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

For more photos and renovations, read the follow-up to this post here.


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.

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. 

You must visit the SFHC during photo-viewing hours, when they will pull the photo you need 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: all SF Public Libraries are shut.]

 

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”

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”

1909: ‘Beautiful Sunnyside in the Center of San Francisco’

Portion of Sunnyside supplement, SF Call, 3 Jun 1909, Colorized by Amy O'Hair.

One hundred and ten years ago, the real estate firm of Rogers and Stone, who had recently invested heavily in Sunnyside lots, took out a huge four-page stand-alone color supplement in the San Francisco Call. It featured an artist’s fantastical renditions of life in the neighborhood. Unsurprising for the world of property sales, the copious text is full of imaginary claims about the future of the City and the prospects of the then-largely undeveloped district.

Continue reading “1909: ‘Beautiful Sunnyside in the Center of San Francisco’”

George R Reilly and the first LGBTQ legal victory in US history

The Black Cat. Photo: SFGate.com

George R Reilly (1903–1985) was a powerful player in midcentury San Francisco politics who was born and grew up in Sunnyside, a member of one of the first families there. He was on the State Board of Equalization (BOE) for 44 years, the agency that regulated taxes and liquor licenses.

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Image of George R Reilly from obituary in BoE Annual Report, June 1985. SF Public Library.

Under his chairmanship, the BOE targeted bars where gay people gathered, in order to revoke their liquor licenses. It was in this capacity that Reilly’s name remains on an important 1951 California Supreme Court case, involving the famous Black Cat bar in North Beach.

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The Black Cat (n.d.). San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.

The owner, Sol Stoumen, took the BOE to court and fought for the right of his patrons to gather at his bar. The case, Stoumen v Reilly, weighed the basic human right to free association, regardless of sexual preference.  Continue reading “George R Reilly and the first LGBTQ legal victory in US history”

The Sunnyside Coalyard and the Williams Family of Joost Avenue

Image courtesy the Williams Family

The Williams family came to Sunnyside and stayed for three generations, being a vital part of the neighborhood for most of the twentieth century.

1905-c-Seph-Horse-257Joost-crop-fix-alt-color4BW-06Oct2015
Seph Williams in front of the family home at 257 Joost Avenue in about 1905. Photo courtesy the Williams family. Digital restoration by Amy O’Hair.

Continue reading “The Sunnyside Coalyard and the Williams Family of Joost Avenue”