A Short History of the Sunset District

San Francisco's Sunset District neighborhoods include Golden Gate Heights, Inner Sunset, Outer Sunset, Parkside, and Parnassus Heights.

Sand, scrub, and more sand. Such was the foundation of the Sunset District.

The Park and Ocean Railroad line along today’s Lincoln Way began bringing weekend revelers to Ocean Beach in 1883. What the passengers saw to the south was a rolling cold desert of sand. On some maps, the area was described as the "Great Sand Waste." This part of the Outside Lands was added to the city of San Francisco in 1866. An 1868 map created the grid pattern of streets we know today, but while speculators bought lots, until the twentieth century it was almost all undeveloped dunes.

Between the 1860s and the 1890s, the Inner Sunset had nothing but a few dairies, ranches, roadhouses, dynamite factories that kept exploding, and an early elementary school. On the west side of today's Golden Gate Heights hills, Carl Larsen had a chicken ranch, and members of the Green family planted eucalyptus trees in today’s Stern Grove. That was about it.

Although real estate investors such as Aurelius Buckingham and Sol Getz later tried to claim credit, the Sunset received its name in 1889, when the firm of Easton, Eldridge and Co. marketed land it was selling on the east side of Mount Sutro as "Sunset Heights."

Buyers did not rush in. The Olympic Club built an athletics facility on the block between 7th and 8th Avenues along Lincoln Way, but made so little use out of it, that it was abandoned when the lease ended.

The 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition held in Golden Gate Park gave the Sunset some life. Newspapers nicknamed the fair site "Sunset City," and establishments such as the Little Shamrock (still serving drinks on Lincoln Way at 9th Avenue) moved in to accommodate the crowds.

The Inner Sunset slowly attracted more residences, often only small islands of two or three houses at a time. In the mid 1890s, enterprising bohemian artists created homes at Ocean Beach out of recycled horsecars and cablecars, naming the community "Carville." (More "respectable" residents of the Carville area soon called it "Oceanside.") In 1905, William Crocker's realty company began the first large housing development on the western edge with Parkside, built up around 20th Avenue and Taraval Street.

The 1920s and 1930s brought developers such as Ray Galli, the Stoneson Brothers, the Doelger Brothers, and others who took advantage of the availability of new FHA loans to construct row upon row of affordable single-family housing. By shortly after World War II, the sand dune desert had been filled in with a sea of stucco homes.


Sunset Articles

  • Podcast # 276: Shriners Hospital

    Now a senior living center, the impressive brick building on 19th Avenue was created to help children. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast May 19, 2018)
  • Podcast # 271: Dr. Rosen and the 4th Avenue House

    The story of a specialist for "female trouble" in a Sunset District house. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Apr 11, 2018)
  • Podcast # 263: Ishi

    The story of a remarkable man from the Yahi people and his time at today's University of California, San Francisco. (UCSF) (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Feb 9, 2018)
  • Podcast # 261: Polly Ann Ice Cream

    The story of the Sunset landmark where you can spin-a-flavor. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jan 26, 2018)
  • Podcast # 254: Sunset District 1900

    The challenges of the rural Inner Sunset District at the dawn of the 20th Century. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Dec 9, 2017)
  • Podcast # 245: L-Taraval Streetcar

    The story of the streetcar that runs through the Parkside, Sunset, and, at one time, open sand dunes. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Oct 7, 2017)
  • Podcast # 235: Zoo Trains

    We remember all the trains in the San Francisco Zoo, from the Little Puffer to the playground locomotive to the Elephant train. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jul 29, 2017)
  • Podcast # 230: Sutro Forest

    The story of the San Francisco tree plantation that once stretched from the Inner Sunset to the Ingleside District. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jun 24, 2017)
  • Podcast # 225: Columbus Alice Fong Yu School

    The story of a landmark language immersion school in the Sunset District. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast May 20, 2017)
  • Podcast # 224: Kezar Stadium Re-do

    Don't listen to podcast episode #1! This is a better look at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast May 13, 2017)