[Update Dec 2023: some photographs of the quickly rising Gateway building now found at the end of this post.]
As recently revealed in the Ingleside Light, three of City College of San Francisco’s iconic public artworks are slated for relocation into the new Gateway building complex currently under construction at Ocean Avenue and Frida Kahlo Way. The collection of public art belonging to City College is significant and extensive, and the selection of these three works, spanning 65 years, forms a suitably impressive welcome to any student or visitor, and a visual statement about the importance and history of the college.
Let’s take a closer look at the works and the artists.
Bighorn Mountain Ram
In 1940, in the Art In Action ‘pit’ at the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE), Dudley Carter skillfully carved the form of a springing ram into a massive redwood trunk using just a woodsman’s axe.
Nearby, up on scaffolding above the ‘pit’, famed muralist Diego Rivera was also at work, painting the panels of Pan-American Unity, which would also later end up on the college’s campus. Rivera was so impressed by Carter that he made the process of the Ram’s creation and its sculptor the centerpiece of the mural. One Dudley Carter was not enough for Rivera; to show what he so admired, he painted three Carters.
Having documented the history behind the Fazekas-designed house-number units found all over San Francisco and the Bay Area, I am often asked for help by people wishing to restore their own. Such matters are not my forte. Fortunately, a reader named Sarah has offered a detailed description of the process of refurbishing a unit, and I present it here. (Have anything to add? Write me or post a comment below.)
After removing the unit from the house, this is what Sarah did:
Recently, a significant decision was made by my mom and stepdad to sell my grandmother’s house in the Sunset district. This decision started me off on my journey of restoring the address frame. I wanted to share my restoration process in case it helps others.
Looking north from Summit Street near Thrift in Ingleside. Note changes in the Balboa Reservoir and along Ocean Avenue (center), while residential streets are little altered (except perhaps bigger trees) in 50 years. Science Hill at City College Ocean Campus visible on the far right.
Future changes planned for the Balboa Reservoir will alter the view once again in coming years—both the housing development on the western portion, and City College’s plans for the eastern portion. A new house on the lower left muddles the 2022 view a bit.
Although this is a history blog, I offer this polemic to address a current and ongoing phenomenon; I only hope it will be history soon. The blocks of this neighborhood (and every other one in the city) are awash in the grim shades of lead, asphalt, mildew, and petro-chemical smudge, and I don’t mean the streets and sidewalks. Two-plus years of covid-era walks has made the problem impossible to ignore.
Houses are turning gray, and it’s a dreary sight. Sure, these last years have been somber, but the gray trend mushroomed well before that.
I photographed every gray house in Sunnyside*; more fell to the menace even as I thought I’d got them all. There were too many to include in this post–hundreds. I walk everywhere in the city, and it is the same in other districts. I am hardly the first to comment on this pervasive and apparently infectious color-phobia, but as it still marches on unabated, I make the case here for breaking this dull, dull spell of grimly hued houses. After several galleries of grayness, I’ll show examples of houses that buck the trend—from old-school pastels to natty new bold tones.
You may argue with my choices, but it is the agglomeration on every block of all those gray and near-gray houses that I am underlining here. It mounts up, visually—over the course of a stroll, or over the months of getting outdoors for some fresh air and a new view, only to find it is grimmer than before.
One of a short series of house-based local history—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.
Designed by Charles F Strothoff in 1928, this anomalous house on Gennessee Street, with its distinctive cylinder turret entrance, is fun to contemplate aesthetically. 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”→
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.
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.
2006 photo of the same church in Väne-Åsaka in Sweden. Wikimedia.org
1895 rendering of the church at the center of life in Väne-Åsaka in Sweden, where Carl was from. Wikimedia.org
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.
This fairly well preserved unit on Alemany sports the very rare black-on-gold number tiles, which looked brilliant in the morning sun, despite missing its hood.
Another example of the very rare black-on-gold number tiles. The surrounding unit has either been painted to match, or was done in the factory, I do not know. Capp Street.
A lovely renovation on Vernon Street, with ceramic tiles inserted into the unit, along with matching tile spacers.
Although not in top condition, this colorway is striking. Original number tiles may have been the rarely seen black-on-white, with the numbers later repainted red. Cayuga Avenue.
Detailed paint work. Although the hood is missing, this owner on Harrison Street has made the best of it, covering and painting the hope to match.
A cheery bit of paint work on Revere Avenue.
A Deco model in fine condition. A piece of glass has been inserted in front of the number tiles, though how there is sufficient room I don’t know. Alemany Blvd.
A Deco model in good condition. Theresa Street.
Mix-and-Match! This one-half tile is not painted, for reasons I cannot fathom. A Deco unit in very good condition, although the white-on-black number tiles have weathered badly. Quality control seems to have been an issue at various points over the years. Potrero Avenue.
A one-half tile in a well-cared-for unlighted Fazekas unit on Manchester Street.
This Fazekas unit sports glass number-tiles, but they aren’t likely to be original. Even the side spacers are glass. Orizaba Street.
This unlighted ‘Deco’ unit is a bit of a mystery. It was installed sometime after 2008, and yet looks like an original. Could it be a clever latter-day imitation? Portola Drive.
Rare and original black-on-white number tiles, in great condition. The vast majority of Fazekas units have white-on-black tiles. Cayuga Avenue
This type of hood usually only appears on the multiple-address units, so it may have been cobbled together from parts. Dublin Street.
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.