One hundred and ten years ago, the real estate firm of Rogers and Stone, who had recently invested heavily in Sunnyside lots, took out a huge four-page stand-alone color supplement in the San Francisco Call. It featured an artist’s fantastical renditions of life in the neighborhood. Unsurprising for the world of property sales, the copious text is full of imaginary claims about the future of the City and the prospects of the then-largely undeveloped district.
Unfortunately, only a black-and-white version is left to see now. Perhaps it looked like this when it was printed in four colors and tucked inside the SF Call:
Missing from the imagery are the steep hills. The shadows go the wrong direction. The houses are palatial, on large lots with landscaping, and not much like the actual ones that dotted the district on long, narrow lots. The schoolhouse has a marvelous cupola–just above the ‘Sunnyside’ in this detail–completely imaginary. In reality there were quite a few houses where a cow or two was kept–also missing from the picture.
The idyllic cover image shows the evening reunion of young families, as white-collared fathers disembark from the electric streetcar and are greeted by little daughters in clean white dresses and wives in starched blouses. Actual families in Sunnyside at this time were often very large–five or eight children, with aging parents and other relatives, all living together in a four- or five-room house. The workers in the house–including the young men and women aged 16 or older–had occupations like carpenter, machinist, iron worker, brewery worker, seamstress, or painter.
Page two of the supplement was decorated with images of men like President Taft and Capitalist John Astor, exhorting the masses to purchase real estate. The text spun the population numbers for the City — the recent return of many people to the city after the Great Fire in 1906 was extrapolated into the future: San Francisco would be bursting at the seams with 750,000 people by 1912! Even if you didn’t intend to build a house in Sunnyside, every dollar you invested here would bring you two in just a few months, and go on doubling!
On the ground, there were developments that really did benefit residents. The streetcar line from downtown had just two months before been extended down to the end of Monterey Boulevard, making it realistic to live in the western end of the district for many more people. Here is are photos on Monterey taken in the previous two months, when the new tracks were laid.
The first purpose-built school was also completed in April. More about the first schoolhouse here.
However, many claims for future developments were far-fetched. The writer stated that Southern Pacific was due to electrify the train to points south (the current route of I-280 freeway), a feat that even now hasn’t yet been achieved by Caltrain.
Sunnyside was still an outlying area; what you met at the end of Monterey Blvd (then Sunnyside Avenue), beyond the last streetcar stop, was the impenetrable depths of Sutro’s Forest, which Rogers and Stone touted as a wind-break. Within ten years, the forest came down anyway, for Westwood Park.
The artist, Frederic Wheeler, was a resident of Berkeley, and is not likely to have actually visited Sunnyside to create his sylvan drawings. Indeed, the houses he depicted are more like Art and Crafts-style homes commonly found across the Bay.
Rogers and Stone spent a lot of money on this splashy advertising venture; the Call even ran a short feature about the supplement the next day, including quotes from CS Stone, one of the realtors.
“The four-page Sunnyside supplement was one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate advertising I have ever seen. That it produced the required results was evident by the interest it created. So general was it that we made arrangements with the United Railroads for a special [street]car service to Sunnyside next Saturday and Sunday, the indications that about 2,000 persons will visit the tract on these days….The wives are the first to look over the land. They pick out the lots they want and at the first opportunity go with their husbands and make the purchase.” (SF Call, 4 June 1909)
So excited by Sunnyside prospects was the company, that they installed a Hollywood-like sign with letters ten feet tall. Read more about that here.
Unfortunately, Rogers and Stone bit off more than they could sell. Within about a year, they had divested themselves of their Sunnyside holdings, having sold lots to unqualified buyers with little or no down payment and “easy terms” who subsequently defaulted. They sold what they had at a deep loss, back to the the Homeland Company, which was the heir to the original Sunnyside Land Company holdings.
Additionally, the company indulged in racist marketing, so no one need mourn their demise. By September 1909, perhaps desperate at the flagging sales, they were advertising explicitly that they did not sell to Asian-Americans or African-Americans.