples of the Arts and Crafts style," which began in the late 19th century in England. A counterpoint to the mass-produced arts of the Industrial Revolution, it was focused on recalling the quality of traditional craftsmanship. The movement didn’t necessarily have a particular style associated with it, but highlighted the ideas of craftsmanship and simplicity.

The Forest Hill Clubhouse epitomizes this style. Its Great Room, a large two-story space with a mezzanine area, is rich with original woodwork and a high-reaching, wood-beamed ceiling. It still has its original fixtures, including mica lamp shades and a large, brick-surrounded gas fireplace, as well as an antique baby grand piano and some original furniture. The detailed interior and brick patio have made the space a favorite for weddings.

The clubhouse underwent an extensive renovation in 2013, headed by Carey and Co. Inc., an architectural and preservation firm. The makeover equipped the clubhouse with a state-of-the-art catering kitchen and ADA-accessible restrooms.  The Great Room has also had new hardwood floors installed.

The Forest Hill Clubhouse was originally designed by Bernard Maybeck, an American architect who was honored twice in his lifetime by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA). He designed over 150 buildings in California, many of which are in Berkeley, where he resided. In a top-10 AIA poll of the greatest architects this country has produced, Maybeck ranked ninth. 

Maybeck designed a handful of San Francisco buildings; his early creations include a 1909 townhouse in Presidio Heights as well as the Tudor-style Roos House on Jackson Street, which is designated San Francisco Landmark #56. He is best known, however, for the Palace of Fine Arts, which was designed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Pacific International Exposition.

Palace of Fine Arts. Photo: James Walsh/Flickr

Many of the homes Maybeck designed incorporated elaborate features like redwood interiors and large hand-wrought fireplaces.  The clubhouse displays many of the architect's hallmark stylistic traits, including the use of native woods, handcrafted details and integration with the landscape.

The clubhouse has long been the home of the Forest Hill Garden Club, which was established by a group of neighborhood women in 1931. According to the club's website, its original focus was to help “promote the cultivation of flowers in the gardens,” and help the Forest Hill Association with the beautification of the area.

Over the years, the club has hosted fundraisers, organized a Red Cross Production after the Pearl Harbor bombing, and “helped defeat a plan to put a highway through Forest Hill” in the late 1950s. During the 2013 renovation, its members even stored clubhouse possessions at their homes. To this day, the Garden Club continues its role in community service and beautifying the area.

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Forest hill clubhouse architecture history and the heart of a community