The famous Painted Ladies of San Francisco are a row of colorful Victorian houses located at 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square park, in San Francisco. Built between 1892 and 1896, these Victorian-style houses are one of the thousands built in San Francisco during its booming growth at the end of the nineteenth century. While many of these old homes were lost during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, thousands of the mass-produced, modest houses survived in the western and southern neighborhoods of the city. The ones on Steiner Street are the most popular and a famous attraction of the city, having frequently appeared in media, postcards and photographs of the city, including an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and ads.
The term “Painted ladies" was first used for San Francisco Victorian houses by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book Painted Ladies - San Francisco's Resplendent Victorians. Since then the term has also been used to describe groups of colorful Victorian houses in other American cities, such as the Charles Village neighborhood in Baltimore, Lafayette Square in St. Louis, Missouri, the greater San Francisco and New Orleans areas, Columbia-Tusculum in Cincinnati, The Old West End in Toledo, Ohio, and the city of Cape May, New Jersey.
Between 1849 and 1915, about 48,000 houses in the Victorian and Edwardian styles were built in San Francisco, and many were painted in bright colors to accentuate their architectural details. Red, yellow, chocolate, orange, and other bright and loud colors were in fashion. During World War I and World War II, many of these houses were painted battleship gray with war-surplus Navy paint. Another sixteen thousand were demolished, and many others had the Victorian decor stripped off or covered with tarpaper, brick, stucco, or aluminum siding. Many more were devoured by fires that followed the 1906 earthquake.
In 1963, San Francisco artist Butch Kardum began combining intense blues and greens on the exterior of his Italianate-style Victorian house. Some criticized his taste for colors, but others found them lovely and began to copy them on their own houses. Soon Kardum started advising people how to color their houses, as he and other artists and colorists such as Tony Cataletich, Bob Buckner, and Jazon Wonders began to transform dozens of gray houses into Painted Ladies. By the 1970s, the colorist movement, as it was called, had changed entire streets and neighborhoods. This process continues to this day.
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