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).
On a week when being outdoors is hazardous, history can substitute for fresh air. Here is a story from a century ago, about a group of Sunnyside children called the Log Cabineers, who were led in many activities around the then-undeveloped hills in the neighborhood by a remarkable young woman, Elfreda Svenberg of Foerster Street. She introduced them to the joys of being outside with plants and animals, taking them on hiking trips–even a ten-day vacation in Marin.
Miss Svenberg included both boys and girls in her club, saying they were “too occupied with the joys of outdoor life” to become boy-struck or girl-struck.
The story of William Augustus Merralls (1852–1914) and Temperance Laura Clarke Neely Merralls (1865–1930) during their life together. Related posts on main Merralls page.
William Augustus and Temperance Laura Merralls were remarkable and eccentric residents of early Sunnyside. William left a legacy to the neighborhood—the Sunnyside Conservatory, a city landmark on Monterey Boulevard, which he built about 1902.
When they married in 1909, they were both in middle age, William a widower, Temperance a divorcee. William’s inventions were innovative, and wide-ranging; Temperance brought an interest in alternative medicine and healing. They were devoted to each other, but had just five years together. Rare photographs from their last year together are first seen in this article.
The match was anchored in a deep love, but it was also a meeting of minds. They shared interests and beliefs, rooted both in the Baptist faith and a complete confidence that human progress was positively furthered by new discoveries and ideas.
Dreaming on Sunnyside Avenue
Living in the house at 258 Sunnyside Avenue (now Monterey Blvd)—with its extensive grounds surrounding the Conservatory, the couple were outliers in an otherwise working-class neighborhood.
Who would site “the Largest and Most Important City Subdivision” next to an extensive and notorious jail compound? That’s exactly what Behrend Joost did in 1890 when he created the Sunnyside district from a portion of the Rancho San Miguel land that Leland Stanford sold off then. The choicer cuts went to other investors; this was no Stanford Heights (later Miraloma Park), perched on Mt Davidson. (Joost’s true aim was to be Baron of the Electric Rails, in any case.)
There had been a jail on this property in some form or another since the 1850s; the city originally bought the 100-acre House of Refuge lot in 1854, when it was far, far from the city. The 1905 view show below is now unimaginable: the Jail complex has been replaced by City College of San Francisco, and the narrow railroad tracks of the San Francisco-San Jose train line that passed directly by have been replaced by the Interstate 280 Freeway.
In the course of researching a house in Sunnyside I happened onto a woman named Jean E. de Greayer, whose story turned out to lead me into some interesting corners of San Francisco history, including the establishment of the women’s court during the Progressive Era. Although she was only tangentially connected with this neighborhood, her photo in the newspaper in 1913 captured my imagination.
Sunnyside Conservatory is this neighborhood’s only city landmark, and certainly our premier historical treasure. People who have never heard of Sunnyside come from all over the Bay Area to get married or celebrate other events in its beautifully restored building and grounds. But who was the man who built it? Some history has been written about him, but not all of it has been complete or accurate; the roles his two wives played in the story have also not been fully told.
[See this page for all things related to Merralls and the Sunnyside Conservatory.]
William Augustus Merralls with his first wife Lizzie A. Merralls built the Sunnyside Conservatory about 1902. William was a prolific and creative inventor, turning his hand to everything from machinery for extracting gold to refrigerators to automobile starters, and registering over twenty patents in as many years. (Here is a full list.) The Conservatory was a special place to keep and display the many special plants he acquired on his travels.[i] He may have picked a modest neighborhood to settle down in, but his ideas and his ambitions knew few limits. Continue reading “W.A. Merralls: Inventor and Entrepreneur of Sunnyside”→