This website, which I began in 2015, has not been the only effort to collect and rediscover the stories of this neighborhood; almost twenty years ago, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association initiated a wide-ranging project to rediscover historical materials and record oral histories of old-time residents. One result of the group’s work was to present a history fair in February 2006, where documents and photos were shared with the community. Another product of their efforts was a little booklet, “A Brief Look at Sunnyside”.
The members of Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA) who worked on the project were led by Jennifer Heggie, and included Daphne Powell, Robert Danielson, David Becker, Karen Greenwood Henke, Bill Wilson, and Rick Lopez. They were aided in their work by Woody LaBounty and Lori Ungaretti at Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP). Other contributors included Julia Bergman, City College of San Francisco’s Chief Librarian and Archivist (now deceased), and local history author Jacqueline Proctor, as well as two workers at St Finn Barr Church, Denise McEvoy and Kathleen Ramsay.
The Oral Histories
The oral history interviews took place in 1995, 2005, and 2006, and were conducted with six people who grew up in Sunnyside, mostly before the Second World War. To preserve the interviews, the transcripts were later archived at the San Francisco History Center. The subjects described what it was like in the neighborhood, where they played and went to school, what transit they took, the landscapes and animals that were a part of their childhoods, and so on. (I’ll quote extensively from the oral histories later in this post.)
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).
The house at 418 Gennessee (now 440 Gennessee), SF Chronicle, 11 Feb 1906, p21.
The death of a dairy woman near Sunnyside, run down by a speeding Southern Pacific train as she took her cows across the tracks to better pasture, captured the attention and the hearts of San Franciscans in 1896. A reporter showed that to keep to their schedule, SP drivers were required to break the law daily by exceeding the City speed limit—often speeding to four times the limit on the downhill patch of pastoral land where Ellen Furey grazed her cows. One young girl witnessed the collision, and spoke bravely before the press and the coroner, revealing the hegemonic company’s lies.
Before our hills were crowded with houses, there were cows grazing on them. There were big dairy farms near Sunnyside, such as Rock Ranch and Smart’s New York Dairy, as well as many small producers. It was a rough and ready urban business then, serving the needs of a growing city–but subjected to little health regulation (read a good summary here).
Even into the 1920s Sunnyside residents on the north side were irked by the damage done to their gardens from cows that had wandered over the hill from a farm near Glen Canyon. But the surprising thing is that many early residents kept a cow or two of their own in the backyard, even breeding and selling them on.