Traffic calming – planting and saving trees – safe places for children to play – newly revealed local history: the issues on the minds of Sunnysiders fifty years ago were not so different from things that interest residents now. The newsletters of Sunnyside’s local organization from those years have recently been archived and made available online at the Internet Archive, and tell some inspiring stories about actions that still impact our lives today.
Although Sunnyside has seen organized advocacy by residents since the 1890s (more here), the current organization, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA), dates to late 1974. The 1970s saw a surge of local activism in the many neighborhoods in San Francisco. Five decades later, we still enjoy some of the fruits of that upwelling, for instance in open spaces that were established as parks. There was also a downside to the activism then that still affects the city; in some areas, such as the Richmond district, residents fought density with downzoning measures, working to exclude multi-unit buildings and “retain local character,” resulting in a dearth of housing units in subsequent decades, and de facto residential segregation.
But SNA was, according to the record of these early newsletters, more intent on trees, parks, and calming traffic. Monterey Boulevard had already undergone big changes in the 1950s and 1960s, with an extensive apartment-building boom. The 1970s saw even more upzoning on the boulevard. SNA didn’t oppose more housing, but as we’ll see, it did try to rescue trees that were eventually to fall victim to a particularly determined developer of multi-unit buildings, among many other projects, such as tree-planting and boosting local businesses.
This story contains accounts of violence and racism.
This week marks fifty years since the night a nationwide network of clandestine violence touched down in the quiet center of Balboa Park, across the freeway from Sunnyside. The ambush on the Ingleside Police Station left one officer dead, Sergeant John V Young, and a civilian clerk wounded. It was one of a great number of armed actions taken in cities during the 1970s by self-proclaimed revolutionaries identifying with different causes.
While much has been written and dramatized about more sensational actions by radical groups then, such as the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the campaign of the Black Liberation Army against the police in San Francisco has not seen nearly as much print. The 1970s was a time of intense political violence, resulting in considerably more deaths by terrorism than the post-9/11 period. The passage of fifty years is a chance to reflect on what has changed—and what has not changed—in policing, anti-Black racism, and domestic terrorism.
The legal proceedings related to the attack played out over almost the entire intervening five decades—a messy and incomplete case. The last man implicated in the ambush who was still incarcerated was only released on parole this last October, after 49 years in prison; for some his sentence was too short.
On the evening of Sunday 29 August 1971, two men entered the Ingleside Police Station at 9:40 p.m. armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and a 9mm pistol. The station had only three people working there at the time; just an hour before a bomb had gone off at a bank branch in Stonestown, planted as a diversion by the attackers, and most officers were elsewhere in response. The attackers had been given an all-clear signal by a woman who entered the station in disguise to make a false report and scope out the situation a half-hour beforehand.
Once inside, one of the attackers pushed the shotgun into the speaking hole in the barrier at the front counter, and fired multiple shots, killing Sergeant Young and wounding a clerk, Ellen Nina Lipney. A third officer was not hit; he crawled over and dragged the wounded Young out of the line of fire. The attackers continued to fire shots, at the window and an armored door. Accounts vary, but as many as 18 shots were fired from the shotgun, and more from the pistol.
Some reports state that the gunmen intended to set a bomb to detonate after they left, to destroy the station, but it failed to go off. Outside perhaps three accomplices were on look-out duty. After the attack, which took only moments, all those involved escaped from the station grounds through an opening that had been previously cut in the chain-link fence that separated the station from the adjacent Interstate 280 freeway. On the verge of the freeway waited two cars, which left both live shells and skid marks on the road when they sped off northbound.
1971. The hole in the bulletproof window at Ingleside station through which the gunman shot Sgt Young, pocked with gunshot. Larry Tiscornia, SF Chronicle.
The armored door that was shot several times by the gunmen during the attack. Courtesy Ingleside Police Station.
30 Aug 1971. Ingleside station, the day after the attack. AP.
View of Ingleside station from the freeway side, showing the location of the opening cut in the fence whereby the attackers escaped to waiting getaway cars. SF Chronicle, 31 Aug 1971.
A view of Ingleside station today from the freeway side,
Before I give an account of the Black Liberation Army and the legal cases that resulted in the 1970s and 2000s, here is a recollection of the life of the officer who died that night.
‘A Very Good Man’
Sergeant John Victor Young had served twenty-two years with the force, and when he died he left behind a beloved wife, Geraldine; they’d been married for twenty-four years. He also left behind a great deal of good will and the respect of seemingly everyone who knew him. Those who worked with him widely acknowledged his compassion, even temper, fairness, and religious devotion. “He treated cranks and superior officers alike, with the same kindness and understanding.” Another officer who worked with him said: “He was careful with his language and a good listener.” Young had a commitment to helping people, no matter what their history or circumstances. Among his desk duties before he was assigned to Ingleside was helping ex-convicts who sought legal rehabilitation that could lead to having their records expunged; sometimes he went further, even digging into his own pocket to help one who needed a bit of cash. 
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 Resident Ann Marie Garvin passed away recently at the age of 82.
“Dance is all that’s left that’s real. It’s another world, all yours, and no one can take away the thrill of it.”
Ann Marie Garvin spoke those words to a reporter in 1976, shortly after she had founded her studio on Monterey Boulevard, Dancer’s Synectics Group. They were words she lived by over the course of her long working life–performing, teaching, directing, and choreographing, in San Francisco and beyond.
For 45 years, in the pink-striped building, she taught thousands of dancers, from near and far, her particular fast-paced jazz style and much else as well. Many Bay Area dancers studied with her, such as Ed Mock, Snowy Winter, Greg de Silva, and Craig Innes. Jazz dancer and instructor Ann Barrett noted in an artist’s bio how performing in Ann Marie Garvin’s ‘Dance Between the Lines’ had been invaluable to her understanding of choreography and theater, and for that she was “eternally grateful.”
In assembling and choreographing her own companies of dancers, Ann Marie Garvin rode the crests of several trends, including the push for a greater diversity of body shapes and skin colors in dance that happened in the Bay Area the late 1970s.
“The distinctive thing about Ann Marie is her disregard for height, or color of skin. She is unaware of anything except this: Can they dance? So [her] company has tall and short, plumpish, tan, black, white, but all marvelous dancers.”
The deli on Monterey Boulevard at Edna Street is popular with locals as well as those passing through Sunnyside on their way elsewhere. But few know it has been a deli continuously for the last 72 years, with a succession of owners. This is a story about running a local business, but also about immigrants and opportunity—and danger.
The building was constructed in 1947, part of a strip of postwar buildings that went up on previously empty lots.
The delicatessen first opened that same year, founded by two women well into their fifties, both of whom had some familiarity with restaurant work: Alma Fitch and Frances Swensson.
The deli’s first name—Vienna Delicatessen—was Frances’s choice; she was born Franziska Anzengruber in a little town in Austria, and came to San Francisco in her late teens sometime after the Quake and Fire of 1906.
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. 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.
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.