SAVED! Renovation as a House Museum

This is a selection from CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF HISTORY AT OCTAGON HOUSE: 1861–2011 by Janis M. Horne. The article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of The Argonaut, Vol 22. No.1.  The Argonaut is the Journal of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, San Francisco, CA icon-pdfSee PDF of Complete Article.


Fortunately, two factors combined to save the historic home. First, after having been recently informed by the DeYoung Museum that it could no longer house the Colonial Dames’ collection of colonial and federal antiques, the NSCDA-CA was looking for a historic house to serve as both a museum and its state headquarters. Second, two of the society’s members, the Misses Edith and Lucy Allyne, lived across Gough Street from the Octagon House and graciously agreed to donate a portion of their property to its rescue.

The Allyne sisters are pictured on either side of Mrs. Lindley H. Miller. Courtesy of Octagon House archives.

The Allyne sisters are pictured on either side of Mrs. Lindley H. Miller. Courtesy of Octagon House archives.

So, in 1952, after some negotiations, PG&E sold the Octagon House to the NSCDA-CA for $1 plus the cost of moving it. Having saved the house, the Colonial Dames were faced with the even more challenging task of renovating it. The society turned for assistance to retired architect Warren Charles Perry, the former Chairman and Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. In one of the last projects of his life, Perry oversaw the relocation and renovation of the residence. His unique design successfully preserved the spirit of the old house while adapting it for new uses.34

The Octagon House was moved from the east to the west side of Gough Street to the plot of land donated by the Allyne sisters. The home was rotated before being placed on its new site; the original porch was also removed and a new porch was  added. The greatest  number of changes occurred on the ground floor, which needed to accommodate large numbers of museum visitors as well as NSCDA-CA events. Perry removed the central staircase and interior walls separating the four main rooms to create one large room in the shape of a Maltese cross. He built a new staircase at the rear of that room and installed four corner cupboards for display purposes. A one-story addition to one triangular corner created a small but usable kitchen. The windows were reconfigured and other changes were made to make the house more functional. Upstairs, much more of the architectural integrity was retained, including three original rooms and triangular corner spaces.35


The Octagon House being moved from one side of Gough Street to the other. Courtesy of Octagon House archives.


The McElroys’ Octagon House. Photograph by. Jack E. Boucher, October 2, 1960. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thanks to  Janis M. Horne and San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

About the Author

Janis M. Horne is California Museum Properties Chairman and Co-Chair of the Octagon House 150th Anniversary Committee for the NSCDA-CA. She is also a Senior Vice President at Bailard, Inc., an investment management firm. This is her first publication.

34. David Parry, “Architects’ Profiles: Pacific Heights Architects #8- Warren C. Perry” internet article, ry.
35. Docent Manual, pp. 27-28
36. Docent Manual., p. 28, Appendix D.
37. Docent Manual, pp. 25, 29.
38. Nancy Perrin Weston, Mrs. Vanderlynn Stow, and Elinaor Fisk. A History of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in California, 1895-2003, published by NSCDA-CA in 2004, p. 101.