August 1, 2015

The Secret History of SF’s Stonehenge Houses

We’ve always wondered what the owners of beautiful Victorian and Edwardian buildings were thinking when they decided to swap the beautiful wood façades for a Stonehenge-like faux stone – and now we know. A recent tweet via Eric Fisher from the 1950 edition of San Francisco Progress shows an ad touting the benefits of Perma-Stone: "Add Beauty, Permanence, and Strength to your Home at Low Cost! Eliminate Painting Forever!"

Perma-Stone - and several other variations of the artificial molded stone such as FormStone, FieldStone, Dixie Stone, and yes, Stone of Ages were popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and applied like vinyl siding to existing homes. Perma-Stone was invented in Columbus, Ohio and most popular in places like Baltimore and the East Coast, but found a foothold in San Francisco too, mostly in the Avenues. According to this article in SF Gate from 2010, film director John Waters dubbed Perma-Stone "the polyester of brick."

The ad from the SF Progress lists houses that had already been “Perma-Stoned” and many of them still stand, including these two in Noe Valley:

3976 26th Street – Apparently the current owners don’t buy the bit about never painting again and decided to turn the three-story building into the color of a Tootsie Roll.

4068 Army Street (now Cesar Chavez) - The Perma-Stone endures in what looks like it's the original color on this tiny Noe Valley fortress.

So the next time you see a faux stone façade around the neighborhood, now you know – the home was Perma-Stoned, probably 50-70 years ago.