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”→
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.
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.
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.]
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.)
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). Behler included a brief letter of explanation.
1917. Bertha, Charles, and Arnold Behler. 663 Mangels Ave. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.
1917. Lawrence Behler with his mother Bertha. 663 Mangels Ave. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.
1917. 663 Mangels Ave. Lawrence’s brother Arnold Behler on steps. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.
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.
1941. Monterey Blvd at the Detroit Steps. Billboard stand where 403 Monterey is now. OpenSFHistory.org.
1942. Monterey Blvd looking west to the Detroit Steps, visible to left of streetcar (wood). OpenSFHistory.org
1941. Monterey Blvd near Baden St, looking north. OpenSFHistory.org
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.
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”→
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.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 1 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 2 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 3 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 4 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.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. The position gave him a lot of power in the state, and he used some of that power to sanction regular harassment of gay people in public places.
Under his chairmanship, the BOE targeted bars where gay people gathered, in order to revoke their liquor licenses. Reilly’s program of hate and harassment failed; the legacy he ended up leaving was his name on the important 1951 California Supreme Court case, Stoumen v Reilly, the first victory in the fight for LGBTQ civil rights.
The case involved the famous Black Cat bar in North Beach. The owner, Sol Stoumen, took the BOE to court and fought for the right of his patrons to gather at his bar. The case weighed the basic human right to free association, regardless of sexual preference. The court ruled against the BOE. George R Reilly lost the suit, lost the right to use liquor-licensing to enforce harassment and deprivation of basic rights for LGBTQ people. It was an historic win—although harassment persisted for years after this for other reasons.