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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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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