Russian Hill Neighbors Russian Hill Neighbors
 History

THE FAY-BERRIGAN RESIDENCE

A report by historian William Kostura, May 1998


Address:  2366 Leavenworth
Year Built: 1912
First owners: Luke Fay and John Fay
Architects: Frank Shea and John Lofquist
Gardens by: Thomas Church

The building at 2366 Leavenworth is the second house to stand on this site. Both houses were built and lived in by members of the Fay family. The first house was built in 1869 and was replaced in 1912 by the current residence. Counting both houses, the Fay family ownership of this land spanned 128 years.

The first house contributed to a notable pattern of Russian Hill's history. During the 1850s and the 1860s the north slope of Russian Hill was a fine residential district known for its large, gardened lots. (Two of these 1860s houses, 930 and 944 Chestnut, still stand with their gardens intact.) Many residents, such as George Hearst, James King, and William Penn Humphreys, were well-known San Franciscans. Although less prominent than Rincon Hill, the north slope of Russian Hill was comparable to that neighborhood as an elite district. Some very fine houses were also built here at the turn of the century. Most houses north of Lombard Street survived the earthquake and fire of 1906, although only a few still stand today.

The first Fay house contributed to the general pattern of the neighborhood. It was built in 1869 by David Fay, whose family made their wealth in soap manufacturing in New York City and San Francisco. David Fay co-founded the soap factory in San Francisco and afterward worked in mining and in real estate. In 1878 Fay's house and its 80' x 137' 6'' lot were offered for sale. An advertisement described the property as a "fine cottage of seven rooms, bath, hot and cold water, and all improvements; beautiful shrubbery and charming marine view." The house did not sell, and David Fay continued to live in the house into the 1890s. The house survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, and in 1912 it was demolished by David Fay's nephews, Luke Fay and John Fay, Jr., who built the current house.

Luke and John Fay inherited the fortune and the real estate accumulated by their father, John Fay, the principal owner of the family soap factory in North Beach. Both brothers and their families lived in the house upon its completion. Luke's daughter Mary (later Mary Berrigan) lived there as a child and again in adulthood.

From 1937 through 1942 the house was rented to Joseph Finnochio, the proprietor of the female impersonators night club on Broadway. From ca. 1942 to 1953 the house was rented to Jane Olds, daughter of the San Francisdo Seals owner Paul Fagan. In 1953 Mary (Fay) and her husband Brigadier General Paul Berrigan moved into the house. They lived there until their deaths in 1988 and 1998, respectively.

In 1957-1958 the Berrigans hired Thomas Church to create the garden that still exists today. Because the boundaries of the lot remain the same as in the 19th century, a large garden was possible, one that continues the pattern established in the 1850s.

The Architects, Shea and Lofquist

Frank Shea is best known for designing many of the City's Catholic churches. First, with his brother Will, and later, with John Lofquist, Shea designed Holy Cross, St. Paul's, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Anne's in the Sunset, plus several which have been altered, including St. Brigid's, Mission Dolores basilica, and St. James. Shea employed a wide range of styles for these church buildings: Romanesque, Gothic, Classical, and Mediterranean. Additionally, Shea designed an enormous number of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. He designed the pre-earthquake Hall of Justice opposite Portsmouth Square, and was the final architect for the "New City Hall," designing the dome which collapsed in 1906. His career spanned the Victorian and the post-1906 rebuilding eras.

Neighborhood Context

2366 Leavenworth is flanked on the east by historic houses in gardened settings; to the north (across Chestnut) by a cluster of pre-1906 row houses and flats; and to the northwest and west (across Leavenworth) by two 1920s mid-rise apartment buildings. Both of the apartment buildings are themselves flanked by smaller historic houses, two of which (930 and 944 Chestnut) were built in the 1860s and have large gardens. To the south of 2366 Leavenworth's garden is "Castle Court," a cluster of small houses built as a single development on a high retaining wall. The San Francisco Art Institute is northeast of the house (across Chestnut). The overall character of the immediate neighborhood, then, is a mix of small, historic houses, several of which are noted for their gardens; and four larger developments (the apartment buildings, the San Francisco Art Institute, and Castle Court). 2366 Leavenworth occupies an important corner location at the center of this group and is essential in maintaining the historic character of the neighborhood.

Sources
  • Building permit for 2366 Leavenworth
  • 1899 and 1913 Sanborn Insurance Maps
  • San Francisco City Directory listings for the Fay family members and Finnochio, 1854-1942
  • Water department tap records
  • San Francisco Call, April 28, 1878, p. 4, col. 7 (adv.)
  • Rockwell D. Hunt, ed., California and Californians (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1926),
    vol. 5, p. 474 (biographical sketch of John Fay, Sr.)
  • Paul and Mary Berrigan, two interviews by William Kostura at 2366 Leavenworth, 1984.

Statement of Significance

Although 2366 Leavenworth was built after the earthquake and fire of 1906, it continues a pattern that this part of Russian Hill was noted for in the 1850s and 1860s, of building fine residences in gardened settings. This pattern was established in part by David Fay, who built the first house on this site in 1869. Today only a few such houses and gardens exist on this part of Russian Hill: 930 Chestnut, 944 Chestnut, 855 Chestnut, 875 Chestnut, and 948-950 Lombard. All of these houses are within a half-block radius of 2366 Leavenworth.

By its corner location, 2366 Leavenworth helps to establish the character of the neighborhood, which is primarily houses and flats built in the 1910s and earlier. Because four developments of much larger scale also exist in the vicinity, the survival of 2366 Leavenworth is very important in maintaining the predominance of smaller scale buildings.

The garden of 2366 Leavenworth is also significant because it was designed by Thomas Church, San Francisco's most noted landscape architect. Church lived nearby, at 2626 Hyde, from ca. 1934 until his death in 1978. Several gardens in the general neighborhood have been attributed to Church (including Victorian Park at the foot of Hyde), and thus this area has perhaps the largest concentration of Church gardens anywhere.

The Piano from the El Dorado Saloon

When the author of this report visited the Berrigans in their home in the 1980s, Paul Berrigan told the story of the piano that stood in the living room. It had once provided entertainment at the Gold Rush-era El Dorado saloon (on Kearny Street facing Portsmouth Square), was acquired by Mary Berrigan's grandfather when the saloon owner faced financial difficulties, and later still was sold to another party. A 1926 article also relates the story of this piano:

"In his (Luke Fay's) home, which is most richly furnished and finished, he has a heavy, solid, rosewood grand piano, with mother-of-pearl keys, all in a beautiful state of preservation, which was brought around Cape Horn in 1853 for the notorious El Dorado gambling hall. His father (John Fay, Sr.) acquired this instrument in the early days, but later traded it off. All trace of the piano was lost for forty years, and then one day Mr. Luke Fay was called and informed as to its whereabouts. As a boy he had written his name and address, and some of the history of the piano, on the back of the frontal board. This being discovered, [a new owner] felt impelled to get into communication with Mr. Fay. Needless to say, he gladly bought it back, and today it occupies a generous place of honor in his home."

Fay Family Members

First generation in America:

Luke Fay (died 1842)
Born in Ireland; arrived U. S. 1817; naturalized in New York City in 1824; owned a soap factory in Manhattan where the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage now goes over the waterfront.

First generation in California:

David Fay, son of Luke Fay
Co-founded Fay Brothers Soap Factory (with Logan Fay) at Chestnut and Mason in 1853; afterward worked in mining and real estate; built the first house at the southeast corner of Chestnut and Leavenworth in 1869.

John Fay, Sr. (1827-1902), son of Luke Fay
Came to California in 1849; returned to New York; moved back to San Francisco in 1856 and took over the soap factory in North Beach begun by his brothers; head of a volunteer fire department; served as San Francisco supervisor 1863-1865; served as state senator 1893-1895.

Second Generation in California:

Luke Fay (1861-1933), son of John Fay, Sr.
Educated at St. Ignatius College, St. Mary's College, and St. Joseph's College; worked in insurance and as a railroad clerk; after 1902 managed his late father's real estate holdings; well known in his time as a student of California history and collector of rare documents in that field. Built 2366 Leavenworth in 1912, and lived there with his brother John Fay, Jr., and their families.

Third Generation in California:

Mary Eugenie Fay (1911-1988), daughter of Luke Fay
While still in high school was described in an article as "following in her father's footsteps with reference to California history, and is a deep student of everything pertaining to this interesting subject." Married Paul Berrigan in the 1930s. Lived in 2366 Leavenworth as an infant and for the last 35 years of her life.

Brigadier General Paul Berrigan (1905-1998)
His grandfather was born in 1795 in Ireland, and his father was born in 1853 in Ireland. As a Division Engineer with the Army corps of Engineers he helped to build the St. Lawrence Seaway. He also was in charge of much construction in England during World War II.

About the author:
William Kostura is an architectural historian who has conducted extensive research on Russian Hill since 1981. In 1997, he published the first of a series of histories on Russian Hill, Russian Hill: The Summit, 1853-1906, Volume I of a Neighborhood History. Mr. Kostura has researched over 600 houses on Russian Hill, the Fay-Berrigan house being one of them.

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Russian Hill Neighbors
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