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The extraordinary renovation, reinvention and expansion of this majestic Tudor Revival house, transformed a residence originally commissioned (as records indicate) by Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph Jr. and the Burlingame Corporation in 1930-1931. This panoramic view home set on a triple-width lot at the precipice of Dolores Heights, is a fantastical reimagining of its colorful history with absolutely no expense spared in creating a structurally, functionally and aesthetically brilliant masterpiece of historic proportion. The home, previously dubbed “Casa Cielo” was perfected by the owners vision, with an understanding that it would be bequeathed to an educational institution of their choice, in which it now resides. While the public face of the house appears unchanged to the naked eye, the exterior is remade completely anew, the home lifted and expanded below and nearly every interior feature, finish and system either completely reinvented, restored or altered in some form to convey an alternative historic fiction.
The property underwent an exhaustive 5 year, $8 million dollar architectural, review, design and construction process in which every inch of the property was addressed down to the smallest detail including a precursor historic evaluation by noted architectural preservation firm, Page & Turnbull. General Contractor Buck O’Neill who managed the entire construction and renovation process called it “a once in a lifetime, ‘feather in your cap’ project to work on.”
With improvements, systems and details far too long to list in the narrative, this historic home elegantly conceals some extraordinarily sophisticated modern features including a dedicated and direct wired server room, a hydrothermal control center for the extensive radiant heating system with multiple, distinct heating zones, a grey water recycling system with cistern, an independently irrigated living roof garden and integrated home audio and security systems, just to name a few.
The residence spans nearly 4,700 square feet of internal space on three levels including expansive outdoor view decks and balcony, gracious front gardens set in an English style, a secluded rear, natural stone patio perfect for entertaining and a delightful guest suite above the detached garage. In honor to and in defiance of the trend to renovate older homes with modern interiors the owners sought to preserve the remarkable history of this home which was designed for lavish entertaining and discreet living, which meant preserving it as the 2 bedroom, 2 full bath, 2 powder room residence it was designed to be and allowing spaces to flourish with character, flair and entertainment value, rather than be destined to sit empty as under-utilized bedrooms.
Extraordinarily handcrafted details designed in place are discovered throughout the home including the handsome cast and forged iron catwalk and spiral stairs created by Jefferson Mack and Bruce Tomb (surrounding the double-height library), pressed-tin ceiling tiles and the Tiffany-style glass chandelier of the dining room. The steel and iron railing caps on the stairway posts and the finely restored leather floor of the Great Room are hallmarks of the overall intent to both preserve and replicate. Even the substantial exposed trusses in the vaulted kitchen were designed in place to mimic the original supports of the Great Room evoking both the Tudor Revival style and honoring the great residential structures of Northern Europe and England. The fantastical lighting throughout the home was hand-selected, curated and commissioned by the owners during the development process.
The property was registered, reviewed, certified and awarded the US Green Building Council’s LEED Silver certification, an extraordinary accomplishment for a property of this vintage given the complexities required to comply with the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining the historic nature, appearance and structural integrity of the property.
The standalone garage and legal one bedroom and bath quarters were also completely renovated, structurally reinforced and reset against the adjacent landscape to ensure structural integrity and longevity. The grounds and landscape retain their intended character and are automatically irrigated and currently maintained by the gardening staff.
The property is purposely presented without staging, furnishings or accouterments in order to showcase the extraordinary level of finish detail and the pristine condition of the dwelling and architectural finishes.
(Excerpted and compiled from multiple records and public sources. The below has not been verified by the current owner or broker)
Folklore, fact and fiction….
The original structure was a single-family residence designed and constructed in the Tudor Revival style in 1931 by Russell B. Coleman. The home was purported to have been built for Sunny Jim’s mistress, the actress Anita Page (though research also points to the contrary) and it was known to be the center of many grand social occasions during Prohibition and was dubbed “Casa Cielo” atop Dolores Heights. This one bedroom house, without a kitchen, was characterized by the expansive Great Room with carved trusses and a massive stone fireplace on the top floor with a terrace overlooking San Francisco. The subsequent owner, a Dr. DeGrazio, installed a bronze and marble fountain of Leda and the Swan supported by muses in the front yard, supposedly a gift from an influential politician for work performed by Dr. DeGrazio on a family member. The fountain was brought into working order in recent years and operates from within the home via remote control today.
The building has a period of significance dating to 1930-1931, which covers the building’s design and construction. And as noted in the Page & Turnbull assessment, retained a high degree of integrity. Due to the significance of its architecture, during the assessment the property appeared to be individually eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources under Criterion 3 (Architecture/Design). As such, it appears to be a historic resource under CEQA. The home also appears to be eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources under Criterion 3 (Design/Construction).
A building permit issued on December 29, 1930 gives a more accurate construction date; the house was likely completed the following year. The permit indicates that Russell B. Coleman, an architect from Burlingame, was responsible for designing the house and construction was undertaken by George W. Williams Co. Ltd.
San Francisco Sales Ledger records indicate that prior to the construction of the house at 3690 21st Street, the property was owned by James Rolph. Sales ledgers indicate that it was sold to “James Rolph” on January 4, 1927, and was subsequently sold by “James Rolph III” on February 17, 1927. It can either be assumed that James Rolph and James Rolph III are one and the same, or that the property somehow transitioned within the family, from James Rolph (Jr.) to his son, James Rolph III. It is well known that James Rolph, Jr., commonly known as “Sunny Jim” Rolph, was Mayor of San Francisco from 1912 to 1931, and Governor of California from 1931 until his death in 1934.
When Rolph died in 1934, the home was purchased by a prominent physician, who owned it for 10 years and notably installed the front courtyard fountain, noted previously.
Joseph Salaman, who owned tanneries in what is now Redwood Shores, bought the property in the mid-1940s. The Salaman family owned the property in part through 2008, passing it down through several generations until it transferred to the previous owners responsible for this extraordinary renovation and expansion.
Over six decades, the Salamans updated the property with grandeur consistent with Jim Rolph’s original vision. Walls were covered with Italian Fortuny silk. Stained glass windows and embossed ceiling details remained in place. And as one notable San Francisco publication so eloquently phrased it, “It is also quite clear that there is no other San Francisco residence like Casa Cielo.”
The vibrant neighborhood of Dolores Heights is located just west of the Mission District and is sandwiched between The Castro and Noe Valley and is considered one of the Bay Area’s most creative, diverse and attractive neighborhoods. Victorian and Edwardian-style homes – many of which were built in the early 20th-Century – make up a majority of the real estate in Dolores Heights, with condos and townhomes sprinkled throughout. Since the Twin Peaks block the strong winds from the west, Dolores Heights residents enjoy a warm, sunny climate compared to other San Francisco neighborhoods. Mission Dolores Park hugs the eastern border of Dolores Heights, and is a popular gathering place for outdoor activities and festivals. The grassy lawns are ideal for afternoon picnics or kicking around a soccer ball. Amenities provided at Mission Dolores Park include tennis courts, basketball courts, a playground, and two off-leash dog areas. The park also hosts a variety of events including Film Nights and live performances. When residents of Dolores Heights want to enjoy a fun night out with friends, or a delicious meal without venturing too far from home, 24th and Valencia Streets are the more popular options.