By Amy O’Hair
Traffic calming – planting and saving trees – safe places for children to play – newly revealed local history: the issues on the minds of Sunnysiders fifty years ago were not so different from things that interest residents now. The newsletters of Sunnyside’s local organization from those years have recently been archived and made available online at the Internet Archive, and tell some inspiring stories about actions that still impact our lives today.
Although Sunnyside has seen organized advocacy by residents since the 1890s (more here), the current organization, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA), dates to late 1974. The 1970s saw a surge of local activism in the many neighborhoods in San Francisco. Five decades later, we still enjoy some of the fruits of that upwelling, for instance in open spaces that were established as parks. There was also a downside to the activism then that still affects the city; in some areas, such as the Richmond district, residents fought density with downzoning measures, working to exclude multi-unit buildings and “retain local character,” resulting in a dearth of housing units in subsequent decades, and de facto residential segregation.
But SNA was, according to the record of these early newsletters, more intent on trees, parks, and calming traffic. Monterey Boulevard had already undergone big changes in the 1950s and 1960s, with an extensive apartment-building boom. The 1970s saw even more upzoning on the boulevard. SNA didn’t oppose more housing, but as we’ll see, it did try to rescue trees that were eventually to fall victim to a particularly determined developer of multi-unit buildings, among many other projects, such as tree-planting and boosting local businesses.
The publication of the new archive of the SNA newsletters is due to the work of LisaRuth Elliott and her team for the Neighborhood Newspapers of San Francisco project on the Internet Archive.
SNA was incorporated as a nonprofit in September 1974, and in the spring of 1975, the first issue of “NEWSunnyside” was distributed to members. (The slightly cringey newsletter name was not too far outside some Seventies-style advertising, I think. NewSunnyside? Were they making Sunnyside anew? Groovy.)
First Things: Open Space
The initial issue opens with a brief introduction from the editor, local resident and realtor Ken Hoegger, then in his late twenties. We learn that the hand-drawn graphics for the letterhead and ads were done by another local realtor, Ronald Strayer of Scandia (765 Monterey). Hoegger thanked Roger Hurlbert of SPUR for his help in getting the newsletter started; Hurlbert had been involved in many local concerns, perhaps most importantly the establishment of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of California’s treasured parks.
This first issue features a piece by Margaret Blakely about the prospect of establishing Martha Hill as public open space. This project, in which SNA joined with groups from Glen Park and elsewhere, eventually proved successful (related in issue #2).
That land, dedicated four years later, is now Dorothy Erskine Park. Critical to the process was Proposition J, the Open Space Fund—which would also make it possible for Sunnyside Conservatory to be saved from the developer’s wrecking ball in these years. Thank you, SNA.
Discussing street parking, reporter Phillis Strain writes:
“Your Sunnyside Neighborhood Association is committed to exploring ways of making our residential streets uninviting for thru traffic without burdening ourselves with uncomfortable restrictions.”
(Perhaps they would have been supportive of Slow Hearst, if anyone had thought of it then.)
While it is a great thing that SNA worked to save land for a local park with a view that is still enjoyed today, and which would otherwise have been developed, Strain’s feature on street parking issues is more dated. There was then a perceived threat to parking for residents from City College students. SNA floated the idea of joining a then-novel parking permit program. The concern for street space for autos then was not without merit; by the mid-1970s, CCSF had reached a zenith of enrollment, with 25,000 students at the college itself, and 36,000 at the various centers. Most students drove to the campus, and most of those parked in surrounding neighborhoods.
Now, after the 2012 accreditation crisis, the decline in enrollment, and Covid, few in Sunnyside are complaining about City College students parking on the streets. And some of us miss the sense of life that students once brought to the neighborhood.
Trees and Taxes
In the second issue, Ken Hoegger launches the tree-planting program that would be a part of SNA activities for the next couple of years. The result would be numerous sidewalk trees in front of willing residents’ houses, and 120 New Zealand Christmas trees along Circular Avenue, to screen the I-280 freeway that closely edges Sunnyside on the south-east. It is difficult to imagine now what this side of the neighborhood might have looked like before these trees, but for the twelve years between freeway construction in 1964 and the planting of these trees, there was nothing to blunt the roar of traffic for adjacent streets and houses. All trees, in sidewalks and on Circular, were bought and planted (with local volunteer help) by the City. Thank you, SNA.
The association also organized a meeting with the City Assessor to discuss tax relief, noting that small property owners’ assessments had increased much more than those on the big downtown property owners. (The resentment was widely held, and would eventually come to a head with State Proposition 13 in 1978, which while capping increases in property taxes left funding for education, housing, and other communal benefits eviscerated, and still haunts every aspect of civic life in California today.)
One feature noted that Miraloma Cooperative Nursery School (still at Foerster and Joost today) had just the previous year moved into the old house there after some renovation. The school, established over twenty years before, had been housed elsewhere. The school leaders invited neighbors to visit.
(So far, no issue for Fall 1975 (#3) has come to light. Do you have a lead? Email me.)
Enter Local History
In the fourth issue, Winter 1976 (January 1976), has not yet been scanned for inclusion in the online archive. However, I have a copy, and can relate the contents. In this issue, SNA starts a new history project, with Thomas Malim, a local resident, doing research on how the Sunnyside Conservatory—which had not yet acquired that name—was built. He published his findings in the newsletter in instalments, eventually producing a single document. The account is a good start on what had been previously completely undocumented. However, Malim’s work is tainted with casual racism and errors of fact and spelling (and your historian hopes she has made up for his shortcomings with this website).
At that time the conservatory was not fully enclosed, and was in terrible condition. Malim tells something of how inventor William Merralls built the structure, and correctly notes:
“Practically all the trees and plants in [i.e. inside the structure] The Conservatory and on the exterior grounds which exist today are those planted by Mr Merrells [sic].”
Ken Hoegger also gives a rousing hurrah for local businesses in issue #4, touting the benefits and pleasure of shopping locally. At this time there were a few more useful shops around than there are today, most notably Monterey Hardware at 775 Monterey (now a shop-front office). Every “NEWSunnyside” issue had ads from local businesses, including the café that is now Big Joe’s, which in 1975 was Lucky Star, but by the following year had become Monterey Sam’s. (View photos of Monterey Boulevard businesses from this period here.)
Some of the hand-lettered classified advertisements from sponsors:
The parking permit issue is revisited, and the reporter notes that the 200 block of Staples Avenue successfully campaigned for that stretch of the street to be made one-way.
No Bus Yard in Our Backyard
In the fifth issue, things heat up, as SNA joins with the local groups to fight a plan put forward by Muni to build a bus yard on the south basin of the Balboa Reservoir, to store 266 diesel buses, with repair facilities, and an office complex for 365 employees. Although impacts on traffic were cited, the main objection was to the effect of industrializing the area. Members were invited to attend a meeting with Muni. (Spoiler: they were 100% successful in getting Muni to abandon their plans).
One feature discussed plans for a big apartment complex on Monterey (now 380 and 370 Monterey Blvd). The big concern was not heights or increased density, but the loss of trees due to the construction. SNA tried to get the developer to re-locate the old eucalyptus trees.
Trees Come, Trees Go
In the sixth issue, editor Ken Hoegger tells us that the new trees for Circular Avenue are on their way, and calls for help in planting.
“When was the last time you can remember sore muscles and aching backs….Join the SNA tree planting brigade NOW!”
But on the mirroring column on the front page, we learn that the efforts to save trees from the stealthy actions of the apartment-building developer on Monterey have failed.
“Neighbors were awakened to the sound of Chain Saws on June 21st and several people called the Department of City Planning. Kitt Herman and other staff members were soon on the scene and convinced the tree cutter to stop. However, he returned several days later to finish the task.”
There is a lot more to read. Here are more issues in the archive (with more to come later):
Fall 1977 (October 1977) (#11)
Spring 1978 (April 1978 ) (#13)
Spring 1979 (April 1979) (#17)
- Full disclosure: I have just retired as Secretary of SNA after six years service (2016-2022). ↑
- See Austin White’s history of City College of San Francisco: “Seventy Years of Making Dreams into Reality,” (2005) https://sunnysidehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/WHITE_Austin_History_of_City_College_of_San_Francisco_2005.pdf ↑