After the resolution of Adolph Sutro's will in the early 1910s, the Residential Development Company bought from his estate 725 acres of the old Mexican land grant, the Rancho San Miguel. Shortly thereafter, the Mason-McDuffie Company purchased 175 acres of the land to create St. Francis Wood.
On heavily-forested land remote from downtown San Francisco, the Mason-McDuffie Company sought to create a residence park that embodied the highest ideals of early twentieth century landscaping and architecture. The "City Beautiful" movement, popularized by heralded landscape architect and planner Daniel Burnham, influenced the community plan.
Landscape features meant to be "reminiscent of the loveliest gardens of the Italian Renaissance" ornamented the grounds, including an elaborate gateway and two fountains on the main arterial, St. Francis Boulevard. The famed landscape firm Olmsted Brothers laid out the curvilinear street plan. John Galen Howard acted as the first supervising architect, designing the elaborate lampposts, brick-diamond sidewalks, entryway pillars, and the main gate and first fountain. Henry Gutterson soon succeeded Howard, and designed the monumental upper fountain and numerous houses over the next three decades.
McDuffie launched the sale of St. Francis Wood on October 12, 1912. The streets were paved with curbs and sidewalks; all utilities such as electricity, sewer, water, telephones and gas were promised to be installed by March 1913. In his advertising, McDuffie made much of the fact that utilities were to be placed underground. The idea of underground electricity and telephone lines was new at the time.
McDuffie did not open the entire tract for sale at once. He improved the property and offered lots in phases. The initial offering consisted of 283 lots in the "horseshoe" section with St. Francis Boulevard forming the spine. Mason-McDuffie's business plan was to offer lots for sale in a residential park, but not to design or build the actual houses. Buyers were free to choose their own architect. But by 1916, the firm broadened its offerings by hiring architects to either design custom homes or to provide stock plans, sometimes free with the purchase of a lot. Mason-McDuffie ultimately built a number of homes of speculation to sell to customers as well. In the first six years (1912-1918), 46 houses were built; during the 1920s, 347 houses were built, more than 60% of the eventual total.
“An honest accounting of who we’ve been can enable us to see who we should be.”
Jon Meacham, Presidential Historian
From its establishment in 1912, St. Francis Wood had a clause in its Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that excluded certain ethnic groups from owning or leasing in its boundaries. This Clause 13 in the founding documents specifically stated:
This clause was discriminatory and inexcusable.
In 1948, the United States Supreme Court, ruled that racially restricted housing covenants were unenforceable by state courts. [Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948)]. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Shortly after this law was signed, St. Francis Wood recorded an extension of its CC&Rs declaring the restrictive covenant to be invalid, illegal, and against public policy. Our community diversity from recent census reports can be found here.
Our values today
St. Francis Wood strives to create and maintain an environment that respects diverse backgrounds, traditions, and heritages. We welcome neighbors of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, ability, sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Our distinct backgrounds and voices strengthen us as a whole and contribute to the unique community of St. Francis Wood.