To add to the recently revealed photo of the Sunnyside Powerhouse, here are five more images from the same album at the San Mateo County Historical Association, including unseen interior shots from the engine room. They were taken by a photographer from the company that supplied the engines, Risdon Iron Works, on the occasion of the opening of the powerhouse and the new electric streetcar line in April 1892.
These new photos are unmatched by any other known ones of Sunnyside’s lost landmark, all of which date to after the powerhouse ceased to operate in 1901. These show a car house and power plant just constructed, ready to revolutionize San Francisco’s urban railways with the introduction of electricity for propulsion. For the first time, the machinery of the powerhouse engine room can be seen.
Thanks to the sharp eye of David Gallagher of Western Neighborhoods Project, this early photo of the Sunnyside Powerhouse has been unearthed from an album at the San Mateo County Historical Association. The association had not identified it, but David recognized Sunnyside’s lost landmark and kindly alerted me.
The photo was taken, to the best of my estimation, shortly after construction of the powerhouse and car barn was finished in April 1892. That month saw the opening of the pioneering streetcar system, the San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway, the first one powered by electricity in the city.
The intersection of Foerster and Joost is not just a street corner in Sunnyside, it’s the stormy tale of a family torn apart by the relentless greed of one uncle, Behrend Joost, and the industrious loyalty of his nephew, Constantine Foerster, that finally gave way under the pressure of it. Joost went down in a long spiral of lawsuits, but Foerster survived and prospered, saved by taking the terrible decision to break his bond to his uncle, and stake his future in the company of men of better judgment and ethics.
Constantine E.A. Foerster was a successful and industrious corporate attorney in late nineteenth-century San Francisco. At the age of sixteen, he got his start in the city working for his uncle, a scrappy, ill-mannered hardware dealer named Behrend Joost. For many years his fortunes were deeply entwined with this uncouth entrepreneur, including as the attorney for Joost’s project to build San Francisco’s first electric streetcar system. The property speculation project called Sunnyside went along with the streetcar, and Foerster was one of several officers in the company whose names remain on the streets there.
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).
Sunnyside played an important role in the development of the first electric streetcar in San Francisco. Before the enterprise was initiated in 1890 by streetcar-railway engineer John Wesley Hartzell, with financial backing from millionaire real-estate speculator Behrend Joost, horse-powered and cable-driven streetcars were the norm. Soon the newly introduced technology would power many of SF’s many privately-held transit lines. But the San Francisco and San Mateo Railway was the first electric railroad in the city.
Central to the enterprise was the Sunnyside Powerhouse, located on the then unbuilt flatiron-shaped block between Monterey, Circular, and Baden.
Although a sparsely populated neighborhood during the decades around the turn of the last century, Sunnyside had both a streetcar—San Francisco’s first electric car—and the Southern Pacific San Francisco-San Jose steam train running along its eastern border. The two lines crossed at an oblique angle, just south of Monterey Boulevard at Joost Avenue—an area now disappeared by the excavations for I-280. It was referred to as the Sunnyside crossing, and was a notorious site of fatalities and injuries during these years.