Peter Richard Schmidt was born June 13, 1833, one of twelve children born to Caspar Theodore and Frederica Schmidt in Hagen, Westphalia, Germany. Schmidt studied architecture before coming to America in the 1850’s. He arrived in California on horseback after spending time in New York, Washington, D. C., and San Antonio and Hamilton, Texas.
Schmidt married Louise Laemmermann, originally from Darmstadt, Germany, on May 14, 1866. He was 33 and she was 19. The marriage was witnessed by Victor Hoffman, an architect, and W.A. Wilder. The couple had three children, Richard (1868), Elsie (1880), and Adele (1882). Schmidt’s home address was first listed at 1913 Stockton Street. In 1867, his home address changed to the North side of Oak near Laguna. In 1883, at a cost of $8,000, Schmidt built his own home on the Northwest corner of Golden Gate and Broderick Streets.
San Francisco, Her Trade and Industries, by Thompson and Co., states that Schmidt “commenced here (San Francisco) as far back as 1862”. Schmidt’s name first appeared in city directories in 1863. He was a draftsman with Hoffman & Mooser (which had existed since at least 1859). In 1864, Hoffman & Mooser’s name changed to Hoffman & Schmidt, located in the Metropolitan Block. By 1865, Hoffman & Schmidt had relocated to 240 Montgomery Street. There are no known extant structures by Hoffman & Schmidt.
From 1868 to 1873, Schmidt was in partnership with Augustus F. Eisen. Eisen & Schmidt were first listed at 402 Kearny Street. Their office was later located at 103 Post Street. Although Schmidt remained at this location for many years after this partnership ended, it is not believed that he designed it. There are no known extant structures by Eisen & Schmidt.
From 1876 to 1879, Charles I. Havens worked as a draftsman in Schmidt’s office. From 1882 to 1885, Schmidt was in partnership with Havens at 103 Post Street. Schmidt & Havens were responsible for well over 50 structures during their partnership. There are several extant Schmidt & Havens structures.
The 1884 city directory shows Frank T. Shea as a draftsman for Schmidt. In 1889, Schmidt went into partnership with Shea. In 1890, Shea formed his own firm, Shea & Shea, with his brother, William D. Shea. There are several extant Schmidt & Shea structures.
Schmidt was in business without a partner from 1874-1881 (103 Post Street). He was again in business without a partner from 1886-1888 (103 Post Street). In his last few years of practice, 1890-1894 (63 Flood Building, precursor of extant 1904 Flood Building), he was in business by himself again.
Schmidt last appeared in the 1894-95 city directory. Although he maintained an office in the Flood Building, his family residence had changed to Calistoga. Circa 1892, his family moved to a 365 acre ranch that he bought (c. 1885) on the hill Southwest of Calistoga. He planted a large vineyard and orchard, built a residence and wine cellar, and installed an electric light plant.
Schmidt died in San Francisco, in January of 1901, after a short illness. He was cremated in the Odd Fellows’ crematory and then inurned at his ranch in Calistoga.
Schmidt’s work included factories, warehouses, wine depots, the Stockwells Theatre (later named the Columbia Theater) on Powell Street (destroyed in 1906), and even vaults and monuments for Laurel Hill Cemetery. Costs varied from $1,000 for a “dancing hall” on Van Ness Avenue to $130,000 for a four-story house with attic on Market at Fell. Schmidt’s clients included Levi Strauss, George Moffatt (O’Connor-Moffatt Co.), O.H. Liebes (H. Liebes & Co. Cloak and Suit House) and O.A. Roos (Roos Bros.), and C.G. Hooker (president of the Merchant’s Exchange).
He designed structures in Fresno, Menlo Park, Alameda, St. Helena, and Calistoga, in addition to the large amount of work done in San Francisco. Although Schmidt was an active San Francisco architect for at least three decades, documentation has been found for the years 1879-1893 only. Those records show well over 300 structures designed by Schmidt, or by his associates, between 1879 and 1893. In a career that produced well over 300 known structures, there are less than 60 extant San Francisco structures, spanning less than a decade, 1882-1891.
Schmidt’s most celebrated single family home is the one built for William Haas, at 2007 Franklin Street. Although certainly not Schmidt’s most impressive work, the Haas-Lilienthal House is one of the most impressive extant structures. It is open to public as a house museum.
For more information: Photographs of the extant structures of Peter R. Schmidt can be found at www.victoriansanfrancisco.com/schmidt-extant/. For information about tours of the Haas-Lilienthal House, visit www.sfheritage.org/events+tours.html#am or call 415-441-3000.