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Blue streak

Alamo Square and Postcard Row

San Francisco's Six Sisters are Painted Ladies

by Katie Calvert

San Francisco provides an infinite number of images waiting to be captured, making the city a magnet for amateur and professional photographers alike.

One of San Francisco’s most-photographed locations is the row of “Painted Ladies,” the Victorian houses that border Alamo Square known as Postcard Row.

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These half-dozen ornate houses, sometimes referred to as the “Six Sisters,” have appeared in countless postcards, movies, and television shows, not to mention innumerable tourist snapshots over the years.
Postcard Row of San Francisco Victorians at Alamo SquareDigitized or captured on film, the “ladies” often appear in a picture’s foreground, with the Bank of America building, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the rest of San Francisco’s modern skyline as their backdrop.
Located at 712 to 720 Steiner Street across from Alamo Square, all six houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh owned and lived in the 1892 Victorian mansion to the left of the “Six Sisters” at 722 Steiner.
Victorian houses on Alamo SquareThe area is filled with lovely Italianate, Stick/Eastlake, Gothic Revival and Queen Anne-style Victorian houses. An historic Gothic Revival sits on the northwest corner of Alamo Square. McAllister Street, one block north, is lined with restored Victorians. The locale is designated as the Alamo Square Historic District, and city agencies and neighborhood groups safeguard architectural preservation. Many buildings, like the famous Steiner Street sextet, survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Six Sisters on Alamo SquareTake the time to admire the ornate craftsmanship that went into the design and building of the neighborhood’s dwellings—bay windows, “gingerbread” woodwork, and the occasional turret. And grab a jacket before you head out to capture that perfect picture—Alamo Square is one of the windier places in San Francisco.
If Postcard Row looks familar its probably because you've seen it on a postcard someone sent you from San Francisco or more likely on TV—the picnic in the park in the opening credits for 1990's sitcom Full House—or in a movie—Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) or The Woman in Red (1984).
Alamo Park 360° panoramaThe park is popular with locals because it is clean and well kept with a playground for kids, one un-lighted tennis court, a shoe garden and large area for dogs. Alamo Square is not just for viewing the “Painted Ladies,” it's also a great place for relaxing and dog and people watching even if most of them are taking pictures of Postcard Row.
San Francisco City Guides provides free walking tours. Landmark Victorians of Alamo Square - four times a month. Several San Francisco City Tours include Alamo Square on their itineraries.
More Victorian homes and mansions are featured on at: Historic Victorian Homes in San Francisco, San Diego’s Heritage Park, New Orleans Garden District, Napa’s Historic Homes, Victorian Inns and Bed & Breakfasts, and my latest Victorian Homes around the U.S. photo essay.
Slideshow—all photos on this page

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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2015 Lee W. Nelson