By Amy O’Hair [Revised with additional information December 2023.]
Here is a new map for understanding the historical path that Sunnyside’s tributary of Islais Creek once took through the neighborhood, a composite using color Sanborn maps and historical survey information from the Library of Congress, SF Dept of Public Works, and DavidRumsey.org. Additional information for areas not covered by Sanborn from Joel Pomerantz’s Seep City project for mapping our city’s old waterways.
A culvert was installed from one side of Monterey to the other at about Edna Street in the 1910s. Part of the creek was contained in a box drain in the 100 block of Flood Ave (north side) about the same time. Other manipulations took place, until the City diverted the water that would have fed it into the sewer system, during the 1920s.
My thanks to Kathleen Laderman for finding the rich vein of early detailed survey information in the historical Dept of Public Works Field Notes section of the SFDPW website, giving a priceless glimpse into the lay of the land when Islais still ran through our district.
If not for the hapless mistakes made by the Sunnyside Land Company in 1891, our district would have no parks at all. An ill-advised street layout meant that some lots were too steep and rocky to build on, leaving them vacant for decades. This resulted in enough conjoined lots that the City, two generations later, could buy up and create the Sunnyside Playground and Dorothy Erskine Park.
Additionally, by laying out streets without regard to slopes, the City had to later buy up several residential lots in Sunnyside, in order to lay the sewer pipes—which must of course go where gravity dictates. This happenstance has given Sunnyside several small open spaces for public enjoyment, such as the Joost-Baden Mini-Park and the steps behind the Sunnyside Conservatory.
Yet still today there remains a City-owned piece of land—500 square feet in size—that is undeveloped as a public open space. It is fenced off and inaccessible. One half is used as a private side yard by an adjacent homeowner. The other half is currently leased to Friends of the Urban Forest, but that organization has never used it. These non-public uses of public land represent a loss to the community, and it is time the situation was rectified.
We have lost a few bits of the original streets.The blocks laid out by the surveyor in 1891 were perfectly rectangular and the streets die-straight. All the better to milk maximum profits from the sale of lots–no extra wedge-shaped bits, or wasteful little parks to clutter up the profit landscape. But reality meant changes had to be made in that rigid map in the course of building out the neighborhood in the twentieth century.