Built on Beer: The Streets of Sunnyside and San Francisco Brewery Profits

Investment money that funded the Sunnyside Land Company in 1890 was largely sourced from the hefty profits of some of San Francisco’s biggest late nineteenth-century breweries: Philadelphia Brewery, Albany Brewery, and United States Brewery—all overseen by the Brewer’s Protective Association. Men who were heirs to these fortunes, or wrapped up in the racket of propping up prices and selling off franchises to foreign capitalists, were among the most prominent initial investors in the Sunnyside project.

Behrend Joost, President of Sunnyside Land Company, was a notorious and irascible teetotaler[1], but he had no problem accepting beer-drenched money from his investors, who altogether put in one million dollars to fund the property speculation project. In return, many got their names or the places in Germany they came from on the newly laid-out streets.


Five of the original Sunnyside streets—Mangels Avenue, Spreckels Avenue, Wieland Avenue, Baden Street, and Hamburg Street—I trace directly to these men.

Portion of the original Sunnyside Land Company homestead map, submitted to the city in 1891.
Portion of the original Sunnyside Land Company homestead map, submitted to the city in 1891.

In addition, Edna Street is likely to have been named for the beloved daughter of one of these brewery men.

Today, three of those names have been changed, leaving only three remnants of this important element in the story of the neighborhood’s beginnings. Spreckels was later changed to Staples Avenue, Wieland to Judson Avenue, and Hamburg to Ridgewood Avenue. (More about those changes here.)

The Sunnyside Brewery Boys

Here are summaries, before I spin out the various stories:

► Robert P. Wieland (1861–1908): Heir to the Philadelphia Brewery fortune. This brewery was ranked the top producer in the city.[2]

Robert Wieland. SF Call, 28 May 1893. From Newspapers.com
Robert Wieland. SF Call, 28 May 1893. From Newspapers.com

Robert’s father John H. Wieland (1829–1885) was from Württemberg, Germany, near Baden. John had died several years before Robert became part of the initial group of Sunnyside investors. Even though the brewery was bought by foreign investors, he remained on the board, and also on the board of Brewers’ Protective Association. Their family name is the source of name of Wieland Avenue, original name of Judson Avenue, changed in 1909.

SF Chronicle, 7 Aug 1885.
SF Chronicle, 7 Aug 1885. Saloons where the headmasters drink?

►Claus Augustus (C. A. or ‘Gus’) Spreckels (1858–1946): An investor in Behrend Joost’s electric railway and one of his biggest creditors. In return, the family name was applied to a five-block-long street in the original Sunnyside Land Company layout, Spreckels Avenue.

Gus Spreckels, 1890s. From Ancestry.com
Gus Spreckels, 1890s. From Ancestry.com

Joost fiddled money between his two companies, the Sunnyside Land Company (speculating on property in the new district) and the Sunnyside Construction Company (to build the streetcar line), and the street name was likely a little vanity perk for Gus’s $50,000 loan. The street was changed to Staples Avenue in 1909.

Gus Spreckels was one of the four sons of Claus Spreckels (1828-1908), the legendary Sugar King, a monstrously wealthy nineteenth-century capitalist. What is less well known is that some of the Spreckels family fortune rested on the profits from the Albany Brewery, founded with Claus Mangels in 1857. The family famously feuded for years, and Gus ended up thoroughly estranged from his siblings.

► John Henry Mangels (1865–1897): Heir to the fortune left by his father Claus Mangels (1832–1891), who founded the Albany Brewery with Claus Spreckels in the 1850s.

John Henry Mangels, about 1890. Photo courtesy of Mark Reed.
John Henry Mangels, about 1890. Photo courtesy of Mark Reed. Looks like he goes to the same barber as his buddy Bob Wieland.

The Mangels fortune was also tied up in Spreckels sugar empire. Young Henry put his father’s money into real estate, including Sunnyside, but he didn’t live long enough to see even one house built on his namesake street Mangels Avenue.

► Philip Rohrbacher (1838–1897): President of United States Brewery in San Francisco and a Sunnyside Land Company investor.

Philip Rohrbacher. SF Chronicle, 26 April 1897. Newspapers.com
Philip Rohrbacher. SF Chronicle, 26 April 1897. Newspapers.com

He came to California from Alsace, near Baden, Germany. After making a fortune as a saloon keeper in the Stockton area, he moved to San Francisco and bought into the brewery just before it was scooped up by foreign investors. He profited heavily from the buyout. He served on the board of Sunnyside Land Company, as well as being an officer in the Brewers’ Protective Association. Unfortunately Rohrbacher didn’t live long enough to have enjoyed his spoils for long, but he seems to have liked philanthropy better than profits in any case.

► Rudolph Mohr (1858–1928): The whip-smart, behind-the-scenes corporate secretary who came to California from Hamburg, Germany, as a young man.

Rudolph Mohr, on far left in the rear. Chosen for the Grand Jury for the Abe Ruef graft trial. SF Chronicle, 20 Mar 1907.
Rudolph Mohr, on far left in the rear. Chosen for the Grand Jury for the Abe Ruef graft trial. SF Chronicle, 20 Mar 1907.

He worked his way up from clerk at San Francisco Stock Brewery, a brewery ranked fourth in the city in 1869.[3] By the 1880s he was the brains behind the Brewers’ Protective Association, helping to calm nerves during the many show-downs with brewery workers. He was secretary of the Sunnyside Land Company, as well as several other home loan and land companies. Apparently quite shy, I have found only one image of his face, and one of his back (see later in this article).

Mohr is the only Sunnyside investor from Hamburg, Germany, and therefore likely to have been the source of that street name for the new neighborhood (later changed to Ridgewood Avenue). A few years before Sunnyside was laid out, he and his wife had their first child, a daughter named Edna, and thus, I believe, he is also the source of Edna Street.

Edna Mohr Russ. SF Call, 6 Nov 1905.
Edna Mohr Russ. SF Call, 6 Nov 1905.

Toward the end of his life, Mohr and his two sons built up a large part of the western end of Sunnyside, cashing in on properties he had sat on for thirty years.

Big Beer, Big Bucks

Before I relate more detailed stories about these men’s lives, here is some background on the beer business of that era. The brewing industry in San Francisco was profitable and well developed by the 1880s. Brewery workers formed a good proportion of the labor force in San Francisco, but their lot before strong unionization was grim: filthy on-site lodging, 16-hour days, and low pay. The brewery workers’ union finally became firmly established in 1887 after they broke the capitalists with a multi-union boycott of the biggest firm, John Wieland’s Philadelphia Brewery. This brought a closed shop, the abolition of the lodging system, a 10-hour day, and a living wage. You could raise a family on a brewery worker’s pay.[4]

Victory! SF Chronicle, 22 Jul 1887.
Victory! SF Chronicle, 22 Jul 1887.

On the other side of the worker/management divide was the Brewers’ Protective Association, a cartel of producers that had been formed in 1874 to keep the unions at bay and set beer prices. It was comprised of brewers, malt makers, and hops growers.[5] This organization came into its full prominence the following decade, when the fight with the unions heated up.[6] Still, when business is that good, everyone benefits. Read about the beginning of the union’s successful fight for a closed shop in 1887 here.

The Brewers' Protection Racket sets prices. SF Call, 24 Nov 1890.
The Brewers’ Protection Racket sets prices. SF Call, 24 Nov 1890.

‘The brewers in the East have no advantage’

In an age before mass refrigerated shipping, beer was at this time largely local. There were a great many breweries in San Francisco—almost 40 different firms in 1880, many of them quite small.[7] Brewing a few tanks of “steam” beer—which was ready for drinking in a few weeks—was not hugely capital-intensive or complicated, though it did require babysitting the brew day and night. Despite the number of breweries, just a few of the establishments rose to great levels of production, such as Philadelphia Brewery. Between 1869 and 1889, the firm quadrupled the numbers of barrels it sold.[8]

Beer was ubiquitous. An Examiner reporter opened his article on SF breweries in 1883 thus [SF Examiner, 28 Jan 1883]:

“In the thickly populated districts of this city [one can see] daily the far-from-edifying spectacle of young children trudging to the corner grocery or saloon with pitchers nearly as large as themselves, with which they are sent for beer….Beer is a beverage [drunk] more freely than water.”

Steam beer was the overwhelming choice of San Francisco’s brewers before easy refrigeration. The superiority of German-style lager was recognized, but it took large hunks of ice and seven- to ten-times as long to brew. In a town built on hustle, steam beer was cheaper and easier. In 1880s, only about 20% of local brew was lager, and even then may not have been made with a fully traditional process.[9]  Read more about the making of lager in 1888 here.

“The difference between the beers of California and the East is due to the greater completeness of the fermenting process in the other states. There is no real lager make on this Coast. The quickness with which the beer is hurried from the vat into the barrel does not let the constituents of the liquor loosen, combine, and settle as they should.”

For the reader with a keen interest in the brewing industry here is a link to the whole article, with details about brewing, adulteration, and hops, from January 1883.

SF Examiner 28 Jan 1883. Read entire article here. https://sunnysidehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/1883Jan28-SFExaminer-Brewing-piece.jpg
SF Examiner 28 Jan 1883. Read entire article here. 

Also a contemporary account of making lager:

SF Chronicle 18 Jun 1885.
Making lager beer. SF Chronicle 18 Jun 1885. Read entire article here.

Boom and Buyout

During the 1880s, all over the US, there were similar upticks in the brewery industry. So it is hardly surprising that in 1889, faced with an economic downturn in Great Britain, a consortium of British and Irish bankers and investors came to the US with $200 million in capital ($5.2 billion today), hoping to cash in on this booming industry.[10] They moved across the country, buying up successful breweries, and forming local syndicates.

Not all US breweries were vulnerable or willing to be bought; nonetheless, the “English Syndicate,” as they were called, made a big impact. In San Francisco, they entered into long negotiations with several breweries, included the very successful Philadelphia Brewery, the United States Brewery, and several others. All told, they spent $7 million ($182 million today) in San Francisco, forming San Francisco Breweries Syndicate (Ltd.) by 1890. Owners cashed in on the buyout, leaving them with piles of money, and Sunnyside property speculation was one of the places they invested.

Baden Street, an Easy Pick

One more digression before the detailed stories: the matter of Sunnyside’s Baden Street. Baden is the German region that contains the resort town of Baden-Baden, and the name is attached to the Sunnyside district in more ways than one. The locale is interwoven with some of the investors’ lives, and would have had clear pleasurable associations for many of them. In the nineteenth century, this spa town in Germany was a preferred locale for holidays, and a place where the ill recovered their health, including Claus Spreckels (the father) when he was ailing during the 1890s. It was fashionable and yet also a place where the growing middle classes in Germany could go for relaxation. The Encyclopedia Britannica of those years extols “its extensive pleasure-grounds, gardens, and promenades, and the brilliancy of the life that is led during the season.”[11]

“General View of Baden,” from: Eugène Guinot, A Summer at Baden-Baden, 1853 (books.google.com).

Behrend Joost’s electric streetcar, which carried people to and from downtown by way of Sunnyside, had as its terminus Baden, California, a town in San Mateo County that later became South San Francisco. However, the town of Baden, California, was founded in 1857,[12] so that predates everything in Sunnyside—perhaps the town’s name is the simple source of the street name, as it was an increasingly important industry town down the peninsula. Determining cause and effect here is difficult, but suffice it to say that convincing these investors that there should be a Baden Street was not likely to have been a difficult sell. It was a natural for the “B” street in Sunnyside’s alphabetical series of north-south streets, from Acadia to Hamburg [now Ridgewood].

Dandy about Town

The Philadelphia Brewery was established by John H. Wieland in 1857, but by the time of its sale to the English Syndicate in 1889 for $3 million ($78 million today),[13] it was run by Wieland’s sons. Wieland senior died in a fire in his brewery in 1885, while saving two of his children from the flames.

The Wieland Brewery building, which still stands, somewhat altered, on Second Street between Howard and Folsom. Photo: San Francisco History Center, via sf.curbed.com.

His son Robert P. Wieland became a preeminent figure in the San Francisco brewing industry by 1890, being the oldest living son and heir. Both his elder brothers had died young of Bright’s disease.[14] He served on the board of the Brewers’ Protective Association in 1889 and 1890, and remained on the board of the brewery even after its sale to the English Syndicate.[15]

Ad for the Wieland brewer, SF Directory, 1889.
Ad for the Wieland brewery, SF Directory, 1889.


Robert Wieland, known as Bob to his friends, turned up in the news during these years for many other reasons than his business. He was a man-about-town, known for showing up at the races, becoming president of a baseball league, sporting a dainty cane, hopping off to Paris, and singing spontaneously in public.[16] One of the oddest stories I came across was an incident that happened shortly after Sunnyside lots first went on sale. A man in Dayton, Ohio, checked himself into a boarding house, stayed a month, and shot his brains out one night. No one knew who he was, but because he called himself “Captain Robert Wieland,” people all across the country read about it in the news.[17]

A Queer Case. SF Chronicle, 3 Sep 1891.
A Queer Case. SF Chronicle, 3 Sep 1891.

The real Robert Wieland was still in Europe, spending some of that brewery buyout money, his family assured the papers. The news of the big sale of his father’s company was still fresh in peoples’ minds, and one reporter at the Chronicle speculated that the suicide took grim satisfaction in the notoriety before doing himself in.

15 Years of Street-Name Fame

In any case, Robert Wieland had money to spare when shares in the Sunnyside real estate speculation project were offered in late 1890. He may have already invested in Visitacion Valley, where there was another street named Wieland (more on this below). In Sunnyside, Wieland Avenue remained so named until 1909 when the City changed many street names. By then the prominence that he and his family had basked in for many years had lost its gleam, and there was confusion with the other Wieland street, so it was changed to Judson Avenue, in honor of a nineteenth-century San Francisco inventor and dynamite chemistry merchant. More about that change here.

Business, Pleasure, and Rifles

Dashing young Wieland was fast friends with another Native Son, John Henry Mangels, the only son of Claus Mangels.

John Henry Mangels, 1890s. Courtesy Mark Reed.
John Henry Mangels, 1890s. Courtesy Mark Reed.

He was called Hank or Henry by friends and family. The two buddies served in the National Guard together, which appears to have been a good excuse for camping out in far-flung places like Ukiah, shooting things, and drinking copiously.[18] Together they were both forced to resign after a scandal involving their commanding officer, who got himself into trouble with some young girls in Santa Cruz, and who did not have the respect or obedience of his men.[19] Together Bob and Hank sponsored a shooting trophy which bore their joint names.[20]

La Mangels and La Wieland. at ease with their swords. SF Call, 22 Jun 1895.
La Mangels and La Wieland. at ease with their swords. SF Call, 22 Jun 1895. From Newspapers.com

John Henry Mangels was heir to the fortune that his father Claus Mangels had made as a close associate of Claus Spreckels. First with the Albany Brewery, then with Spreckels’ sugar company, California Sugar Refinery, the senior Mangels had made a fortune. He died the week Sunnyside lots went public, making it certain that it was Henry, not his father, who was the Sunnyside investor. The senior Mangels’s obituary is very modest.[21] He never became king of anything, but we still have a Mangels Avenue in Sunnyside.

The two friends, Bob and Hank, were among the twenty initial investors in Sunnyside. Perhaps in the spirit of some friendly competition, Mangels ponied up more money than his buddy did for his shares; Mangels Avenue was four times the length of Wieland Avenue in the original layout.[22] That these two Native Sons were investing buddies is clear: six months before Sunnyside lots went on sale, they were founding members together of another property speculation project, Humboldt Building and Loan, along with Secretary Rudolph Mohr and Treasurer C.E.A. Foerster (another Sunnyside street namesake, story to come.)

John Henry Mangels died young of an alcohol-related illness in 1897 in San Francisco.

Sugar Daddy’s Riches

Gus Spreckels lacked his famous, massively wealthy father Claus Spreckels’ ruthless drive, but managed to dabble in various investments and real estate. Who could match the business acumen of his father—widely acknowledged as the top capitalist of his century? Gus’s lack of savvy is perhaps well evidenced by his decision in 1891 to help bankroll the hapless Behrend Joost’s new project, The San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway. Read more about that here.

Two years later Gus got wind of Joost’s impending bankruptcy, and had the dubious honor of tipping over the first domino in Joost’s demise by calling in the loan.[23] That same year Gus sued his own father for defamation of character. His father Claus Spreckels had a poor opinion of this his middle son, and never felt any inhibition about voicing it. The senior Spreckels had publicly accused Gus of wasting money given him and declared he’d bankrupt his son within a year, ruining his credit in town.

“The Spreckelses fight. They fight hard. But they don’t fight together….They differ among themselves in character, tastes, methods, purposes and, apparently, in morals. All they seem to have in common is a certain aggressive independence.”[24]

Earlier, before coming to ruthlessly dominate the sugar industry in the US, the senior Spreckels founded the Albany Brewery in 1857 with his partner Claus Mangels.

Ad for Albany Brewery, SF Directory, 1874. From Archive.org
Ad for Albany Brewery, SF Directory, 1874. From Archive.org

The two men had been working together since Gold Rush days. A Spreckels family story shows how enterprising they were: in mining camps they sold spoiled hams to miners that they had got very cheaply, by scraping the mold off and rehabilitating them with a bit of cooking.[25] The miners paid in gold dust; soon the enterprising pair were off to San Francisco.

The Albany Brewery was located on an alley called Everett (later Natoma) near Fourth and Howard. Later they built their own malt-house nearby, instead of relying on an outside supplier. Spreckels was an intensely keen business man, described by a contemporary thus: “[He] was known as a hustler and a better. He was shrewd and energetic and stout-hearted, besides possessing a keen eye for the main chance.”[26]

Regarding the Albany Brewery and the tension between father and son, here is a tidbit from an unsigned memoir of someone known to both father and son, from the files of the Society of California Pioneers:

“The Albany Brewery was not much for looks, but it was credited with having produced the capital that financed the Sugar refinery, or most of it. ‘Old Claus’ was the guiding spirit of each. And each made money for him. The malt house of the Albany Brewery was considered something swell in the time of its building.

“When ‘Young Claus’, ace Wall Street financier, had grown to young manhood some amusing complications arose that led to his being called ‘Gus’. His middle name is August. And as ‘Gus’ he was known to many of us for several years. But for two years he had been called Claus. This is the way he told me about it, a while ago, during elegant time spent together. One morning after breakfast, the famous old ‘Sugar King’ called him into the library of the mansion at 16th and Howard Sts. And the parental lecture began. ‘See here, young man, my mail is becoming cluttered up with too many delicately perfumed and pink-papered missives in endearing terms to “Darling Clausie” and such. It has to be stopped. I won’t have it. So from now on you will be called either August or Gus; whichever your friends may choose.’

“On another occasion in that fine old mansion in the Mission ‘Old Claus’ had taken ‘Young Claus’ to task for smoking too many cigars. But the youth was defended promptly by his Grandpa Mangels, his mother’s father, at that time a hearty young fellow of 86 and still a heavy smoker who rounded upon the ‘Sugar King’ with: ‘Leave that boy alone, Claus! Smoked beef lasts the longest. And when you are as old as I am it will be enough for you to speak with authority about smoking.’ ”[27]

Spreckels’ Steamy Legacy

Spreckels, always an innovator “with a keen eye for the main chance,” invented a beer just for our temperate climate—“steam” beer. Now it is trademark of Anchor Brewing Company, and can be used by no other brewery. But at this time it was a widely used method of brewing that didn’t require cooling, suitable to our temperatures and distance from available ice.


The other advantage of steam beer was how quickly it was ready for sale—10 to 12 days. The downside for the workers was that the vats had to be watched continually, day and night, so that when a vat reached a certain point of fermentation it could be immediately put into the next stage of processing. This necessity drove the rigors of the in-house lodging system that was pervasive in breweries for workers until unionization: someone always had to be onsite. Although you could get blocks of ice shipped to San Francisco, Steam beer was clearly cheaper and more profitable.

Though steam beer was popular, even at that time there were beer snobs, who tended to despise its harshness. The very term connoted something lower-class or without much worth: a letter to the editor at the time refers to the “steam-beer class” as a disparaging euphemism for poor immigrants.[28] Traditional German lager beer was considered the best of brews, but required a cold fermentation—about 45ºF. Its name comes not from any steam used in processing, but from the hiss of releasing carbonation that is produced upon tapping a barrel.[29]

Frothy Profits and Sour Feuds

Although the Albany Brewery was profitable, showing up in 1869 near the top of the city’s many breweries, apparently it wasn’t the money-maker Claus Spreckels was looking for.

Ranking the breweries. SF Examiner, 5 Feb 1870.
Ranking the breweries. SF Examiner, 5 Feb 1870.

However it did provide enough capital for his next venture: in the 1860s Spreckels sold up his shares and moved onto sugar. He labored tirelessly to dominate this highly profitable industry, funding cutting-edge research into newer and cheaper ways to feed the public’s appetite for sweetened foods. By his death in 1908 he was universally acclaimed the “Sugar King.”


The family became exceedingly rich and politically influential—the richest family in California by the late 1800s. Claus Spreckels had four sons, two of whom he seemed to like, John D. and Adolph, who followed in his hard-driving footsteps, and two whom he did not, Gus and Rudolph. The family was notorious for its public feuds. [There are links to biographies at the end of this article.]

Here a Spreckels, there a Spreckels 

Previous to Gus Spreckels investment in Joost’s railway company, and his reward of a Spreckels street name, one of his brothers (or maybe he himself) apparently invested in the Visitacion Valley Homestead, where a “Spreckels Street” was included in their new street plan.

1901 Map of San Francisco, George F Cram, Chicago. Map Collection, University of California. Both sets of Wieland and Spreckels streets marked, in Sunnyside and Rancho Canada de Guadalupe Rodeo Viejo Y Visitacion, later Visitacion Valley.
1901 Map of San Francisco, George F Cram, Chicago. Map Collection, University of California. Both sets of Wieland [pink] and Spreckels [green] streets marked, in Sunnyside and Rancho Canada de Guadalupe Rodeo Viejo Y Visitacion, later Visitacion Valley. View larger.
In 1909 when the Board of Supervisors was getting streets sorted out and eliminating doubles, they choose to change the Spreckels Avenue in Sunnyside to Staples, for David P Staples, a pioneer who had headed up Fireman’s Fund insurance, and a popular, well-respected man. It was the choice of a city government, not a private capitalist, based not on money but on merit. More about that and other changes in this post.

The Spreckels Street in Viz Valley was left untouched, but then it was never built, and the land there became part of McLaren Park later, as did the Wieland Street right next to it.

Sweet Endings

After Gus Spreckels’ 1893 defamation feud and lawsuit against his father (one of many in the family), Gus was cut out utterly, returning later only to attempt to get some of his father’s money after he died in 1908. The court ruled in his favor.

Estranged from his bullying father and the rest of the family, Gus Spreckels later died happy and free and at a ripe old age in Paris. Read his obituary here

1909. Gus Spreckels and his wife in their fifties. Location unknown. From Ancestry.com
1909. Gus Spreckels and his wife in their fifties. Location unknown. Ding Dong, Daddy’s dead. From Ancestry.com

The Druid of Sunnyside

Philip Rohrbacher was one of the initial Sunnyside investors and on the board of directors of the Sunnyside Land Company. He came to California from Alsace (then part of Germany and near Baden) at age sixteen. He ran a hotel and saloon in Stockton, California, which made him rich. He brought his family to San Francisco in 1881, and bought into the United States Brewery.[30]

Right: Advertisement for United States Brewery. San Francisco Call, 4 November 1890. From Newspapers.com. “Special Brews for Family Use” raises some questions about the deployment of alcohol by parents at the time.
Advertisement for United States Brewery. SF Call, 4 November 1890. From Newspapers.com. “Special Brews for Family Use” raises some questions about the deployment of alcohol by parents at the time.

When the brewery was purchased in about 1890 by the English Syndicate, the amount paid to him and the other three owners was $1 million ($26 million today).[31] Philip Rohrbacher was also on the board of Brewers’ Protective Association, the price-fixing cartel.

Rohrbacher was a large man, weighing 300 pounds, something the Chronicle once made much of in a spoof article on a fictitious “Fat Men’s Club.”[32] He died seven years after Sunnyside’s beginning, at the age of 59. He was leader of the fraternal organization known as the Druids, an avocation that seems to have dominated his life. Despite being a minor figure in business at the time, his funeral was vastly more publicized than any other of the men in this article. Apparently well-loved, he returned the sentiment by bequeathing the whole of his fortune to community property, although of course his widow and children were allotted the minimum interest the law required.[33]

Left: Rohrbacher’s well-publicized funeral. San Francisco Chronicle, 30 April 1897. From Newsbank.com.
Rohrbacher’s well-publicized funeral. SF Chronicle, 30 April 1897. From Newsbank.com.

Outside of his listing as an officer of the Sunnyside Land Company, and exerting some possible influence on the choice of Baden for a street names, Rohrbacher did not leave any other traces of his influence on the neighborhood. But perhaps this suited him, as he seems to have been more public-spirited and philanthropic than the other capitalist characters involved with early Sunnyside.

Everyone’s Right-hand Man

Lastly we come to Rudolph Mohr, another less self-promoting figure in the story–not that this meant he was any less bent on profits. His life, as well as I can discern from the consistent traces left in newspapers and census data, seems to have been an exemplar of the sober, quietly careful industriousness that many German immigrants in the nineteenth century were known for.

Shy Rudolph Mohr, caracatured in an article about a German festivity. SF Call, 14 Aug 1899.
Shy Rudolph Mohr, caricatured in an article about a German festivity. SF Call, 14 Aug 1899.

Young Rudolph Mohr, apparently well-educated in his home town of Hamburg, Germany, arrived in San Francisco some time before 1873, when he was 20 years old.[34] He never did any sort of sales or manual labor; right away he worked as a clerk for San Francisco Stock Brewery, one of the top breweries. After a few years, the directory shows, he became secretary of that establishment, while also serving as secretary of the Oakland-Alameda-Piedmont Railroad Company, an office held for many years.[35] He expanded into more areas. By 1895 he had his fingers in a bewildering number of pies; the directory and newspapers show that he was secretary of at least six different organizations: Germania Building and Loan, Humboldt Building and Loan, Monarch Mutual Building and Loan, Sunnyside Land Company, Golden State Land Company, and Brewers’ Protective Association.

1886 ad for San Francisco Stock Brewery.
1886 ad for San Francisco Stock Brewery.

As corporate secretary he carried out various legal and technical aspects of running a company, while taking orders from those more ego-driven men who needed to run the show—and surely in the process learning an enormous amount about the behind-the-scenes workings of such operations. Later he would have his own companies. By 1900 his directory listing condenses all those corporate pies down to “Capitalist.”

The One Who Stayed

One thing that sets Rudolph Mohr apart from these other initial Sunnyside investors is that he and his sons remained involved in Sunnyside real estate—selling lots and building houses—until well into the 1930s, long after everyone involved in the beginning of the project had divested.

In the 1920s, they developed en masse several of the empty blocks in the western end of Sunnyside—called Mohr’s Subdivision—exerting a level of aesthetic and architectural planning that was not typical of the neighborhood.

Above: Advertisement for homes newly built by Rudolph Mohr and Sons, on Staples and Gennessee. San Francisco Chronicle, 14 May 1921. From Newsbank.com.
Above: Advertisement for homes newly built by Rudolph Mohr and Sons, on Staples and Gennessee. San Francisco Chronicle, 14 May 1921. From Newsbank.com. “Sun Porch” in these houses is stretching the truth a bit, which as the owner of one of them I can attest to.

Two Street Names for the Shy Guy

Rudolph Mohr and his wife Mathilda Pape Mohr had four children. Their first, a daughter named Edna, was born a few years before Sunnyside was laid out in 1890. None of the other men I’ve identified have a wife or daughter named Edna at this time, so I propose that it is due to his request or preference during the planning that there is included an Edna Street in Sunnyside—the “E” street in the alphabetical north-south streets. The name Edna was just beginning to be popular then. By the end of the decade it was the 11th most popular name for girls, then fading from common use by the 1920s.[36]

Edna Mohr upon her engagement to Edmund Russ. SF Call, 6 Nov 1905.
Edna Mohr upon her engagement to Edmund Russ. SF Call, 6 Nov 1905.

In addition, Hamburg is his hometown in Germany, and I contend that this is the reason the “H” street was named after that place originally. All the Joost men, Claus Spreckels, and Claus Mangels, came from Hanover, Germany; if any of them had chosen the Sunnyside “H” street, they would surely have offered their own hometown.

Hamburg Street was changed to Ridgewood Avenue in 1927, so as to better match the “-wood” streets of adjacent Westwood, not from anti-German sentiment.

It seems typical of this quiet man not to insist on a “Mohr” street; perhaps it pleased him better to have his cherished daughter and his hometown—where his mother still lived—memorialized instead.

A Booze-Soaked Neighborhood?

Although there are a number of apocryphal stories about Sunnyside residents’ bootlegging operations in the 1920s, I don’t think there is anything about the neighborhood that remains especially associated with alcoholic beverages.[37] It was simply that German immigrant brewers in San Francisco accrued massive profits at just the time when the city was undergoing a massive expansion in the late nineteenth century. The beer industry was at an all-time high in terms of profit everywhere in the US. But that would soon change, as beer began its slow decline in the march toward Prohibition in 1919. Those British investors later regretted their expensive buy-outs in the US; by the turn of the century some complained of being “cheated by the Yankees.”[38]

With property speculation taking place all over San Francisco, anyone with money to burn was getting in on the deal. Beer might get outlawed, but property would always be a good bet. These brewery men knew each other; they were part of a coherent business community; their daughters went to each other’s tea parties; their wives raised money for the same good causes. And of course they shared a native country. Although the Germany they had left behind was by no means yet a unified one, once here they were all “The Germans” in the newspapers, joined together to exert an influence in politics and business.

Personally, I wish those investor-planners had had a bit more beer to drink before sketching out their street plan for Sunnyside. Go crazy guys, get curvy! Ignoring the hills here, someone got out the straight-edge ruler, creating headaches for the City in later decades when it was time to install water and sewage lines, which follow gravity and not lines on a map.


Copyright © 2019 by Amy O’Hair

A version of this article appeared on GlenParkHistory.org in 2015.

Biographical Summaries:

  • Claus Augustus (C.A. or ‘Gus’) Spreckels (1858–1946) Born in San Francisco; died in Paris.
  • Claus Spreckels (1828–1908) Born in Hanover Germany; died in San Francisco.
  • John Henry Mangels (1865–1897) Born and died in San Francisco.
  • Claus Mangels (1832–1891) Born in Hanover Germany; died in San Francisco.
  • Robert P Wieland (1861–1908) Born and died in San Francisco.
  • John H Wieland (1829–1885) Born in Württemberg, Germany; died in San Francisco.
  • Philip Rohrbacher (1838–1897) Born in Alsace, then in Germany; died in Stockton, California.
  • Rudolph Mohr (1858–1928) Born near Hamburg, Germany; died onboard a ship near Panama Canal en route to East Coast, USA.


“Brewery Workers” on FoundSF.org. http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=BREWERY_WORKERS

Comprehensive biography of Claus Spreckels. http://www.ghi-dc.org/files/pdf/Research_projects/ie/Spreckels.pdf

Another bio: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=5

Wieland Brewery Building, San Francisco. http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2012/04/27/then_now_wieland_brewery.php

Oral history about J.H. Mangels by his niece Alice Mertz on Ancestry.com (subscription required). http://mv.ancestry.com/viewer/0dcac896-f0df-4af8-bfb9-cde7c1027b15/14561659/125386788?_phsrc=Esl4&usePUBJs=true

Excellent book on beer and brewing in the US: Stanley Wade Baron, Brewed in America, (Boston: Little Brown), 1962. Available at the SF Public Library.)

Historical archives of the San Francisco Chronicle: Sign in here with your SF Public Library account to search and view: http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=2000028601#/alpha/s [Page down to San Francisco Chronicle]


  1. During an account of Joost picking a fight in a restaurant, the reporter noted: “Joost, who is an extreme temperance advocate…” in SF Call, 5 May 1896, p13.
  2. San Francisco Chronicle, 23 January 1869, page 2.
  3. San Francisco Chronicle, 23 January 1869, page 2.
  4. Several resources on the subject: Stanley Wade Baron, Brewed in America, (Boston: Little Brown), 1962; Paul Chatom Jr., “Industrial Relations in the Brewery, Metal, and Teaming Trades of San Francisco,” MS Thesis, UC Berkeley, 1915 (available at the California Historical Society library); William L. Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries, (Westport CT: Greenwood Press), 1980.
  5. Chatom, page 23.
  6. E.g. San Francisco Chronicle, 5 May 1887, page 8: “Brewer’s Troubles – Interesting Conference – Brewers have a Conference with their Employees.”
  7. Downard, page 165.
  8. San Francisco Chronicle, 26 January 1869, page 3, and 30 June 1889, page 16. Both sources give number of barrels produced.
  9. San Francisco Chronicle, 5 May 1887, page 8: in article about brewery labor issues the figure is given that 80% of beer brewed was “steam” type.
  10. San Francisco Chronicle, 30 June 1889, page 16: “English Capital.”
  11. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica,_Ninth_Edition/Baden_(2.)
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_San_Francisco,_California
  13. San Francisco Chronicle, 29 June 1889, page 6.
  14. Daily Alta California, 8 Dec 1888, page 1; and San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Sept 1890, page 6, for accounts of brothers’ deaths.
  15. San Francisco Call, 17 July 1890, page 2: “Syndicate Breweries – Details of the Organization – List of the Officers.” BPA board elections: San Francisco Chronicle, 5 May 1889, page 16; and 4 May 1890, page 14.
  16. Wieland romping on New Year’s Eve: San Francisco Call, 1 Jan 1896, page 10. Wieland singing a cappella at the Racetrack: San Francisco Chronicle, 7 April 1893, page 5: “With the Bang-Tails.” Wieland, expert diver in the Olympic Club, San Francisco Call, 21 May 1893, page 7. Wieland as president of the California Baseball League, San Francisco Call, 6 June 1893, page 7. The Wielands go to Paris for a few months, San Francisco Call, 29 March 1892, page 7.
  17. San Francisco Chronicle, 3 Sept 1891, page 1: “A Queer Case.”
  18. E.g., San Francisco Call, 222 June 1895, page 4, the source of the drawing of the two men.
  19. San Francisco Chronicle: “Koster and his Men” 10 June 1893, page 14; and “Koster’s Defense” 23 July 1893, page 8.
  20. Mangels-Wieland Trophy awarded at shooting contests in the 1890s. E.g., San Francisco Call, 21 Sept 1896, page 7.
  21. Daily Alta California, 23 April 1891, page 8. Contains possible errors as well.
  22. There is a lovely map of original layout in San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 1891.
  23. “Twin Corporations,” SF Chronicle, 8 Feb 1893, page 3.
  24. Lincoln Steffens, “Rudolph Spreckels: A Business Reformer,” in Lincoln Steffens, Upbuilders (New York, 1909), 248; quoted in “Claus Spreckels: Robber Baron and Sugar King (1828-1908)” https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php
  25. Story told by Claus Spreckels’s granddaughter Alice Hueter Mertz in “Mangels Family,” an oral history on Ancestry.com (paid subscription). http://mv.ancestry.com/viewer/0dcac896-f0df-4af8-bfb9-cde7c1027b15/14561659/125386788
  26. Document in archives of Society of California Pioneers, “Albany Brewery.”
  27. Document in archives of Society of California Pioneers, “Albany Brewery.”
  28. San Francisco Call, 17 August 1890, page 9.
  29. Carl Forget (ed.), Dictionary of Beer and Brewing, (Boulder CO: Brewers’ Publications), 1988, pages 138-9.
  30. Rohrbacher’s obituary, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 1897, page 10.
  31. San Francisco Chronicle, 16 May 1890, page 8.
  32. San Francisco Chronicle, 19 September 1890, page 5: “A Fat Men’s Club.”
  33. Report of Rohrbacher will, San Francisco Chronicle, 15 May 1897, page 14.
  34. The San Francisco Directory first lists this Rudolph Mohr that year.
  35. Earliest reference to Mohr as secretary of OAPRR Co.: Daily Alta California, 16 Feb 1875, page 1. Latest reference: The Manual of Statistics: Stock Exchange Handbook, 1893, page 379.
  36. Graphical fun with girls’ names statistics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVh2Qw5KSFg
  37. The San Francisco History Center has a copy of the Sunnyside oral histories collected 1995 – 2006 by a group of local historians. https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8c2536f/
  38. Baron, page 270.

1 thought on “Built on Beer: The Streets of Sunnyside and San Francisco Brewery Profits”

  1. Amy, a Great story. You must have worked your tail off finding out all this info. Thanx so much for posting. Keep it up.

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