One of a short series of house-based local history—stories touching on the perennial San Francisco themes of immigration, families, city-building, and self-making, although this post, the last, has ventured pretty far beyond the original remit.
By Amy O’Hair
In all the histories of individual houses I have researched in Sunnyside, only one revealed itself have been designed by an architect. This led me deep into the career of a massively prolific designer, and also into the history of restricted neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Designed by Charles F Strothoff in 1928, this anomalous house on Gennessee Street, with its distinctive cylinder turret entrance, is fun to contemplate aesthetically. But it also gives me opportunity to look at the ethics and consequences of the exclusionary policies that were historically built into the houses of the 1920s ‘residence parks’ that are adjacent to Sunnyside, most of which were designed by this architect. That legacy of restricted housing—which has morphed into low-density zoning later in the twentieth century—continues to have a powerful impact on housing affordability and socio-economic segregation in the city.
The presence of an expensive midcentury architect-designed house in Sunnyside is unusual, but it is an exception that proves a rule: there is more of a mixture of land use in the neighborhood. Having never been a residence park, Sunnyside has a variety of housing, built over a longer period, with greater density, commercial activity, and multi-unit buildings; this difference has shaped the nature of the neighborhood, and is worth looking at.
Curved Streets and Straight-up Racism
Sunnyside was laid out in the 1890s, before San Francisco latched onto the ‘City Beautiful’-style planned neighborhoods that dominated house-building in the years between the wars. These ‘residence parks’ went up all over the city between Quake and the Great Depression; to the west of Sunnyside, several were developed where Adolph Sutro’s Forest once stood, such as Westwood Park and Monterey Heights. On a map it is easy to see where Sunnyside’s die-straight rectangular blocks end and the curvy streets of these districts begin. Continue reading “Strothoff in Sunnyside, or How to Love the Utility Poles in the Street”→
In the 1880s and 1890s, a reclusive man named Nelson Shoots dug deep mine shafts in search of gold in the rocky hills a half-mile west of Sunnyside, in Sutro’s forest of eucalyptus trees. He worked his claim for over seventeen years, the public learned, when his exploits came to light as he lay on his deathbed in the spring of 1898. The San Francisco Call devoted a whole page to the story, complete with illustrations.
At the edge of Sutro’s forest of eucalyptus trees, in the northwest corner of Sunnyside, the 600 block of Mangels Avenue was home to several families who enjoyed a truly rural existence in the early years. Recently some photos were graciously loaned to me to scan, so there is some visual record of life there. The photos are from the personal archive of resident Geoff Follin, sent to him in 1987 by a man who grew up on the block during these years—Lawrence Behler (1908-1999). Behler included a brief letter of explanation.
1917. Bertha, Charles, and Arnold Behler. 663 Mangels Ave. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.
1917. Lawrence Behler with his mother Bertha. 663 Mangels Ave. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.
1917. 663 Mangels Ave. Lawrence’s brother Arnold Behler on steps. Photo courtesy Geoff Follin.
The large plot of land that was known as the Balboa Reservoir has had a remarkable history, despite never having been filled with water and once being declared “void of positive features” by the City. Through most of the twentieth century it was owned by SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), yet none of the uses the land has been put to have had any impact for good or ill on the city’s water supply. Now the last third of it still left in the hands of SFPUC is being developed as a housing project.
Spring Valley’s Real Estate Wager
The reservoir site started as part of Adolph Sutro’s Rancho San Miguel holdings, most of which were acquired by him in 1881. Sutro sold the 42-acre lot on the far southeast corner of his eucalyptus-covered kingdom to the Spring Valley Water Company in 1894. The company’s stated purpose was to build a reservoir there. They didn’t.