The History of 22 • 22nd Avenue

The Emergence of West Clay Park

A promotional brochure for West Clay Park circa 1910. 

A cartoon of architect William Toepke from the 1911 publication Men Who Made San Francisco. In the background is a likely representation of the planned Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915) which had been announced in 1911.1


The year is 1926 and George H.C. Meyer, a prominent San Francisco businessman and senior partner of the importing and shipping firm Wilson & George Meyer & Co., has just filed a permit with the city of San Francisco to build two residences east of 22nd Avenue and north of Lake Street. Located on the east border of fashionable West Clay Park, these residences were to sit adjacent to the Presidio Military Reservation and mirror the location of Ansel Adam’s 1903 home located on the western boundary of West Clay Park. True to the spirit of the Roaring 20’s, the cost to construct these two homes would exceed $60,000.

Educated at German universities, George H.C. Meyer apprenticed with shipping firms in Liverpool and Hamburg before moving to San Francisco in 1883 from his native homeland seaport of Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of 23, George was welcomed to the shores of San Francisco by his uncles, Captain Hermann L.E. Meyer and William Meyer, founding partners in the pioneering 1850 importing and shipping firm of Rogers, Meyer & Co. As wealthy and successful businessmen, H.L.E. Meyer and William Meyer provided their young nephew a foothold in one of the world’s greatest seaports, the San Francisco Bay. With deep ties to the shipping industry in maritime-focused San Francisco, George H.C. Meyer adorned his ocean view home at 22 22nd Avenue with nautical references, including a prominent anchor motif in the shutters and rope images in the plaster friezes.

With the advent of the Municipal Railway in 1912 and new and improved streets extending west, construction of city residence parks followed the fervor of reconstruction after the devastating earthquake of 1906. Sea Cliff, St. Francis Wood, and Forest Hill are a few of the larger more exclusive residence parks constructed concurrently with West Clay Park. All were modeled after the 1905 development of Presidio Terrace, built beside the golf clubhouse on the southern border of the Presidio at Arguello Boulevard.

West Clay Park was established in 1910. Influenced by nineteenth century English garden suburbs and the American City Beautiful movement, local developers sought to shake loose from the urban development patterns of San Francisco and develop enclaves of exclusivity. These residential parks constructed in the first half of the twentieth century were rich in landscape, west of the bustling downtown, and made to appeal to buyers from growing professional and
managerial classes. With strict deed
covenants controlling defined minimum
construction costs, setback requirements,
landscaping guidelines and ownership restrictions, (minority races and ethnicities need not apply), these residential parks were “restricted parks.”

“The architecture of San Francisco residence parks is heterogeneous”; owners selected their own architect. George H.C. Meyer selected William Toepke to design the two residences at 10 & 22 22nd Avenue. A residence for himself and his wife Olga at number 22 and an adjacent residence for his daughter Marie Luise, her husband Chalmers Graham, and their new baby at number 10. Architect William Toepke, formerly of Havens and Toepke, had an impressive portfolio. A native of San Francisco, Toepke began his apprenticeship in architecture in 1886, eventually partnering with Charles I. Haven in 1897. Together the two designed several well-known commercial buildings, the Flat Iron Building at 540 Market Street being their most celebrated. In 1905 Havens and Toepke forayed into the residential architectural field with a house designed and constructed for the wealthy widow Jeannette Merritt in the newly established Presidio Terrace. Only the second residence to be constructed on the much touted cul-du-sac, Merritt’s house was a unique blend of Colonial, Romanesque and Mission Revival detailing. Other noteworthy residences in the vicinity by Toepke, include 2945 Lake Street in Sea Cliff, and 1 19th Avenue, a finely detailed brick Mediterranean Revival residence at the Presidio Wall.

Sadly, George H.C. Meyer died in 1928, shortly after the completion of his lovely three-story, 6,500 sq. ft. estate at 22 22nd Avenue, though it remained home for Mrs. George H.C. Meyer until her death in 1953. George and Olga’s son Wilson, with his wife Mabel, raised their children George, Jeffrey and Harriet in the home. Mrs. Wilson Meyer occupied the home until 1977, leaving a few years after the death of her husband. With roots extending to the Gold Rush Mother Lode, the Meyer family descendants, six generations to date, remain in the Bay Area and beyond with a rich legacy of local philanthropy. We can thank the George H.C. Meyer Family Foundation for funding much of the original three-story “Roundabout” ocean fish tank and mock tide pool in the Steinhart Aquarium, today’s Academy of Sciences.

This seven-bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom, Golden Gate Bridge view-home with garage parking for five cars last sold in 2015. Prior to this, the home last changed hands in 1977.

– Kamala Mostert

 

Kamala Mostert, mother of Leila Sulentic, UHS class of ’21, is a California licensed architect at Mostert Architecture & Interior Design.

A special thank you to Bridget Maley, colleague, friend and classmate from the graduate School of Architecture at the University of Virginia. Bridget is a San Francisco architectural historian and writer working with clients across the West on projects involving significant historic buildings and sites.

1. Richard Brandi, Denise Bradley and the Western Neighborhoods Project. Gardens in the City: San Francisco Residence Parks, 1906-1940, Historic Context Statement. October 2016: 39.