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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 10: Roadhouses

Roadhouses here and gone on San Francisco's west side.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Mar 14, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 10: Roadhouses Outside Lands Podcast Episode 10: Roadhouses

(above) Ocean House, circa 1875

Ocean House, near north end of Lake Merced in the area of Middlefield and Eucalyptus (burned in 1882). Present site of Lowell High School

Podcast Transcription

WNP10 - Roadhouses

Woody: [00:00:00] Well, David?

David: Yes, Woody.

Woody: It's the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast,

David: [makes news ticker sound]

Woody: Which is…

David: That's our new soundtrack. That's our new opening music.

Woody: It doesn't sound very new. It sounds kind of seventy years old. This just in. Outside Lands San Francisco. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: And we're from the Western Neighborhoods Project and we do this podcast like once a week. Right?

David: Right.

Woody: Right. So, what are we gonna talk about today, David?

David: Today we are going to talk about roadhouses, Woody.

Woody: Roadhouses.

David: That's right.

Woody: What's a roadhouse?

David: Roadhouse is a house on the road.

Woody: Well, I guess we're done.

David: Yep.

Woody: Actually.

David: No.

Woody: You know, I'm going to talk and now you are my special guest star [00:01:00] tonight at the Old Mint in San Francisco about roadhouses. So, this could be sort of a practice run for our talk tonight.

David: But the event is sold out, and by the time you hear this, it'll be over.

Woody: Yeah.

David: So, don't go down to the Old Mint, hoping to get in.

Woody: Do not. Do not. It is sold out and it will be over when you hear this. And it's so funny to me, David, it's sold out, has 400 people coming. All you have to do to get people to go to history talks is offer alcohol.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And call the event something like, well, what this one is called Hooch, Harlots and History: Vice in San Francisco.

David: Awesome.

Woody: People love the underworld, they love the thing that seems a little naughty. So, roadhouses are actually…

David: …a little naughty.

Woody: They are. So, a roadhouse is not just a bar. We're talking about sort of establishments that you [00:02:00] stop at on your way to someplace. They're often in sort of empty rural areas. Like you're going from one town to another.

David: So, the Cliff House would've been a roadhouse.

Woody: The Cliff House?

David: That’s right.

Woody: In San Francisco?

David: Yeah.

Woody: How would that have been an open and empty area on the way to someplace else?

David: How?

Woody: How?

David: It's on the edge of the continent.

Woody: I know, you’re not…

David: It’s on the end of the Point Lobos toll road.

Woody: Where would you go? You'd run into the ocean though. But you're right. You're right, you're right. You're absolutely right. That Cliff House is the best roadhouse we still have in San Francisco. It's still running. Even though the city has kind of expanded out to the Cliff House. But when it was built, the first one in the old days, in the 1860s, it was the edge of nowhere. And you're right, there was a lot of empty land between built up San Francisco and the Cliff House back then. What other roadhouses did we have in San Francisco?

David: Well, there was a whole string of roadhouses following [00:03:00] the old Mission Road and going down to San Mateo County.

Woody: Now that seems even more like what we talk about with the roadhouse, because you're on your way from San Francisco.

David: Right.

Woody: To San Jose or something.

David: Right. And most of those, they had names, but they also had number assignations. Right? Like the 7 Mile House or the 12 Mile House or the 14 Mile House.

Woody: Yeah. It was a very popular thing it seemed. They had at one time, they had them on two roads. They had with a San Bruno Road and they had the old Mission Road.

David: Right.

Woody: Which ran south down the peninsula. But on one road…

David: And merged in my hometown of San Bruno.

Woody: Well, there you go.

David: Right at San Mateo Avenue and El Camino where there was a roadhouse.

Woody: See, but they would have like a 4 1/2 Mile House on one road and a 5 Mile House on the other road. But the question is, what are they four and a half and five miles from?

David: They're from the ferry? From [00:04:00] the ferry building?

Woody: Yeah.

David: Or from San Francisco.

Woody: Right.

David: Wherever that may be.

Woody: Well, I'll tell you because some people have done some research and it seems that they are based, depending on when they're built, they are that distance from City Hall.

David: Oh.

Woody: And City Hall moved, so you'd have one roadhouse that said it's the 4 Mile House from the old City Hall, and then the new City Hall was built and the new roadhouse was built. So, you'd have another 4 Mile House about a half a mile farther down the road.

David: Right.

Woody: On another road. So, these were all supposed to from how many miles from San Francisco City Hall. And then you're right, they had a 16 Mile house. They just kept going all the way down the peninsula.

David: Oh yeah.

Woody: And I think some of those are still around. I think the 9 Mile House might still be around as sort of a biker bar.

David: The 7 Mile House is out on Bayshore Boulevard.

Woody: Yeah. So, those are typical roadhouses. You're on your way someplace and you're like, how far am I from San Francisco? And Stop at [00:05:00] the 5 Mile House.

David: Well, we have digressed. We're not talking about west San Francisco, which is what we do.

Woody: Yes. But we have talked about roadhouses a little, get a little background, because those are big roadhouses. But you're right. West San Francisco in the 1860s, 1870s, was open land. It was rural, it was sand dunes, it was scrub, it was agriculture. It was not built-up San Francisco like you think of it now.

David: Those maps show streets and stuff though.

Woody: Yeah, well the maps were made and they said these were where the streets are going to be, but they weren't there then. They were just big, open, empty land with little roads going through and roadhouses dotting the road. And let me tell you something else, David.

David: Tell me.

Woody: In the old days when young men wanted to have a little fun, they'd get on a horse, they'd get in a carriage, they'd pack up with liquor and cigars, and they'd go out the old Point Lobos Road early in the morning, which is now Geary Boulevard, and they would stop at roadhouses on the way to get all the way to the Cliff House, look at the seals on Seal [00:06:00] Rocks, have a drink there. Then they'd race their horses and carts and carriages and things on Ocean Beach and go down to where Ocean Avenue hits the beach.

David: Down the Great Highway.

Woody: Yeah. And all along the Great Highway, what do you think there were?

David: Roadhouses.

Woody: That's right. Roadhouses. And then they'd hit Ocean Avenue and they'd go back Ocean Avenue, which wound its way to Mission Street and then head on back to their homes.

David: Ocean Avenue, right? It's still there.

Woody: And yeah, and all along Ocean Avenue?

David: Roadhouses.

Woody: Exactly. And some of these were big things. I mean like the Ingleside Inn, Basically, the neighborhood got named Ingleside eventually. But it started with the Ingleside Inn, so they had big effects on the future neighborhoods.

David: How did it get the name Ingleside?

Woody: So, an Ingleside is like a Celtic term for “beside a fire”, an ingle.

David: Oh.

Woody: Like a fireplace.

David: So, it was a place to warm up, just as you're starting to get back to civilization.

Woody: Right.

David: Or not even [00:07:00] quite.

Woody: You're out in the cold, foggy, west side of town, you wanna sit by a fire.

David: It's cold and foggy out, the west side town.

Woody: Right now, would you like to have a hot toddy?

David: Oh. Fairly early.

Woody: Even though, a little early in the day for a hot toddy? What happened at these roadhouses? What do you think the roadhouse was? Was it just a bar? What do you think they were?

David: Well, I bet they had food.

Woody: Yeah.

David: I bet they had music.

Woody: Yeah.

David: I bet they had entertainment of all sorts.

Woody: Yes. Here's a little note from the San Francisco Call, back in, a newspaper back in 1901, and it was talking about roadhouses. And it said they were “patronized by the men of finance, politics, and brain workers, generally, who found temporary surcease from business struggles in a drive to the beach with a breakfast or lunch at some popular wayside place.” So, they were actually not just sort of the lower classes, these were like businessmen.

David: The lower [00:08:00] classes didn't have horses they could ride out somewhere, or a carriage, maybe.

Woody: Right. So, these roadhouses, even though they could get a little sketchy at times, had some pretty wealthy and well thought of people going to them. Here's another quote. This is from the Chronicle of 1889, and this is funny. This is 1889, and they're talking about the old days out at the Ocean Beach area and an old roadhouse. “If these walls could speak, they could tell many a tale of soft whisperings of love, of dark schemes laid by wily sports, of star chambered intrigues by politicians, of good dinners and late returns to town, in which latter, the safe arrival of the pleasure parties was as much owing to the sense of the horses as the wine-clouded intellects of the lords of creation who manipulated the reins.”

David: The horse knows the way home.

Woody: Better than the wine-clouded intellect of the lords of creation. But that's how [00:09:00] roadhouses were thought of. It was sort of like a fashionable thing to do, to drive out and have a drink, listen to some music, have a meal, maybe get in a card game.

David: So, how many were there? I mean, so we're talking about this route, the Point Lobos Road out to the Cliff House, down Ocean Beach and back up Ocean to Mission Street.

Woody: Right. Or vice versa. You could go the other route too.

David: How, well, you have to go up the hill at the end then. Anyway, how many were there?

Woody: Well, the little…

David: What were some of the names of them?

Woody: They all, they had some colorful names. They were often called, like the Breakers, talking about the waves at the beach, or the Surf, or the Crest. All about water themed ideas. The Cliff House was named for the cliff, of course. There was the Ocean House. Again, it was all about where it was. The Lake House, which was near Lake Merced. And others had more sort of colorful names. They'd be the Forest or the [00:10:00] Ingleside Inn. Or they'd be named after the person who ran them. Canary Cottage, the M&M, Sheehan’s.

David: I remember one…

Woody: Dibble’s.

David: Called, called the Chickery.

Woody: No, the Chickery was a chicken restaurant. It wasn't really a roadhouse.

David: Aah.

Woody: Sorry. But you make a good point. Because the Chickery came around in the ‘20s, and in the late ‘10s, roadhouses were kind of a little more disreputable. People had cars and automobiles and then go to more roadhouses, and there was quite an uproar about unescorted women hanging out in roadhouses.

David: Unescorted.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That probably didn't last too long with their unescortedness.

Woody: Well, they hope not, because the Examiner had a secret reporter go out and he would, like, chat up some of these unescorted women who would tell him that, quote “They're in it for the coin.” End quote. So, all sorts of little, what you might imagine could happen, were happening out in the roadhouses. But they're mostly gone except for the Cliff House. [00:11:00] And, I wouldn't, you know, maybe some others. Do we know of any other roadhouses that we could talk about? Actually, we found a roadhouse recently.

David: Yeah, we did find a roadhouse recently, right on the Great Highway there. Maybe it's on La Playa. We're not sure.

Woody: Yeah, it's right where La Playa turns into Great Highway. And this was funny because it was just, it looks like an apartment building. It is an apartment building.

David: Yeah. It's got like 20 apartments in it.

Woody: It's kind of unattractive from the front.

David: Ugly.

Woody: But we had heard that there was some remnants of roadhouse decoration.

David: Décor, yeah.

Woody: Decor inside. And so, what did we do, David?

David: So, a couple years ago we got the, we got a tip that there was some kind of decorations inside. And so, we went out there to look at it with the help of one of the residents. And we got up in between the floors, between the second and third floor and yeah, we saw some [00:12:00] old…

Woody: Wallpaper.

David: Wallpaper and lighting fixtures, but nothing that really impressed us.

Woody: Yeah.

David: What we didn't get in between was this first and second floor where there was a locked panel.

Woody: Right. Like a crawlspace hatch on the ceiling.

David: Yeah. We couldn't get in there. That, and we've kind of put it on the back burner.

Woody: Yeah.

David: But then last year sometime, we found a picture of the Breakers.

Woody: Which the building used to be. The apartment building used to be called the Breakers.

David: And it looked very different, but we were able to figure out that it was the same building. And so, we redoubled our efforts to get in there, found the building manager, who had the key to that locked panel.

Woody: Yeah, got us in.

David: And got us in. And when I crawled through that hatch, I couldn't believe my eyes. We saw the whole [00:13:00] upper five feet of this amazing ornate dance hall bar, restaurant. Two long, two gigantic rooms with this maritime, not maritime, but fish…

Woody: Sort of fanciful.

David: Fancy fish, and aquatic.

Woody: Yeah. Aquatic is the term.

David: Aquatic. Amazing aquatic motif.

Woody: Yeah.

David: With fish jumping and swimming and hanging off the ceiling and light fixtures and wall sconces.

Woody: Yeah, seaweed and kind of, sort of like, marine flowering things. But I think the thing that really kind of blew my mind where those chandeliers. They had these collars around them. And this was all sort of stucco and wire, these sort of decorations that were kind of, they're 3D, they're sticking out. And around these chandelier collars were these fish that had chains hanging [00:14:00] out their mouths.

David: They seemed to be jumping out of the waves.

Woody: Yeah.

David: With a fish line in their mouth, kind of.

Woody: Yeah. And they'd have these long chains coming out of their mouth, and then it would terminate in a light fixture. So, they obviously had…

David: No light fixtures left then.

Woody: No. But they obviously had at one point these light fixtures hanging from around the edges of the chandelier. And the thing that I think was, it was all so godly painted at one point, you could tell. And then the fire marshal at some point had kind of sprayed it all with fire retardants.

David: Beige fire retardant paint.

Woody: It just kind of killed the paint. But every now and then we'd see a little part that the fire retardant didn't hit. And when you'd see this, like, aqua marine collar, a gold gilding on the fish. It was very neat, and kind of unexpected. Okay. Very unexpected. Very amazingly unexpected.

David: I was shocked.

Woody: Yeah. And so, that was kind of cool. So, one of the roadhouses came back to life for us.

David: Right. And it's just hidden there. And there's, I don't see any way to get [00:15:00] any of the stuff out without tearing out the apartments.

Woody: Pretty delicate.

David: Yeah. I think it's just gonna stay entombed in that building.

Woody: I love stuff like that. You know, it's like the secret, the secret stash. The secret treasure hidden between floors. It’s just…

David: You never know where you're gonna find it. And there may be more, maybe more in another building somewhere.

Woody: Yeah, maybe there's more. I mean, there are definitely some larger, odd buildings along Ocean Beach and we might find more old roadhouse memorabilia. Hey David. You know, we talk about how many people listen to our podcast?

David: Yeah.

Woody: And we wonder if anybody does? Well, we got an email, another complimentary email.

David: One person listens to our podcast.

Woody: That’s right! At least another one. David Lanier says, he sent us an email from Colorado Springs. He grew up in the Outer Sunset, spent the first 48 years of his life at 46th Avenue and Judah, very close to the Breakers. And he listens to the podcast and loves it [00:16:00] and thinks what we do is great. So, we have at least one fan in Colorado.

David: One fan. That's enough for me.

Woody: That'll get you going another week.

David: Yeah.

Woody: One more week. One more fan in Colorado. Well, you're gonna miss the roadhouse talk tonight, but maybe we'll do it again. It's such an interesting topic. And we'll see how this event goes tonight. I think we're gonna have lots of excited young people fired up about history.

David: That's right. New podcast fans.

Woody: That's right. So, thank you David for talking about roadhouses with me today.

David: Thank you, Woody.

Woody: And this is the Outside Land San Francisco podcast. We'll see you next time.

David: [Makes news ticker sounds.]

Woody: We have exit music.

David: Oh.

Woody: We don't need the do-do-do-do. Cue the exit music.

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at [00:17:00] outsidelands.org.

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