Strothoff in Sunnyside, or How to Love the Utility Poles in the Street

One of a short series of house-based local history—stories touching on the perennial San Francisco themes of immigration, families, city-building, and self-making, although this post, the last, has ventured pretty far beyond the original remit.

By Amy O’Hair

In all the histories of individual houses I have researched in Sunnyside, only one revealed itself have been designed by an architect. This led me deep into the career of a massively prolific designer, and also into the history of restricted neighborhoods in San Francisco.

House in Sunnyside designed by Charles F Strothoff, 1928. Photo: Amy O'Hair, 2022.
House in Sunnyside designed by Charles F Strothoff, 1928. Photo: Amy O’Hair, 2022.

Designed by Charles F Strothoff in 1928, this anomalous house on Gennessee Street, with its distinctive cylinder turret entrance, is fun to contemplate aesthetically.[1] But it also gives me opportunity to look at the ethics and consequences of the exclusionary policies that were historically built into the houses of the 1920s ‘residence parks’ that are adjacent to Sunnyside, most of which were designed by this architect. That legacy of restricted housing—which has morphed into low-density zoning later in the twentieth century—continues to have a powerful impact on housing affordability and socio-economic segregation in the city.

The presence of an expensive midcentury architect-designed house in Sunnyside is unusual, but it is an exception that proves a rule: there is more of a mixture of land use in the neighborhood. Having never been a residence park, Sunnyside has a variety of housing, built over a longer period, with greater density, commercial activity, and multi-unit buildings; this difference has shaped the nature of the neighborhood, and is worth looking at.

Curved Streets and Straight-up Racism

Sunnyside was laid out in the 1890s, before San Francisco latched onto the ‘City Beautiful’-style planned neighborhoods that dominated house-building in the years between the wars. These ‘residence parks’ went up all over the city between Quake and the Great Depression; to the west of Sunnyside, several were developed where Adolph Sutro’s Forest once stood, such as Westwood Park and Monterey Heights. On a map it is easy to see where Sunnyside’s die-straight rectangular blocks end and the curvy streets of these districts begin.

Residence parks were restricted developments with aesthetic rules about the appearance and placement of buildings. Utility poles were relegated to backyards to present a tidier streetscape. Open spaces within the boundaries were created as private parks for the use of residents only. Shops or any other commercial activity were prohibited within the boundaries. The rise of automobile ownership in the 1920s made it possible for those with means to live in these suburbs-within-the-city. But the long list of restrictions encompassed much more.

Prohibitions written into every original deed excluded Asian, African-American, and Latino people from buying property. Racial bans extended to ‘various aliens’—as one developer from the time put it—which could include other people deemed ‘undesirable,’ such as those from southern Europe or Middle Eastern countries. Residence parks meant to exclude, and they were marketed as such. The term ‘fully restricted’ was used in advertisements as code for the guarantee to the white buyer that he would never be troubled by the disturbing possibility that anyone of color would move into a house on his block or the next.

Pretending it’s not a City

Racial discrimination was outlawed in the 1960s but the legacy and racial impacts of residence parks live on in restrictive zoning. Even newer state laws aimed at circumventing such dated zoning and increasing density (and therefore in theory affordability and racial integration) are being fought actually using the history of these developments, despite how intrinsically tangled it is with an egregiously racist structure. St Francis Wood residents recently sought and received “historic district” status for their neighborhood, which will exempt it from new housing laws.[2] (Read more about this maneuver in the SF Chronicle.)[3]

I’ll Take Hodge-Podge

In contrast, districts that were laid out before the 1906 Quake districts like Sunnyside, the Mission, or the Excelsior, never had such formal aesthetic controls or exclusionary practices in place, and were built more haphazardly—but also with a greater mix of ethnic backgrounds and the presence of lively commercial activity.

If you have noticed that in Sunnyside the houses are irregular and the blocks very rectilinear—all the ways our district is quite unlike a residence park, from the uneven set-backs to the mish-mash of building styles, from the presence of apartments and shops on Monterey to the utility poles in the streets—I invite you to consider seeing all that higgledy-piggledy as the historic price of never having been an exclusionary development. Even before it became illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of race, Sunnyside had some diversity, having Asian, Latino, and Black residents, homeowners, and business owners. It was far from perfectly equitable, but no one here had a clause in the deed to their house prohibiting them from selling to ‘undesirables.’

Now to return to our Sunnyside house—because as well as liking cities and equity, I like looking at houses inside and out. I just don’t think all the fancy ones should be cordoned off in exclusive neighborhoods.

A Note about the Photos

I have tried to include as many images as I can, so the reader can take in the aesthetics of Charles Strothoff’s work. I have taken the liberty of reproducing some interior photos from real estate listings. The galleries break out for a closer. Click on anything to see it full sized. Everything is captioned, check the bottom of the photo in the gallery frame. Dates of construction also included in caption. In general I have only included photos that show original features of Strothoff’s work.

A Carpenter Hires an Architect

In 1928, Strothoff designed the house on Gennessee Street for a middle-aged Swedish immigrant carpenter, Peter E Erickson, and his wife, Sadie. The Ericksons had worked hard for over twenty years, living in small rented flats in the Scandinavian enclave centered around the Upper Market area, near the Swedish American Hall.

As a carpenter, Peter was likely to have worked on building sites during the 1920s in neighborhoods where Strothoff houses were built—in Westwood Park, Westwood Highlands, Monterey Heights, and the like. He may well have met Strothoff while working on the site of one of the architect’s designs. In any case, when it came time for the Ericksons to move to their own house, they chose a double-sized lot in Sunnyside and Strothoff as the architect to create the plans.

Inside Strothoff provided the same fine details that marked his designs. (More on these details later.) An elegant dining room, distinctive fireplaces, and built-in cabinetry were all elements that marked Strothoff’s designs, for homes both large and small. The Gennessee house may well have once had the colorful tile work in the kitchen and bathrooms that were a signature feature of Strothoff’s work then (more on which later), but, as with many such period details, have since been removed.

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The couple lived there for twenty years, until Sadie passed away in 1948, and Peter remarried. Besides having refined taste in architecture, they owned many expensive things, as revealed in the classified ads Peter took out to sell off some of the furnishings before moving away. These items included a single Persian rug worth more than half the value of his next-door neighbor’s modest house.[4]

The Ubiquitous Strothoff

In part because Charles Frederick Strothoff (1892-1963) worked almost exclusively in domestic architecture, he does not have the name recognition of many of the Bay Area’s pre-war architect stars, such as Timothy Pflueger, Bernard Maybeck, or Julia Morgan. But his incredibly prolific output, and his creative use of cleverly varied frontages and early employment of modular designs—all staples of tract building even today—means that the impact of his work is significant and long-lived, not least in the residence parks near Sunnyside.

Strothoff’s architectural career blossomed in the late 1910s and early 1920s when he worked as the primary architect for houses in a new planned development, Westwood Park. He is responsible for three-quarters of the bungalow-style houses there.[5] He also designed home plans for other nearby districts such as Westwood Highlands, Monterey Heights, Sherwood Forest, and two dozen houses in St Francis Wood—as well as single houses in almost every other area of the city. Many hundreds of his designs can be found in districts such as Parkside, St Mary’s Park, Mission Terrace, and Geneva Terraces (a neighborhood name that has since disappeared). (Galleries of photos can be found later in this post.)

By my reckoning, he was one of the most prolific architects working in San Francisco during the building boom (and housing bubble) of the 1920s. Recently the architectural historian Richard Brandi in his book on residence parks called him “the ubiquitous Charles F Strothoff”.[6]

Strothoff appears to have been a veritable high-output machine of home design during the 1920s. His name, as architect for building contracts and in text mentions, occurs more often than anyone else in the trade publication Building and Engineering News during the boom years—with the exception of HC Baumann, whose firm built a great many large apartment buildings in San Francisco. Taking one year, 1925, as an example, Strothoff’s name is substantially more prominent than all other architects in the Bay Area, again excepting Baumann. (View the raw date for these charts here, and here.)

During the course of another year, 1926, Strothoff designed over 260 buildings, about half of which were houses for Westwood Highlands and Monterey Heights, constructed by the builder who worked with him, Hans Nelson, in areas near Sunnyside. That is one structure for every workday in the year.[7] By my reckoning he designed houses built in nearly every section of the city.[8]

In 1920, at age twenty-eight, Strothoff is depicted in an ad for Westwood Park as a sort of big-brained, bespectacled circus performer nonchalantly juggling five houses—with this quote floating above his head:

“It’s so easy for me! Bungalows—different, artistic, home-line—are my specialty. Small or large, inexpensive or quite costly—I will design a bungalow that will meet your fancy in every particular.”

Don’t hold back, Charlie.

Master of the Modular

Strothoff cranked out house plans at breakneck speed in part because of his use of “modules” which allowed him to design for a variety of lot sizes and shapes, and produce varying fronts referencing a set of period-revival styles.[9] The end result meant no house looked like its neighbor—a strong selling point—while still gaining efficiencies from re-reusing floor plans and style motifs. Although I found no mention of assistants, he must surely have employed some at his modest home studio (more on which later).

Here is a gallery of some of Strothoff’s earliest houses in Westwood Park, at the beginning of his career with builder Hans Nelson.

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Gallery of two Westwood Park houses:

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A special one on Monterey:

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The Life of a San Francisco Architect

Born in the city in 1892 to a German-immigrant saloonkeeper, Charles Strothoff’s family life was touched by the rough South-of-Market milieu of his father’s business. Like all in his line of work, John Strothoff’s bar was robbed more than once, but when Charlie was a boy his father was the victim of a pair of thieves using a novel method—chloroforming their mark, then fleecing him. It was a sensational scandal in the newspapers. The culprits were caught and faced justice. The family faced a more grievous tragedy when Charlie was just two months old—his older brother, a toddler, was scalded to death by a tipped-over pot of boiling water.[10]

Star Student

As a young teen Charles Strothoff graduated from the Normal School, then entered the technical high school, Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts (then South of Market, now Lick-Wilmerding High School, located near City College). He trained in architecture at night school. At age 21, a drawing of his was recognized by the Architectural League of the Pacific Coast, in an awards ceremony that also included a prize for an up and coming Timothy Pflueger. He worked for Albert Farr’s design firm before practicing on his own. [11]

Home Sweet Studio

John Strothoff’s bar, The Third Street Exchange, made enough money for him to build a new house for his growing family in 1897. He choose a wide lot on Fifteenth Street near Castro, and had a large house built for his wife and three children. Charles had two younger sisters, Ruby and Hilda.

The family home was likely an ordinary wood-faced Victorian house when built, but in the early 1920s, when Charles was having his first flush of success, the family renovated, dividing it into two flats and altering the frontage. It then took on the look of so many of the houses he was then designing for others, with a stucco front and a multi-paned bow window in front. Charles had been working out of the home for several years, but now a spacious studio was built, over a new garage, which was to be his place of business until the late 1930s.

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He even added a cylinder turret entrance, like our Sunnyside house, for the new studio. Here are some recent photos, as the house still remains in appearance as it was renovated one hundred years ago, although now it is divided into three units:

Besides needing a big studio for his bustling business, Strothoff had a good reason for these changes; in August of that year he married Lucile E Taylor, a woman from Iowa who was twelve years older than him. They did not have children. From then on, Charles and Lucile lived downstairs, his parents and his adult sister Ruby lived upstairs, and he worked in the studio over the garage.[12]

A Short History of Residence Parks in San Francisco

In the East and Midwest, carefully planned and restricted residential developments began being built in the second half of the nineteenth century, but San Francisco did not take up the fashion until after the 1906 Quake and Fire. Such endeavors required the skills, patience, and investment that speculators eager for quick returns here weren’t willing to employ: hiring street engineers to lay out districts along topographical contours, as well as architects and landscape designers, and skilled marketing firms. Sunnyside’s own 1891 street layout is testament to this change, ignoring as it did the steep hillside of Mount Davidson, and including no park spaces. But after 1906, residence park-style developments in San Francisco “flooded the market”.[13] After being stalled by World War I, the trend revived during the 1920s building boom. By the 1930s, most were complete.

Baldwin and Howell, the real estate marketing firm that oversaw the developments Strothoff designed for in Westwood Park and other places, practically invented the playbook for restricted housing in the city, publishing a little booklet in 1907 called Object Lessons in Home Building. The occasion for the publication was the building of Presidio Terrace, a closed community still located (and still closed) at Arguello Boulevard and Lake Street. This document detailed the deed covenants, landscaping and gating, aesthetic principles, and so on. The firm aimed to sell to residents who wished to be protected “from the unruly or disorderly Japanese immigrant settlements, Chinese laundries, and other nuisances.”[14]

The anxieties of the rich hinged on fears of such encroachment by mixed-use urban density. “The re-use of housing by Japanese immigrants in the Western Addition formed a major component of the context for Baldwin and Howell marketing strategies.”[15] The ideas became entrenched in the new field of building and marketing homes. “Presidio Terrace provided an important model for subsequent residential parks in the city such as St Francis Wood…and Westwood Park.” [16] The privilege of being insulated from people who weren’t like you was a highly marketable commodity.

A Lasting Legacy

Private firms such as Baldwin and Howell created the rules for neighborhoods and streets in the new districts in San Francisco after the Quake. The power they exercised during the 1920s forestalled the formation of a planning commission in the city. One had been authorized in 1915, but Mayor James Rolph refused to appoint anyone to it.[17]

The restrictions those firms chose later solidified into zoning rules that excludes density, which effectively exerts a segregating effect on neighborhoods, despite the illegality of overt racial discrimination after the 1960s.[18] And as I mentioned previously, pursuing the official designation of “historic district” can completely prevent a neighborhood from being subjected to those new laws, while other neighborhoods like Sunnyside must comply.

A Potted Past

Architecturally, the new developments changed the visual character of the city; they “broke the hold the Victorian style had on San Francisco.”[19] Gone was the wood and the furbelows—stucco fronts became the norm. “Period revival” architecture was widely employed—a grab-bag of historical motifs and themes, harkening back to other (Caucasian) continents and other centuries. The array of styles used ranged from English Tudor, to American Colonial, to Spanish Colonial, to Mediterranean motifs and touches of Renaissance Revival, perhaps a touch of Second Empire France in the form of Mansard roof. The references were all European and/or colonial; there was no use made of the forms of Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, or Middle Eastern architecture.[20]

It was new, but it could hardly be called Modern. While Europe boldly ventured into the starkness of Bauhaus and the surrealism of Gaudí, and in the Midwest Frank Lloyd Wright created a fresh American vernacular and Louis Sullivan made form follow function, the rich of San Francisco were plumping for miniaturized Ye Olde English cottages with fake-thatched roofs, jostling up next to grand colonnaded American Colonials complete with shutters no one would ever close against a Nor’wester, cheek by jowl with pint-sized Spanish plantation haciendas with romantic little decorative balconies. And sometimes these various bits and pieces ended up on the same house.

A gallery of some details and frontages from Strothoff’s work in Westwood Highlands and Monterey Heights (late 1920s):

It was a stylistic universe that had been put through Disneyesque Small-World filter. The faux-historical styles of the period in which Strothoff worked gave the look of a Hollywood film-set to many of the houses.

Hollywood, Domesticated

This is not a new observation; the influence of black and white silent films on the house architecture of Los Angeles during the 1920s was thoroughly explored by architectural historian Merry Ovnick in 2008.[21] The effects of the visual flattening of the monochrome medium gave rise to the need for complex and contrasty masses and spaces. Romantic, faux-historical storylines were set in scenes full of visual variety and rough textures, light and dark—suggesting secret spaces where intrigue could take place. These film imagery trends in turn strongly influenced the development and popularity of period-revival architecture.

“Texture and value contrast, crowded style references and miniaturized scale, and fragmentation of the volume in to multiple forms—these elements distinguish 1920s historical revival architecture at every income level from residential design of the preceding period.”[22]

Here are two still from The Mark of Zorro, Ovnick’s paradigmatic example of this stage-setting. The exoticism of Mediterranean domestic interiors and gardens provides the backdrop for dramatic emotions and adventures.

Other examples include is the Old Europe of films like Broken Lullaby (1932; Paramount) or Orphans of the Storm (1921; United Artists). A variety of haphazard masses, rickety town scenes depicting the streets of the poor.

Road Trip, Dahling

Did Strothoff look to Hollywood for his inspiration? He seems to have at least looked to Southern California, where homes styles were already under the sway of the movies. In 1924, six years into their professional relationship, Charlie Strothoff and his builder-partner Hans Nelson took a road trip together, touring around California for hot new ideas in house design. They toured “several thousand miles” all over the state.

“Wherever an unusual entrance, a massive door, a graceful staircase, an artistic balustrade, a unique window or attractive roof line appeared before their searching gaze, it was stored for reference and future incorporation in the[ir] distinctive bungalow homes.”

The (paid) Examiner article on the real estate page also asserts that when they get back to the city to launch into the new Westwood Highlands tract, “there will be no copying. Each home…will be specially designed and different from its neighbor.”[23]

That Turret

Back at our house in Sunnyside, recall that the most notable feature on the front is the cylinder turret that forms the recessed entrance. Most of the turrets that Strothoff employed date from after his California tour in search of architectural details, and the turret is one of the romantic Hollywood-style details that Ovnick identifies as a key feature on many architect-designed homes of late 1920s Los Angeles.[24] He used them largely as entrances, as he did on the renovation of his own family’s home on Fifteenth Street. Like all of his vast repertoire of Period-Revival details, he did not use it too repetitively or too often.

Here are a selection of houses where Strothoff also used cylindrical turret entrances, from 1923 to 1931.

Notably, the turret was also used by Strothoff for the enormous house he designed for his increasingly wealthy builder-partner, Hans Nelson, This mansion still sits on the largest lot in Monterey Heights, at 85 Saint Elmo Way. Perhaps Nelson didn’t want to miss a trick in the Period-Revival playbook, as this mansion has both mock-Tudor and Spanish Colonial elements, with a large turret entrance on the front. Later additional buildings are stacked up on the hillside adjacent. During the 1990s it was owned by the Gurdjieff Institute, but then it was purchased in 1997 by the Peoples Republic of China as a consular house.

Another Imaginary Past

Apart from the overwhelming number of Strothoff houses in Westwood Park, there are also about a hundred houses by the architect Ida B McCain; these are notable for resisting this tide of faux-historical references, instead embodying the style of the Art and Crafts movement of the nineteenth century—bungalows with heavy flaring porch posts, often trimmed with over-fired and rough-textured brick trim, and shallowly pitched roofs that extended well beyond the exterior walls.[25]

But this style wasn’t much used for the residence parks that followed, including Strothoff’s designs in Westwood Highlands and Monterey Heights. The Arts and Crafts movement itself was backward-looking, invoking a nostalgia for a pre-industrial, cottage-based artisan past, and had its origins and strongest appeal in nineteenth-century Great Britain.

Onward Period Revival Soldiers

After the 1924 road trip, Hans Nelson and Charles Strothoff extended their reach north of Westwood Park—Westwood Highlands and Monterey Heights.

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Blessed Bell-Shaped Streets

In the mid-1920s Strothoff was the primary architect for St Mary’s Park, designing hundreds of houses for its curvy streets laid out in the shape of a California mission bell.

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Parkside Player

Strothoff designed many houses for Parkside, a big squarish hunk of a neighborhood that runs roughly from Quintara to Sloat, and 19th Ave to 36th Ave, with a long section north of Sloat Boulevard that extends to the ocean. Not all Parkside houses had named architects; it’s a huge area. Strothoff’s work is sprinkled throughout, plus in an area Google Maps calls “Inner Parkside,” which the Planning Department’s SFFIND map says is Golden Gate Heights. I’m too far outside my area to have much to say about this.

A few Parkside ads and a few of Strothoff’s houses:

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Colorful Tiling

Beginning about 1930, Strothoff’s designs included colored tile work in the kitchens and bathrooms in his houses and apartments.[26] Here are some galleries of houses and apartments from that time, which also show off his work in creating elegant dining rooms, and odd little niches.

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Geneva Where?

Well established by 1927, and operating like a well-oiled machine, Strothoff’s services were engaged for a new development with a name that is largely lost to history now, Geneva Terraces. This covered the area roughly between San Jose Avenue and Alemany Boulevard, from Balboa High School south to where Cayuga Park is located now. Google maps now calls this neighborhood Cayuga Terrace.[27] The lots were the usual small San Francisco size, but Strothoff pulled out his bag of Period-Revival tricks, and managed to give every house a distinctive little something, including some pint-sized Juliet balconies. I have to admire the fellow.

Here is a gallery of one street he did in 1930-1931, including an ad with a drawing of one of the houses (which is pink in the photo).

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Read more about Geneva Terraces by Woody LaBounty on Strothoff was mentioned as the development’s architect as late as advertisements from 1935.[28]

A Miniaturized Library

One of the most intriguing oddities I happened upon in looking into Strothoff’s work was this mini-library nook, complete with seating and custom shelving, in an apartment in the Mission at 30 Oakwood, built 1926. Here is a gallery of photos of that building.

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St Francis Wood

Strothoff was the architect for twenty-five of the several hundred houses in St Francis Wood, which lies a bit further from Sunnyside to the west, with large lots and more private park space than the Hans Nelson/Westwood developments. Strothoff was third in the list of St Francis Wood architects; Masten & Hurd and Henry H Gutterson designed most of the homes. Here is a gallery of some of Strothoff’s houses in St Francis Wood, which leans heavily toward the mock-Tudor fake half-timbering, as do many houses by the other architects.[29]

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New Digs

In 1938, Strothoff built a new structure for his home and his work, at 1855-1857 Market Street, leaving the Fifteenth Street family home for good. His father had died in 1931, and his mother in 1939. His unmarried sister Ruby, who was a hotel auditor, lived there in the upper unit of the house until nearly the end of her life in 1981, renting the lower floor and her brother’s old architecture studio over the garage to tenants.

During WWII, Strothoff oversaw the Richmond Housing Authority, a private firm that managed 40,000 units, largely people serving the war effort. He died in 1963. Read his obituary here.

New Owner, and a Diversion into More History

The current owner of the Strothoff house on Fifteenth Street is Paul Crismani, who bought it some long time ago. He has his own deep history in the city, being the owner of the famous North Beach eatery, Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café, a highly rated favorite of tourists and locals alike. A cigar store across from Washington Square since the early twentieth century, it gained the ‘bohemian’ part of its name just after WWII, in anticipation perhaps of the beat movement that would flourish there in the 1950s. Paul’s father bought it in 1971 and added the ‘Mario’ and then soon stopped selling the cigars, and it’s been in the family for over fifty years. Read an interview with Paul Crismani and his daughter about the business here, and some customer reminiscences here.

Pretty, Static

Charles F Strothoff was an amazingly productive and inventive architect; between the two world wars he provided midcentury home buyers with thoughtful, lovely homes. His work remains an important visual presence in many San Francisco neighborhoods. Whether a mansion in St Francis Wood or a full-five in Mission Terrace, each has distinctive details inside and out, each differs in appearance from its neighbor. His work aimed not to create a new vernacular that spoke to the new century when his designs were built, but to cater to a desire for homes that looked back to a previous century, set in districts insulated from the urban fray.

The Period Revival styles he employed in restricted districts and elsewhere has created a lasting and distinctive character that, due to historic preservation and zoning are likely to persist for many decades to come. However remarkable his work was aesthetically, these restricted developments were designed to be set apart from the urban fray—protected from the effects of change and the dynamic nature of a growing city—and that insularity remains in place one hundred years on, even as San Francisco faces a new century with new needs.

Scrappy, Dynamic

Sunnyside has dozens of apartment buildings on Monterey, many of which could have additional stories without much blocking views; the shop fronts are occupied, although we could do with one less real estate office and one more bakery. There are many corner residential lots where four-plexes would work well; there is the odd large property near the edge of the freeway (and close to BART) where a multi-unit building could go in easily. There are several shops that be rebuilt as mixed-use multi-unit structures with four or five stories. And, as always, transit is good, the legacy of a district having been laid out for the purpose of founding the city’s first electric streetcar system.

There is room to grow and change here. Sunnyside, having missed the residence-park fashion, is set to accommodate the twenty-first century.


Beitiks, Kathleen O. 2017. Westwood Park: building a bungalow neighborhood in San Francisco.

Brandi, Richard. 2021. Garden neighborhoods of San Francisco: the development of residence parks, 1905-1924.

DiMento, Joe, “Let’s Topple the Housing Monuments of our Racist Past, Starting with St Francis Wood,” SF Standard

“Historic Resource Evaluation Response,” (PDF), San Francisco Planning Dept. Accessed 4 April 2022.

Kelly, Dennis P, “The Political Culture of Western Neighborhoods Residence Parks, 1932-1960,” SF West History, Vol 11 No 2, Apr-Jun 2015, pp12-15. Accessed 18 Apr 2022.

LaBounty, Woody. “The Birth of Westwood Park, Part I,”, 2013. Accessed 4 April 2022.

LaBounty, Woody. “The Birth of Westwood Park, Part II,”, 2013. Accessed 4 April 2022.

Lindenauer, Isak, “A singular Collaboration: The Charles Strothoff oak tree lamp by the studio and workshops of Dirk van Erp and Thomas Gotham,” Isak Lindenauer Arts and Crafts Antiques, 27 Aug 2013. Accessed 4 April 2022.

Loeb, Carolyn S. 2001. Entrepreneurial vernacular: developers’ subdivisions in the 1920s. Baltimore, Md: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

“St Francis Wood Historic District NR DRAFT,” (PDF) San Francisco Planning Dept. Accessed 4 April 2022.

Graves, Donna, “Mapping Richmond’s World War II Home Front, A Historical Report Prepared for the National Park Service (Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park),” 2004.

Accessed 14 April 2022.

Horiuchi, Lynne. “Object Lessons In Home Building: Racialized Real Estate Marketing In San Francisco.” Landscape Journal 26, no. 1 (2007): 61–82.

Johnson, Marilynn S. 1991. “Urban Arsenals: War Housing and Social Change in Richmond and Oakland, California, 1941-1945”. Pacific Historical Review. 60 (3): 283-308.

LaBounty, Woody, “Geneva Terraces: A Closer Look,” Western Neighborhoods Project, 2017.

LaBounty, Woody; Brandi, Richard (March 2008). “San Francisco’s Parkside District: 1905-1957” (PDF). Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Retrieved 2022-04-19

Montojo, Nicole, Eli Moore, and Nicole Mauri, “Roots, Race, & Place A History of Racially Exclusionary Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Othering and Belonging Institute, 2019.

National Park Service. General Management Plan / Environmental Assessment, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, Richmond, California. 2008. Accessed 14 April 2022.

Ovnick, Merry. “The Mark of Zorro: Silent Film’s Impact on 1920s Architecture in Los Angeles.” California History 86, no. 1 (2008): 28–64. Read a PDF of this intereting piece by logging into JSTOR through the SF Public Library, under Articles and Databases, with your library card.

Pandell, Lexi, “The Racist Origins of San Francisco’s Housing Crisis,” The New Republic, 31 May 2019.

Phillips, Justin, “Anti-Asian and anti-Black racial housing covenants can still be found in the Bay Area. Why?” SF Chronicle, 22 July 2020.

Stern, Robert A.M.., Tilove, Jacob., Fishman, David. Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City. United States: Monacelli Press, 2013.

Other resources


My raw data on Chas F Strothoff’s contracts and mentions, 1919-1932:

One of a short series of house-based local history—five stories touching on the perennial San Francisco themes of immigration, families, city-building, and self-making, although this post, the last, has ventured pretty far beyond the original remit.


  1. Architectural summary [my approximation of]: 300 Gennessee StreetBlock/Lot 3115/023; Built 1928Original Architect: Charles F Strothoff, Original Owner: Peter E and Sadie EricksonA one-story-over-basement, wood-frame, Spanish Colonial Revival, single family residence with stucco finish. It has an irregular plan, an asymmetrical façade, and a flat roof with a gabled effect along the south and west faces clad in shingles. The recessed front entryway faces the corner of the lot, has an arched opening, and is set in a cylinder turret, which projects above the roofline and is decorated with a single rectangular ornamental cartouche and has one unglazed window covered with ornamental grillwork. Details include two-story bay with multi-paned windows on south face, two smaller bays with three windows each, on the south and north faces, and some ornamental grillwork under a double window on the front. Alterations include replacement windows, first floor and basement.
  2. In 1948, in Shelley v Kraemer, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that deed restrictions that excluded people of color from buying a house were not legally enforceable; a Black family buying a house in St Louis had been sued by a man ten blocks away who wanted the government to enforce an exclusion written into their deed. But this landmark decision did not prevent racial restrictions from continuing to be used, even if now illegal, often as a pressure tactic against white families who did not want to discriminate when selling their homes (Montojo et al (2019) p36),The Civil Rights Act of 1968 included the Fair Housing Act, which then actively prohibited housing discrimination. However, zoning practices have effectively maintained housing segregation since then; in San Francisco legislation in the late 1970s has effectively kept hundreds of thousands of new units from being built, by imposing a 40-foot height limit over more of the city. Limits on total numbers of units, prohibitions on multi-unit buildings, requirements for large lot size or low heights, and other types of restrictions, all result in housing segregation and exclusion (Pandell (2019)).
  3. I moved to the city as a young adult. I love what cities offer: walkability, bikeability, and transit— commercial activity (no malls, please) and density—interesting urban geography, architecture, and history—and people who come here from all over the world. And change. But it looks like some people will fight to the bitter end to make sure their neighborhood doesn’t have to make room for any changes or do its share in the drive for more housing or decreased residential segregation.
  4. SF Chronicle, 17 April and 18 April 1948 show Erickson asking $1200 ($14K in today’s money) for the rug; in the 1940 Census the owner of 304 Gennessee stated the value of her house at $2000 (Erickson said $7000 for his own house). Most houses in Sunnyside had values between $4000 and $5000 then. Other items for sale by Erickson include a chesterfield for $375 ($4400 now) and a seven-piece bedroom set for $250 ($3000 now).
  5. Beitiks, p43.
  6. Brandi (2021), p117. A thoroughgoing treatment of the subject – Garden neighborhoods of San Francisco: the development of residence parks, 1905-1924 by Richard Brandi here or here.
  7. Also in 1926, he turned out over 51 houses for St Mary’s Park, 29 for West Portal/Forest Hill, 21 for Parkside, and many more elsewhere in the city, as well as to the north in San Rafael and to the south in San Mateo. My raw data here: as well Note 6, below.
  8. Working from the contract notices in Building and Engineering News/Pacific Constructor, over the course of his most active period, 1917-1933, Charles Strothoff designed houses built in following San Francisco neighborhoods: Bay View (a theater), Corona Heights, Crocker Amazon, The Excelsior, Forest Hill, Geneva Terraces, Golden Gate Heights, Holly Park, Ingleside, Ingleside Heights, Ingleside Terraces, the Marina, the Mission, Mission Terrace, Monterey Heights, Outer Mission, Parkside, Pine Lake, Richmond, St Francis Wood, St Marys Park, Sunnyside, the Sunset, Sutro Heights, West Portal, Westwood Highlands, Westwood Park. And in these other Bay Area cities: Burlingame, Millbrae, Richmond, San Mateo, San Rafael, and Daly City.Despite my efforts, this list is, I believe, incomplete.
  9. Loeb (2020). For this reference I am lazily using a review of Loeb’s book in which the reviewer describes what Loeb says about Strothoff: Wilson, Richard Guy. The Business History Review 78, no. 2 (2004): 300–302. I blame Covid.
  10. Young Willie Strothoff dies of scalding, SF Call, 15 Jul 1892; “Saloonkeeper Chloroformed and Robbed,” SF Call, 27 Feb 1899, and “Strothoff’s Assailants are Arrested,” SF Call, 5 Mar 1899.
  11. Basic biographical information about Strothoff in Brandi (2021), p76. Strothoff graduates from the Normal School: SF Call, 8 Jun 1907, p5. Strothoff drawing earns mention at award ceremony of the Architectural League of the Pacific Coast: SF Call, 31 May 1913, p18.
  12. Marriage notice: SF Chronicle, 22 Aug 1920, p10. Lucile appears to be in the 1920 US Census (January) living in a big new apartment building at 136-156 McAllister St; she is recorded as “Single” and a “Lodger” yet her occupation was recorded as “Housewife”. This is likely to have been a mistake, or maybe she was getting a head-start on her marriage to come in August. I don’t know what her profession was during the two decades of her adult life before marriage to Strothoff. Afterwards, it would seem, her profession was to grease the wheels and make easy the life of the hardest working architect in the city.
  13. Brandi (2021), p4.
  14. Horiuchi (2007), p61
  15. Horiuchi (2007), p63.
  16. Horiuchi (2007), p69.
  17. Brandi (2021), p34-35.
  18. A good short article: Pandell, Lexi, “The Racist Origins of San Francisco’s Housing Crisis,” The New Republic, 31 May 2019.
  19. Brandi (2021), p38.
  20. An exception: Ida B McCain put a few touches of Chinese architecture forms on her bungalows. The roof line of 1399 Plymouth has a suggestion of the silhouette of the traditional Chinese roof line called (I think) a hard hill roof (硬山顶 yìngshāndǐng). But squint and you may miss it. Photo later in this post shows this building in the section “Another Imaginary Past”.
  21. Ovnick, Merry. “The Mark of Zorro: Silent Film’s Impact on 1920s Architecture in Los Angeles.” California History 86, no. 1 (2008): 28–64.
  22. Ovnick (2008), p29.
  23. “Builder and Architect tours famous Residence tracts for ‘ideas’,” SF Examiner, 26 Jul 1924.
  24. Ovnick (2008), p31, 43.
  25. Photos of Ida B McCain arts and Crafts-style bungalows: 180 Westwood Dr, 1922, contract notice: Building and Engineering News, 28 Jan 1922, p27; 701 Miramar, 1919, contract notice: Building and Engineering News, 3 Sep 1919, p18; and 1399 Plymouth, 1918, contract notice: Building and Engineering News, 30 Jan 1918, p16.
  26. 207-223 Dorland St building contract: Building and Engineering News, 5 Sep 1931, p26; 2227-2229 Lombard St building contract: Building and Engineering News, 16 May 1931, p27; and 201 Waller St building contract: Building and Engineering News, 8 Aug 1931.
  27. But why should anyone trust Google Maps to correctly name neighborhoods? Just looking locally, Google has erased from its map “Miraloma Park,” a well-established, one-hundred-year-old neighborhood name, renaming it “Miraloma”—which has never been the name of a neighborhood, just an elementary school, and a playground.And it has invented a new neighborhood that never existed, which they label “Balboa Park” on the map. Balboa Park is of course the name of a public park, and a BART/Muni station, but it has never been the name of a neighborhood. The “East Cut” debacle South of Market got all the press, but meanwhile Google Maps goes about its merry way with its ahistorical re-namings elsewhere in the city (and presumably other cities).
  28. SF Examiner, 20 Jul 1935.
  29. “St Francis Wood Historic District NR DRAFT,” (PDF) San Francisco Planning Dept. Accessed 4 April 2022.


4 thoughts on “Strothoff in Sunnyside, or How to Love the Utility Poles in the Street”

  1. If I remember correctly the house on Genesee was once owned by the Gentile family whose son Jim was a well known major leaguer with the Baltimore Orioles. My grandparents lived down the street at 547 Hearst.

    Marty Hackett

  2. Another amazing piece, Amy! Great research,

    Who knew the Hollywood connection!

    RE: St. Elmo purchase by Chinese consulate: I recall hearing about anti-Chinese sentiments being expressed back then about it.

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