Meeting places make possible gatherings that can give rise to group action. Without a place big enough to meet and plan, speak and listen, how do members of a group know they have the number and consensus that can become a force for change? These points seem obvious, but for the real estate speculators laying out Sunnyside in 1891, even the provision of a park space where such a meeting place might be located was not a perceived need. Large union halls were numerous elsewhere in the city in areas with industry, but the rise of mainly residential areas in the late 19th century didn’t anticipate the needs of neighborhood activism.
Sunnyside had no park or public common space in the 1890s, but within a few years, common needs drew people together in private spaces. The first order of business at the first large public gathering of residents was the need for a school. There were 80–100 children in the area, even as sparsely populated as it was then. In January 1896, resident Eugene Dasse called the meeting at a hall he had built a couple of years before (where 54-56 Monterey is now) — Dasse’s Hall. There was such energy at that meeting that the first Sunnyside Improvement Club was spontaneously formed.
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.
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.
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. Read more
Although Sunnyside Playground is a favorite destination for families, little known to even locals is our other park, Dorothy Erskine Park, located at the top of Baden Street. Poised on the edge of a rocky outcropping, the small park affords great views of the southeast of San Francisco, from among a grove of eucalyptus trees—though without even the amenity of a bench from which to enjoy the vista.
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.
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. Read more
The account below by Phyllis Jensen Marklin of being a child growing up in a little house on Congo Street, on the Sunnyside/Glen Park border, includes some fabulous details–the sort of domestic history that is all too often lost with the passage of time. She wrote it when she was in her sixties. Her daughter has graciously given me permission to reproduce it here, along with a photo that includes the family in front of their house at 511 Congo Street.
Her parents Axel and Olga Jensen came originally from Arhus, Denmark, but lived in Canada for years before coming to San Francisco. Although not all the children stayed in the neighborhood, Phyllis’s brother Gordon made his home as an adult just a few blocks down Congo. I’ll tell that story in a future post.
The death of a dairy woman near Sunnyside, run down by a speeding Southern Pacific train as she took her cows across the tracks to better pasture, captured the attention and the hearts of San Franciscans in 1896. A reporter showed that to keep to their schedule, SP drivers were required to break the law daily by exceeding the City speed limit—often speeding to four times the limit on the downhill patch of pastoral land where Ellen Furey grazed her cows. One young girl witnessed the collision, and spoke bravely before the press and the coroner, revealing the hegemonic company’s lies.
In 1913 someone who was far from home, new to the City, and despairing of his future came to a lonely hilltop at the northern edge of Sunnyside to do away with himself. But he didn’t count on the appearance of a local man, Hugo Ekenberg of 400 Joost Ave, who would save his life. The “knoll” where it probably happened is one of our hidden treasures, the rocky outcropping now called Dorothy Erskine Park, at the top of Baden Street.
Here is the news report in the San Francisco Call (19 April 1913):
In 1898 one family, plagued by alcoholism and headed by a notoriously violent man, came to disrupt the lives of a block of Spreckels Avenue (now Staples). The neighbors fought back the threat with both rifles and the law.
This is the story of two brothers, both newly married, who came to Sunnyside to find houses in the 1920s. One stayed for a lifetime. Both belonged to a remarkable family based up north. The houses they settled in were 400 and 412 Joost Avenue, San Francisco.