Remembering Norm Larson, Benefactor Of The Doolan-Larson Home

Remembering Norm Larson, Benefactor Of The Doolan-Larson Home
Photo: Chris Michel/SF Heritage
By Camden Avery - Published on March 05, 2018.

Norman Larson, a man who literally lived at the epicenter of Haight-Ashbury history, passed away last month at the age of 80. 

A fourth-generation San Franciscan by birth and a landlord by happenstance, he was so devoted to the area's history, he bequeathed the Doolan-Larson building at the corner of Haight and Ashbury to San Francisco Heritage "to preserve the rich history for others to experience for years to come."

In 1980, Larson bought the Doolan-Larson Residence and Storefronts (1500 Haight St.), an apartment house and storefront that occupies the northwest corner of Haight and Ashbury.

The Doolan-Larson Home, a San Francisco and national registered landmark. | photo: camden avery/hoodline

The building, a wood-frame colonial revival structure erected in 1903 as an apartment house called The Evelyn—and lifted in 1907 to allow the addition of ground-floor storefronts—was restored under Larson's custodianship to appear as it did between 1907 and 1969. 

While he lived at the site, which became his home in 1985, the building became both a city landmark and a national registered historic place.

According to the city's notes on the building, from 1965 to 1968, it housed the Mnasidika Boutique, a vintage clothing shop that was "highly instrumental in the development of the Haight-Ashbury as a hippie enclave."

Mnasidika, named after a lover of Sappho, was one of the area's first vintage clothing stores and a cornerstone of LGBTQ history—owner Peggy Caserta was the onetime lover of 1960s icon Janis Joplin.

A hundred years ago, liquor wholesaler Max Goldman held the space; during Prohibition in 1923, he converted it to a shop that sold malt extract, but it was raided by police who observed "unusually brisk" business, reported The Chronicle. Although liquor hasn't been poured for nearly a century, original saloon windows are still visible on the Ashbury Street side.

Thirty years later, it was a jeweler's shop, but owner Alexander Holcombe was arrested in 1958 for being an alleged fence for the Ivy League burglar, who purloined hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen goods. Holcombe held the space until the 1980s. 

SF Heritage will host a public community memorial for Larson late this spring, with details to come.