This is the story of two brothers, both newly married, who came to Sunnyside to find houses in the 1920s. One stayed for a lifetime. Both belonged to a remarkable family based up north. The houses they settled in were 400 and 412 Joost Avenue, San Francisco.
400 and 412 Joost were built about the same time, in 1913 and 1911 respectively. At that time there was only about six houses on that block, of the 80 or so that are there now. The aerial photo below is from later, in 1938—it was still quite open and undeveloped.
The Lohbrunner Family Exploits
Adolph and Lee Lohbrunner were two of the many sons of Max Lohbrunner, who was an adventuresome character in early 20th-century Alaska mining history. Max came from Germany in the 1880s, and went straight out to Victoria, British Columbia, where he married a young girl named Elizabeth, who according to birth records could not have been older than 13 at the time.
Max and Elizabeth had at least five sons, and then Max took off for the wilds of Alaska for good, in the early 1900s. He went to find his fortune in gold, in one of the many gold-prospecting manias of that time. It seems he never returned home to his wife, though surely he sent money. In the 1910 census he calls the man he lives and works with in Fairbanks AK his ‘partner’, though this is hardly a standard designation on the census for those who shared a dwelling or even work.
Max Lohbrunner made national news in 1907 when he unearthed a whole, fairly intact mastodon in a river bed, in the course of his hunt for gold.
Max was dredging–a technique widely in use for mining that involved disturbing great quantities of earth with large machines in the search for gold; finds such as these were not uncommon. The mastodon was included in the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle in 1909. It was an impressive cull—here are some of the actual bones. (Photos from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.)
His son Lee was also gold prospecting in these years, on the Otter Creek in another area of Alaska, also working on a dredging works; in 1917 he took the time to go into Iditarod to register for the WWI draft, and so left a record. Max’s eldest son was also named Max, and was a ferocious—and later considered, in more humane-minded times, notorious—seal hunter in Alaska. Here is an account of his exploits. A younger son named Edmund was a prominent and pioneering naturalist in British Columbia, having various species of plants named after him. At the University of British Columbia (Canada) Botanical Garden there is a special garden in his honor–the E. H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden.
Fortunes Made, Off to Frisco
In 1920, Max (the father)—then sixty years old, and apparently having had his fill of adventuring—moved with his sons Adolph, Lee, and another son Joseph to San Francisco. Wife Elizabeth was still very much alive, left back in Victoria. While Max and Joseph lived in SROs downtown, Adolph and Lee moved to Sunnyside, which was just then undergoing a boom in building and an influx of new residents. They seem to have been determined to find a home in the neighborhood, as they first rented other places there, on Chenery and Sunnyside Avenue, before finding the two houses at 412 and 400 Joost Avenue, next to each other.
Each had recently married. First they rented the two houses on Joost, Adolph and Elsie in 412, and Lee and Mary in 400, before they had a chance to buy them in the mid-1920s. They both listed their occupation as carpenter, but then in the late 1920s, Lee changed his work; he owned or managed a delicatessen that was located on the site of the current Safeway, which had the address of 647 Monterey. When St Finn Barr opened its new auditorium in September 1927, there was a little ad that suggest Lee himself may have contributed to the church’s funds.
His wife Mary was a retail clerk, as evidenced by union documents that show she was active in the retail union at that time. Brother Adolph next door continued to be listed as a carpenter, though later he had a store selling used furniture in the East Bay.
The Brothers Separate
However, Lee Lohbrunner seemed to have inherited his father’s wanderlust, as he and Mary during the 1930s go back and forth from Seattle, where he works in the building trade, and also British Columbia, where his mother still lives. Perhaps they were quite prosperous, because their automobile trips were even noted in the society pages—a sort of low-speed Twitter.
During their absences from 400 Joost Ave, they rented out the house; the 1930 Census shows a cabinet maker named Lester Aubert, his wife Helen, and their 8-year-old daughter Marie, living there; in 1940 a machinist named Charles Carr and his family rented the house. Finally settled for good in Seattle, Lee and Mary sold 400 Joost in 1946 to Jack Kenna, who lived there for many years to come.
Meanwhile, brother Joseph also got married himself, but left San Francisco for home territory—Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Father Max, despite the fact that his wife Elizabeth was still back in Victoria, remained in SF until he died in 1930, always living downtown in SROs, in the company of single working men, which seems to have been his preferred milieu.
The Brother Who Stayed Put
Back to 412 Joost Ave. Adolph Lohbrunner was more of a quiet homebody, which means there is not a lot to find in the newspapers about him. However, in 1924 he was mentioned, because he had an automobile accident, fracturing his skull. This happened on a Sunday at 11th and Mission, at a time when his father was still living in an SRO at 7th and Mission (Humboldt House, 1136 Mission, rooms $2 a week).
I will sketch a story: Adolph, dutiful son and the only one always around in San Francisco to care for his aging—and shall I suggest cantankerous?—father, is returning home after taking the elderly Max out for a ride. Perhaps he is a bit worn out by the old man’s willful, ornery ways. After all, how can the tame Adolph, neither as ruthless as his brother Max Junior the seal clubber, nor as profit-hungry as his brother Lee the entrepreneur and soon-to-be property developer, ever hope to satisfy his famous father’s expectations…? So, a bit distracted, or angry, or just sad, he gets into a crash with another car, and is injured. (That’s just a bit of my speculation based on a news item. Once a novelist, always a novelist.)
The End of Lohbrunners in Sunnyside
Adolph Lohbrunner, having found, it would seem, his Eden in the world, stayed put at 412 Joost for the rest of his life. He and his wife Elsie had a daughter, also named Elsie, in 1921. She graduated from Balboa High School, married a German immigrant named Mueller, and had a daughter of her own; but they lived in other neighborhoods.
Unfortunately Adolph’s wife Elsie died fairly young, leaving him in the house alone by 1951. He had a secondhand furniture business in Richmond for many years, even before the Bay Bridge was built, so I assume he took the No.10 electric streetcar and then the ferry across the Bay every day, like so many people did in the 1920s and 30s.
Adolph lived at 412 Joost until about 1980; his place of death in 1981 at age 90 is listed as Sonoma. The house was sold to Douglas Murray in 1983, sixty years after Adolph and Elsie bought it in 1923.
Note about the Houses and the Lots
The lots where the houses were built were originally two narrow lots that faced Detroit Street, each 25 by 100 feet—the same as almost every other lot in Sunnyside. But then they were recut into two 50-foot-square lots, both with nice views, before the houses were built.
Now the houses are perched up on a rocky hill, but when they were originally built, they would not have been so high up off the street. Street grading that was done in Sunnyside the 1920s tended to leave houses on the upside of the street much higher than grade, and the ones on the other side lower than grade. Because of the re-cutting of the lots, these two houses don’t have long back yards, and are detached, two things that are fairly uncommon in Sunnyside.
- Max L. Lohbrunner (1860 – 1930)
- Elizabeth Lohbrunner (c.1872 – 1943)
- Lee Louis Lohbrunner (1889 – 1976)
- Mary Lohbrunner (1885 – 1961)
- Adolph Lohbrunner (1890 – 1981)
- Elsie Goessel Lohbrunner (1901 – 1951)
- Elsie M. Lohbrunner Mueller (1921 – ?)
- Louise Elsie Mueller (1953 – 2007)
- Edmund H. Lohbrunner (c.1905 – <1990)