The First Black Family in Glen Park

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco.

In researching the real history of the Poole-Bell house in Fairmount, I discovered an untold chapter in its story. In 1918, after Teresa Bell moved out of her “gloomy old house,”[1] she rented to a family named Tyrrel. They turned out to be the first African-American family in the Glen Park-Fairmount district.[2] They stayed for three decades, finally settling in a house on Chenery.

Their lives tell us something of what it was to be black in San Francisco in the decades before WWII. Fortunately, the family archivist has shared with me many photos of the Tyrrels, some of which were taken at the Poole-Bell house, as well as family stories. The Tyrrels were in the public record for their church and fraternal group activities. These fortunate gifts have made it possible to tell a story of the family.

Bertram and Frances Tyrrel moved to the big house at the corner of Laidley and Fairmount Streets during the last years of Teresa Bell’s ownership. They had two children still living with them, Irma, then 22, and Wendell, 21. Frances also had two older children from a previous marriage who had both since started their own families: Pearl Hinds, who had three small daughters and kept a farm in Tulare County with her husband; and James Barber, who had a wife and young daughter in San Mateo County.

The family was very close, including Frances’ sister’s and brother’s families. Photographs during these years bear out the family’s sense of belonging and their pleasure and pride in their shared lives.

1920c. Group photo in front of the Laidley Street house. From left: Bertram Tyrrel, Irma Tyrrel, Marjorie Lake with Eleanor Hinds, Harriet Cady Lake in back, and next to her Frances Tyrrel, and Wendell Tyrrel with Marian and Frances Hinds in front.
1920c. Group photo in front of the Laidley Street house. From left to right: Bertram Tyrrel, Irma Tyrrel, Marjorie Lake with Eleanor Hinds in front, Harriet Cady Lake in back, and next to her Frances Tyrrel, and Wendell Tyrrel with Marian and Frances Hinds in front. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

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In the picture: Sunnyside Elementary School students through the years

There is nothing quite like kids’ faces! I’ve been fortunate over the years to have been given the chance by several former students to scan class photos from the 1930s to the 1960s. I present them here in reverse chronological order without commentary.* My thanks to Marty Hackett, Mark Sultana, Julie Spalasso Vozza, Bill Wilson, and Greg Gaar for sharing these with me. View more class photos here.

The current building of Sunnyside Elementary School (250 Foerster Street, San Francisco) was built in 1927. Read more about its history. 

Sixth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1964. Courtesy Marty Hackett.
Sixth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1964. Courtesy Marty Hackett. View larger. 
Fourth/fifth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1963. Courtesy Marty Hackett.
Fourth/fifth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1963. Courtesy Marty Hackett. View larger. 

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Gilbert Plov, Little-Box Builder

The strange dominance of small single-family homes in San Francisco, with its roots in pre-Quake planning and post-Quake building, has come at last in this century to bite the city in its housing-supply backside. Density doesn’t match need now and it is difficult to see how it ever can. It is as though San Francisco, to personify for a moment, never expected to become a real city. So it allowed builders to fill the thousands of residential blocks with one-story-over-basement structures that cannot reasonably ever be transformed into multi-unit, multi-story buildings—unlike, say, a Mission-District Victorian or a Brooklyn brownstone. And should you be inclined to try, zoning and/or neighbors will prevent you from rebuilding one as a four-story wart on the smooth skin of row-upon-row of SFHs.

In their vast inertial numbers, the Little Boxes will always win. The march of those attached four- or five-room homes, on their narrow 25×100 foot lots, across hundreds of city blocks can only ever be disrupted here and there—a few corner developments, a few big structures on old gas station lots, a few scattered replacements, or the odd added story or ADU.

The die was cast—getting on for a hundred years ago now—and the pattern will persist.

Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com
Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com

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