San Francisco Nob Hill

Welcome to the beautiful Nob Hill!
With prices as high as its hilltops, immaculately maintained streets and storefronts lend Nob Hill an exclusive air. Nob Hill is known for its picturesque vistas and picture-perfect streetscapes. Despite its views of Downtown, Nob Hill’s serene streets and pristine homes make it feel miles away. Historic Victorian homes and spectacular views add to the neighborhood’s unattainable mystique, while a Gothic style cathedral contributes to its old-world opulence. Not a neighborhood to be outdone, Nob Hill also boasts world-class restaurants and swanky lounges for after-dinner drinks.
Nob Hill is a neighborhood in San Francisco, California, centered on the intersection of California Street and Powell Street. It is one of San Francisco’s 44 hills and also one of the San Francisco’s original “Seven Hills.” Traditionally known as the richest, swankiest hill in the city, Nob Hill offers many upscale restaurants, great apartments, and five star hotels. Prior to the 1850s, Nob Hill was called California Hill (after California Street, which climbs its steep eastern face). It was renamed after the Central Pacific Railroad’s Big Four — called the Nobs — built mansions there.
The actual peak of Nob Hill lies slightly to the northwest, approximately at the intersection of Jones and Sacramento Streets. South of Nob Hill is the shopping district of Union Square, the Tenderloin neighborhood, and Market Street. To the east is San Francisco’s Chinatown and a little farther, the city’s financial district. North East of Nob Hill is North Beach and Telegraph Hill. North of Nob Hill is Russian Hill, and eventually, the tourist-centered areas of the waterfront such as Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Bordered by Polk, Post, Washington, and Mason Streets, the neighborhood known as Nob Hill has always been one of San Francisco’s wealthiest communities. Once the site of numerous mansions and other grand buildings – a few of which still exist – Nob Hill is today a bit more eclectic, but still equally as enticing a place in which to live or visit. Back during Gold Rush times, when San Francisco’s famed cable cars began carrying people up the hill, Nob Hill became the most desirable place to live. After all, the view is incredible and, in those days, wealthy citizens didn’t want to live “down the hill” near the waterfront, where days were noisy and nights bawdy.
Here comes the History of the Nob Hill. The area was settled in the rapid urbanization happening in the city in the late 19th century. Because of the views and its central position, it became an exclusive enclave of the rich and famous on the west coast who built large mansions in the neighborhood. This included prominent tycoons such as Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University and other members of The Big Four. For this reason, its early citizens were known as nabobs, which was shortened to Nob, giving the area its eventual name.
The neighborhood was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, except for the granite walls surrounding the Stanford, Crocker, Huntington and Hopkins mansions. Those walls remain and you can see black scars caused by smoke from the intense fires that burned after the quake. Also, gutted by the fires was the newly completed Fairmont Hotel at Mason and California Streets, as well as the mansion of tycoon James Flood. Both structures had stone exteriors that survived the fires, and both buildings were subsequently rebuilt. The Fairmont Hotel remains in operation to this day and the Flood Mansion is the headquarters of the exclusive Pacific-Union Club.
While the neighborhood was able to maintain its affluence following the quake, every mansion owner moved or rebuilt elsewhere. Some rebuilt mansions further west in San Francisco, for example, in Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow. In place of where the mansions had been located, swank hotels were erected. Hotels built over the ruins of the former mansions include the Mark Hopkins, Huntington and Stanford Court.  Nob Hill is an affluent district, home to many of the city’s upper-class families as well as a large young urban professional population, and a growing Chinese immigrant population from Chinatown to the east. Nob is disparaging British slang abbreviation of “noble/nobility” referring to newly rich.
The long shadow of the Big Four (the four tycoons that made their money from the railroad) still hangs over the heart of Nob Hill, Huntington Park. A good place to relax, the park has plenty of benches, landscaping, fountains as well as a children’s playground. Don’t miss the replica of Rome’s Fountain of the Tortoises, located in the middle of the park. There is another park called Washington & Hyde Mini Park, which has a playground for children, landscaping, and public restrooms.
Surrounding the Huntington Park you find some of San Francisco’s most expensive hotels —the Stanford Court, the Huntington and the Mark Hopkins. Many of the rich who accumulated their wealth during the gold rush era in often dubious circumstances built their mansions on top of this hill, trying to outdo each other. Nob was one of the names given to these magnates, which is where the hill got its name from. The hotels were named for three of The Big Four, four entrepreneurs of the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins & Collis P. Huntington. The fourth, Charles Crocker has a garage named after him in the neighborhood. The Fairmont is also named for a San Francisco tycoon, James G. Fair. The Mark Hopkins Hotel was built in 1925 at the site of the mansion of Mark Hopkins, one of the ‘Big Four’ railroad tycoons. Like many other wooden mansions it was destroyed by fire in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. Fairmont Hotel was built by the daughter of James Fair, the opulent beaux-arts building was destroyed by the 1906 fire just two days after it was completed. It was fortunately soon rebuilt.
The other notable resident of the Huntington Park area is Grace Cathedral, one of the most prominent churches in the area, dominating the view in front of the park. It is the largest Episcopal Church on the West Coast. This cathedral boasts elaborate stained glass windows and massive bronze doors. The cathedral was built between 1928 and 1964 after the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. The state Masonic Temple is also located across from the church.
One of the main draws to the area is the cable cars and the Cable Car Museum where you can see how the cars are pulled. This museum, located on Mason Street, is housed in the city’s cable car barn and powerhouse and provides visitors with an excellent look at the history of this famous form of transportation. You can also view a number of vintage cable cars and shop in the small gift shop, where everything is cable car-themed. The barn is still actively used as the center of the cable car system. From a deck you can see the mechanics that pull the cable cars up the hills.
The neighborhood is extremely safe with lots of high-end hotels around and quiet even way past midnight. Nob Hill is a very central location and there’s plenty of public transport options around. Don’t be intimidated by Nob Hill’s ritzy facades. Whether sprawling in the park or sharing lunch, the neighborhood knows how to relax. When the day declines, descend the hill onto Polk Street. Restaurants, bars, and lounges offer nocturnal spots to linger. Night owls of all sorts make their way to Polk Street’s sports bars, Irish pubs, and cocktail lounges.
In many ways, Nob Hill embodies some of the worst features of San Francisco—it is noisy, overcrowded, and expensive to both live and visit. As with other areas, parking is difficult and made even more so by steep inclines. Many refurbished Victorians line the streets, but you tend to come across a far greater number of older stone buildings. As with Russian Hill to the north, this is largely an enclave for singles and married childless couples, the close quarters of apartments and condos not being conducive to childrearing, despite the high prices.  

The residential area largely centers around the western slope of the hill. This is the area that most resembles other residential areas in the city with corner markets, local restaurants, and fewer tourists. Prices throughout Nob Hill are high, but at its southern extremes as you near the Tenderloin, rents drop accordingly. (Beware, however, as some residences billed as “South Nob Hill” are actually in the Tenderloin. The border is usually considered to be at the St. Francis Hospital.)
Nob Hill is the home for Pacific-Union Club. This building in Italianate style, also known as the Flood Mansion, is one of the few that survived the fire of 1906. It was built in 1886 by architect Augustus Laver for James Flood, known as the bonanza king since his wealth was the result of the discovery of a bonanza. After the fire the burnt-out building was purchased and renovated by the Pacific-Union Club, a private social club with its roots in the gold rush era.
For those who explore further, Nob Hill also reveals unexpected facets. In addition to its swanky character, the area is influenced by the diverse personalities of the downtown neighborhoods that surround it, making it an intriguing place to visit.
Davenport

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Davenport

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