George Adrian Applegarth was born in Oakland in 1875. His parents were English. Applegarth took drawing classes from Bernard Maybeck and was encouraged by Maybeck and others to train in Paris at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts. Applegarth was accepted in the atelier of prominent French architect Victor Laloux in November 1902. At the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Applegarth was in New York working for the architectural firm of Barney & Chapman on his graduate project. By his own admission, he stowed away on the next ship back to Paris to collect his diploma, which was awarded in July 1906. Returning to San Francisco he worked first for L. B. Dutton and then in 1907 formed a partnership with Kenneth MacDonald, Jr. who had also trained at the École des Beaux-Arts. The two collaborated on over 30 commercial buildings and many residences, especially in and around Presidio Terrace, including #3 and #5 in 1908, #27, #30 and #34 all in 1909, and #4, MacDonald's own home, in 1911. In 1909 they also designed the innovative and charming group of connected homes and apartments at 1-11 3rd Avenue, which have a hidden walkway connection to the Terrace.
After the partnership with MacDonald dissolved in 1912, Applegarth went on to complete by himself some wonderful homes, apartments, commercial and public buildings in San Francisco. His most prominent contributions to San Francisco’s architectural heritage were both commissioned by Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. After marrying Adolph Spreckels, son of Claus, the wealthy sugar refiner and newspaper owner, Alma decided to build San Francisco’s largest mansion, 2080 Washington at the corner of Octavia. Still known as the Spreckels Mansion, this wonderful limestone-clad view home is now owned by author Danielle Steel. As a patron of the Arts, Alma also commissioned Applegarth in 1916 to design the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park which she and Adolph donated to the City as a European Arts museum. The colonnade is a copy of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, a Louis XVI townhouse built in 1786, also now a museum, which is located a short walk along the Left Bank of the Seine from Applegarth’s former architectural school. The interior of the California Palace was entirely Applegarth’s design, however, and this building became his personal favorite of all of his work.
Applegarth’s Beaux-Arts influences of rigid symmetry, perfect proportions, columned entries, and coffered ceilings can be seen in many of his residential designs, such as 201 Locust and 3730 Washington, both in Presidio Heights and designed in 1915, and the house which is the subject of this month’s article, 2775 Vallejo, his own home, designed and built in 1916 as a wedding present for his wife Gwendolyn Powers. At the same time, Applegarth designed 2785 Vallejo, immediately to the west.
2775 Vallejo, in the Italian Renaissance style, is a model of restrained Beaux-Arts elegance. Set up high on a 49 ft. wide, steep up-sloping lot, the home has the beautiful coffered ceiling in the living room, enjoys a full Golden Gate view from all levels, and has a spectacular terraced south garden which gave him much delight. The original house had to be enlarged in 1923 by an extension to the east, as the Applegarth family grew.
Applegarth also found time around 1916 to remodel the 1886 Pacific Heights building at 2206-12 Vallejo, known as Schilling Place. Along with two 1920's apartment buildings at 1900 Broadway and 2160 Pacific, Schilling Place and 1-11 3rd Avenue have all since been converted to condominium ownership, a testament to the quality of the buildings and the appeal of the apartments to individual owners.
In 1921 and 1922, Applegarth was President of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Also in the 1920's, ahead of his time, he began making plans for a parking garage under Union Square. That project was subsequently awarded to Timothy Pflueger and completed in 1942. In 1952, he started researching double-spiral ramp, multi-story, self-parking structures and, as one of his last major projects in the City, in 1953 he designed the curvilinear Downtown Center Garage (Mason at O’Farrell), a pioneering structure for San Francisco, which was followed by others for Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles.
A wiry man, Applegarth in his youth was a friend of Jack London’s. They would sail together on the Oakland Estuary and once cycled all the way to Yosemite and then climbed Half Dome. After the 1906 earthquake, when he opened his own office in San Francisco, he signed a 10-year lease with Adolph Spreckels for the 18th floor of the Call Building, San Francisco’s tallest building at that time, which had been gutted by the fire. Cannily, he negotiated a proviso that the rent was to be free until elevator service was available again, which meant Applegarth and staff climbed 18 stories to work each day for five months! Fit to the end, he died at the age of 96 on January 19, 1972 after driving himself to hospital in his Rambler when he became ill