Over a hundred years ago, a young woman in Sunnyside led a group of local kids and teens in a fight against animal experimentation on shelter dogs. It was just one part of the nature education and activities of the “Log Cabineers,” a band of young outdoor adventurers led by the remarkable Elfreda Svenberg of 751 Foerster Street. Faced with the dire prospects of a pro-vivisection bill then pending in the California legislature, the group made public its objections, and brought bunches of Mount Davidson wildflowers to the Financial District, hoping to move the hearts and minds of ordinary San Franciscans.
The Prendergast Bill of 1917 allowed for the forced transportation of dogs and cats from animal shelters for the purpose of medical or scientific experimentation. Many people all over California objected to the notion that companion animals could be taken—for only a small payment—from the “havens of mercy” that shelters provided, and given to those who would perform experiments on them before killing them. The Sunnyside kids had spent hours watching the wild rabbits and birds in the scrub of local hills and elsewhere; they loved their own pets at home; and the idea of such cruelties urged them to take action.
Wild Flowers, Wild Life
Setting up stands on Market Street and at two luxury hotels downtown, the kids offered little wildflower boutonnieres of made up of johnny-jump-ups, buttercups, and other offerings picked from from Mount Davidson, where native wildflowers famously grew before housing came to the slopes. (Read an account from the 1920s here.)
By Amy O’Hair With research contributed by Kathleen Laderman
An eight-year-old firebrand of a girl stands before the camera, knowing perhaps that she is leaving an indelible mark on the public record. She exudes a strong sense of self and an unaffected sense of style. Form follows function, and for climbing the rocks and hills around the Point Conception Lighthouse, for stalking prey in the untamed brush like a ninja, only trousers and a sweater could ever do.
She proudly wears her unconventional attire for an official photograph; those shiny curls and that fancy hat are down to the women at the lighthouse. It’s a bargain, and she struck it. Lillie is a force majeure, even at eight, and if she is determined to wear trousers, perhaps the best the women around her can hope for is to get her hair into some sort of girlish shape for the camera.
Lillie Young had come to the lighthouse on the coast of Santa Barbara County to live with her foster father, Edward Young, who worked as one of the keepers. A photographer from the US Coast Guard had arrived that week, hefting his bulky camera, in order to record the facility and some of its occupants.
It was January 1894, a few years before San Francisco would be treated to stories about this remarkable girl who defied the strictures of late Victorian womanhood, venturing where she pleased in the open land and wild hills around Ocean View and boasting all the requisite skills of any boy her age. The photograph was taken at the midpoint of the best and wildest year of her childhood. It was not the last time she attracted wonder and awe—and surely disapproval—before she seemingly disappeared from view, a bold flame extinguished. Continue reading “Artemis Lost: The Story of a Bold Girl in Turn-of-the-Century Ocean View”→
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).
The story of William Augustus Merralls (1852–1914) and Temperance Laura Clarke Neely Merralls (1865–1930) during their life together. Related posts and information on main Merralls page. This post from 2018 was updated in 2023 to reflect new research.
By Amy O’Hair
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. 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.
The Sunnyside Conservatory is this neighborhood’s only city landmark, and one of San Francisco’s historical treasures. 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. Some of the palms and monkey puzzle trees are more than a century old.
Who was the man who built it? William A. Merralls (1852-1914) was a prolific inventor and inveterate entrepreneur, and built the unusual octagonal structure about 1902. His wide range of hobbies extended to collecting exotic plants, and this was an oasis of lush beauty in which to show them off.
After coming to the US from England as a young man, Merralls, with some training in engineering and a restless, creative mind, turned his hand to everything from machinery for extracting gold to refrigerators to automobile starters. He registered over twenty patents in as many years. He may have picked a modest neighborhood to settle down in, but his ideas and his ambitions knew few limits.
Ad from SF Call for Merralls Milling Machinery. 23 May 1905. From newspapers.com.
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.