The rain is pelting down today, prompting me to revisit a moment in early Sunnyside history when the cumulative effects of an El Niño winter melted the hillside above Monterey Boulevard (then Sunnyside Avenue) between Acadia and Detroit Streets, sending several houses sliding down. No one was injured, but two of the houses were never rebuilt. Besides the copious rains that winter, a major contributing cause was a massive street grading project on Monterey, wherein earth was removed in large quantities by an unscrupulous private contractor named Kelso, leaving several houses on the north side hovering at the top of sheer cliffs. It was not a time of robust and well-planned public works in the City. Residents felt naturally wronged, and threatened to sue (although without unsuccess it later turned out).
Sunnyside then was very sparsely populated, with only a few houses on each block, largely in the eastern end. It was a bit of a company town; many residents worked at the Sunnyside Powerhouse,the coal-fired power plant for the pioneering electric railway. Notes on people mentioned in the accounts below: Patrick Amrock, lived at the current address 134 Monterey (rebuilt in 1960). The Lufsky/Kuestermann houses were never rebuilt, but were located around 126 Monterey. Percy C Cole, a carpenter, lived in a house at the current location of the 370 Monterey apartments. Andrew Dahlberg (“P Doylberg”), a contractor, lived at what is now 137 Joost (which may be the original 1890s house). Charles Lufsky departed Sunnyside later in the year, but here’s a good story about the saloon he left behind.
Fortunately, 20th century building techniques and City codes have prevented many such disasters since. (Although one happened here in 21st century Sunnyside.)
Read the account below from the San Francisco Examiner published the next morning, followed by another account from the San Francisco Call. Read the related story about Sunnyside’s some-time creek here.
Anton Fazekas, sculptor, metal-worker, and San Francisco entrepreneur, created unique lighted house number units that can be found on a great many Bay Area houses.
Read the background on this midcentury sculptor and entrepreneur here. Since the follow-up post, I’ve happened upon these are other examples around San Francisco. If you have an image to share, write me.
This fairly well preserved unit on Alemany sports the very rare black-on-gold number tiles, which looked brilliant in the morning sun, despite missing its hood.
Another example of the very rare black-on-gold number tiles. The surrounding unit has either been painted to match, or was done in the factory, I do not know. Capp Street.
A lovely renovation on Vernon Street, with ceramic tiles inserted into the unit, along with matching tile spacers.
Although not in top condition, this colorway is striking. Original number tiles may have been the rarely seen black-on-white, with the numbers later repainted red. Cayuga Avenue.
Detailed paint work. Although the hood is missing, this owner on Harrison Street has made the best of it, covering and painting the hope to match.
A cheery bit of paint work on Revere Avenue.
A Deco model in fine condition. A piece of glass has been inserted in front of the number tiles, though how there is sufficient room I don’t know. Alemany Blvd.
A Deco model in good condition. Theresa Street.
Mix-and-Match! This one-half tile is not painted, for reasons I cannot fathom. A Deco unit in very good condition, although the white-on-black number tiles have weathered badly. Quality control seems to have been an issue at various points over the years. Potrero Avenue.
A one-half tile in a well-cared-for unlighted Fazekas unit on Manchester Street.
This Fazekas unit sports glass number-tiles, but they aren’t likely to be original. Even the side spacers are glass. Orizaba Street.
This unlighted ‘Deco’ unit is a bit of a mystery. It was installed sometime after 2008, and yet looks like an original. Could it be a clever latter-day imitation? Portola Drive.
Rare and original black-on-white number tiles, in great condition. The vast majority of Fazekas units have white-on-black tiles. Cayuga Avenue
This type of hood usually only appears on the multiple-address units, so it may have been cobbled together from parts. Dublin Street.
Don’t miss the follow-up postto this article, including more photos and renovation information. New additional photos found 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”→
The strange dominance of small single-family homes in San Francisco, with its roots in pre-Quake planning and post-Quake building, has come at last in this century to bite the city in its housing-supply backside. Density doesn’t match need now and it is difficult to see how it ever can. It is as though San Francisco, to personify for a moment, never expected to become a real city. So it allowed builders to fill the thousands of residential blocks with one-story-over-basement structures that cannot reasonably ever be transformed into multi-unit, multi-story buildings—unlike, say, a Mission-District Victorian or a Brooklyn brownstone. And should you be inclined to try, zoning and/or neighbors will prevent you from rebuilding one as a four-story wart on the smooth skin of row-upon-row of SFHs.
In their vast inertial numbers, the Little Boxes will always win. The march of those attached four- or five-room homes, on their narrow 25×100 foot lots, across hundreds of city blocks can only ever be disrupted here and there—a few corner developments, a few big structures on old gas station lots, a few scattered replacements, or the odd added story or ADU.
The die was cast—getting on for a hundred years ago now—and the pattern will persist.
Investment money that funded the Sunnyside Land Company in 1890 was largely sourced from the hefty profits of some of San Francisco’s biggest late nineteenth-century breweries: Philadelphia Brewery, Albany Brewery, and United States Brewery—all overseen by the Brewer’s Protective Association. Men who were heirs to these fortunes, or wrapped up in the racket of propping up prices and selling off franchises to foreign capitalists, were among the most prominent initial investors in the Sunnyside project.
Behrend Joost, President of Sunnyside Land Company, was a notorious and irascible teetotaler, but he had no problem accepting beer-drenched money from his investors, who altogether put in one million dollars to fund the property speculation project. In return, many got their names or the places in Germany they came from on the newly laid-out streets.
Five of the original Sunnyside streets—Mangels Avenue, Spreckels Avenue, Wieland Avenue, Baden Street, and Hamburg Street—I trace directly to these men.
After Sunnyside was laid out and lots went on sale in San Francisco in 1891, there were a lot of unusual newspaper advertisements pushing property sales in the new district during that first year. (More wacky Sunnyside ads in the second post in this series here.)
One hundred and ten years ago, the real estate firm of Rogers and Stone, who had recently invested heavily in Sunnyside lots, took out a huge four-page stand-alone color supplement in the San Francisco Call. It featured an artist’s fantastical renditions of life in the neighborhood. Unsurprising for the world of property sales, the copious text is full of imaginary claims about the future of the City and the prospects of the then-largely undeveloped district.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 1 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 2 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 3 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
SF Call, 3 June 1909. Page 4 of four-page Sunnyside color supplement. Newspapers.com.
Recently a marvelous panorama taken about 1912 came my way. Sunnyside can be seen in the distance. The image reveals a feature from the neighborhood’s past–a giant hillside sign in the style of the one in Hollywood that was also placed as a real estate advertisement. However, Sunnyside’s sign preceded the more famous one by at least ten years–though of course ours didn’t last.