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Homes of San Francisco. Round 1: Clark vs. Joost

July 23, 2010

IMG_0757 As I walk or ride around SF, some homes catch my eye.  I’ve been meaning to share them with y’all.

The first two both pre-date the big earthquake and fire of 1906…  The twist in the story will come later.

The greatest home in my neighborhood is called Nobby Clark’s Folly.  It is a great big mansion, easily the largest in this part of the city.  Mr Clark built it in 1891 on 17 acres which were then considered way out in the country (now part of Eureka Valley neighborhood aka the Castro).  The “folly” name was due to the huge expense in a place that was a long horse ride from the jobs and homes of downtown SF.  It was so far from downtown that Mrs. Clark decided not to live there once it was built.

Photo from SF Public Library


photo from SF Landmarks



Another great home is just up the hill, where Market Street does a big curve toward the south.  It is the oldest home on Twin Peaks, built circa 1860’s and lived in by Behrend Joost.  Everybody who drives up Market Street has seen this one.  This is the oldest house existing on Twin Peaks.  Not only is a great bit of Victorian gingerbread architecture, but it has still has about a half acre of property, which is unheard of in the city.  There are a few outbuildings and extensive gardens.  When it came on the market a few years ago at $2.5M, there was a lot of buzz.  My photo isn’t great, but here are more photos from the listing.


photo from the SF Chronicle


As I put this article together, I learned a bit more history on these two.  I then had to scrap photos of several other homes that I planned to feature.  It turns out that their owners were both very celebrated fellows in the history of SF, and that they were real characters.  Tales of fistfights between the two of them on 18th St are well documented, due to arguments about the fresh water springs that were on both of their properties.  The battles were more than physical, as they eventually led to both owners loosing money and businesses which sold that spring water to the city denizens.

Nobby Clark was a rough and tumble ex cop, who had a side business loaning money and paying debts.  It was this side business that eventually got him fired from the police force, but he had already gathered enough money paid for the mansion ($100,000).  While Behrend Joost was a businessman of repute, with ownership of several different ventures including local railroads, before he started the Mountain Spring Water Company based on the liquid coming out of the ground near his home.  (it still comes out at the corner of Clayton and Corbett and flows underground down 18th to the Mission).  Here is a cool map showing where there used to be water, and why Mission Dolores was built where it was way back in 1776, from this site.  (the Mission is now surrounded by Dolores, 16th, & 17th Streets)


The feud between those two guys lasted their entire lives.  Both men lost fortunes and died with little or no money, but they lived on through great stories told by many friends.  They lived large, and were all over the scene of post-goldrush SF.  Clark died downtown in a modest bungalow, while Joost committed suicide in his home at age 82 after losing millions.  His death was reported on the front page of the city paper.  These two characters both had rags to riches stories in the boom following the gold rush, and their homes still illustrate that even today.

Photo: Greg Gaar Collection, San Francisco, CA


Here are several links that I found during my research:

Alfred “Nobby” Clarke: The Police Department’s ‘Emperor Norton’

Water Wars, Past and Future!

Father of Southwest San Francisco Behrend Joost (1845-1917)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2010 8:41 pm

    It’s very cool to learn the stories behind places like this. Thanks for posting!

  2. August 18, 2010 8:27 am

    *sigh* I love old houses like these. There’s a lot of cool ones in Elgin, IL as well. I would love to live even in the lil guest cottage of the twin peaks one. Cool story about the houses and the rags to riches as well!

  3. R.W. Gooding permalink
    May 28, 2018 6:11 pm

    I lived in Nobby Clark’s for two years in an apt. in the main floor back tower. It was one bedroom and bath a lovely tiled mantle and fireplace stained glass windows above all the huge clear windows. The Turret was my living room . IT had 5 huge curved windows that looked into the side and back garden each window had a top stained glass floral window with faced jewels which threw rainbows all over the room. The most fantastic thing about the round room was the massive plaster frieze molding around the entire room and spanning the center of the room was a 10 ft. plaster arch with a trellis motif with a center medallion of a Turkish woman with a large turban on her head. Off the round room was a small kitchen of no interest. The round room was used as an operating room when the house was converted to a hospital after the Clark’s moved back to downtown. It was a dream to live there. When I first visited SF in the late 60’s I was taken by the house and I swore I would live there some day. Coming from Georgia that was a big wish but fate lead me back across the country in the mid 70’s and I got my wish. The house interior halls and stairways were all furnished with antiques of the proper pedigree and age as if it was still all inhabited by a single family. The main entry ceiling is supported by large gilded angels and the stair is a masterwork of walnut carving by German craftsmen. It has mosaic floors and niches with painted landscapes.

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