Monterey Blvd in Sunnyside features a good many midcentury to late-twentieth-century apartment buildings, giving the neighborhood’s main street a characteristic look. This type of construction required some minor code changes for the district, which had previously been zoned for single-family and duplex buildings. The new larger structures filled up the numerous lots along the boulevard that had remained unbuilt since the founding of the neighborhood in 1891, which was the result in part of the difficult topography; the land on either side of the street is quite steep and rocky in places. Here are some 1940s photos.
Starting in the 1950s, developers consolidated lots to build large complexes, or constructed multi-unit structures on a single lot. The building could be said to have gone in three waves.
Although this seven-block stretch of Monterey hardly comes close to the density of the Mission District or other more urban areas in the city, Sunnyside differs from nearby neighborhoods such as Westwood Park, Miraloma Park, or Glen Park, where due to their zoning constraints or development history there are no sizable apartment buildings.
Garage spaces are a feature in almost every building, reflecting the needs and expectations of apartment dwellers at the time. The increase in density these buildings brought was modest: over a forty-year period, four units were built for each individual lot used, originally intended for a single-family home.
These buildings marked a real change in the face of the neighborhood. Some of the buildings went up on lots that had previously had gas stations—a frequent feature of midcentury Sunnyside. From the 1920s to the 1970s, Monterey Blvd had a gas station on nearly every block. These large buildings also removed unstructured open areas that local children had enjoyed for play and exploration for decades, although this period coincided with the construction of Sunnyside Playground, the neighborhood’s first park, which gave kids a new place to play.
First Box on the Block
In 1958, the first larger apartment building went up at 725 Monterey, with 11 units. It is a structure of almost unrelieved plainness, having but a narrow strip of molding at the top, better scaled for indoor use, and a two-foot strip of fake brick at the base. The only variant to the flat front are narrow flanges over five windows and the recessed doorway. It was not until quite a bit later that the Planning Department implemented aesthetic requirements such as bay windows. The building replaced two empty lots.
Some Modern Flourishes
In 1959, this six-unit went up at Monterey and Congo, on a single lot. The corner location meant that garages could be built facing Congo, with a small parking lot in what would otherwise be yard for a house. The increase in height gave many of the units views. Its squared-off modernist simplicity, with horizontal stripes between floors, is accented by the surface treatment of one wall near the recessed entrance-way–tiles covered in flat pebbles shaped like guitar picks, in shades of soft pink, grey, and black.
In 1961, the seven-unit structure at 295 Monterey (below) was also built on a single lot. Again, the corner location made possible garages accessed from Congo Street and exterior fire escapes. The builder had somewhat more ambition, facing the front with another type of pebble tiling and employing modernist architectural features accented by bold color.
2019. 295 Monterey Blvd. Photo: Amy O’Hair. Built 1961.Hannah Simonson, an architectural historian on the Advisory Council of Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project says of this building:
“This is an example of what San Francisco likes to call ‘Contractor Modern,’ which is to say not architect-designed, but built by a contractor or builder with some modest Modern elements and generally pretty inexpensive materials and construction methods.”
Of the square, pebble-stone tile, she says, “Although stone, marble, etc. of a higher quality was typical on architect-designed buildings, ‘permastone’ or other fake stone was typical of other Contractor Modern examples.”
Other items she notes are the wide, projecting eaves, the cantilevered balcony with canted sides, and the white wood framing around the windows at the side, suggestive of ribbon windows typical of more high style International Style Modernism.
In 1961, a large building of 18 units was built at 160 Monterey, on what was basically a lump of chert (see 1940s photo taken near Baden Street at the beginning of this post). The ground floor holds a large parking garage with a single side entrance.
‘Vista Monterey’ even sports its name in large cursive letters on the front. This is the only complex on Monterey I’ve found that has a name. The name implies good views, with a little balcony for everyone on the front. A heated pool was once a feature of renting here; now the pool has been filled in for parking in back.
An ad that ran for several years after it was built calls the apartments “artistic.” Perfect bachelor-pad material.
The garage has fake square windows decorated with two strips of stone-faced tiles, with yet a different type of stone than on the two buildings at Congo.
Fire Escapes on the Front
The early 1960s building boom continued with two 12-unit structures, one at 675 Monterey (replacing a large store and a house). I was not able to find out what the large ‘M’ on the front stands for here, but perhaps just ‘Monterey.’ The commercial space that was removed by this structure–a large dry goods store–was not replaced.
The other is 670 Monterey, below, replacing two houses. In the first example of bay windows in a larger apartment building on Monterey, there are modest square bays on this building accented with wood shingles. In both these cases, the presence of fire escapes on the front and the lack of particular architectural features puts the two structures clearly in the utilitarian camp.
In 1964 the orange-accented boxy complex at Detroit and Monterey was built, with 18 units. This site was steep and difficult, and one part of the solution was to place the walk-in entrance off the Upper Detroit Steps (on far right). The color panels below and above the windows are a feature of the front, while the units facing the steps lack this decoration. The garages are vented by narrow vertical arrow-loop openings. The choice of individual garage doors rather than a large shared garage with one door–probably due to the steep, rocky site–means that no street trees or gardens can be located in front.
In 1965 the building boom continued with a 24 unit building at 740 Monterey, which had been the site of Hink’s Service Station, shown below. A two-story building over a garage level was built on the large lot.
This building is in good condition, and its square bays and shingled sections are nicely accented in a spectrum of greys, although this may not have been its original decor. No fire escapes on the street side. The walk-in entrance has a sort of concrete mini-courtyard and a foyer with large windows, now covered (below).
The last apartment building in this early wave, finished in 1965, is a 24-unit structure at 190 Monterey. It was built on the site of the Richland Service Station. As far as architectural features, it sports a version of the modernist ribbon framing, marking off sections of the building face, but little else. It almost completely fills the five-lot area, leaving no planted area, and, as with 400 Monterey, its side-to-side bank of garage doors effectively prevents placement of any street trees or gardens.
There was a lull in construction on Monterey for ten years, followed by spate of new buildings. In 1975, two were constructed: 330 Monterey (9 units) on an empty lot and 460 Monterey (12 units) where a gas station had been. These two now featured angled bay windows, though they are otherwise quite basic. Four-sixty Monterey has an arched entrance-way and wood shingling on the second level. Garages with single entrance doors allowed for street trees and planted areas.
In 1977 a Victorian house at 755 Monterey was demolished for a nine-unit building with the new address 757-759. Again, it has angled bay windows. The roof-line has crenelated woodwork, a quote from traditional Victorian Italianate details. The first floor is brick-faced, and contains a restaurant space.
By a stroke of luck, a photo of the demolished house survives, owned by the Strohmaier family. See others from this location here (click ‘Search’ button).
The Age of Condos
Between 1978 and 1986, five condominium buildings were built on Monterey, as follows:
A 20-unit complex at 370 Monterey on several lots, which removed one house. The usual angled bay windows are topped with an unusual false mansard roof-line (the wide band of shingles at the top). The rocky slope means a long exterior stair is needed to reach the walk-in entrance, lifting it off a street-level interface. There is a rooftop patio running the whole length of the building.
A 20-unit complex at 380 Monterey (below) removed one small house. Like 400 Detroit, it has a side walk-in entrance, although by way of its own stairs. It also has a long exterior stairway on the front face. Although there are no bay windows, it is shingled in wood. It has balconies and a rooftop patio area to take advantage of the view. Because of the hillside slope, neither this building nor the the one pictured above blocked the views of those living above on Joost Avenue.
A six-unit complex at 780 Monterey removed a rather grand house on a double lot (shown in second photo). This one has both angled and squared window bays, and a brick-faced first story.
A 16-unit complex at 695 Monterey (Gennessee) replaced a gas station, and added three store-fronts (one of which has been vacant for some time). This replacement commercial space was an exception to the rule during this building period, and that trend in large part accounts for the decline of retail on Monterey in these years.
In this building an often-used postmodern detail was employed, a split false-front gabled roof-line, seen above the tree in the center. There are balconies done as angled bays, and plenty of light wells.
While this building was under construction, some graffiti on the wood hoarding was featured in the SF Examiner.
In 1986, a 12-unit complex (below) at 798 Monterey replaced a gas station (shown in second photo). There was no replacement retail space in this building.
By now, postmodernism has worked its way down the food chain, and shows up on even modest projects like this one: the architect has given us a variety of forms, shapes and references, from the steep-gabled corner frontispiece, dormer windows on the side-gabled roof sections, a balcony on the Ridgewood side, and some angled bays. A veritable cornucopia.
Not everything that was proposed by developers was built during this period. In 1981 the City rejected a proposed three-story condominium on the 400 block of Monterey, which would have demolished a standing building with a childcare business, in part due to the objections of local residents who cited parking and traffic impacts, as well as soil stability issues (SF Examiner, 4 Dec 1981, p25).
Goodbye Midcentury Streamline Moderne
In 1988, on the corner of Congo, a large service station was removed to make way for an 11-unit apartment building. The construction of the huge Streamline Moderne-style gas station in 1949 (shown in photos below) had meant much of the rock slope here had already been leveled. The new building featured the usual 1980s bay windows, including a corner bay. It did not have any replacement commercial space.
One last apartment building (9 units) went in at 749 Monterey, on the site of a Victorian house that had been owned by the Bertucci family since the 1890s, one of the first houses on that block. It was on a double lot. Here is a photo of Bartholomew Bertucci, who was an ice-cream maker by profession, in the side garden with a few of the Strohmaier kids from next door.
The new building has some modest postmodern touches: the fake stone quoins at the side edges, mixed with a Mediterranean Revival red tile roof edge, and archway entrances below, now accented in vivid turquoise. There are two slightly whimsical windows thrown in–a narrow arch-topped one over a round ox-eye one, which forms a huge exclamation point on the front, for the viewer’s amusement. There is a dental office housed in the lower level.
The Last Condos
The last structures built on Monterey before the end of the century included four condos at Edna and Monterey where there had been a gas station since the 1920s. The new building did not include any retail space. They are pretty modest buildings, but the variations in false-front roof-lines on these flat-top structures provide some visual interest, as well as the alternating square and angled bays, and fake balconies. These four units were built on two lots, so the usual backyard requirements were abbreviated.
Then in 1997, 15 condos were constructed at the corner of Ridgewood and Monterey, replacing a Chevron gas station there, which itself had replaced several 1920s shopfronts in the early 1970s. The new building did not provide any replacement for the loss of commercial space here, which is a Neighborhood Commercial (1) zoned area (NC-1)–as is all of Monterey on the south side, from Edna to Ridgewood.
The face that the building shows to the Monterey Boulevard side is a solid stucco wall decorated with slightly recessed tablets, each topped with a shallow arch. This solid wall made another change in the street-life experience on this block. Beyond this point to the west is Westwood Park and Westwood Highlands, districts that were developed as residence parks and therefore are zoned without commercial areas.
The condos are arranged in differently styled and colored buildings, providing some visual variety. A light-well is bridged by a shallow archway on the Monterey side. The Ridgewood-facing fronts have angled bay windows, and the corner structure has boxy bays–a perennial feature of many shopping and condominium buildings of this time and later, all over the suburbs of California. In the twenty years since their construction, this box-on-box look has become a standard for modestly priced construction here, as the angled bay has all but disappeared in new construction in San Francisco.
The service station that these condos replaced was the last one left on Monterey. In 1992, when Chevron stated its intention to close it down, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association held a protest, led by then president Stuart Rosenthal, who threatened a boycott of Chevron.
Future of the boulevard
These twenty-odd buildings that line Monterey Blvd increased the density of the lots they occupy by a factor of four–that is, what would have been 68 single family homes was built instead as 271 units in apartment and condominium multi-unit buildings. Not a blinding increase in density, but it does represent a distinct difference from the other residential areas nearby. Many of these new units were not large enough for families, being mostly one-bedroom. None of the buildings are stellar architectural examples, but taken together give a tour of modestly priced apartment construction, from midcentury to turn-of-the-millennium.
Housing is a hot topic in this time of exorbitant rents and house prices. New legislation may mean changes on Monterey, including the freedom to demolish and rebuild low-height buildings as mixed-use multi-unit buildings with retail, or to add height to existing buildings Another way in which units may be added to existing apartment buildings is through garage conversions, which would improve the streetscape for all. (Rumor has it that the owner of the three-unit building at 422 Monterey is intending to do just that.)
Sunnyside’s main thoroughfare Monterey Boulevard, being located close to BART and two cross-town Muni bus lines, is liable to be home to new construction and increased density in the future, by way of replacement structures, and additions and conversions on existing buildings, as there are no more empty lots and gas stations to build on anymore.
All building dates from SF Planning Dept.
All 2019 building photos by Amy O’Hair, except detail for 740 Monterey (Google Streetview). My thanks to Michelle Molinari and Jacqueline Proctor for use of their photographs, and OpenSFHistory.org for the Strohmaier Collection.
1 thought on “Density on the Boulevard: The Apartment Buildings of Monterey”
I delivered The Chronicle to 3 or 4 customers in the building at 725 Monterey, which was the first apartment building, around 1960. I had a key to the front door that allowed the papers to be placed just inside.