Schmid-Maybach balcony San Francisco, California

photo by: Drew Kelly

Preservation Magazine, Summer 2023

A San Franciscan Lovingly Renovates a Julia Morgan-Designed Building

From our interview with Ulrich Schmid-Maybach

I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I used to have an office about eight blocks away from this location, which is in the Russian Hill neighborhood. I like to live within walking distance of where I work for efficiency’s sake and so I can be part of a community. I also like living in the intensity of an urban environment on a day-to-day basis.

I run an executive office where we focus on tech investing and real estate—development, investment, property management of certain select projects, such as this one. We also manage the Maybach Foundation and the Maybach archive, and promote mentoring as a means to personal development and social and economic good. That last part comes from the orphan Wilhelm Maybach, who designed the first Mercedes and who would not have realized his potential without the help of others who believed in him.

Ulrich Schmid-Maybach San Francisco, California

photo by: Drew Kelly

Ulrich Schmid-Maybach outside the intricately carved door of his San Francisco home and office, built in the 1920s.

Schmid-Maybach bedroom San Francisco, California

photo by: Drew Kelly

A light-filled bedroom in Schmid-Maybach's apartment.

We came into the COVID period and I [had already been] shopping around for a new office space. I looked at a number of different buildings, and this one came up. It was designed by the architect Julia Morgan for the woodcarver Jules Suppo. My understanding is that Suppo [and his family] lived upstairs and he had his woodworking shop on the ground level. I loved the historic component of it. Being from California and being familiar with Julia Morgan and San Simeon and Hearst Castle … I thought, “Wow, this is great.”

There are two commercial spaces and two residential, including a top-floor apartment [that was added later]. I had initially thought my office could occupy the second floor, but it turned out that wasn’t permitted because it was zoned for residential. So I thought, “Well, OK, I’ll clean up that flat and rent it out.” We were able to rework the space to expand the kitchen and flip it by 90 degrees and then add a second bath. Just as I’m wrapping that up, the architecture firm that was in the ground-floor commercial space moved out, and so the office became available.

Schmid-Maybach exterior San Francisco, California

photo by: Drew Kelly

The Julia Morgan–designed building’s street facade.

Although I had thought to rent out the second-floor flat, I had some life changes going on, so I ended up moving into it myself. I actually love it! We landscaped the west-facing deck with an olive tree and some planter boxes. It’s extremely private, and yet we have sunshine and a little bit of a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We have some long-term tenants who live in the third-floor flat. And there’s a commercial space in the basement that until recently housed a Pilates studio.

My office now uses the front ground-floor space as a conference room, and we have our larger work area in the back. We did add a little wall inside the front bay window to create some privacy. It [also] created this exhibition space, ideally suited for showing things in the windows. I personally don’t like walking by these empty windows all the time; I’d love to create a little life in there. I think an exhibit about Julia Morgan would be a really great thing to do. If that worked out, we could even use this space as some kind of public space—a museum-like pop-up or showcase. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it’s not something that I would rule out.

My mother recently passed away, and she had numerous roses that she lovingly tended in her backyard. I had a number of those moved here. And then, because we’re in San Francisco and it’s generally cold and foggy—even when it’s sunny, it tends to be cold—the idea of putting in a greenhouse came up, not only for the plants but also for us to have some additional gathering space, lunch space, conference space. And this 9- by 10-foot greenhouse in the backyard has worked out great. It’s not disruptive of anything and it overcomes the climate challenges that we have here.

Schmid-Maybach greenhouse San Francisco, California

photo by: Drew Kelly

Schmid-Maybach added a greenhouse in the rear yard, providing extra meeting space without changing the original building.

The house’s facade is in reasonably good shape. Some of the tiles that are on the front of the building need to be repaired. I’d like to repaint the whole building, particularly the front, before long, and to remain period-correct on that as much as I can. I believe the shutters on the front are original, and they need to be rehung. We had a winter here like we haven’t had for a long, long time. So the storms pulled some of those off the screws, and they need to be reinstalled.

Individuals and small groups often walk by and take pictures of the house. People see it, they get engaged, and they want to be involved, is what I find.

Schmid-Maybach kitchen San Francisco, California

photo by: Drew Kelly

The new kitchen in the flat.

It’s about 4,500 square feet, including the basement level. I have a particular proclivity toward real estate. When you think about asset classes, a building like this is closer to a T-Bill than it is to something speculative and risky. When you have an architecturally designed building, there are only so many of them—which to my mind creates more value, and then if you’re going to invest in maintaining it, you’re going to invest in an asset that’s worth investing in. If you go and invest in a utility building, after the 20-, 25-year lease is up, they may just tear it down, because it’s not a high-value building.

[I know] how fortunate I am that I’m able to live here. When I walk back from the coffee shop nearby, I make sure to stay on the other side of the street and then I jaywalk back to this building. Why? So that I can look at this building from across the street and say, “That’s where I live, that’s where I work.” It’s a small dopamine rush.

Somebody thought and cared and used real materials when they made this building back then. Not only that, but the woodcarver was happy with it! Come on, right? If he was happy with it, then I’m going to be happy with it. I know that the idea of quality and design and thoughtfulness and purpose went into this whole thing.

The building also works in my favor from a business point of view. It’s a wonderful introduction to who I am and who we are and how our business partners view us, as well. It’s understated and yet more than meets the eye and there’s the surprise and delight of: Whoa, that’s a Julia Morgan building.

We’re the keepers of these homes. It’s our responsibility to maintain them and share them so we’re storing value and sharing a thing of beauty.

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Headshot Meghan Drueding

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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