Cow Hollow and Union Street, a favorite San Francisco shopping area, was the City’s first neighborhood to convert gingerbread Victorians into upscale shops and restaurants. Union Street follows the path of an early unpaved road linking the developing city of San Francisco with the Presidio.
You won’t find many chain stores on Union Street. What you will find are numerous one-of-a-kind specialty shops, fashion and gift boutiques, art galleries and antique stores. Historic buildings including old carriage houses, barns and Victorian homes along this old-fashioned shopping street have been renovated to house unique stores, bars and restaurants.
Cow Hollow History
Cow Hollow is on the southern edge of San Francisco’s Marina District. When settlers first visited Spring Valley, as it was known in the mid-1800s, the area around what is now Union Street was predominantly sand hills and grassy meadows with a large lagoon fed by freshwater springs. The area was well suited to dairy farming and was soon known as Cow Hollow, a designation that endures though the cows have long since gone to greener pastures.
The prosperity that the Gold Rush brought to to San Francisco extended to Cow Hollow as prominent citizens built private homes and mansions along Union Street. The publisher of The Argonaut, Frank Pixley, built a house at Union and Pierce. James Cudworth built a farmhouse which survives at 2040 Union Street along with identical Victorian houses, Twin Wedding Houses, he built for his daughters at 1980 Union Street. Mayor Ephraim Burr built a house at Filbert and Van Ness and another at 1772 Vallejo Street as a wedding gift for his son Edmund, a chemist, and his wife Anna Barnard.
This imposing mansard-roofed Second Empire mansion (registered City Landmark, No. 31) was occupied by Edmond and Anna’s daughters Alice and Marian until 1968. The property was listed for sale in late 2009 for $7,000,000, reduced from $7.9 million earlier in the year.
Another interesting building—a cupola topped eight-sided structure—from this era is the Octagon House just off Union Street at 2645 Gough. The design of the Octagon House was based on a popular theory of the mid-1800s that people living in a space of this shape would live healthier, happier lives. Built in 1861 at 2618 Gough it was moved in 1953 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames who turned into a museum. The Octagon House is now an historic house-museum of colonial decorative arts and documents.
A Union Street Art Festival, typically the first weekend in June, kicks off the street festival season in San Francisco with juried exhibitors displaying their wares, plenty of food and entertainment on two stages.
The Pacific Heights neighborhood to the south of Cow Hollow, rising rapidly in elevation from Union Street, has many more historic homes and Victorian mansions.
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