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”

Fazekas, Redux

If you haven’t already, please read the original post about Anton Fazekas and his little invention: The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation.


My post in July 2020 about Anton Fazekas and his house-number sensation turned out to be a minor sensation itself, bringing visitors to this blog in great numbers. Thank you for all the tweets, Reddit posts, and other links that spread the word. Attention to this minute part of the domestic built environment seems to have been a little anodyne in an age of upheaval.

In this follow-up post there are more photos, many from readers, taken in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. I show some rehabilitated units, and some rare and odd finds. Also, I try to address the pressing issue of where to get replacement bulbs and numbers. If you have additional information, tips for renovation, or images to share, please write me. In particular, if you have a resource for unattached refurbished Fazekases for sale, please let me know.

Continue reading “Fazekas, Redux”

Monterey Boulevard shops: Some midcentury photos

The covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary halt to my history walks, including the one that highlights Monterey Boulevard shops, restaurants, and businesses of decades past. But here are some photos, most never seen before, showing businesses from the 1950s to the 1970s. From the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, at the San Francisco History Center.

Many businesses on the boulevard came and went without ever being recorded visually in the public record, such as the old Safeway (1942-1972) that was located in the parking lot of the current Safeway. Or Bruno’s Creamery Restaurant, at Foerster Street, site of many happy hours for local kids.

The big push to plant street trees in the 1970s has changed the look of the street completely, as these photos well show. Photos are ordered from 400s to 700s, Edna Street to Ridgewood Avenue, with each followed by a present-day photo. Do you have a photo taken on Monterey to share? Write me.

1955. 429 Monterey Blvd. Jack Specialty Barber Shop, mid-1940s to early 1980s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1955. 429 Monterey Blvd. Jack Specialty Barber Shop, mid-1940s to early 1980s. Note 25MPH speed sign, before it went to 30 in the 1970s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
2020. 429 Monterey Blvd. Last used as a shop in early 1980s. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2020. 429 Monterey Blvd. Last used as a shop in early 1980s. Photo: Amy O’Hair
1970s. 499 Monterey Blvd. This spot has been a delicatessen continuously since 1943, going under many names. Here Antoine's Delicatessen, operating mid1960s to 2000. Read the story of many immigrants who have owned this business. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1970s. 499 Monterey Blvd. This spot has been a delicatessen continuously since 1943, going under many names. Here Antoine’s Delicatessen, operating mid1960s to 2000. Read the story of many immigrants who have owned this business.
San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
2020. 499 Monterey Blvd. Monterey Deli has been the name of this local favorite shop since 2000. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2020. 499 Monterey Blvd. Monterey Deli has been the name of this local favorite since 2000. Photo: Amy O’Hair
1974. 558 Monterey Blvd. The Joker Club, which operated from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1974. 558 Monterey Blvd. The Joker Club, which operated from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr

Continue reading “Monterey Boulevard shops: Some midcentury photos”

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”

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”

‘Bulkley-Built’: Midcentury Modern on Monterey

2019. 420-422 Monterey Boulevard, Sunnyside, San Francisco. Photo: Amy O'Hair

On Monterey Boulevard in Sunnyside, there are two unique 3-unit buildings that were designed in 1963 by architect Jonathan Bulkley. Perhaps you have walked by and wondered about the history behind them. Today they stand somewhat altered from their original look. The San Francisco Examiner featured them shortly after their construction.[1] They have unusual triple barrel-vaulted tops and two levels of balconies on the front.

2019. The two 3-unit buildings at 420-422 Monterey Boulevard. Designed in 1963 by Jonathan Bulkley. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2019. The two 3-unit buildings at 420-422 Monterey Boulevard. Designed in 1963 by Jonathan Bulkley. Photo: Amy O’Hair
SF Examiner, 3 Nov 1963. Feature: 420-422 Monterey Blvd.
SF Examiner, 3 Nov 1963. Feature: 420-422 Monterey Blvd. Vaulting over entrances is missing from drawing.

Continue reading “‘Bulkley-Built’: Midcentury Modern on Monterey”

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”

The radio listening habits of Sunnyside School students in 1948

Photo: otrcat.com

Part of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

In 1948, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a survey that the Second District PTA made at Sunnyside School to find out about when and how students were listening to the radio — the “wireless” entertainment of the day. The reporter noted that the Sunnyside student body then represented families who were “neither overly rich nor overly poor … a most ideal medium between the two.”

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SF Chronicle, 30 May 1948. Read whole article here. 

The survey asked about 220 students in grades three through six about how many radios they had, when and what they listened to, and what their favorite programs were.

Wireless Distractions

One of the points the reporter harped on was the use of of the radio during studying. Making it sound slightly shocking, he lauded the PTA for revealing this possibly harmful practice as “something that must give educators a morning-after-sized headache.” (Hardly an apposite metaphor to use for supposedly responsible adults!)

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1946, Sunnyside School. Ms Carol White’s third-grade class. Not a particularly diverse school body at that time. Courtesy Bill Wilson.

Continue reading “The radio listening habits of Sunnyside School students in 1948”

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”

Gloomy Gus Goes to War: Stan Staub, Cub Reporter and WWII Soldier

In the course of doing a house history for local residents in Sunnyside I unearthed the story of a young man whose star shown briefly and brightly. Stan Staub was a junior reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1930s, who then felt called to join the military in anticipation of World War II. He left an account of his training as a soldier before he was shipped out to the Pacific Front, as well as nearly a hundred bylines at the Chronicle.[1]

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Stan Staub, age 21, in front of the family home on Flood Avenue, c.1939. Photo courtesy the Staub family.

Stan’s family lived on Flood Avenue for many years—it was his home as a teen and young adult. The house was originally built about 1900, and underwent several renovations over the years.       Continue reading “Gloomy Gus Goes to War: Stan Staub, Cub Reporter and WWII Soldier”