A brief history of Sunnyside

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Advertisement, SF Chronicle, May 1891.

Until 1891 the land where Sunnyside would be laid out was used for dairy grazing and farming. That year the Sunnyside Land Company was formed, and streets and lots mapped out, with Behrend Joost as its president. There was no concerted development during those early years. Joost pursued instead his real money-making project of establishing the first electric streetcar line in San Francisco, which involved building the Sunnyside Powerhouse at the corner of Circular Ave and Sunnyside Avenue (later Monterey Blvd) in 1892.

Sunnyside Powerhouse
1910s. Sunnyside Powerhouse, at Monterey Blvd and Circular Ave. Photo courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com

A few brave families and individual carpenters did build houses in Sunnyside, but most lots were sold to investors looking for profits. Basics like paved streets, sewers, streetlights, gas and water service, and fire protection were lacking for many years. People lived with wells to provide water with windmills to pump it up, outhouses on the back of their lots, and many kept their own cows and horses. This is part of the reason lots are so deep (100 or 112 feet) to accommodate these necessities.

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1905 Sanborn map. Near Monterey and Edna. All these houses had wells, and the two marked with blue dots had elevated water tanks. DavidRumsey.com. More maps here.

City government changed after the 1906 Quake and Fire, when efforts were made to address the notorious corruption that had plagued it before. The streetcar line was extended down Monterey Boulevard in 1909.

Sunnyside Avenue Northeast from Detroit Street
1909. Laying streetcar tracks on unpaved Monterey Blvd (then Sunnyside Ave) near Detroit St. SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com

The Sunnyside school had been housed in a cottage but then a proper schoolhouse was built that same year.

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1909. The newly built Sunnyside School. OpenSFHistory.org

House-building and shopping venues picked up in this period but did not really get going until the 1920s. Many of the houses date to this time. Streets were finally paved and sidewalks laid then.

Outlets such as Phelan Avenue (now Frida Kahlo Way) were put in place and Monterey Blvd extended through what had been Sutro’s Forest beyond Ridgewood Ave.

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1910. Looking west on Monterey (then Sunnyside Ave) near Ridgewood Ave (then Hamburg Street) dead-ended at the edge of the Sutro Forest, before the extension. Photo: The Sutro Library

By the mid-1920s Monterey Blvd had dozens of local shops, as well as the numerous small shops on residential corners. Saint Finn Barr Catholic Church at Hearst and Edna, a center of neighborhood life for much of the twentieth century, was built in 1926. The schoolhouse was outdated and unsafe by then, so a new building was completed in 1927, the current school.

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Sunnyside School, about 1930. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.
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1940. Monterey Blvd near Baden Street. OpenSFHistory.org

After World War Two, the undeveloped blocks above Mangels Avenue filled out with new houses. The Sunnyside Playground was built in the 1960s.

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Sunnyside Playground shortly after construction in 1966. Annual report of the Dept of Public Works.

The Sunnyside Conservatory, built in 1902, remained in private hands until it was made a City Landmark in 1978.

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1975. Sunnyside Conservatory, before landmark status. It still had two wings then. OpenSFHistory.org

The 1950s-1980s saw many of the steep rocky lots on Monterey Blvd finally built with apartment buildings. Safeway, which had been a mid-sized store on the site of the present Safeway parking lot before, became the current larger store in 1972, which changed the nature of shopping on Monterey Blvd, driving out a number of mom-and-pop groceries and butcher shops.

Sunnyside has historically had a lower rate of turnover in house ownership than other San Francisco neighborhoods; today there are still residents whose grandparents and great-grandparents originally moved to Sunnyside.

To hear some great stories about Sunnyside in the places where they happened, consider taking one of my four different history walks.

Or explore this website further.



Here are also some links to other places to find historical information about Sunnyside:

“Sunnyside: Historical Essay” by Jacqueline Proctor on FoundSF.org.  

“Sunnyside District” on OutsideLands.org 

“The Sunnyside: Begotten of the Panama Canal” by Evelyn Rose on Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project.

“Sunnyside” on MtDavidson.org, Jacqueline Proctor’s own site.

San Francisco’s West of Twin Peaks, by Jacqueline Proctor, Arcadia Books, 2006. [Amazon.com link for book]