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The Little House: A Love Story

November 21, 2021

He was a painter, she was a photographer. The year was 1920 and the place was San Francisco.

They got married in her studio, took a four-day honeymoon, and settled into their first house.

The house was a refugee shack, slapped together in a day in the weeks that followed the 1906 earthquake. The shacks weren’t meant to last, but people had just gone on living in them.

The painter was twenty years older than the photographer. He’d been married before, miserably.

The photographer had raised him as if from the dead.

As soon as they moved in, he painted the walls of the house blue. Planted flowers out back. She hung bright yellow curtains. (She’d only been in the City a few years and wasn’t used to the fog.) The $30 monthly rent was all they could afford, but as long as they could pay it, the little house was theirs.

The painter was Maynard Dixon. The photographer was Dorothea Lange.


Of the approximately 5,000 original earthquake shacks, only 50 or so survive. Lange and Dixon’s beloved little house on Broadway is not one of them, so here are a few pictures to show you what it looked like.

With the exception of the first picture, photographs of the present-day homes are from San Francisco Chronicle. Should you want to go looking, the Chronicle recently published an interactive map of the surviving earthquake shacks. You can find it here.