November 30, 2009

High Atop The Hamilton (631 O’Farrell): Penthouse Listing And History

The Hamilton Historic Flyer

Built as a hotel in 1929, converted to condominiums in 1962, and better known for its studios and one-bedrooms, the 3,879 square foot penthouse (#2101) atop The Hamilton (631 O’Farrell) has hit the market asking $4,500,000.

A bit of Hamilton history with respect to how the penthouse came to be:

A wealthy heiress by the name of Marcia McDonald created her fantasy apartment and spared no expense creating this lavish penthouse. As an early buyer, she combined four proposed units on the top floor into one large full-floor unit with its own private elevator access.

631 O'Farrell #2101 Floor Plan

She also expanded the unit outward onto the east and west terraces with a number of non-Art Deco appendages, the grandest being a full-length glass barrel-vaulted solarium held up by imported Greek-style columns. This amazing room when illuminated becomes a beacon in this part of the city. She also added hundreds of thousands of dollars in elaborate finishes.

631 O'Farrell #2101 Solarium

She was not able to finish the unit in her lifetime and never lived there. When her contractor told her she would have to spend another $500,000, she shut the doors and never returned, instead she spent her time in two apartments on the 15th floor...The spectacular unit was finished after her death [four years later] largely according to her original vision and it includes a 360 degree vista of San Francisco and all of it's major landmarks.

At the other end of the building's spectrum, the 520 square foot 631 O'Farrell #906 has been asking $275,000 since October 23, down from $299,000 in August.

∙ Listing: 631 O’Farrell #2101 (3/3.5) 3,879 sqft - $4,500,000 [Sotheby’s] [MLS]
∙ Listing: 631 O’Farrell #906 (0/1) 520 sqft - $275,000 [MLS]
The Hamilton (631 O’Farrell) History [The Hamilton]
Pay For 520, But Live Like 800 (With Bonus Points For “Trendyloin”) [SocketSite]

First Published: November 30, 2009 11:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Awesome Solarium, the neighborhood has changed since 1929. I had heard the improvements were in the millions for this unit, not sure if that's accurate.

Posted by: Paul Hwang at November 30, 2009 11:43 AM

wow. Is it awful that I want to paint over the interior?

Posted by: curmudgeon at November 30, 2009 11:46 AM

Hands down the coolest penthouse in a city with a lot of cool penthouses. But the price? Its not the greatest street scene down below.

Posted by: stucco-sux at November 30, 2009 12:01 PM

Perfect for an eccentric millionaire who likes his views big and his hookers cheap.

Posted by: snark17 at November 30, 2009 12:23 PM

i nominate this place as the ultimate trading places penthouse ever!

thanks for the inspiration snark17

Posted by: james at November 30, 2009 1:31 PM

Nice Media Setup
McIntosh, and Martin Logan. I like

Posted by: BDB at November 30, 2009 2:03 PM

wow. that is one amazing architectural gem.
Clearly a lot of the finishings are for/from a different era, but this place is just amazing.

And that solarium is to die for.

I hope that whoever buys this place leaves it pretty much as-is except for maybe changing some paint colors. It would really be a shame to modernize it IMO.

That said: I think that the closed off DR/Kitchen would be a turnoff to many buyers in this price range. Given the layout, not sure how you could rectify that... maybe opening the DR to the kitchen would help but I doubt it. And not sure most would want to steal space from the master bedroom either. it'd be tough to reconfigure.

but it's an awesome place.

Posted by: ex SF-er at November 30, 2009 2:17 PM

This would go for twice what they are asking if were only a couple of blocks up the hill. That said, the views are amazing. Almost the ultimate bachelor pad.

Posted by: Gimme 4.5M at November 30, 2009 2:29 PM

If the solarium could be converted to common space, I would buy #906 in a heartbeat.

Posted by: joh at November 30, 2009 2:35 PM

I actually like the location-- super urban, very Batman, very NYC. You could have some wild parties here without Nob Hill ladies whining about it.

Posted by: Snark17 at November 30, 2009 2:41 PM

Love the solarium.
The rest needs a complete redesign.

Posted by: salarywoman at November 30, 2009 2:45 PM

I love this place - which looks like Donatella's SF cousin's crib - and I love the neighborhood and the building. It's clearly not for everyone, and there are times when you really want this to be a few blocks up the hill.

I wonder why they went for that style (not criticizing, just wondering). It's an Art Deco building, and that's really a Versace-ish fantasy décor. And I wonder whether the not-for-everyone neighborhood will support this kind of valuation.

Posted by: Embarcadero at November 30, 2009 2:54 PM

I wonder if you get to cut in front of the wait list for parking if you buy this place.

Posted by: R at November 30, 2009 3:52 PM

Not crazy about the interior, but this unit is the real deal. Legitimate, full floor penthouses are scarce in this city, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it sell at that price.

Posted by: Dakota at November 30, 2009 3:55 PM

Anyone have any idea about the prior sale price? The 2008 tax valuation is under $3M.

Wonder what the rest of this building is like, given its location.

Posted by: sfrenegade at November 30, 2009 4:27 PM

$4k for HOA?

Posted by: lolcat_94123 at November 30, 2009 4:30 PM

The mls says it comes with two parking places. All of the other condos in the building are on a wait list since there are only about 30 parking spots for the entire building.

I have shown many of the other condos in the building through the years because they are so low in price. Great use of the space in the studios because they were designed so that the bed is in an alcove that can be partitioned off.

Supposedly the building's systems don't support dishwashers or washer and dryers in the units. But I have seen some remodels that do have dishwashers.

My buyers would have purchased if there had been parking available. They felt like the neighborhood was too dicey to be out walking from a nearby parking garage returning late at night. I have to agree.

Posted by: RSVP at November 30, 2009 4:41 PM

I live in this building and can help to answer some of the questions. Overall it is a great building with some fantastic social people living here. Our community is a cross section of SF: young, old, straight, gay, couples, singles.
We have great (sometimes - whole floor) parties!

(We also offer the lobby, back patio and ballroom as an event rental space to anyone inside or outside the bldg.)

The neighborhood can grate on your nerves but is changing. As a community we regularily have discussions about our surroundings with the police and supervisors. Most of us are tring to improve our area - we are not the type to sit around and whine.

The building contains 186 units which are mostly studios. There are two 1-bedrooms per floor and one two bedroom. The corner studios have some of the best views in the city!

The unit does include leased parking in the basement - the current penthouse owner paid a significant amount of money to jump the line. That being said the parking list is turning over very fast right now - maybe a year to get to the top. This change could be attributed to the economy. But I do know of some residents who have gave up their cars to walk / use the car shares instead.

The building does have somewhat high dues. Not sure what the dues on the penthouse include but my dues include utilities (water, steam heat, electricity), full time manager, full time maintenance/cleaning staff, 24hr security/doorman, package hold service + reserve fund contribution. We have never had an assesment.

Over the last 10 years, the owners have spent a lot of money to restore the lobby, back patio, ballroom and 16th roof deck along with the regular maintenace for a 80 yr old bldg. Next month we are adding a gym to the building.

I belive the unit sold for $2.5 mil around 2000.

Posted by: hamilton resident at November 30, 2009 5:02 PM

That solarium is luscious.

It just goes to show how ridiculous modern developers are to call their high floor, slightly higher ceiling units "penthouses".

This is a penthouse.

Posted by: diemos at November 30, 2009 7:49 PM

@ hamilton resident: Thank you for your post. It's one of the more informative, least judgmental I've read since joining this community. I intend on relocating back to SF (from Newport Beach) in the coming year and as a cash buyer, your lack of snarking inspires me. Thank you for your candid input. I hope that more people realize there are those of us out here that can endure these times and are looking for our next home. Thank you again and to SS.

Posted by: Walsh92663 at November 30, 2009 8:06 PM

The HOA is astronomical for such a 'low amenity' building. Albeit thats usually what happens when you combine units.

Posted by: Ryan at November 30, 2009 9:12 PM

Great views, great location, great unit, absolutely HIDEOUS decor.

Posted by: alex at November 30, 2009 9:52 PM

Spectacular! I actually wouldn't choose this interior from scratch because it's too "old style" for these days. However this is a slice of old San Francisco. Not too thrilled with the neighborhood, but for that price with that solarium, I'm game (if I were in the market for something), and I would keep it just the way it is... except perhaps do something with the kitchen.

Posted by: StockBoySF at December 1, 2009 12:33 AM

Are the sellers a very fine couple who used to live in one of the cottages in the "village" on the south side of Vallejo Street between Franklin and Gough?

Posted by: Conifer at December 1, 2009 1:46 AM

As RSVP pointed out, the penthouse sold for $2.5 mil in the spring of 2000. Before that it sold for $750,000 in 1989.

I would love to buy a unit in this building; especially a corner unit. I will have to wait a bit longer as there are only 3 units for sale currently, the two described above, and #612.

For folks that live there currently any guidance on the best floors, best positioned units? I’m assuming that the north facing units other then 7 and 3 may be a bit dark. What floors have obstructed views, 7 and below? Still watching all of them, but trying to get a better idea from those living there. Thanks!

Posted by: Zach at December 1, 2009 6:37 AM

Sorry, that was hamilton resident that gave the selling point.

Posted by: Zach at December 1, 2009 7:20 AM

Wow, that is a large amount of McIntosh (power)equipment and huge Martin Logan speakers for that sized theater. If they open the windows, you could hear it a few blocks away.

I hope they invite the downstairs neighbors for movie night.

Posted by: chomes at December 1, 2009 10:34 AM

to Walsh92663: your welcome. I am tired of all the negative talk on this site, too. There are so many aspects to consider when buying real estate and it is rare to find everything in a single place.

I am tired of so many people talking negative things about my hood, too. It is a great area to live in. As a female, I have never been put in a difficult situation walking around. I just make sure to be aware of my surrounding and try not to walk alone at midnight.

Zach - I looked at this building for two years before buying. It is a gem. And then I found out about its fantastic community. I have not had any regrets.
The best corner unit depends on your lifestyle: sun rise, sun set, downtown view, west view, north light, south light, etc.
This is the info on units up to the 16 floor where the setbacks change the unit numbers. 02 and 08 are 1-bed, rest are studios.
unit 15 - SW corner ton of light with southwest view from att park to cathedral hill. plus a bonus sun rise in nov/dec/jan
unit 16 - SE corner downtown view + sun rise
unit 02/03 NE corner: downtown view + sun rise
unit 07/08 NW corner: west view + sun set.

I would say anything about the 9th floor has a view. Some of the lower units have a view, too
The west corner units has the best cross ventilation.

Posted by: hamilton resident at December 1, 2009 10:57 AM

Hamilton resident,
I would like to personally thank-you for your informative and positive e-mail. There is so much negativity in the media, that I am beginning to stop reading this site due to all of the negativity. Your post was also very informative, and I wish more would be. I used to live a few blocks near Hamilton, and actually loved the area. It is real-city living close to shopping, great restaurants, and PUBLIC transportation. My gf and I want to move back from the Marina, which is beautiful, but not very diverse. Any recommendations for 1-bedroom rentals around $2000 or below? Thanks!

Posted by: MarinaRenter at December 1, 2009 11:41 AM

Eddy, what was the outcome?

Posted by: curmudgeon at December 1, 2009 11:42 AM

This place remiends me of this place.

I predict a similar outcome.

Posted by: eddy at December 1, 2009 1:27 PM

It's a matter of personal taste, but I don't care for views like this at all - where the Bay and the bridges are far away. For a quarter of the price of this place one could buy a Telegraph Hill home with a postcard view, where you look out at the Marin Headlands and East Bay Hills, not the ugly skyscrapers that have ruined our skyline.

What is not a matter of personal taste is the price. If the property taxes don't kill you, the HOA fees will.

For the cost of the HOA fees alone you could rent an apartment with a better view than this place. It wouldn't be the same size as this penthouse, but the main selling point on the agent's very awkward web site and the main appeal to folks commenting here seems to be the view.

This unit strikes me as a white elephant - interesting to visit or view online, but given the location and the design, a very limited appeal for people actually buying in this price range. It might make more sense to gut it and convert it into two or four units with, as another commentor suggested, a common space for the rest of the building "community" to enjoy.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is going to sit on the market, go through the usual price reductions, and still be priced too high and have too many other negatives to sell.

Posted by: baygelldawg at December 2, 2009 5:36 AM

This layout is really bizarre, although much of it seems the fault of the building itself. You can't get into the 3rd bedroom without going through the solarium, and you can't get into the 2nd bedroom without going through the library or the bathroom? The master bedroom layout is a bit quirky too.

Wonder what this would have looked like as 4 small units. Even more bizarre, I'd guess.

Posted by: sfrenegade at December 2, 2009 9:29 AM

My first SF condo was in the Hamilton, an 11th-floor studio with views toward Nob Hill. I've lived in many places since then--larger and in better neighborhoods, and on higher floors. But I don't think I've ever liked any of them as much or been happier than in my little place in that building. Many improvements have been made to the Hamilton since I lived there. But even then, it was a great place. I miss it.

Posted by: seehsee at December 2, 2009 9:33 AM

This really is a great building with a fun mix of folks living here along with 24-hour security, and great maintenance staff! The ballroom, which you can rent, is a fun place to throw parties, weddings, etc. Everyone knows your business, so if you crave privacy, this is good to know.

You are allowed to have dishwashers if you remodel, but no disposals. Location really is convenient to a lot of things, but the HOA dues are on the high side, going up 6.5 percent in January 2010.

Be warned the HOA is ruled with an iron fist by its president, his boyfriend, and their good friend, who all sit on the board. The other members on the board seem to do as they're told, but there are some dissenters among the bunch, which in a democratic society is a good thing. Antics at board meetings keep many people away, as they feel they really don't have a say in matters of how our money is spent. Pity.

Posted by: LongTimeHamiltonResident at December 17, 2009 11:42 PM

For those interested in buying in the Hamilton, there are a few listed on Zillow as "make me moves" that are not currently on the market. A couple of the upper-floor/corner units were on there last I looked & I know for a fact that at least one of the owners is willing to negotiate:
http://www.zillow.com/homes/631-ofarrell-san-francisco_rb/

Posted by: burgandygirl at January 6, 2010 7:33 PM

The sale of 631 O'Farrell #906 closed escrow on 3/26/10 with a reported contract price of $235,000 (originally listed for $299,000 this past August).

Posted by: SocketSite at March 31, 2010 11:19 AM

I see a new price of $3.95M (12% reduction)

Posted by: lol at April 13, 2010 8:57 AM

The listing for the penthouse atop the Hamiliton (631 O'Farrell #2101) has just been withdrawn from the MLS after 215 days on the market without a sale.

Posted by: SocketSite at June 28, 2010 5:33 PM

Briefly back on the market, the listing for the penthouse atop the Hamiliton (631 O'Farrell #2101) has been withdrawn from the MLS once again without a sale.

Posted by: SocketSite at July 15, 2010 1:12 PM

It's back.

Posted by: R at April 9, 2013 8:49 AM

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