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

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.

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.
Continue reading “Strothoff in Sunnyside, or How to Love the Utility Poles in the Street”

Midcentury Stories Out of Sunnyside Houses: A Swedish Builder Rebuilds a Family

OOne 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. This story contains a description of a suicide.

By Amy O’Hair

During a recent renovation of this 1921 house on Joost Avenue, a fabulous treasure was discovered inside a wall, placed there by the builder and first resident, Carl Swanson. Before we see the prize, first the story of how Carl came to San Francisco and built the home where his broken family would finally be reunited.

House on Joost Avenue built by Carl Swanson in 1921. Photo: Amy O'Hair
House on Joost Avenue built by Carl Swanson in 1921. Photo: Amy O’Hair 2022

From a Swedish Village to a Quake-Ravaged City

Born in Väne-Åsaka in Västergötland, Sweden, Carl Swanson immigrated to the US in 1907 with his younger brother Claus. He was in his late twenties.

On the ship over, he fell in love with a Swedish woman named Vendla. He would ask her to marry him no fewer than seven times over the coming years. Before ending up in San Francisco, Carl stopped off in Vermont to train with the famed Vermont Marble Works; after he moved to the city, he continued to work for the company’s site here, carving and polishing stone. Continue reading “Midcentury Stories Out of Sunnyside Houses: A Swedish Builder Rebuilds a Family”

Fazekas Revisited: Renovations and Rare Sightings

By Amy O’Hair

Anton Fazekas, sculptor, metal-worker, and San Francisco entrepreneur, created unique lighted house number units that can be found on a great many Bay Area houses.

Read the background on this midcentury sculptor and entrepreneur here. Since the follow-up post, I’ve happened upon these are other examples around San Francisco. If you have an image to share, write me.

A Slimline Fazekas that has been kept in excellent condition. Tocoloma Ave.
A Slimline Fazekas that has been kept in excellent condition. Tocoloma Ave.
A very unusual Fazekas specimen, with Deco-style triangles, an odd star figure at the top, cut-out stencil-style digits, and presumably back-lighting (so no hood). Silliman Street,
A very unusual Fazekas specimen, with Deco-style triangles, an odd star figure at the top, cut-out stencil-style digits, and presumably back-lighting (so no hood). Silliman Street,

Continue reading “Fazekas Revisited: Renovations and Rare Sightings”

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. Also new additional photos found here.


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 address the pressing issue of where to get replacement bulbs and numbers, with a link for the technical info you need to replace a bulb. And we get a peek at a 3D printed reproduction of a Fazekas.

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”

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. More maps here.
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. 

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The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation

Don’t miss the follow-up post to this article, including more photos and renovation information. New additional photos found here.

By Amy O’Hair

Most houses in the city have numbers on their fronts; there are a small part of the house’s exterior decor and often escape notice. On my recent socially distanced neighborhood walks I’ve been looking at them. Many houses in Sunnyside, as well as neighborhoods all over the city, have numbers encased in little frames like these.

There turns out to be an interesting history behind these numbers that begins with an artist named Anton Fazekas (1878-1966).

The Sculptor and the Designs

Fazekas was the designer and manufacturer of these ornamental house numbers, each with a little bulb to light up the digits. He patented three models in the early 1930s. They were solidly fabricated of die-cast iron, and held space for four or five numerals depending on the model, with large, plain, readable numerals made of enameled metal. Later he added italic numerals. The digits slotted into the back and were secured with a little bar that screwed down. The hood protecting the bulb could be removed, allowing the bulb to be easily changed. Continue reading “The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation”

Gilbert Plov, Little-Box Builder

The strange dominance of small single-family homes in San Francisco, with its roots in pre-Quake planning and post-Quake building, has come at last in this century to bite the city in its housing-supply backside. Density doesn’t match need now and it is difficult to see how it ever can. It is as though San Francisco, to personify for a moment, never expected to become a real city. So it allowed builders to fill the thousands of residential blocks with one-story-over-basement structures that cannot reasonably ever be transformed into multi-unit, multi-story buildings—unlike, say, a Mission-District Victorian or a Brooklyn brownstone. And should you be inclined to try, zoning and/or neighbors will prevent you from rebuilding one as a four-story wart on the smooth skin of row-upon-row of SFHs.

In their vast inertial numbers, the Little Boxes will always win. The march of those attached four- or five-room homes, on their narrow 25×100 foot lots, across hundreds of city blocks can only ever be disrupted here and there—a few corner developments, a few big structures on old gas station lots, a few scattered replacements, or the odd added story or ADU.

The die was cast—getting on for a hundred years ago now—and the pattern will persist.

Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com
Portion of the 1948 aerial survey, Garfield Street from Vernon to Head, in Ingleside. Soon all the gaps would be filled. DavidRumsey.com

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‘Bulkley-Built’: Midcentury Modern on Monterey

2019. 420-422 Monterey Boulevard, Sunnyside, San Francisco. Photo: Amy O'Hair

On Monterey Boulevard in Sunnyside, there are two unique 3-unit buildings that were designed in 1963 by architect Jonathan Bulkley. Perhaps you have walked by and wondered about the history behind them. Today they stand somewhat altered from their original look. The San Francisco Examiner featured them shortly after their construction.[1] They have unusual triple barrel-vaulted tops and two levels of balconies on the front.

2019. The two 3-unit buildings at 420-422 Monterey Boulevard. Designed in 1963 by Jonathan Bulkley. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2019. The two 3-unit buildings at 420-422 Monterey Boulevard. Designed in 1963 by Jonathan Bulkley. Photo: Amy O’Hair
SF Examiner, 3 Nov 1963. Feature: 420-422 Monterey Blvd.
SF Examiner, 3 Nov 1963. Feature: 420-422 Monterey Blvd. Vaulting over entrances is missing from drawing.

Continue reading “‘Bulkley-Built’: Midcentury Modern on Monterey”

Density on the Boulevard: The Apartment Buildings of Monterey

2019. 160 Monterey Blvd. Photo: Amy O'Hair.

Monterey Blvd in Sunnyside features a good many midcentury to late-twentieth-century apartment buildings, giving the neighborhood’s main street a characteristic look. This type of construction required some minor code changes for the district, which had previously been zoned for single-family and duplex buildings. The new larger structures filled up the numerous lots along the boulevard that had remained unbuilt since the founding of the neighborhood in 1891, which was the result in part of the difficult topography; the land on either side of the street is quite steep and rocky in places. Here are some 1940s photos.

Starting in the 1950s, developers consolidated lots to build large complexes, or constructed multi-unit structures on a single lot. The building could be said to have gone in three waves.

Chart showing construction of apartment and condo units on Monterey Blvd, 1958-1997. Data from SF Planning Dept.
Chart showing construction of apartment and condo units on Monterey Blvd, 1958-1997. Data from SF Planning Dept.

Although this seven-block stretch of Monterey hardly comes close to the density of the Mission District or other more urban areas in the city, Sunnyside differs from nearby neighborhoods such as Westwood Park, Miraloma Park, or Glen Park, where due to their zoning constraints or development history there are no sizable apartment buildings.   Continue reading “Density on the Boulevard: The Apartment Buildings of Monterey”

The Mystery Arcade of Sunnyside School

1938 Sunnyside School. Photo: DavidRumsey.com

Part of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

Until the mid-1970s, Sunnyside Elementary School had an odd structure that projected into the playground area, called the Arcade. It was about twelve by forty-five feet, one large room, and at least during the 1950s and 1960s housed the school library. What is the story behind this quirky feature?

1940s-Arcade-SunnysideSchool-Hearst_AAD-4236
1940s. Sunnyside School, viewed from Hearst Ave, showing “arcade” structure. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

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