The History of the Balboa Reservoir: A Timeline

In the next few years, a large section of the Balboa Reservoir land will be developed as a housing project and park, making it a good time to review its long, complex, and often surprising history.

View this timeline in a stand-alone format here. More about the Balboa Reservoir here.


 


View this timeline in a stand-alone format here. More about the Balboa Reservoir here.

The Detroit Steps: Some historical images, and a vignette

The public stairway in Sunnyside called the Detroit Steps is currently the focus of an art and landscaping project. The stairway runs along the route of a planned street that was never built due to the steep hillside. In other places in Sunnyside, such unbuildable “paper” streets—that is, streets that only existed on maps—were simply excised altogether. (More about that here.)

Stairway beauty spots, decorated with art and landscaping, free of cars, and perhaps with a view, are a longstanding San Francisco tradition, given the impracticality of building roadways on various blocks of the city’s steep hills. From the high-buzz tourist attraction at 16th Avenue—to the many undecorated and largely unknown stairways such as Mandalay Steps or the Detroit Steps—this is a city full of wonderful public stairways.

The Detroit Steps Through Time

The present-day concrete stairs were installed at the Lower Detroit Steps (south of Monterey) the 1930s, and the Upper Detroit Steps (north of Monterey) in the 1960s. Like many of the steeply sloped blocks on either side of Monterey Boulevard, the nearby lots went undeveloped for a long time, as the photos below well show. It took the apartment-building boom in the 1950s-1970s to fill out Monterey’s unbuilt hillsides (and thereby deprive the neighborhood kids of some adventures). The great increase in density along Monterey makes the preciousness of any public open space away from traffic all the more important now. Continue reading “The Detroit Steps: Some historical images, and a vignette”

Sunnyside History in Photos: Places

A collection of photographs of places and things in Sunnyside’s history.

Photos of people in Sunnyside here. Main photo page here.  Do you have a photo to add? Write me.

One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891.
One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891. More maps here.
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Read more about the powerhouse. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse, viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com Read more about the powerhouse. 

Continue reading “Sunnyside History in Photos: Places”

1911: Snapshot of life on Monterey Boulevard

Photo courtesy SFMTA, sfmta.photoshelter.com.

On 5 January 1911, a photographer named John Henry Mentz came out to Sunnyside to take some shots on a chilly, partly cloudy day. He was the skilled official photographer for United Railroads of San Francisco (URR, which became Muni later). His photos documented the streetcar tracks, but naturally other things were included. Thanks to the availability of high-definition scans of these three images from SFMTA, we can glimpse life on that day in Sunnyside history, complete with a family on the way to the shops and goats grazing on the railroad tracks. The photos were taken on the first block of Monterey Boulevard, near Circular Avenue. First the photos with details, then a comparison to today.

A Thursday Afternoon on Monterey

First Mentz took this image, with a large 8×10 camera and a glass-plate negative positioned squarely in the middle of the unpaved road, facing east (towards what is now Glen Park).

U02892. Monterey Boulevard between Circular Ave and Joost Avenue, 5 January 1911. Photo courtesy SFMTA, sfmta.photoshelter.com.

Continue reading “1911: Snapshot of life on Monterey Boulevard”

The opening of new Edna Street

1919c Monterey & Edna. Photo: Western Neighborhoods Project

In 1916, one block of Edna Street north of Monterey was closed, and relocated 200 feet to the west–the dogleg portion.

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1916. New location of Edna Street. County Recorder’s Alpha Maps. View larger. 

The reason? Sewer pipes. This was the low spot in the block, and you can’t argue with gravity. (This is on the route of Sunnyside’s old creek.Continue reading “The opening of new Edna Street”

Sunnyside street-name changes, new and old

Phelan Ave street sign. Photo: Amy O'Hair

Next week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors votes to approve changing the name of Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way. This is far from the first such change for this neighborhood’s streets, and a good occasion to look at the several other name changes over the years since its beginning.

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1891. Sunnyside homestead map. About 3’x6′. Photographed and montaged by Amy O’Hair. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library. View larger.
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Detail from southwest corner of Sunnyside homestead map. Only three of eight street names here are still in use. View larger. 

Continue reading “Sunnyside street-name changes, new and old”

Ballot Battles and Campus Claims: The History of the Balboa Reservoir 1983-1991

One of a series of articles on the history of the Balboa Reservoir.

As San Francisco city government currently works through the planning process for a housing project on the last remaining seventeen acres of the original Balboa Reservoir land, a review of the dramatic fate of the first housing plan for that land is in order.

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1985. Architect’s drawing of home for “Balboa Heights” on South Balboa Reservoir.

In the 1980s, rather than watch the Mayor’s Office of Housing sell off part of the Balboa Reservoir land that was for ten years the site of City College’s West Campus, a campus-based coalition of faculty, staff, and students, joined by some local residents, fought back against housing plans through the ballot over several elections, from 1985 to 1991.

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1991. Front of flyer for No on Prop L campaign. CCSF Archives.

Continue reading “Ballot Battles and Campus Claims: The History of the Balboa Reservoir 1983-1991”

A Bridge between Neighborhoods: the Santa Rosa Underpass

OpenSFHistory.org

A now-lost bit of infrastructure connected two neighborhoods for six decades, an underpass below the Southern Pacific railroad tracks that extended Santa Rosa Avenue to meet Circular Avenue and Congo Street.

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1927, Santa Rosa Bridge. Circular Ave at Congo Street. Southern Pacific railroad tracks running at crest of embankment. Houses on left located on Flood Ave. OpenSFHistory.org wnp36.03489

In the usual way of things then, Sunnysiders asked for this relatively minor, yet vital link for many years before the city built it. From the neighborhood’s beginning in 1891 and for decades to come, Sunnyside was hemmed in.[1]  Sutro Forest blocked the west, Phelan Ave was not yet built through on the south, there was no road over the railroad tracks on the east, and no passage over Mt Davidson on the north. You came in via Chenery or San Jose Road, and left the same way, usually on the electric streetcar.    Continue reading “A Bridge between Neighborhoods: the Santa Rosa Underpass”

The Mad Hatter of Tiffany Avenue

1886 Sanborn sheet 139

Sandwiched between the first El Camino Real—the old San Jose Road—and its latter-day replacement, Mission Street, Tiffany Avenue is a short street that cuts down the middle of a vanity homestead laid out in 1864, the Tiffany-Dean Tract.

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1864 map for the Tiffany-Dean tract. Valencia Street not yet cut through to Mission. Source.  Click for larger. 

Continue reading “The Mad Hatter of Tiffany Avenue”