By Amy O’Hair
This website, which I began in 2015, has not been the only effort to collect and rediscover the stories of this neighborhood; almost twenty years ago, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association initiated a wide-ranging project to rediscover historical materials and record oral histories of old-time residents. One result of the group’s work was to present a history fair in February 2006, where documents and photos were shared with the community. Another product of their efforts was a little booklet, “A Brief Look at Sunnyside”.
The members of Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA) who worked on the project were led by Jennifer Heggie, and included Daphne Powell, Robert Danielson, David Becker, Karen Greenwood Henke, Bill Wilson, and Rick Lopez. They were aided in their work by Woody LaBounty and Lori Ungaretti at Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP). Other contributors included Julia Bergman, City College of San Francisco’s Chief Librarian and Archivist (now deceased), and local history author Jacqueline Proctor, as well as two workers at St Finn Barr Church, Denise McEvoy and Kathleen Ramsay.
The Oral Histories
The oral history interviews took place in 1995, 2005, and 2006, and were conducted with six people who grew up in Sunnyside, mostly before the Second World War. To preserve the interviews, the transcripts were later archived at the San Francisco History Center. The subjects described what it was like in the neighborhood, where they played and went to school, what transit they took, the landscapes and animals that were a part of their childhoods, and so on. (I’ll quote extensively from the oral histories later in this post.)
The History Fair
On 11 February 2006, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association held the public event that was the culmination of their history work, at Sunnyside Elementary School auditorium. As reported in the SNA newsletter then, the event was made possible by the combined efforts of the SNA committee, working with Western Neighborhoods Project, Sunnyside PTA, St Finn Barr Church, and City College, as well as a long list of past and present local residents. San Francisco History Association contributed a grant for printing costs.
The fair wasn’t just a time and place to display old photographs and memorabilia, but an opportunity for reuniting residents or school alumni who had not seen each other for many decades.
Local barber Ron Davis brought many photos to display. For forty years, his shop at 719 Monterey had been not just the best place for Elvis-style cuts in the late 50s, but also served as a local gallery of historical photos and repository of sports lore about figures like Dolph Camilli who had come out of Sunnyside and environs.
Also attending the fair and supporting the effort was Miraloma Park resident Jacqueline Proctor, who was just then writing her soon-to-be-published book that included some of Sunnyside’s history and photos, San Francisco’s West of Twin Peaks.
Participation was key to the event; SNA members created activities that encouraged new residents, children, and old-timers to share their connections to the neighborhood. The oral histories were displayed for the first time in public, and there was a slideshow of images.
“More than 200 neighbors, former neighbors and other interested parties enjoyed the fair. At least three of them said they ran into people they hadn’t’ seen in over 50 years!…Neighbors and former residents who attended reinforced what the oral history team discovered, that Sunnyside has a vibrant and fascinating history.”
A twelve-page stapled booklet containing a brief summary of early Sunnyside history, and a number of photographs, was assembled by the 2006 history project, with the help of WNP. A while back I was given six dozen of the booklets by Rita Evans, one-time secretary of SNA.
I’m happy to mail a booklet to anyone interested in receiving one. Please write me with your mailing address.
Remembrances of the Past
The oral histories of the six subjects are a mix of direct quotations and summaries of what the interviewers were told. The list of participants with biographical info can be found at the end of this post.
The memories and experiences of children are not always the most reliable source of facts, but many feelings and themes emerge from their reminiscences. The sense of safety and security felt by all in growing up in this largely working-class Irish and Italian Catholic neighborhood predominates; the lack of development before WWII meant much of the district was open for exploration and play. Goats and cows were still part of the lives of people here; vegetables were grown locally on nearby leased land by Italian farmers. The train and streetcars still ran, and the jail was still located south of Judson Avenue. The I-280 freeway was just an idea, far from fruition.
Cows and Goats and Potatoes
Margaret Ann McGuire grew up on Joost Avenue in the 1910s and 1920s, and recalled how the cows from Good Brothers Dairy in Glen Canyon would wander over the hill, and eat her mother’s flowers in the front yard. Her mother would give her the task of taking a wagon around and collecting up cow paddies, which made fine fertilizer for the McGuire garden. “It was her least favorite chore.”
When she played with other girls on her street, they played Run Sheep Run and Red Light. She claimed her favorite pastime was hiding behind telephone poles and darting out in front of cars, a dangerous game her mother never found out about.
Later she married Leo Garvin, and the couple had two daughters and lived in the family house on Joost. The eldest was Ann Marie (who grew up to be a dancer and choreographer). When young Ann Marie was at Sunnyside School, Margaret Ann liked her to come home for lunch, but when it rained, she’d let Ann Marie go to Bruno’s soda fountain for lunch, telling him, “Give her whatever she wants for lunch, and I will come and pay for it later.”
When little Ann Marie arrived to take advantage of her carte blanche, she would say: “I want a hot dog and a hamburger and a milkshake and….” Bruno would just let her order on and on, and then ask her, “Well, which one do you want first?” Margaret Ann said he was a smart man.
Like several of the subjects, Margaret Ann Garvin recalled the presence in the district of bootleggers during Prohibition years.
“We had the bootleggers, and they were good people, good people. It was a ridiculous law in the first place. And those people were nice, and I liked them, and my parents liked them too. Their kids were all nice.”
Other interview subjects also mentioned bootlegging, but all declined to name and people involved, and so the matter must remain in the realm of lore!
Like others, Margaret Ann recalled that there were undeveloped blocks west of the current Sunnyside Elementary School that were planted with potatoes in the years before houses were built there by Rudolph Mohr in 1921-1924. Some recalled that they were farmed by prisoners from the Ingleside Jail, but it’s likely they were raised by Italian gardeners who leased land all over this area. Margaret Ann said: “Sometimes kids would get into the gardens to steal or disrupt the vegetables, and the Italian boys would come by on horses with whips and drive them out.”
Coal for Heat, a Well for Water
Like Margaret Ann, Harry Mazza grew up in the 1910s and 1920s, and also recalled the potato fields near the school. He said that at the foot of Detroit Street, where it met Circular, it was “a swamp,” and that during the rainy season the creek ran as deep as six feet. Harry remembered playing with friends in the abandoned mine in what is now Westwood Park/Mt Davidson Manor, back when it was still Sutro’s Forest.
He recalled the yearly Maypole Festival in Balboa Park, before the land was given to City College. “The prisoners from the Jail would help in the festival by serving ice cream to the neighborhood kids [who] were not afraid of the prisoners; the kids could talk to them while they worked in the potato fields.” (Indeed I found that Ingleside Jail prisoners regularly worked in vegetable gardens outside of the jail in the surrounding land.)
“Sunnyside was real ‘open land’ – there were garter snakes, rabbits, mice, birds, and raccoons.”
Harry remembered the man on Monterey Boulevard who raised goats, and sold goat milk and goat cheese (which I’ve recently written about).
The Mazza family lived at 414 Hearst Avenue, having moved there from North Beach in about 1918. Harry was one of seven children, six boys and a girl. It was not a large house, but had quite a few tiny bedrooms on the second floor to accommodate all the children.
I remember in 2016 when the Mazza house was on sale; while visiting during a viewing, I discovered that a well and pump still stood behind the house—something most houses in Sunnyside had in the early years.
One chore that Harry and his siblings had was to collect coal that had dropped off open cars on the steam train as it passed by (where I-280 now goes). “Coal was the main way to heat the house.”
The Molinari Dynasty
Two grandsons of an early family, headed by Giovanni and Teresa Molinari, were interviewed for the project. Giovanni had settled in the house at 401 Detroit in 1909, part of the wave of Italian immigrant families that began to make Sunnyside their home after the 1906 Quake. The couple moved from North Beach with their four children, three sons and a daughter.
When grown, all four ended up making their homes nearby when they had families of their own. One son, Tony Molinari, had several businesses in succession on Monterey, being an enterprising sort.
Jack Molinari was Tony’s son, and recalled how when his father owned the bar at 558 Monterey (now Friends), every Saturday night he would cook up a big pot of Cioppino, a stew of crab, clams, scallops, and other seafood that is a regional dish particular to San Francisco’s Italian immigrants. It was free for anyone coming into the bar for a drink. Later Tony built a large garage and gas station at Monterey and Congo.
Jack’s cousin Andy Molinari was kept in touch with their Italian heritage by taking accordion lessons in North Beach. “I packed my accordion on the streetcar, down to Columbus Ave [where] I took accordion lessons from John Fassola. 25 cents a week.”
Andy recalled how his grandparents, Giovanni and Teresa Molinari, had a larger property around their house at Detroit and Hearst. “My grandfather had a wine cellar in the house, had a small barn. That’s gone now.” Like many Italian families, the Molinaris bought wine grapes every year to make wine at home, a regular part of family life, even through the Prohibition years.
Andy recalled the then-bare hillside where the Detroit Steps are now.
“We used to make sleds and slide on the grass, on green grass…just like it was snow. We used to slide down the hill, right alongside the…stairs….We used to make wooden sleds and go sliding there….We’d slide all the way down to my grandmother’s house.”
Cobblestones and Creeks
Pat Lager Hollingsworth lived across the street from the Molinari grandparents’ home, at 319 Hearst Avenue. She also remembered sliding down the bare dirt hills along Monterey. “Since there were so few houses…they would slide down the side, whether the grass was green or brown. When there were accidents between the streetcar and cars on Monterey, fenders were sometimes tossed down the hill. Pat and her friends would retrieve the fenders, take then back to the top, and all five friends would sit on a fender for a ride down.”
Like all the subjects, she remembered playing in the streets. “When she returned home from elementary school, Pat would get out of her uniform, put on roller skates and, with her friends, skate on Hearst, Detroit, and Congo. Congo was particularly fun because there were cobblestones.” (Sounds like a rough ride!)
Pat recalled the problems that the creek that ran through Sunnyside posed for locals. Her intersection at Hearst and Detroit once had a pond, at least during the wet season. A bridge was needed there. Growing up, Pat heard about the creek in the old days from her next-door neighbor Mr O’Leary, at 313 Hearst Avenue, whose house was in the way of the sometime stream. A map from 1915 shows the creek’s path and the bridge.
Like Harry Mazza, Pat mentioned the goat farmer on Monterey.
“A man from Italy with a large mustache…raised goats….He would graze his goats in this section of Monterey [near Edna] by his house. This was not always welcome. There were some altercations between the boys in the neighborhood and the goats, which butted them.”
In those days, before the present playground was built in the 1960s, Pat remembered the old one at Judson and Gennessee, on land now part of City College, and none too far from the old jail. “The park included a playground, where there were swings and slides, tennis courts, a stage accessible from Phelan [Frida Kahlo Way], and bathrooms. She also recalls the jail.”
Moving Houses and Passing Horses
The last subject for the interviews was Carolyn Wade, who grew up in a house at Gennessee and Flood. Her grandfather, Peter Ward, had bought the house at 189 Gennessee about 1909, and her mother Sheila Ward Wade told her lots of stories about growing up in the 1910s and 1920s. Carolyn also contributed unique photos from her mother that were included in the booklet.
“One of the neighborhood’s highlights when Sheila was a child was the passage of the Clydesdale horses that delivered beer for Budweiser along Monterey Boulevard on their way to Ocean Avenue.. ‘It was a huge, huge thing. All the children would come running out to see them.’”
“When her mother was playing, sometimes the alarms at the county jail (on the site where City College is now) would go off and that would mean they were supposed to run home right way because a prisoner had escaped!”
Later, when Sheila had married and had Carolyn, the family lived in the house across the street at 150 Gennessee—a house that had been moved into this corner location from another lot, which had been seized by the State for the I-280 freeway. (Freeway construction led to the demolition or removal of many hundreds of houses nearby in the late 1950s and early 1960s.) Carolyn recalled that moving houses to new locations was still a common sight then: “When I was a child I remember seeing a guy standing on the roof holding up the telephone wires so the house could go by.”
Histories that Live
My own Sunnyside History Project has focused these last eight years on deeply researched stories, but I admire the work of the SNA group that executed their own community-oriented project in 2006.
Local history is a big house, and there is room for many approaches and pursuits. I hope that in future, other groups or individuals will feel moved to rediscover other ways of bringing history alive, anchored in the particulars of our unique San Francisco neighborhood of Sunnyside.
Biographical summaries for six subjects for the Sunnyside Oral History Project Transcripts:
- Margaret Ann McGuire Garvin (1912-2008). Family lived at 328 and 301 Joost Avenue. Interviewed Dec 2005.
- Harry Joseph Mazza (1910-2000). Family lived at 414 Hearst Avenue. Interviewed Sep 1995.
- Andy (Andrew John) Molinari (1923-2014). Family lived at 401 and 246 Detroit Street. Interviewed Jan 2006.
- Jack (John Anthony) Molinari (1922-2008). Family lived at 401 Detroit Street and 374 Hearst Avenue. Interviewed Dec 2005.
- Patricia Lager Hollingsworth (1927-2017). Family lived at 319 Hearst Avenue. Interviewed Dec 2005.
- Carolyn Ann Wade (b.1951). Family lived at 150 and 189 Gennessee Street. Interviewed Jan 2006.
- Sunnyside Oral History Project Transcripts (SFH 467), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. http://sflib1.sfpl.org/record=b3860191~S1 . On the Online Archive of California (OAC) https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8c2536f/ ↑
- The list of people and organizations that contributed to the project: Michael Ames, Julia Bergman, Chris Coghlan, Rita D’Amico, Ron Davis, Sean Elsbernd, Greg Gaar, Margaret Ann Garvin, Joe Henke, Ken Hoegger, Pat and Floyd Hollingsworth, Jim Keenan, Chris Kox, Raymond Kutz, Woody LaBounty, Arnold Levine, Dominic Lloyd, Denise McElvoy, Any Molinari, John (Jack) Molinari, Madeleine Muller, Andrea O’Leary, Fernando Orlandi, Penn Family, Jacquie Proctor, Jane Radcliffe, Kathleen Ramsey, Mary Roth, SF History Association, Nancy Schlenke, Juliet Serramonte, Sunnyside Elementary School PTA, Lori Ungaretti, Carolyn Wade, Ellen Wall, David Waugh, Western Neighborhoods Project, and Jonathan Winston. As recorded in: Jennifer Heggie, “Neighbors, Former Residents Enjoy Stroll Down Memory Lane at Sunnyside History Fair, Sunnyside News, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, Winter 2006. https://sunnysideassociation.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/sunnyside-association-2006-winter-newsletter.pdf (PDF) ↑
- Jennifer Heggie, “Neighbors, Former Residents Enjoy Stroll Down Memory Lane at Sunnyside History Fair, Sunnyside News, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, Winter 2006. https://sunnysideassociation.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/sunnyside-association-2006-winter-newsletter.pdf (PDF). The event was also reported in the Glen Park News, Spring 2006. https://archive.org/stream/glenparknewsspriunse_8#page/n0/mode/2up ↑