When interest in San Francisco’s unique Victorians houses revived in the 1960s and 1970s, Fairmount Heights’ local example of the glorious era, the Poole-Bell House on Laidley Street, became an object of interest of preservationists and aficionados.
Legends that had grown up around the house—local lore and neighborhood stories—finally saw print. In the way of things, once in print, the stories had a resilience, despite the lack of historical grounding. From then until the 2000s, the house was noted in various places, but almost every fact recorded about it was wrong. The stories took on a robust life of their own, and hung on for decades.
Much of the narrative centered on the legendary Mary EllenPleasant, although she never lived there—never even set foot in the house. But her own sensational history meant that when something of the building was published, Pleasant’s previous association with one important owner, Teresa Bell, cast a long heavy shadow over every account.
In researching the real history of the Poole-Bell house in Fairmount, I discovered an untold chapter in its story. In 1918, after Teresa Bell moved out of her “gloomy old house,” she rented to a family named Tyrrel. They turned out to be the first African-American family in the Glen Park-Fairmount district. They stayed for three decades, finally settling in a house on Chenery.
Their lives tell us something of what it was to be Black in San Francisco in the decades before WWII. Fortunately, the family archivist has shared with me many photos of the Tyrrels, some of which were taken at the Poole-Bell house, as well as family stories. The Tyrrels were in the public record for their church and fraternal group activities. These fortunate gifts have made it possible to tell a story of the family.
Bertram and Frances Tyrrel moved to the big house at the corner of Laidley and Fairmount Streets during the last years of Teresa Bell’s ownership. They had two children still living with them, Irma, then 22, and Wendell, 21. Frances also had two older children from a previous marriage who had both since started their own families: Pearl Hinds, who had three small daughters and kept a farm in Tulare County with her husband; and James Barber, who had a wife and young daughter in San Mateo County.
The family was very close, including Frances’ sister’s and brother’s families. Photographs during these years bear out the family’s sense of belonging and their pleasure and pride in their shared lives.
Move slider to compare photographs. The dangerous trestle bridge was for the electric streetcar, over Islais Creek until the gulch was filled in in 1920s. Note square bay windows under large tree at center-right of image, now Glen Park Cleaners (corner of Diamond and Chenery), which was Haack’s saloon at the turn of the century. View larger here. Look at other comparison photographs here.
On Tuesday 29 January 2019, at the meeting of the San Francisco History Association, Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project reprised our blended presentation ‘America’s First Suffrage March & the Glen Park Women Behind It,’ which traces the women of Glen Park who were instrumental in the first suffrage march in the United States.After Evelyn Rose’s talk about the background of the event and the women’s involvement with this under-documented historic event, the evening concluded with the short play ‘Raise Your Gladsome Voices,’ written by Amy O’Hair and performed by Valerie Fachman and Haley Roth-Brown, and introducing Christine Konkol.