Midcentury Stories Out of Sunnyside Houses: The Italian Craftsman Who Signed His Cabinets

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.

By Amy O’Hair

Although he wasn’t among the first wave of Italian immigrants who moved into Sunnyside after the Quake of 1906, Giuseppe Scorsonelli bought this house on Staples Avenue for himself and his wife Enza in 1963.

Their five children were mostly grown up by then, although the youngest daughter lived with them for a while. It was a big move up from the rented flat where the family lived on Dolores Street. Giuseppe was a cabinet maker, trained in Sicily, and he made the most of finally owning his own home; fitting out the rooms with custom cabinetry of his own design and craftsmanship—and proudly signing the work on the back, invisible to the eye, but revealed decades later when the present owner removed them for renovations.

Giuseppe's signature on the backside of the telephone kiosk. Photo: Jim McCormick.
Giuseppe’s signature on the backside of the telephone kiosk. Photo: Jim McCormick.

In his professional life, Scorsonelli worked for the premier San Francisco cabinet-making firm, Fink & Schindler Company, and helped to craft many fine wooden interiors in churches, bars, and stores that are still a part of the city’s legacy of Italian craftsmanship. Continue reading “Midcentury Stories Out of Sunnyside Houses: The Italian Craftsman Who Signed His Cabinets”

Midcentury Stories Out of Sunnyside Houses: A Companion to Hollywood Starlets Settles Down on Baden 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.

By Amy O’Hair

As a star-struck teen in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Jane Wardy did more than just swoon over beautiful film stars from afar—she got herself into the intimate lives of three glamorous actresses, one after the other, devoting herself to being their constant companion. Two of those relationships ended with the death of her beloved.

Later in life, after the excitement was over, Wardy settled down in this house on Baden Street, and lived a more sedate existence—although she would then marry three men in succession before she died in her eighties.

Midwest Girl turned Model

Born in Ohio in 1909, her family moved to California in the 1920s. Jane completed two years of high school before launching into work—as a shop clerk and a store model. All her life, despite the capricious lives of her famous companions, Wardy always had steady work.

Glamour photo of Jane Alice Wardy, taken in the 1920s. Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 Jan 1930.
Glamour photo of Jane Alice Wardy, taken in the 1920s. Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 Jan 1930.

At the age of eighteen or nineteen she met and befriended the aspiring starlet and horsewoman Vonceil Viking, who had made a name for herself with a splashy stunt, riding her horse Broadway from New York to Los Angeles on a bet with an English aristocrat, the Marquess of Donegall—for an astonishing $25,000 (something shy of a half a million dollars now).  More about this stunt here.

Vonceil Viking in Washington DC, during her famous ride. 1927. Library of Congress. View whole image here. https://sunnysidehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/1927-Voncneil-Viking_WashingtonDC_LoC.jpg
Vonceil Viking and her horse Broadway in Washington DC, during her famous ride. 1927. Library of Congress. View whole image here.  

Continue reading “Midcentury Stories Out of Sunnyside Houses: A Companion to Hollywood Starlets Settles Down on Baden 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”

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

Continue reading “Gilbert Plov, Little-Box Builder”

One block in Sunnyside: 50 years ago and today

1969c. 679 Mangels. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr

Fresh from the new collection of building photographs that were recently transferred from the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder to the History Center–here is one residential block in Sunnyside. More about the collection here.

On a bright overcast day in 1968 or 1969*, an unnamed photographer from the Assessor’s office appears to have shot every house on the 600 block of Mangels Avenue, leaving an unusually complete record of houses there at that time. Continue reading “One block in Sunnyside: 50 years ago and today”

A glimpse into the past: San Francisco historical house photos now available

Just released for public viewing by the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu: 94,000 photos of houses, shops, and other structures in San Francisco, dating from the 1940s to the 2000s. Visit this webpage for a map showing properties with available photographs, including instructions on requesting an image to view. Alternately, enter your address on this page.[Page can load slowly.]

Not every house in the city is included, but many are. On the map, once you have located your property lot, mouse over, and a pop-up text block will give the needed information to access the image — the block and lot number, the box number, and the bundle number. On the address search page this info is displayed in a table

With that info, you may visit the SFHC during photo-viewing hours, when they will pull the photo you want at that time.  You can also order a scan for $20.

Plan a visit to the SF History Center, on the top floor of the Main Library, Grove and Larkin: Hours for the photo desk at Tuesday and Thursdays 1 to 5pm, and Saturday 10am-12pm and 1-5pm.

[Covid-19 update: The SF History Center and all SF Public Libraries are shut.]

 

7 Ladies and The Great Horned Spoon: More Sunnyside advertising

More example of advertising for the Sunnyside district in San Francisco newspapers in the first years, 1891-1892. (More wacky Sunnyside ads in the first post in this series.)

SF Examiner, 27 Aug 1891.
SF Examiner, 27 Aug 1891.

Note the frequent use of white space, clean-looking typefaces, and asymmetrically positioned text blocks, a bit ahead of their time–favorite features of midcentury advertisers decades later.

1891Aug30-b-Examiner-Sunnyside-AD
SF Examiner, 30 Aug 1891.

Continue reading “7 Ladies and The Great Horned Spoon: More Sunnyside advertising”

87 Men and Golden Chances: The Sunnyside advertising campaign

After Sunnyside was laid out and lots went on sale in San Francisco in 1891, there were a lot of unusual newspaper advertisements pushing property sales in the new district during that first year. (More wacky Sunnyside ads in the second post in this series here.)

SF Call, 7 Jun 1891.
SF Call, 7 Jun 1891.

The initial splash took place on Sunday 26 April 1891, with half-page ads in at least three San Francisco newspapers: the Chronicle, the Call, and the Examiner.  Continue reading “87 Men and Golden Chances: The Sunnyside advertising campaign”

Families on the edge of the forest: Mangels Avenue in the 1910s and 1920s

1917. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.

At the edge of Sutro’s forest of eucalyptus trees, in the northwest corner of Sunnyside, the 600 block of Mangels Avenue was home to several families who enjoyed a truly rural existence in the early years. Recently some photos were graciously loaned to me to scan, so there is some visual record of life there. The photos are from the personal archive of resident Geoff Follin, sent to him in 1987 by a man who grew up on the block during these years—Lawrence Behler (1908-1999).[1] Behler included a brief letter of explanation.

12 Jan 1987. Letter from Lawrence Behler to resident of 663 Mangels Ave. Courtesy Geoff Follin.
12 Jan 1987. Letter from Lawrence Behler to resident of 663 Mangels Ave. Courtesy Geoff Follin.

Continue reading “Families on the edge of the forest: Mangels Avenue in the 1910s and 1920s”