Sunnyside Avenue Landslide Disaster of 1895

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

Drawing of houses affected by the landslide of January 1895 landslide on Monterey. SF Examiner, 25 Jan 1895.
Drawing of houses affected by the landslide of January 1895 landslide on Monterey. Below, current locations of 134 and 126 Monterey. Above oval, current location of 370 Monterey apartment building. SF Examiner, 25 Jan 1895.


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The Sunnyside Powerhouse: New Photographs

Detail from: Untitled [Sunnyside Powerhouse, San Francisco] 1892c. San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (1990.48). Used with permission and subject to usage restrictions.

Read more about the Sunnyside Powerhouse and the San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway.

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.

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Revealed! New photograph of the Sunnyside Powerhouse

See the rest of these fabulous new photos here.

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.

Untitled [The Sunnyside Powerhouse, San Francisco] 1892c. San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (1990.40.50).
Untitled [Sunnyside Powerhouse, San Francisco] 1892c. San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (1990.40.50). Used with permission and subject to usage restrictions.
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.

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Sunnyside History in Photos: Places

A collection of photographs of places and things in Sunnyside’s history.

Photos of people in Sunnyside here. Main photo page here.  Do you have a photo to add? Write me.

One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891.
One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891. More maps here.
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Read more about the powerhouse. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse, viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com Read more about the powerhouse. 

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Foerster: Work Hard, Die Young, and Leave a Good Name

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.

2020. Street signs at Joost Avenue and Foerster Street. Photo: Amy O'Hair SunnysideHistory.org
2020. Street signs at Joost Avenue and Foerster Street. Photo: Amy O’Hair SunnysideHistory.org

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.

CEA Foerster. 1880s. From Morrison & Foerster: the Evolution of a Law Firm (2006).
CEA Foerster. 1880s. From Morrison & Foerster: the Evolution of a Law Firm (2006).
Behrend Joost. 1890s. SF Call, 23 Apr 1893.
Behrend Joost. 1890s. SF Call, 23 Apr 1893.

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San Jose at Havelock (1): 1910 and Today

Move slider to compare photographs. Looking north on San Jose Ave just south of Havelock St. The route of the San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway.

View larger here. Look at other comparison photographs here.

1910 photo: Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com

1911: Snapshot of life on Monterey Boulevard

Photo courtesy SFMTA, sfmta.photoshelter.com.

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).

U02892. Monterey Boulevard between Circular Ave and Joost Avenue, 5 January 1911. Photo courtesy SFMTA, sfmta.photoshelter.com.

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The Sunnyside Powerhouse and San Francisco’s First Electric Streetcar

OpenSFHistory.org

Update Feb 2021: See additional new images of the Sunnyside Powerhouse.

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.

1895-Car30-SanJose-Sickles-SFSMRR_wnp32.0239
About 1895. Car 30, San Francisco and San Mateo Railway. At Sickles and San Jose Ave. OpenSFHistory.org

Central to the enterprise was the Sunnyside Powerhouse, located on the then unbuilt flatiron-shaped block between Monterey, Circular, and Baden.

Sunnyside Powerhouse
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse, from Monterey Blvd, looking southeast. Courtesy SFMTA. sfmta.photoshelter.com

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The Sunnyside Crossing

SFMTA.photoshelter.com

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.

The Sunnyside crossing, 1912. Looking southwest, down San Jose Ave. Altered to show route of Southern Pacific steam train and SFSM Electric streetcar. Gatehouse marked blue. Sunnyside Powerhouse smokestack marked on right hand side. Photo courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com.
The Sunnyside crossing, 1912. Looking southwest, down San Jose Ave. Altered to show route of Southern Pacific steam train and SFSM Electric Railway streetcar. Gatekeeper’s house marked blue. Sunnyside Powerhouse smokestack marked on right hand side. Photo courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com.

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