1938 Sunnyside School. Photo: DavidRumsey.com

The Mystery Arcade of Sunnyside School

Part of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

Until the mid-1970s, Sunnyside Elementary School had an odd structure that projected into the playground area, called the Arcade. It was about twelve by forty-five feet, one large room, and at least during the 1950s and 1960s housed the school library. What is the story behind this quirky feature?

1940s. Sunnyside School, viewed from Hearst Ave, showing “arcade” structure. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

People I’ve talked to who attended as students or worked as teachers here during this time recall the Arcade. By the 1970s it had a fence around the lower portion, keeping students from going under it, ostensibly because of seismic instability.

It turns out the history of the Arcade goes back to the first Sunnyside schoolhouse, built in 1909.  [Read more about that here.]

1909. The first Sunnyside schoolhouse, soon after its construction on what is the current playground. OpenSFHistory.org

That schoolhouse was located on what is now the school playground.

1915 Sanborn map showing first Sunnyside School, which stood 1909-1933.

According to the current principal, Dr Renée Marcy, when the playground was being dug up in 2015, during the construction of an addition and the reconfiguration of the playground, the foundation of this structure was revealed. But no one knew what it was.

A New School Needed

In the 1920s, as Sunnyside filled out, the old school became inadequate. PTA mothers agitated for a new building, saying the old school was unsafe and unsanitary.

SF Chronicle, 29 Jul 1925.

Additional property was purchased by the school district along Foerster Street, and a new modern building was finished by the end of 1927, opening for classes in January 1928.

1940s. The second Sunnyside school building, viewed from Foerster Street. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.
1950 Sanborn map showing second Sunnyside School, constructed in 1927.

But the old school building stood until 1933–the two buildings together served over 600 students. This double-school arrangement was in place for over five years.

The Double School

Putting the 1915 and the 1950 Sanborn maps together–there was no Sanborn map done in between–the function of the Arcade becomes obvious.

It was a bridge between the two structures.

Composite of 1915 and 1950 Sanborn maps, showing position of first and second school buildings, as thye would have stood together, 1927-1933, with Arcade forming bridge between them. Buildings in purple were bungalows used through the 1980s.

The 1938 aerial photograph shows the Arcade in place, with the old school now gone, having been demolished in 1933.

1938 aerial photo of Sunnyside School. DavidRumsey.com.

In the 1970s the Arcade was removed, and an elevator was installed in the place where it had connected with the building, according to Elizabeth Seywald, a teacher at the school for many decades.

More Recent Changes

Here are three Google Earth satellite views showing the school before, during, and after construction of the new addition in 2015.

April 2013. The location of the now-gone Arcade marked by elevator shaft jutting from building into playground. Google Earth historical imagery.
June 2015. Construction underway. I believe the footprint of the 1909 schoolhouse is just visible on the dug-up playground area here. Google Earth historical imagery.
May 2018. Construction of new addition to the school, and a renovated playground, in finished form. Google Earth historical imagery.

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