Chipped! The Poole-Bell House in the 1930s

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco.

The Poole-Bell House was never quite a mansion, but it was grander than most homes in Fairmount Heights in the early years of the district. It was built in the Italianate style in 1887 by attorney John P Poole; later a top story was added by Teresa Bell in about 1908. Such a fine home was in line with the original aspirations of the investors who laid out Fairmount Heights with generously sized lots—San Francisco’s first suburb, circa 1862. (Read more about the founding of Fairmount here.)

Poole-Bell House, January 1957. Photo: Russell Leake. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.
Poole-Bell House, January 1957. Photo: Russell Leake. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.

The district was planned to coincide with the building of the San Francisco-San Jose steam railroad in the early 1860s. It was a kind of commuter district; if you could afford the property, you could also spring for the steeper fare for the steam train—more than the nickel for the streetcar. There was a railway depot located nearby to deposit passengers from downtown. Streetcar service did not come this far south until a line was laid on Mission Street to Valencia in 1883.

Fairmount homestead map, 1864. North is on right side, Poole-Bell property in red. Railroad ran along curved lower border. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.
Fairmount homestead map, 1864. North is on right side, Poole-Bell property marked in red. Railroad ran along curved lower border. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.

Later the original large Fairmount lots were subdivided, and smaller, more modest houses went up all over the district, especially after the construction of the electric streetcar line along Chenery Street in 1892. (Read more about that here.)

Still, even as late as 1930, the large Poole-Bell property was basically intact, sitting in an expansive lot on the hillside, with a good view of the growing city. It took a man with a dark past as a notorious Alaska gold-mining claims jumper, to change forever its stately elegance. Robert Nixon Chipps bought the property in 1929. He promptly sold off numerous lots from the large estate to developers for smaller houses, and divided the large aging house into three flats.

Robert Chipps, about 1900. Ancestry.com.
Robert Chipps, about 1900. Ancestry.com.

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The Gilmores and the Poole-Bell House

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco.

The Poole-Bell House once sat alone on a massive lot on the hillside above Laidley Street, overlooking the city—a large elegant home built in 1887 by attorney John P Poole. It was subsequently owned by Teresa Bell, the widow of nineteenth-century financier Thomas Bell. But many other people have lived there since she left in 1918. In the 1930s, it was subdivided into three flats, and later into four units.

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The sensational and now rather tired legends about the house are due for retirement; there are better stories to tell about this local landmark. In 1967, it was acquired by another widow, Polly Gilmore. She and her adult son Read Gilmore lived there for twenty years; they had a big impact on the life of this historic house, and on the life of the city.

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In the picture again: more Sunnyside Elementary School class photos

More class photos from Sunnyside. See first group here.  My thanks to Sunnyside resident and one-time Sunnyside ES student Greg Adams. Read more about Sunnyside School here.

First grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1958. Courtesy Greg Adams. View larger. 
First grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1958. Courtesy Greg Adams. View larger.  

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San Jose at Havelock (1): 1910 and Today

Move slider to compare photographs. Looking north on San Jose Ave just south of Havelock St. The route of the San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway.

View larger here. Look at other comparison photographs here.

1910 photo: Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com

The First Black Family in Glen Park

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco.

In researching the real history of the Poole-Bell house in Fairmount, I discovered an untold chapter in its story. In 1918, after Teresa Bell moved out of her “gloomy old house,”[1] she rented to a family named Tyrrel. They turned out to be the first African-American family in the Glen Park-Fairmount district.[2] They stayed for three decades, finally settling in a house on Chenery.

Their lives tell us something of what it was to be black in San Francisco in the decades before WWII. Fortunately, the family archivist has shared with me many photos of the Tyrrels, some of which were taken at the Poole-Bell house, as well as family stories. The Tyrrels were in the public record for their church and fraternal group activities. These fortunate gifts have made it possible to tell a story of the family.

Bertram and Frances Tyrrel moved to the big house at the corner of Laidley and Fairmount Streets during the last years of Teresa Bell’s ownership. They had two children still living with them, Irma, then 22, and Wendell, 21. Frances also had two older children from a previous marriage who had both since started their own families: Pearl Hinds, who had three small daughters and kept a farm in Tulare County with her husband; and James Barber, who had a wife and young daughter in San Mateo County.

The family was very close, including Frances’ sister’s and brother’s families. Photographs during these years bear out the family’s sense of belonging and their pleasure and pride in their shared lives.

1920c. Group photo in front of the Laidley Street house. From left: Bertram Tyrrel, Irma Tyrrel, Marjorie Lake with Eleanor Hinds, Harriet Cady Lake in back, and next to her Frances Tyrrel, and Wendell Tyrrel with Marian and Frances Hinds in front.
1920c. Group photo in front of the Laidley Street house. From left to right: Bertram Tyrrel, Irma Tyrrel, Marjorie Lake with Eleanor Hinds in front, Harriet Cady Lake in back, and next to her Frances Tyrrel, and Wendell Tyrrel with Marian and Frances Hinds in front. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

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In the picture: Sunnyside Elementary School students through the years

There is nothing quite like kids’ faces! I’ve been fortunate over the years to have been given the chance by several former students to scan class photos from the 1930s to the 1960s. I present them here in reverse chronological order without commentary.* My thanks to Marty Hackett, Mark Sultana, Julie Spalasso Vozza, Bill Wilson, and Greg Gaar for sharing these with me. View more class photos here.

The current building of Sunnyside Elementary School (250 Foerster Street, San Francisco) was built in 1927. Read more about its history. 

Sixth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1964. Courtesy Marty Hackett.
Sixth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1964. Courtesy Marty Hackett. View larger. 
Fourth/fifth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1963. Courtesy Marty Hackett.
Fourth/fifth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1963. Courtesy Marty Hackett. View larger. 

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Gilbert Plov, Little-Box Builder

The strange dominance of small single-family homes in San Francisco, with its roots in pre-Quake planning and post-Quake building, has come at last in this century to bite the city in its housing-supply backside. Density doesn’t match need now and it is difficult to see how it ever can. It is as though San Francisco, to personify for a moment, never expected to become a real city. So it allowed builders to fill the thousands of residential blocks with one-story-over-basement structures that cannot reasonably ever be transformed into multi-unit, multi-story buildings—unlike, say, a Mission-District Victorian or a Brooklyn brownstone. And should you be inclined to try, zoning and/or neighbors will prevent you from rebuilding one as a four-story wart on the smooth skin of row-upon-row of SFHs.

In their vast inertial numbers, the Little Boxes will always win. The march of those attached four- or five-room homes, on their narrow 25×100 foot lots, across hundreds of city blocks can only ever be disrupted here and there—a few corner developments, a few big structures on old gas station lots, a few scattered replacements, or the odd added story or ADU.

The die was cast—getting on for a hundred years ago now—and the pattern will persist.

Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com
Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com

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Dancer, Director, Dreamer: The Work and Life of Ann Marie Garvin

SF Examiner, 20 Dec 1981. Photo: Chris Hardy for the Examiner.

Sunnyside Resident Ann Marie Garvin passed away recently at the age of 82.

“Dance is all that’s left that’s real. It’s another world, all yours, and no one can take away the thrill of it.”

Ann Marie Garvin spoke those words to a reporter in 1976, shortly after she had founded her studio on Monterey Boulevard, Dancer’s Synectics Group. They were words she lived by over the course of her long working life–performing, teaching, directing, and choreographing, in San Francisco and beyond.

For 45 years, in the pink-striped building, she taught thousands of dancers, from near and far, her particular fast-paced jazz style and much else as well. Many Bay Area dancers studied with her, such as Ed Mock, Snowy Winter, Greg de Silva, and Craig Innes. Jazz dancer and instructor Ann Barrett noted in an artist’s bio how performing in Ann Marie Garvin’s ‘Dance Between the Lines’ had been invaluable to her understanding of choreography and theater, and for that she was “eternally grateful.”[1]

In assembling and choreographing her own companies of dancers, Ann Marie Garvin rode the crests of several trends, including the push for a greater diversity of body shapes and skin colors in dance that happened in the Bay Area the late 1970s.[2]

“The distinctive thing about Ann Marie is her disregard for height, or color of skin. She is unaware of anything except this: Can they dance? So [her] company has tall and short, plumpish, tan, black, white, but all marvelous dancers.”[3]

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