The Seven Sisters at Solstice

by Seana Miracle

“The Seven Sisters” are a row of seven very famous Victorian houses in Alamo Square park, also known as the “Painted Ladies” of Alamo Square.  Designed by Michael Cavanaugh, the Seven Sisters are the most widely photographed residences in America, second only to the White House.  Residents report that it feels like they live in Disneyland, as their homes are such popular tourist attractions.  The name “Seven Sisters” is appropriate for this group of “Ladies” as the phrase usually refers to the Pleiades star cluster, which is universally depicted as seven tight knit women who are trying to evade attention.

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Like the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square, one star in the Pleiades star cluster is not like the others.  Merope, the faintest star in the cluster, is thought to not shine as bright as her sisters because she was the only one to marry a mortal man.  Merope is known as the “Missing Pleiade” because astronomers did not identify her at first.  Similarly, the corner house that is not like the others, on the far left, was the one where the architect and designer (i.e. the mortal groomsman) resided, and there was some debate as to whether or not it should be considered a part of the rest of the group.

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A longtime resident of one of the Seven Sisters referred to them as “San Francisco’s Stonehenge” because once a year, following the Winter Solstice, a spectacular light display takes place in Alamo Square, much like the “Sun Dagger” at Chaco Canyon, or the undulating serpent at Tenochtitlan:  The sun shines through two buildings and spotlights each of the Seven Sisters over the course of about two weeks.

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The effect was noticed and photographed by longtime resident George Horfstall, between Christmas 2014 and New Years 2015.

It has not been determined if this effect was deliberately created by architects or civil engineers, or if it is a spectacular synchronicity of urban design and natural forces. If the effect is accidental, it goes to show what a noticeable light show the sun displays at the Winter Solstice, and why cultures all over the world would seek to capture it. If it was a deliberate effect, perhaps it was an attempt to not only capture the sun’s movement at Winter Solstice, but to highlight the astronomical and calendrical importance of the Pleiades star cluster.