(Bloomberg) -- Jamie Emerick, an artist, and Issac Roth, a partner in the venture capital firm Shasta Ventures, were already living in San Francisco when they came across an historic, 685 square-foot cottage in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood.
The couple, who’d taken on other real estate restoration projects, were immediately smitten: “It was just stunning,” says Emerick. “Unlike anything we’d been looking at.”
The cottage overlooked a private, mature courtyard garden, which was shared by a much larger, 2,790 square-foot main structure that dated to 1906. Both were owned by an antiques dealer, Richard Gervais, who initially sold the couple the cottage; once he retired a few years later, he sold them the larger building too, and they set about renovating the entire urban compound.
“The bones were all there, the garden was amazing, it just needed some freshening,” says Roth. “A lot of time people come in and use a heavy hand, but our practice was to restore it.” Now, after living in the updated building, the couple is ready for their next project, and have put the property on the market with Wendy Storch of Sotheby’s International Realty – San Francisco Brokerage for $4.8 million.
The couple believes that the building was initially constructed in 1906 as a live/use workspace for construction workers who were rebuilding the city after the 1906 earthquake. “There’s evidence that the building was for industrial use,” says Roth. “The floorboards are thick, and there’s a steel beam down the middle of the first floor.”
By 1950, the building’s owner had shifted to a pipe organ company. “When we acquired it, there was still this massive bellows in a crawl space,” says Emerick. “It was so cool to find all the churches that have an organ that came out of this space.”
By the 1980s, the building’s use had switched again, this time to a gay bathhouse. The club seems to have added a number of showers, and installed what Roth says was a 20-person hot tub. They’ve kept many of these showers, turning them into design features. “The primary suite has a shower that overlooks the salon,” Roth says. “But we’ve put up some curtains.”
The couple tried to learn more about the building during this period, but they discovered that former patrons of the bathhouse were reticent to discuss it. “We had two people stop by and ask like ‘Are the mezzanines still there? We really had a good time in there,” Roth says. “And I was like, ‘Wait tell me more, what was it like?’ But they were a little quiet—they didn’t want to share too much.”
Then, for 25 years–right until the couple purchased the home–Gervais, the antiques importer, used the building as a gallery and residence.
It was Gervais, Emerick says, who planted the garden, which is filled with a towering bamboo forest, mature palm trees, and a Koi pond. “Over 25 years, he developed this incredible garden,” she says. “You feel like it’s a mix between Hawaii and the Philippines: It’s a nature garden, and tall bamboos clack against each other when the wind blows, and there are hummingbirds nesting.”
When the couple purchased the entirety of the property, they updated the garden; they cut down some of the bamboo, Roth says, and used it in the house for furniture and hand railings.
Both the cottage and the main house have garages fronting the street. On the main house’s ground floor there’s a large open kitchen and dining room with a vaulted, double-height ceiling, a living room, and a room that doubles as a yoga studio and guest room. That floor opens out onto a deck, which in turn leads to the garden.
Upstairs, there’s a loft open to below where they installed a custom-made electronic organ, in a nod to the building’s past. There’s a primary bedroom suite, along with two other bedrooms and a final room that can double as an office or bedroom. In total, the main house has three-to-four bedrooms and five baths.
The cottage, meanwhile, has all of its residential areas on its second floor: There’s another bedroom, living room, kitchen, full bath, and dining room that opens onto a second-story deck that overlooks the garden.
The home, Emerick says, is an oasis. “It’s like completely being surrounded by nature,” she says. “It’s very shocking, in a way, to come off the concrete jungle into this lush garden.” That green element, she continues, is so important that “even when inside, we wanted to be feeling it,” and so much of their restoration entailed orienting the layout of the home so that it emphasized their little slice of forest.
The expansive outdoor space became particularly crucial during pandemic- era lockdowns, Emerick says. “As things went on, we could invite friends over and sit outside, and hang in the space. We were very fortunate.”
In addition, the city of San Francisco plans to build a park across the street from the property. There will be a playground, sport courts, trees, and planting beds, all of which will augment the property’s exposure to greenery.
“We’ll be hard-pressed to recreate, and find and work on a project that has the same sense of freedom and openness,” says Emerick. “It’s really a special quality.”
(Corrects spelling of Issac Roth’s first name in first paragraph.Updates with information on showers in the seventh paragraph.)
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