Having documented the history behind the Fazekas-designed house-number units found all over San Francisco and the Bay Area, I am often asked for help by people wishing to restore their own. Such matters are not my forte. Fortunately, a reader named Sarah has offered a detailed description of the process of refurbishing a unit, and I present it here. (Have anything to add? Write me or post a comment below.)
After removing the unit from the house, this is what Sarah did:
Recently, a significant decision was made by my mom and stepdad to sell my grandmother’s house in the Sunset district. This decision started me off on my journey of restoring the address frame. I wanted to share my restoration process in case it helps others.
I have kindly been given a few unattached examples of Anton Fazekas’ work in the form of doorbell plates, most with their wonderfully finger-inviting Bakelite buttons still in place.
These little works of art were just some of the vast array of products created and sold by his company, American Art Metal Works, during the 40 years he ran the South-of-Market-based firm. Below, there are a few to be seen mounted on the display behind the master himself on this page from a 1940s-era catalogue. (Do you have a doorbell by Fazekas? Write me.)
First we have one touched with the Art Nouveau vibe, sporting two singing birds, a mottled background, and subtle but nonspecific plant references. It appears to have never been attached to a house, as a film of lacquer across one screw hole is unbroken. I believe many of Fazekas’s metal items shipped with a clear lacquer layer on them. It shows the sculptor’s hand in that there are clear but subtle asymmetries to the design. (About 11 cm tall.)
In 1994, before it was thoroughly renovated into a celebrated local gem, Barbara Wyeth captured Sunnyside Conservatory in three moody images created with a plastic-lens camera. Wyeth, a San Francisco-based artist, specializes in photography, copier art, and mail art. More about Wyeth below images. More about Sunnyside Conservatory here.
Anton Fazekas, sculptor, metal-worker, and San Francisco entrepreneur, created unique lighted house number units that can be found on a great many Bay Area houses. Read the background on this midcentury sculptor and entrepreneur here. Since the follow-up post, I’ve happened upon these are other examples around San Francisco. If you have an image to share, write me.
This fairly well preserved unit on Alemany sports the very rare black-on-gold number tiles, which looked brilliant in the morning sun, despite missing its hood.
Another example of the very rare black-on-gold number tiles. The surrounding unit has either been painted to match, or was done in the factory, I do not know. Capp Street.
A lovely renovation on Vernon Street, with ceramic tiles inserted into the unit, along with matching tile spacers.
Although not in top condition, this colorway is striking. Original number tiles may have been the rarely seen black-on-white, with the numbers later repainted red. Cayuga Avenue.
Detailed paint work. Although the hood is missing, this owner on Harrison Street has made the best of it, covering and painting the hope to match.
A cheery bit of paint work on Revere Avenue.
A Deco model in fine condition. A piece of glass has been inserted in front of the number tiles, though how there is sufficient room I don’t know. Alemany Blvd.
A Deco model in good condition. Theresa Street.
Mix-and-Match! This one-half tile is not painted, for reasons I cannot fathom. A Deco unit in very good condition, although the white-on-black number tiles have weathered badly. Quality control seems to have been an issue at various points over the years. Potrero Avenue.
A one-half tile in a well-cared-for unlighted Fazekas unit on Manchester Street.
This Fazekas unit sports glass number-tiles, but they aren’t likely to be original. Even the side spacers are glass. Orizaba Street.
This unlighted ‘Deco’ unit is a bit of a mystery. It was installed sometime after 2008, and yet looks like an original. Could it be a clever latter-day imitation? Portola Drive.
Rare and original black-on-white number tiles, in great condition. The vast majority of Fazekas units have white-on-black tiles. Cayuga Avenue
This type of hood usually only appears on the multiple-address units, so it may have been cobbled together from parts. Dublin Street.
When the old gymnasiums at the City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus were torn down in 2008, as the new Wellness Center was built, three pieces of artwork by Sargent Johnson attached to the structures had to come down too. Fortunately they were preserved, though their destiny remains undetermined.
Mounted over the entrances of the old gyms were three bas-reliefs Johnson created when it was built in 1940. Architect Timothy Pflueger commissioned the works, just as he commissioned art for almost every building he designed, even something as modest as a gym.
The gyms (one for women, one for men) were two of the first three buildings designed by Pflueger and constructed for the campus, the third being Science Hall. That building’s colorful murals are much better known as public art, and still stand. Johnson’s works were removed before the gyms were demolished, and have been in storage since then.
The Sports Figures
The three reliefs depict sports-related subjects: a group of female ball players; a female tennis player; and a group of male athletes. They are made of cast concrete.
On the South Gymnasium (women’s) there were two figures. First, a set of three women playing medicine ball. (See the end of this article for an explanation of medicine ball.)
My post in July 2020 about Anton Fazekas and his house-number sensation turned out to be a minor sensation itself, bringing visitors to this blog in great numbers. Thank you for all the tweets, Reddit posts, and other links that spread the word. Attention to this minute part of the domestic built environment seems to have been a little anodyne in an age of upheaval.
In this follow-up post there are more photos, many from readers, taken in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. I show some rehabilitated units, and some rare and odd finds. Also, I address the pressing issue of where to get replacement bulbs and numbers, with a link for the technical info you need to replace a bulb. And we get a peek at a 3D printed reproduction of a Fazekas.
If you have additional information, tips for renovation, or images to share, please write me. In particular, if you have a resource for unattached refurbished Fazekases for sale, please let me know.
For the Golden Gate International Exposition, sculptor Robert Boardman Howard created a magnificent fountain called The Whales. Later it was installed at the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, where it was a familiar sight to visitors for half a century. Then it languished in storage outdoors at City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus. Restoration has yet to happen, and now it is tucked away at an SF Arts Commission storage facility awaiting funding and badly needed attention.
Curious Sunnysiders walking through nearby City College may have noticed the sculpture stored there over the last several years. It was a sad site–noble and elegant killer whales peeking forlornly out from under tarpaulins and straps. In real life, some communities of this species are endangered; these massive animals rendered in stone looked equally condemned to extinction.
After Sunnyside was laid out and lots went on sale in San Francisco in 1891, there were a lot of unusual newspaper advertisements pushing property sales in the new district during that first year. (More wacky Sunnyside ads in the second post in this series here.)