Painted Ladies

San Francisco, California (CA)

Why are the Painted Ladies one of the most photographed sights in San Francisco?

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- Alex Proimos

Discover the Painted Ladies of San Francisco

Since you follow our blog diligently, enjoying our insightful articles each week, when we talk about San Francisco you’ll immediately think about a disappearing labyrinth, ancient stone baths, secret staircases, secluded beaches and the Presidio neighbourhood. But what do you make of the Painted Ladies?

Who are these ladies you ask… Well, allow us to fill you in!

In American architecture, Painted Ladies refer to Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings that have been repainted in three or more colours, starting in the 1960s, to highlight their intricate architectural details. The term was first coined by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book "Painted Ladies: San Francisco's Resplendent Victorians."

Since the term's inception, Painted Ladies has also been used to describe groups of colourfully repainted Victorian houses in other American cities, such as the Charles Village neighbourhood in Baltimore; Lafayette Square in St. Louis; and parts of New Orleans. There are even more examples in the greater San Francisco areas of Haight-Ashbury, the Castro, Pacific Heights, and the Lower Haight. Internationally, they can also be found in Wellington, New Zealand.

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- Holiday Point

Painted Ladies: Postcard Row

The most famous set of Painted Ladies (and the ones we’re referring to) is located across the street from Alamo Square Park along Steiner Street. This row of pastel-coloured homes, standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the gentle slope of Steiner Street, is also known as the Seven Sisters or Postcard Row. Among them, 722 Steiner holds distinction as the oldest and most prominent, once belonging to Matthew Kavanaugh, the original builder of the Painted Ladies.

Characterised by their Queen Anne Victorian style, the Painted Ladies have steep roofs, asymmetrical shapes, patterned surfaces, large bay windows and porches, and lacy decorative spindlework. Surprisingly, the Painted Ladies lack official recognition as historic landmarks. But unofficially they’re a main cultural highlight of a visit to the city.

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- Tony Hisgett

Origins of the Painted Ladies

Between 1849 and 1915, approximately 48,000 Victorian style houses were built in San Francisco. This building boom was largely driven by the Gold Rush of 1849, which skyrocketed the city's population from 800 to 25,000 in just one year.

These Victorian homes were initially painted in earth tones and muted colours to hide their redwood structures. However, during the World Wars many of these houses became battleship grey due to the availability of surplus Navy paint.

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- Rudy Wilms

The Painted Ladies and the 1906 Earthquake

The 1906 earthquake was one of the most catastrophic events in San Francisco's history, drastically altering the city’s architectural landscape. Followed by raging fires, the earthquake destroyed about 80% of San Francisco, including many of the grand Victorian and Edwardian mansions on Nob Hill. However, some Victorian homes in the western and southern neighbourhoods were largely spared.

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- Alejandro Mallea

The Birth of the Colourist Movement

The transformation of these Victorian homes into the vibrant Painted Ladies we know today began in 1963 with San Francisco artist Butch Kardum. Kardum's bold decision to paint his Italianate-style Victorian house in intense blues and greens sparked a trend.

Despite initial criticism, many neighbours followed suit, leading to the Colourist Movement. Artists and colour designers like Tony Canaletich, Bob Buckter, and Jazon Wonders joined Kardum in turning grey houses into colourful masterpieces, splashing colour throughout entire streets and neighbourhoods.

The movement quickly gained momentum, spreading to other American cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Chicago. The Painted Ladies, once fading into history, now exist as one of the most popular sightseeing spots in the city.

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- Tony Hoffarth

The Painted Ladies in Popular Culture

In total the Painted Ladies have starred in over 70 productions including films, TV shows, and advertisements, most impressively in the opening credits of the 1990s sitcom "Full House." The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers even shows the interiors of 720 Steiner Street, where the American novelist Alice Walker lives.

Movies and TV shows featuring the Painted Ladies include:

  • The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
  • Shut Up Little Man (2011)
  • Bicentennial Man (1999)
  • So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)
  • “Full House" (TV show: 1987–1995)
  • The Woman in Red (1984)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
  • The Conversation (1974)
  • Dirty Harry (1971)

Do you remember spotting the Painted Ladies in any of these movies?

Painted Ladies
- Tony Hoffarth

How Much are the Painted Ladies Worth?

The Painted Ladies are valued in the millions, with their worth varying based on amenities and size. Each house typically features at least four bedrooms and four bathrooms, with many including a garage. As of 2024, these homes are estimated to be worth between $2 million and over $4 million. These homes are not just pieces of real estate but storied landmarks and so living in these homes comes with the challenge of constant tourist attention, which can be a drawback for some homeowners.

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- David Yu

The Restoration and Conservation of the Painted Ladies

Preserving the Painted Ladies of San Francisco has been an ongoing challenge as they require a lot of maintenance. Their architecture is very intricate, they are susceptible to weathering over time, and often face threats from the city’s dynamic housing market. Despite these challenges, preservationists and local communities remain steadfast in their preservation efforts.

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- Steve McClanahan

Visiting the Painted Ladies

If you couldn’t already tell, visiting the Painted Ladies should be at the top of any San Francisco bucket list. Located at 710-722 Steiner Street, between Grove and Hayes Streets, these houses are easily accessible and offer the perfect backdrop for your very own San Francisco postcard!

But where is the best place to view the Painted Ladies? We believe Alamo Square Park offers the best vantage point. And they’re perfect at any time of day. You can take a picnic in the afternoon when the sun is still high in the sky, or wander down at sunset when the orange hues of the day’s last light warms the tones of the painted houses, making them glow.

If you want to explore the Painted Ladies as part of a guided experience, there are walking tours, hop-on-hop-off bus tours, and movie sights tours available. However you choose to see these houses, we know you will enjoy them!

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- Mobilus In Mobili

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our San Francisco Scavenger Hunts- untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of San Francisco and beyond!

Painted Ladies Questions

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What you need to know

Name
Painted Ladies
Address
37.776260, -122.432770
Location
37.776260, -122.432770
Tips before you visit
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