In the course of doing a house history for local residents in Sunnyside I unearthed the story of a young man whose star shown briefly and brightly. Stan Staub was a junior reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1930s, who then felt called to join the military in anticipation of World War II. He left an account of his training as a soldier before he was shipped out to the Pacific Front, as well as nearly a hundred bylines at the Chronicle.
Stan’s family lived on Flood Avenue for many years—it was his home as a teen and young adult. The house was originally built about 1900, and underwent several renovations over the years. Read more
A now-lost bit of infrastructure connected two neighborhoods for six decades, an underpass below the Southern Pacific railroad tracks that extended Santa Rosa Avenue to meet Circular Avenue and Congo Street.
In the usual way of things then, Sunnysiders asked for this relatively minor, yet vital link for many years before the city built it. From the neighborhood’s beginning in 1891 and for decades to come, Sunnyside was hemmed in. Sutro Forest blocked the west, Phelan Ave was not yet built through on the south, there was no road over the railroad tracks on the east, and no passage over Mt Davidson on the north. You came in via Chenery or San Jose Road, and left the same way, usually on the electric streetcar. Read more
Sandwiched between the first El Camino Real—the old San Jose Road—and its latter-day replacement, Mission Street, Tiffany Avenue is a short street that cuts down the middle of a vanity homestead laid out in 1864, the Tiffany-Dean Tract.
Finding out your house was once home to someone notable from San Francisco’s past could certainly a pleasure; if someone showed up at the door to say the house was built by the keeper of a Barbary Coast brothel, anyone’s interest would be piqued. This is just what happened in the late 1970s to the owners of two houses on Chenery Street just north of Roanoke. The visitor, a previous owner in the 1960s, told the present residents that their grand Victorian house was built by “Madame Constance” who had a boyfriend named “Rotten Tommy,” who lived in the “carriage house” next door.
Like most neighborhood lore, there were bits of truth mixed with small confusions. Research revealed the real person behind the handed-down story. In 1906 a woman named Rosa Constant left behind the keeping of downtown lodging houses forever, and bought (but did not build) the two houses and the large lot they sat on.
Why did the visitor recall Rosa’s surname slightly wrong? The answer lies in popular culture. There were three fictional “Madame Constance” characters that happened to be current during the 1960s and 1970s: Madame Constance is a character in Jean Giraudoux’s play “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” first produced in the 1940s, and made into a film with Katherine Hepburn in 1969; Madame Constance Bonacieux is a character in book The Three Musketeers, portrayed in the 1973 film by the same name by a corset-busting Raquel Welch; and the 1971 film “McCabe and Mrs Miller” featured Julie Christie as Madame Constance Miller, brothel keeper, pictured below.(1) An easy enough muddling of names for anyone to make.
Once the site of a landmark rock so large it merited its own mark on early maps, there was an area of rich farmland used for growing food and raising animals into the 1920s located just east of Sunnyside and south of the present Glen Park Bart Station. It is now lost under the kilotons of concrete that make up the I-280/San Jose Ave interchange.
From the Oakland Tribune, 6 March 1909. View larger.
The expansion of public transit meant everything to quality of life for most people in SF in the first half of the twentieth century: where you could work, live, or take your family for a Sunday outing. The streetcar system, running on tracks radiating from downtown, was the backbone of the system. Then in 1917 Municipal Railway initiated its first bus service, which went through Golden Gate Park and out Irving Street into the Avenues.
In 1929 this route was combined with another line then running in Westwood Park, which created Muni bus no.1, the first real cross-town line. It ran from Edna Street and Monterey Blvd, over Miraloma and Portola Drives, stopping at Forest Hill Station, going through Golden Gate Park, and ending at Fulton and 10th Avenue.
Who would site “the Largest and Most Important City Subdivision” next to an extensive and notorious jail compound? That’s what Behrend Joost did in 1890 when he bought a portion of the land Leland Stanford was selling off then to create the Sunnyside district. The choicer cuts went to other investors; this was no Stanford Heights (later Miraloma Park), perched on Mt Davidson. (Joost’s true aim was to be Baron of the Electric Rails, in any case.)
There had been a jail there in some form or another since the 1850s; the city originally bought the 100-acre House of Refuge lot in 1854, when it was far, far from the city. Read more
In February 1906 at the Wilson farmhouse on Gennessee Street in Sunnyside, a woman suffered a brutal attack by a robber on a Friday afternoon. The attacker got away by running into the thick grove of eucalyptus trees nearby. The whole neighborhood was involved in the hunt for the man. The news reports about the incident tell us a lot about Sunnyside in that year – including something of its largely untold dairy history, as well as the lay of the land. The house where it happened still stands today, at the SE corner of Gennessee St and Joost Ave (where it recently sold for almost $2m).