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

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

Continue reading “Gilbert Plov, Little-Box Builder”

‘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.

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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.

Continue reading “The Mystery Arcade of Sunnyside School”