Our house

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We are very fortunate to live in a wonderful house (560 29th Street) in a city we love (San Francisco). This page gives some history of the house (just called "560" below) and its residents based on 2017-2018 online detective work (details here), starting from very helpful San Francisco Public Library online resources and census records. Only three families have lived in 560 in its 110 year history: Nichols 1908-1923, Sichel/Richardson 1924-1979, and Ness 1980-present.

My Upper Noe page contains photographs of our neighborhood from 1890 (when the block across the street was the Mitchell dairy) to present.

This page is dedicated to George Nichols (at right; see below). I'm sorry he did not live to enjoy a long and happy life with his wife and kids at 560.

Click on any image to view full resolution version, then use the back button on your browser to return.


Parcel maps



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José Noé receives a large land grant Rancho San Miguel in 1845 (before the Gold Rush) and sells part of it to John Meirs Horner in 1853 (soon after the Gold Rush). Horner plats the land into rectangular blocks and lots, intending to develop it as a residential San Francisco suburb called Horner's Addition on a fascinating 1854 map. Horner's Addition includes most of present-day Noe Valley. The street layout on this map is theoretical rather than actual, but large portions correspond to the present, although only some of Horner's street names survive. Our city block is Horner's Addition block 170 (from 29th to Valley and Noe to Castro now, from Dale to Valley and Pearl to Diamond on the map). Here's the Horner's Addition portion of the 1854 map (with west at top), an inset showing proposed subdivision of a generic 560'x228' block into 44 25'x114' lots, and the eastern part of block 170 (at the western edge of the map, so shown only in part).



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Because of the hilly terrain, remote location, and economic issues, actual development over the ensuing decades is very slow, especially on very steep hills. Bird's-eye-view lithographs of San Francisco by G.H. Goddard in 1868 and 1876 show the early development of Noe Valley. These detailed views look east across Upper Noe toward Mission Street (top left to middle right). The 1876 view shows the Italian Hospital (middle toward the bottom).



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The 1886 Sanborn insurance map shows Valley does not yet exist west of Noe, the large block 29th/Noe/28th/Castro is occupied solely by the Italian Hospital (ca. 1869-1905), and the Mitchell dairy is the sole occupant of the Day/Noe/29th/Castro block. (Flatter blocks of Upper Noe are more developed.) The hospital's water supply is a well and windmill at what is now 556 29th, with a reservoir at 560 and a pipeline running up the steep hill to a water tank near 28th. The 1890s photo from Red Rock Hill shows the Italian Hospital foreground left; the site of our house would be just below the bottom of the frame.



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The size of block 170 remains unchanged today from the 1854 Horner map. In 1901, Hibernia Savings and Loan Society owns all of block 170 except for two lots at the 29th/Noe corner. Our hilly block slopes down from NW to SE, from the Castro/Valley corner (upper left, elevation 310') to the 29th/Noe corner (lower right, elevation 200'). Not surprisingly, lots at the bottom of the hill sell first. Today (in 2021) the parcel layout is modified from the generic 1854 proposal: the useless 10' alley in the middle of the block is removed and some lots along the north/south streets are rotated 90 degrees. This requires tweaking of some lot sizes, though most lots are still 25'x114'.



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The 1905 Sanborn insurance map shows five buildings on the block, three on Noe and two on 29th (at 546 and 590). 590 at Castro/29th was destroyed by fire, possibly arson, in 1911 (San Francisco Chronicle 04/23/1911). 546 remains as the oldest house on this block of 29th, now with a second story added in 1989. Valley is largely ungraded (noted as "not opened") above Noe. As seen at right, the south side of 29th has more buildings, many related to the Mitchell dairy.



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The block develops rapidly between 1905 and 1910. In 1906 (the year of the great earthquake and fire), Hibernia still owns about half of the block, including 560, but all the lots along Noe and some lots along 29th are subdivided. Several buyers purchase double or triple lots. Marion B. Foster's double (now single lots at 550/552 and 556) is just east of 560.



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By 1909, after the quake, all lot divisions are drawn in and most lots have owners. Emma T. Nichols owns our lot (560), and her uphill neighbor (564) is Jos. Fogarty. The San Francisco Property Information Map database incorrectly lists 560 as built in 1900; the original building permit issued on 10/07/1907, so it was built during the great post-quake building boom (more details under Nichols family below).



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The 1914 Sanborn map shows all of Noe and almost all of both sides of 29th filled in. As the 1915 photo below shows, Castro just north of 29th is partially blocked by an 8' high rock bank; it blocked Castro completely before the 1908 neighborhood project described below.



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This 1915 view north from Billy Goat Hill at 30th/Castro is the earliest photo I've found of our house (detail center). Castro is at left, with (bottom to top) Day/29th/Valley/28th running horizontally. A century later, in 2019: almost all of the houses in the 1915 photo still stand, Castro is graded and paved, trees obscure much of the view.



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The 2017 assessor's parcel map (block 6621) shows only four parcel modifications over the 108 years since 1909: double at 556 subdivided, two at 29th/Noe rewhacked to three, triple at Noe/Valley subdivided, three on Castro merged. Three lots have become two-parcel condos since 2003. This map says "Horner's Add. Blk 171" while the earlier maps say 170, presumably a clerical error. Our house is on lot 17.



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Here's a 2017 Google Maps image of the block with buildings shaded in, the corresponding satellite view, and a zoomed-in satellite view of our house. Google knows everything, of course: the house icon identifies our house (roughly) and the blue dot is where Google thinks I'm sitting as I write this (close but not quite).


The Nichols family



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George F. Nichols (b. June 1859 in CA) marries Emma T. Nichols (b. 1/23/1863 in NY) ca. 1885. The 1880 census and the 1891 Langley Directory identify George as a carpenter, then the 1898 directory lists him as a special policeman. Emma and George live at 425 Banks (in Bernal Heights) from 1892. They have three children, all born in California: Lillian (b. Oct. 1887), David (b. 2/18/1893), and George (b. 12/01/1897). In 1900, they own their house in Bernal free and clear (i.e., without a mortgage).



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