At the edge of Sutro’s forest of eucalyptus trees, in the northwest corner of Sunnyside, the 600 block of Mangels Avenue was home to several families who enjoyed a truly rural existence in the early years. Recently some photos were graciously loaned to me to scan, so there is some visual record of life there. The photos are from the personal archive of resident Geoff Follin, sent to him in 1987 by a man who grew up on the block during these years—Lawrence Behler (1908-1999). Behler included a brief letter of explanation.
Skirting Mount Davidson
When Charles Behler built the family home, the electric streetcar line had just been extended down Monterey Blvd (then Sunnyside Ave) to Gennessee Street, a long-promised extension that made it possible for more families to live in the western end of Sunnyside. The forest that met this block of Mangels on the west remained in place north of Monterey until the mid-1920s, when it was felled for the Westwood Highlands development.
A Close-knit Block
This group photo taken in 1917 on the street in front of 663 shows many neighbors and friends who seem clearly pleased to be enjoying a Sunday get-together. The little girls have on their best white dresses and big bows in their hair.
Charles Behler is at the front—it was his camera after all. His wife Bertha is just behind him. To the best of my reckoning, using the census data, I’ve identified some of the rest of the people in the image, many of whom are part of the Ross family who lived in the next house to the east at 631 Mangels, with seven vacant lots between them.
A: Charles Behler, age 42, the same man in other photos taken in front of 663, at the top of this post.
B: Bertha Behler, age 33, also in the other photos.
C: Arnold Behler, age 11.
D: Hugh Ross Jr, age 14.
E: Lawrence Behler, age 9.
F: Elizabeth Ross, age 38, wearing her best fur-collar coat.
G: Hugh Ross, Sr, age 42, in a bow tie even on his day off. (This is my surmise, given the ages and professions of various men on the block then.)
The three little girls toward the front could include the two Ross daughters and another neighbor girl, and there are other adults toward the back, but there isn’t enough information to hazard a guess about any of these.
Shared Lives in a Rural Idyll
Hugh Ross and Charles Behler were both family men of the same age, and apparently friends. But they shared something else in common: they were among a surprising number of white-collar workers on the block. This is notable because Sunnyside was mostly a neighborhood of working-class families through much of the twentieth century—machinists, carpenters, conductors, iron workers, teamsters, and so on. Behler was a salesman for a tobacco company, and Ross was an accountant.
Up the street and around the corner on Gennessee, lived Arthur Von Parpart, a lawyer, and his next-door neighbor, Adelbert Schapp, a patent attorney. Both were German immigrants. The rear roofline of Schapp’s house on Gennessee is just visible in the distance in the group photo above. They also had children. Arthur’s rather fierce likeness is left to us in the form of a passport photo of 1921, when he was returning to Germany to help his struggling relatives after World War I.
Almost every household on the block had children. It was surely a wonderful place to grow up—with plenty of vacant lots to play on and all of undeveloped Mount Davidson to explore. (Read an account of a girl who grew up on Congo Street in the 1920s here.)
A Neighborhood of Immigrants
If you could walk down the street in the year 1917 and chat with the neighbors, you would have heard several people with a Scottish brogue: Hugh Ross and his wife Elizabeth Thompson Ross (pictured in group photo) had come from Scotland about 1900; a widow named Jane Gillman in number 667 had emigrated from there in 1870, and carpenter James Nelson and his wife Catherine Lumsden Nelson in number 627 arrived after the Quake of 1906. The Nelsons had an elderly boarder, perhaps a relative, who had just arrived from Scotland. This is notable, as Sunnyside was during this time about one-third Irish or Irish-descended, and one-third German or German-descended.
If it wasn’t a Scottish accent, you might have heard German being spoken. Besides the two German-immigrant families on Gennessee, there were others on this block: John Tullius, a longshoreman who lived with his family at number 654–the prominent white house in the group photo above, since rebuilt–had come with his wife Sophonia Ketterer Tullius from Germany at the turn of the century. The house at number 619 was about to be rented to a dairyman named John Saupe and his wife Bertha, both German immigrants. Number 690 (now renumbered 674) was home to an Austrian immigrant who spoke German, Dominic Bujacich, a cook, and his large family. Add to that a Finnish family in number 673 and a Swedish wife in 678, and it’s clear the block was largely recent immigrants from northern Europe.
Lawrence’s parents Charles and Bertha Behler were native Californians, but both sets of their parents had come from Germany.
Perhaps their origins meant they felt more at home on the edge of a forest, in a country-like corner in the outer reaches beyond the Mission District. It was a unique moment, because by the end of the 1920s, the forest was gone, and a great many of the vacant lots were built on, and by the 1950s, Mount Davidson was laid out with curving streets full of little-box houses. The rural idyll was no more.
Sanborn maps below show the changes between 1915 and 1950.
The Mangels Slide
Just a couple of years before the group photo of neighbors above was taken, during an El Niño winter in 1914-1915, a landslide affected the east end of this block of Mangels. Here are three photos, taken on 19 Feb 1915 by the Dept of Public Works, followed by one taken the same day at Monterey and Edna, where the old route of the creek washed out so much soil that “the United Railroad tracks there were left in the air.” 
The streets of Mangels and Gennessee as shown here were obviously unpaved in 1915, though by the time of the group photo above a couple of years on, bricks had been laid in the street. Those bricks were uncovered in 2017 when DPW was doing sewer work. Mangels resident Spencer Decker photographed the revealed bricks under the asphalt paving then.
Both houses depicted in the 1915 photos of the disaster, one of which belonged to Arthur and Agnes von Parpart, were repaired and still stand in altered form today. Surely the neighbors on this friendly block rallied around the affected families then.
Read another account of a tumultuous event that brought neighbors together, nearby on Gennessee in 1906, here.
The Behler family lived at number 663 from 1910 until 1929, by which time Lawrence and his older brother Arnold had grown into adults. Here are the boys in front of the house in the summer of 1927, one of whom was the proud owner of a shiny new Ford. The view up to the top of Mount Davidson is unobstructed. The house on the far left was then being renovated (674 Mangels).
The houses in the ‘now’ photo below were built in 1939 and 1947.
Tragically, the older brother Arnold (on left) passed away about six months after this photo, of septicemia, aged 21. Lawrence married in the 1930s, and he and his wife Marie Junker Behler, lived at the house until 1940, after his parents had moved away.
The house was then sold away from the family, and Lawrence and his family moved to San Mateo County.
Do you have photos that would contribute to local history in Sunnyside? Please contact me: Amy O’Hair SunnysideHistory@gmail.com.
- People mentioned in this article
- Charles Behler (1875-1965)
- Bertha Heger Behler (1884-1970)
- Arnold C Behler (1907-1928)
- Lawrence Bernard Behler (1908-1999)
- Marie Junker Behler (1911-?)
- Warren James Behler (1939-?)
- My thanks to Geoff’s neighbor Spencer Decker, who kindly contacted me to offer the photographs. ↑
- The Behlers are on the 1910 US Census at “733 Mangels” – house number errors were quite common in the early years of Sunnyside, but there is no doubt this is the same house, 663 Mangels. ↑
- According to 1920 US Census data. ↑
- According to 1920 US Census data. ↑
- According to 1920 US Census data, supplemented with California Birth Index data (1905-1995) for maiden names. ↑
- All based on US Census data. ↑
- SF Chronicle, 3 Feb 1915, p3. ↑
- SF City and County Coroners Records for January 1928, for Arnold C Behler; from FamilySearch.org. ↑
- People mentioned in this article