A Rejection of ‘Pure Shlock’

A colorful candy dish of castle-like houses hides along several blocks in the Outer Sunset.

Much of the Sunset’s homes are two-story square pastel blocks, often with a garage on the lower level and a staircase leading to the front door. Some have mission-style decorations, such as a row of curved tiles over the front door; others have curved windows whose tops end in a peak. But one stretch of the Outer Sunset — from 33rd to 36th avenues, between Kirkham and Lawton streets — stands out among its basic, occasionally boring neighbors.

Locals call these houses the “storybook homes,” based on their whimsical accents, hodge-podge facades, and castle-like turrets. Often painted pink, yellow, blue, and purple, the cottages look as though they were made out of gingerbread and icing.

A number of architects are to credit for these Hansel-and-Gretel-style houses, but Oliver M. Rousseau is the most well-known. Hailing from a family of builders, Rousseau veered away from the standard cookie-cutter homes scattered throughout the rest of the neighborhood, and added an element of flair to his work. Drawing influence from Spanish Colonial revivals, Tudor homes and — it appears — Hans Christian Andersen, he plopped his architectural creations on top of acres of rolling sand dunes, just blocks from the ocean.

Despite their current multimillion-dollar values, the homes were originally built for middle-income families in the early- to mid-1900s. These were aspirational people who lusted after the large homes a few miles away in Forest Hill and St. Francis Wood but were unable to afford them. Miniature versions of the nearby mansions, the storybook houses had all the charm of their neighbors, but in a bite-size package on the cheaper, outer edges of the city.

Rousseau’s work was popular while he was alive, but today, the homes’ values have skyrocketed. In 2016, a two-bedroom Rousseau home at 1587 34th Ave. was listed for $1.29 million. It sold for well over asking, at $1.47 million.

When Rousseau died at age 85 in 1977, Chronicle columnist Herb Caen gave him a shoutout — and a slight insult to the architects who came before him: “Another Memorial Day death: Oliver Rousseau, who built good houses while all about him, the pure schlock was rising.”

Check out more stories in our feature on the Outer Sunset here:

It’s Always Sunny in the Sunset
Fog schmog, one of San Francisco’s loveliest neighborhoods is just blocks from the ocean.

Who Opens an Independent Bookstore in 2017?
Black Bird Books has what it takes to make it work. But who knew the Outer Sunset had this many boutiques?

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Eating in the Outer Sunset
Between Sunset Boulevard and the ocean, there are plenty of brunch spots, fish tacos, and third-wave coffee shops.

Unpaving Paradise
More than 113,000 gallons of the neighborhood’s stormwater are diverted through city sewers annually, thanks to the Sunset District’s Front Yard Ambassadors.

Will Teach For Housing
Plans inch closer to converting a 1.25-acre lot in the Outer Sunset to homes for SFUSD professionals.

Surrender to the Sand
The southern end of Ocean Beach may get a facelift.

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