The Colorist Movement

About 48,000 houses in the Victorian and Edwardian styles were built in San Francisco between 1849 and 1915. While many of the mansions of Nob Hill were destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, thousands of the mass-produced, more “modest” houses survived in the western and southern neighborhoods of the city.

Many of these houses were painted battleship grey with war-surplus Navy paint during World War I and World War II. Another sixteen thousand were demolished, and many others had the Victorian decor stripped off or covered with tarpaper, brick, stucco, or aluminum siding.

In 1963, San Francisco artist Butch Kardum began combining intense blues and greens on the exterior of his Italianate-style Victorian House. His house was criticized by some, but other neighbors began to copy the bright colors on their own houses. Kardum became a color designer. He, other artists/colorists and house painting outfits like Local Color began to transform dozens of the gray houses into “Painted Ladies.” By the mid 1970s, the “Colorist Movement”, as it was called, had changed entire streets and neighborhoods. This process continues to this day.