Since starting my position at Heritage nearly a year ago, I’m always dismayed to hear of how so many residents who walk by the Haas-Lilienthal House have disregarded it as just another admired private residence.  Dubbed as “the acme of San Francisco’s Victorian houses,” the 1886 Haas-Lilienthal House (H-L House) stands as the only Victorian-era residence opened to the public year-round through docent-led house tours, walking tours, house rentals, and community-inspired educational and social programs.  Also, it houses the offices of San Francisco Heritage (Heritage), a historic preservation nonprofit, to hold the house in trust for the enjoyment of future generations of San Franciscans. As a City Landmark (no. 69) and National Treasure, the Haas-Lilienthal House stands as a site of national architectural and cultural significance.

Exterior of the Haas-Lilienthal House at night. Photo by Jim Simmons.

From surviving the 1906 earthquake and fIre to the redevelopment frenzy in the 1970s of rapid destructions of Victorian homes, the H-L House is a rare survivor that emerged from earthquakes and economic cataclysm mostly unscathed. Today, the H-L house is threatened by mounting preservation, maintenance, and operational costs as well as being an endangered landmark that is forgotten and left idle over time.

Interior of select rooms on the First Floor of the Haas-Lilienthal House. Photo by Jody Stuart Photography.

While the Haas-Lilienthal House is not alone of historic sites to experience steady declines in attendance and relevance to the community they serve.  Surveys over the past thirty years by the National Endowment for the Arts show that visitation rates at historic sites have fallen from 37 percent in 1982 to 25 percent in 2008, and that rate of decline has only accelerated in the last decade. In these changing times, I hope to redefine Heritage and the H-L House’s role to matter to more people throughout the San Francisco Bay Area than our usual niche group of scholars, historians, and preservationists.

2016 Discover SF! Field Trip to Battery Trail with National Parks Service. Photo by Heritage Staff.

We’ve already been experimenting with new or unusual ideas, such as Mayhem Mansion, which sells out every year, and our Holiday Victorian Teas. This year, I am excited to launch two new Heritage programs: Victorian Valentine Extravaganza! and Localize: Music, Art, and Heritage to connect with new, local audiences. Proceeds from both programs will benefit the maintenance and restoration of the Haas-Lilienthal House as well as support free Heritage award-winning educational programs, including Heritage Hikes for third-graders and Discover SF! Summer Youth Program for middle school students.

2016 Mayhem Mansion. Photo by Pat Mazerra Photography

Although history does not change, its relevance and meaning do evolve depending on the contemporary issues that face society.  Our shared heritage as Americans serves as a stronger bond than occupation, religion, race, and ethnicity.

“While some might assume that historic preservation and museums are solely concerned about the past, it’s actually focused on the futurewhat we share, remember, and carry to the generations that follow us that will make their lives better.”

Our hope is that the Haas-Lilienthal House will always serve as an active and lively bridge across future generations. Please join Heritage in our efforts to secure a healthy and vibrant future for the city by protecting its past. We look forward to your participation in one of our many community-inspired events!

About Author: Terri is the Communications and Programs Manager at San Francisco Heritage. Originally from the DC-MD-VA area, she located to the Bay Area to advance herself in the museum field earning her MBA and MA in Museum Studies at John F. Kennedy University. Driven by a passion to promote humanities as agents of change for communities to be more diverse and inclusive, Terri is committed to working for nonprofits that believe in the importance of cultural arts, historic preservation, and community.

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