Victorian Alliance Home Tour 2013: John Coop House

This year, the historic society's tour of homes built during the iconic era of San Francisco development focused on The Mission. Here's the first of our featured homes.

Photo By Ross Pushinaitis / Exceptional Frames Built in 1888 and lovingly restored by its current owner, James Tyler, this Queen Anne Victorian has a beautiful tower and is the most stereotypically Victorian of the homes we're featuring. 

When Jim Tyler bought his house in 1970, his dad thought he was nuts. After all, he'd spent his life hoping to escape the dark, heavily ornamented interiors of his own youth in Colorado. But Tyler, a chemist, scientist and engineer who traveled internationally, told him "this would be a roof over my head, a hobby, and a retirement plan, all in one." And he was right.

Built in 1889, this home was built by Coop, a contractor and owner of the San Francisco Planing Mills, to show off his building skills with a spectacular Queen Anne design. The exterior features fish-scale shingles, a steep turret, and frieze panels featuring both geometric and floral designs – Coop's signature move.

Six years later, the family sold the house to move to the East Bay (ah, they must have hit the kindergarten tours and run away, as so many do ...), and the house changed hands a few times. It survived the 1906 earthquake and conflagration, but in the aftermath, the Mission became a far less fashionable neighborhood – populated mostly by migrants and immigrants brought in to work on the city's process of rebuilding – and it became a boarding house, eventually getting broken up into 12 to 15 units. After that, it became a halfway house for teens recovering from drug abuse.

When Tyler took over, there was plywood nailed over the original details (for which he was grateful – "someone was trying to protect it," he says – and "five different shades of greens in this room alone." He stripped it down and began the painstaking process of rebuilding, doing some of the work himself, some in concert with local Victorian specialists like San Francisco Victoriana.

The process took years, of course, and passersby could tell the house was being restored. One of them "had lived in this house after the earthquake," Tyler says. "She stopped by one day with a photo of the house in 1910, so I named the library after her: The Clara Wiley Memorial Library. Oh, she liked that. She was quite a character."

The original gas lines are still in the walls, and still work – fellow Victorian-owners marvel at that idea, which seems a bit terrifying. "I used to light the whole first floor with gas on New Year's Eve," says Tyler. " It has the nostalgic glow, but you can't see much." With so much exquisite detail to take in, that seems like a crying shame.

Tyler lives alone in the house, apart from his tenants, and is in a daily relationship with its needs and upkeep his biggest priority. When asked if he felt like he was married to it, he didn't hesitate with his answer; it was a matter-of-fact "yep." He calls it "The Mansion," and adds, "John Coop has worked over my shoulder on occasion. Does that sound weird?"

Looking around, seeing the unlikely survival and loving restoration of such superb detail, it doesn't sound weird at all.

Visit the San Francisco Victorian Alliance for more information about the tours. 

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