The Detroit Steps: Some historical images, and a vignette

The public stairway in Sunnyside called the Detroit Steps is currently the focus of an art and landscaping project. The stairway runs along the route of a planned street that was never built due to the steep hillside. In other places in Sunnyside, such unbuildable “paper” streets—that is, streets that only existed on maps—were simply excised altogether. (More about that here.)

Stairway beauty spots, decorated with art and landscaping, free of cars, and perhaps with a view, are a longstanding San Francisco tradition, given the impracticality of building roadways on various blocks of the city’s steep hills. From the high-buzz tourist attraction at 16th Avenue—to the many undecorated and largely unknown stairways such as Mandalay Steps or the Detroit Steps—this is a city full of wonderful public stairways.

The Detroit Steps Through Time

The present-day concrete stairs were installed at the Lower Detroit Steps (south of Monterey) the 1930s, and the Upper Detroit Steps (north of Monterey) in the 1960s. Like many of the steeply sloped blocks on either side of Monterey Boulevard, the nearby lots went undeveloped for a long time, as the photos below well show. It took the apartment-building boom in the 1950s-1970s to fill out Monterey’s unbuilt hillsides (and thereby deprive the neighborhood kids of some adventures). The great increase in density along Monterey makes the preciousness of any public open space away from traffic all the more important now. Continue reading “The Detroit Steps: Some historical images, and a vignette”

Sargent Johnson and the City College Gym Reliefs

When the old gymnasiums at the City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus were torn down in 2008, as the new Wellness Center was built, three pieces of artwork by Sargent Johnson attached to the structures had to come down too. Fortunately they were preserved, though their destiny remains undetermined.

Mounted over the entrances of the old gyms were three bas-reliefs Johnson created when it was built in 1940. Architect Timothy Pflueger commissioned the works, just as he commissioned art for almost every building he designed, even something as modest as a gym.

The gyms (one for women, one for men) were two of the first three buildings designed by Pflueger and constructed for the campus, the third being Science Hall. That building’s colorful murals are much better known as public art, and still stand. Johnson’s works were removed before the gyms were demolished, and have been in storage since then.

The Sports Figures

The three reliefs depict sports-related subjects: a group of female ball players; a female tennis player; and a group of male athletes. They are made of cast concrete.

On the South Gymnasium (women’s) there were two figures. First, a set of three women playing medicine ball. (See the end of this article for an explanation of medicine ball.)

Sargent Johnson, medicine ball players, cast concrete relief, 7’4” x 9’, 1940. City College of San Francisco. Photo: Will Maynez.
Sargent Johnson, medicine ball players, cast concrete relief, 7’4” x 9’, 1940. City College of San Francisco. Photo: Will Maynez.

Continue reading “Sargent Johnson and the City College Gym Reliefs”

Fazekas, Redux

If you haven’t already, please read the original post about Anton Fazekas and his little invention: The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation.


My post in July 2020 about Anton Fazekas and his house-number sensation turned out to be a minor sensation itself, bringing visitors to this blog in great numbers. Thank you for all the tweets, Reddit posts, and other links that spread the word. Attention to this minute part of the domestic built environment seems to have been a little anodyne in an age of upheaval.

In this follow-up post there are more photos, many from readers, taken in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. I show some rehabilitated units, and some rare and odd finds. Also, I try to address the pressing issue of where to get replacement bulbs and numbers. If you have additional information, tips for renovation, or images to share, please write me. In particular, if you have a resource for unattached refurbished Fazekases for sale, please let me know.

Continue reading “Fazekas, Redux”

Monterey Boulevard shops: Some midcentury photos

The covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary halt to my history walks, including the one that highlights Monterey Boulevard shops, restaurants, and businesses of decades past. But here are some photos, most never seen before, showing businesses from the 1950s to the 1970s. From the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, at the San Francisco History Center.

Many businesses on the boulevard came and went without ever being recorded visually in the public record, such as the old Safeway (1942-1972) that was located in the parking lot of the current Safeway. Or Bruno’s Creamery Restaurant, at Foerster Street, site of many happy hours for local kids.

The big push to plant street trees in the 1970s has changed the look of the street completely, as these photos well show. Photos are ordered from 400s to 700s, Edna Street to Ridgewood Avenue, with each followed by a present-day photo. Do you have a photo taken on Monterey to share? Write me.

1955. 429 Monterey Blvd. Jack Specialty Barber Shop, mid-1940s to early 1980s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1955. 429 Monterey Blvd. Jack Specialty Barber Shop, mid-1940s to early 1980s. Note 25MPH speed sign, before it went to 30 in the 1970s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
2020. 429 Monterey Blvd. Last used as a shop in early 1980s. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2020. 429 Monterey Blvd. Last used as a shop in early 1980s. Photo: Amy O’Hair
1970s. 499 Monterey Blvd. This spot has been a delicatessen continuously since 1943, going under many names. Here Antoine's Delicatessen, operating mid1960s to 2000. Read the story of many immigrants who have owned this business. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1970s. 499 Monterey Blvd. This spot has been a delicatessen continuously since 1943, going under many names. Here Antoine’s Delicatessen, operating mid1960s to 2000. Read the story of many immigrants who have owned this business.
San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
2020. 499 Monterey Blvd. Monterey Deli has been the name of this local favorite shop since 2000. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2020. 499 Monterey Blvd. Monterey Deli has been the name of this local favorite since 2000. Photo: Amy O’Hair
1974. 558 Monterey Blvd. The Joker Club, which operated from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1974. 558 Monterey Blvd. The Joker Club, which operated from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr

Continue reading “Monterey Boulevard shops: Some midcentury photos”

Sunnyside History in Photos: Places

A collection of photographs of places and things in Sunnyside’s history.

Photos of people in Sunnyside here. Main photo page here.  Do you have a photo to add? Write me.

One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891.
One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891.
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Read more about the powerhouse. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse, viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com Read more about the powerhouse. 

Continue reading “Sunnyside History in Photos: Places”

Sunnyside History in Photos: People

A collection of photographs of people who lived in Sunnyside.

Photos of places and things in Sunnyside here. Main photo page here.  Do you have a photo to add? Write me.

1905c. Early Sunnyside resident Seph Williams stands with his horsein front of his house at 257 Joost Ave. Courtesy the Williams family.
1905c. Early Sunnyside resident Seph Williams stands with his horse in front of his house at 257 Joost Ave. Courtesy the Williams family. Read more about the Williams family on Joost.
1906. The Mickelsen family at 511 Congo Street. Immigrants from Denmark who stayed for several generations.
1906. The Mickelsen family at 511 Congo Street. Immigrants from Denmark who stayed for several generations.
1917. Charles Behler and his family and neighbors pose for a group photo on the 600 block of Mangels. Courtesy Geoff Follin.
1917. Charles Behler and his family and neighbors pose for a group photo on the 600 block of Mangels. Courtesy Geoff Follin. Read the story here. 
1920s. The Williams brothers ran the Sunnyside Coalyard at 36 Joost until the 1930s. Courtesy the Williams family.
1920s. The Williams brothers ran the Sunnyside Coalyard at 36 Joost until the 1930s. Courtesy the Williams family. Read the story here.

Continue reading “Sunnyside History in Photos: People”

A Year on the Balboa Reservoir: Photos III

Part of a series of posts about the history of the Balboa Reservoir. View more photos here and here.

By this time next year, the lower portion of the Balboa Reservoir will have begun its transformation into a housing development. These photos were taken over the previous year to document some of its life as a a rather scrappy and wild open space–used by people and animals–which will soon pass into history.

The massive north tree. Balboa Reservoir, Oct 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
The massive north tree. Balboa Reservoir, Oct 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair
Foggy view north on the west berm. Balboa Reservoir, Aug 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
Foggy view north on the west berm. Balboa Reservoir, Aug 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair
A walker and a cyclist. Balboa Reservoir, June 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
A walker and a cyclist. Balboa Reservoir, June 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair
Looking west to San Ramon Way. Balboa Reservoir, Aug 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
Looking west to San Ramon Way. Balboa Reservoir, Aug 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair

Continue reading “A Year on the Balboa Reservoir: Photos III”

A Year on the Balboa Reservoir: Photos II

Part of a series of posts about the history of the Balboa Reservoir. View more photos here and here.

By this time next year, the lower portion of the Balboa Reservoir will have begun its transformation into a housing development. These photos were taken over the previous year to document some of its life as a a rather scrappy and wild open space–used by people and animals–which will soon pass into history.

A walker on the berm taking a selfie in setting sun. Balboa Reservoir, Apr 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
A walker on the berm taking a selfie in the setting sun. Balboa Reservoir, Apr 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair
Looking west on the west berm. Balboa Reservoir, Aug 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
Looking west on the west berm. Balboa Reservoir, Aug 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair
Walkers on the west berm. Balboa Reservoir, Sept 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
Walkers on the west berm. Balboa Reservoir, Sept 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair

 

View of southwest corner. Balboa Reservoir, Sept 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
View of southwest corner. Balboa Reservoir, Sept 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair

Continue reading “A Year on the Balboa Reservoir: Photos II”

A Year on the Balboa Reservoir: Photos I

Part of a series of posts about the history of the Balboa Reservoir. View more photos here and here.

By this time next year, the lower portion of the Balboa Reservoir will have begun its transformation into a housing development. These photos were taken over the previous year to document some of its life as a a rather scrappy and wild open space–used by people and animals–which will soon pass into history.

Sitters on the berm. Balboa Reservoir, Sept 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
Sitters on the berm. Balboa Reservoir, Sept 2019. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair
View of southwest corner. Balboa Reservoir, Oct 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O'Hair
View of southwest corner. Balboa Reservoir, Oct 2020. Sunnyside History Project. Photo: Amy O’Hair

Continue reading “A Year on the Balboa Reservoir: Photos I”

The Whales: Yet to be Saved

OpenSFHistory.org

For the Golden Gate International Exposition, sculptor Robert Boardman Howard created a magnificent fountain called The Whales. Later it was installed at the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, where it was a familiar sight to visitors for half a century. Then it languished in storage outdoors at City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus. Restoration has yet to happen, and now it is tucked away at an SF Arts Commission storage facility awaiting funding and badly needed attention.

The Whales by Robert Howard, at Steinhart Aquarium in 1960. OpenSFHistory.org
The Whales by Robert Howard, at Steinhart Aquarium in 1960. OpenSFHistory.org

Curious Sunnysiders walking through nearby City College may have noticed the sculpture stored there over the last several years. It was a sad site–noble and elegant killer whales peeking forlornly out from under tarpaulins and straps. In real life, some communities of this species are endangered; these massive animals rendered in stone looked equally condemned to extinction.

The Whales by Robert Howard, at CCSF Ocean Campus in July 2015. Photo: Amy O'Hair
The Whales by Robert Howard, at CCSF Ocean Campus in July 2015. Photo: Amy O’Hair

Continue reading “The Whales: Yet to be Saved”