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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 25: Oceanview

Stories of frog ponds, unbalanced street grids, and Death's Crossing in San Francisco's Oceaniewv neighborhood.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Jun 28, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 25: Oceanview Outside Lands Podcast Episode 25: Oceanview

(above) Alemany from Sickles, Mar 2, 1926

[Proposed Alemany Blvd, Sagamore St. west from Sickles Avenue dpwbook36 dpw10203]
DPW Horace Chaffee


Podcast Transcription

WNP25 – Oceanview

Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco. I'm Woody LaBounty from the Western Neighborhoods Project.

David: I'm David Gallagher, also from the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Woody: In fact, we're here at the Western Neighborhoods Project.

David: In our beautiful office on Taraval.

Woody: Taraval.

David: Taraval.

Woody: Sounds so exotic.

David: What is, what is the name, what does the word Taraval come from, Woody?

Woody: I heard, and I don't know if this is true, and somebody probably knows out there, that all these streets, you know, in the Sunset are named for Spanish explorers. Most of them are.

David: Members of the De Anza expedition?

Woody: Different expeditions. Ortega, you know, all these guys. Sergeant Ortega, Jose Ortega.

David: Ortega. He discovered San Francisco Bay, Woody.

Woody: Discovered, David? We don’t say that anymore.

David: Well, he was the first European. He saw San Francisco Bay.

Woody: So have I. We don't have a street named after me.

David: First [00:01:00] among Europeans.

Woody: A group of Spanish people. There were people here before that. I've been reading a book called 1491. And it's really good. It's all about sort of the native peoples before European incursion. But that's not what we're talking about. Taraval Street. I heard Taraval was actually, speaking of, some sort of Native American person in one of these…

David: Oh, that's right. He was a scout.

Woody: Scout or something on one of these expeditions. I don't know offhand. You tricked me. I didn't know you were going to throw that in. That kind of question. That's not what we're going to talk about.

David: That's right, people. Sometimes we go off script in these podcasts.

Woody: Luckily, I can edit all this. So, that's not what we're going to talk about today, David.

David: No.

Woody: No, we're going to talk about a neighborhood that perhaps a lot of native San Franciscans haven't even heard of.

David: That's right, the Oceanview.

Woody: Now, Oceanview, you would think this neighborhood has got to be pretty close to the beach. [00:02:00]

David: You would think.

Woody: But it's not.

David: It's not really. Well, it's closer than some.

Woody: Right. It’s in the western…

David: It's not as close as others.

Woody: It's in the western neighborhood.

David: And some people, I understand, call it the Lakeview District.

Woody: Right. And we will talk about that. But it definitely seems there's a view involved.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, the Oceanview, let's try to see if we can orient people as to where the Oceanview is.

David: Oceanview is kind of in the southwestern corner of the city, but not all the way to Lake Merced.

Woody: Right. It's east of Lake Merced, but way down there, right on the border.

David: Kind of in the, in the little triangle section between where 19th Avenue and where 280 split.

Woody: Right.

David: Just north of there.

Woody: Right.

David: So, if you're going north on 280, you look to your left and that's the Oceanview.

Woody: Gotcha. A lot of people see, if they're on 280, they see St. Michael's Catholic Church. Which is this very interesting building. I think it was built in the ‘70s. It kinda has…

David: Has a big [00:03:00] sloping roof.

Woody: Yeah, it kind of slopes up. It looks like a, like a ship in itself or something, like an upside-down ship.

David: You used to be able to see the old firehouse there on Broad Street. Now you can't really tell that it's a firehouse.

Woody: Well, we'll talk maybe about that in a second. But where did it get the name Oceanview? Do you know, David?

David: I would venture to guess it was a real estate developer that named it.

Woody: That is not a bad guess, but it's not exactly true.

David: Darn.

Woody: So, in the very early days of…

David: Oh I…

Woody: You know now?

David: Now I remember.

Woody: You know now. Okay. So, there was the first electric streetcar line that came from, that was in San Francisco, actually went, was supposed to go all the way down to San Jose. I think it had stopped in San Mateo. It was called the San Francisco-San Mateo Streetcar line, something like that. And we talked about it when we talked about the Sunnyside neighborhood. And Baron, Baron Joost, who kind of ran it. Anyway, that line went right by where 280 is today, and right by the Oceanview. [00:04:00] Also, there was a railroad called the San Francisco-San Jose Railroad. It was a steam train.

David: Right.

Woody: And that ran right by the Oceanview. In fact, it was like parallel to the other line. They kind of crossed each other right at where the Oceanview's heart is, essentially.

David: And that, and that line became the old Southern Pacific main line.

Woody: Right.

David: Way back.

Woody: And eventually became essentially 280. Interstate 280.

David: And BART runs along that line too. So, I mean, it's, it was a route up the Peninsula.

Woody: Right. And it was pretty much the last stop in San Francisco if you're going south. And a lot of people would get on this train downtown and they would start going south. And that stop, which they had a little platform and a little station, was supposedly the place where you could first see the Pacific Ocean going south.

David: And that was just about [00:05:00] where San Jose Avenue and Sickles intersect right? Sickles, Sagamore.

Woody: Yeah. It’s almost like a five points thing like in New York or something.

David: Plymouth comes from the other side.

Woody: Right, Plymouth Avenue. And people might know there's like a gas station. There's Chevron right there. But Plymouth, Sagamore, Sickles and there's a off ramp on the 280. It's all kind of right in that area, that’s kind of the heart of the old Oceanview where the station used to be. So, whether this is true or not, could you see the ocean real well from there? I don't know. Maybe just past that. If you walk, went up the hill a little bit, you could definitely see the ocean. But that apparently is the name they gave it. The first name they wanted to call that neighborhood, that grew up around the station, was San Miguel. Or San Miguel City was another one they kind of tossed around. Because it was part of...

David: The Rancho San Miguel.

Woody: Right. It was almost the bottom part of the old rancho [00:06:00] Mexican land grant that was called Rancho San Miguel. And that was another competing name for the neighborhood. But Oceanview won.

David: Oceanview stuck. And I mean when you stopped there, you were out in the country.

Woody: Yeah.

David: There's nothing there. Almost nothing.

Woody: That's right. There was a pond where people used to, like, hunt for frogs and, like, take them downtown to French restaurants. Yeah, it was a big pond sort of thing. Kind of a brackish, saltwaterish pond that they used to talk about.

David: Was that, what was that, Lake Geneva? Is that Lake Geneva?

Woody: No, I don't think so. Lake Geneva, we talked about, you and I have talked about this before, but it was a little bit over more towards the, going towards the Excelsior.

David: Oh, kind of where Cayuga Playground, or around, is.

Woody: Yeah. That's where, what they called Lake Geneva was.

David: Oh, but this was this other pond that was maybe the headwater of the, they called the Arroyo that now traces Brotherhood Way.

Woody: Right.

David: There was a creek that went down that way.

Woody: That's right. So, like, you know, [00:07:00] down from the hills and all this, the water would come and it would kind of, if you go there today, you can really feel it, like it just, there's an arroyo, there's sort of a natural declination into the Lake Merced.

David: Yeah, you need to get out of your car and feel the, feel the topography there.

Woody: Definitely.

David: Get down on the sidewalk, put your hands on it.

Woody: The other interesting thing about Oceanview, before it was called Oceanview, was, because of this train line coming down, very early on the Oceanview was the site of some homestead association.

David: Oh.

Woody: You've heard of homesteading before, right? But when you think of homesteading, you think of, like, Oklahoma or something.

David: Right.

Woody: But they had homestead associations in San Francisco in the early 1860s. And the idea was that you bought a share of this giant piece of land that was bought, and you owned a little section of it, essentially. And the idea, supposedly, was that you would go get your share. Put your house up and your farm and live there. But most people were doing it sort of [00:08:00] as a real estate game and just sort of buying and selling shares in these homesteads.

David: Right.

Woody: But they mapped out two homesteads right there in the Oceanview. One was called the Railroad Homestead Association, which makes sense because the railroad went by there. And they were trying to tell people like, oh, don't worry. The city's gonna expand. It's gonna blow up. You should buy land in the Railroad Homestead Association. And the other one was called, and it was more to the west, was called the City Land Homestead Association, I think. And the funny thing about this, David, that's still around today, if you go to the Oceanview, the street grids are a little off. Like if you, at Orizaba…

David: Oh yeah.

Woody: Going north south, like Broad Street turns into Randolph, you have to kind of like jog.

David: You have to jog it.

Woody: It's because the street grids are off because there were two competing homestead associations who laid out their own street plans that became part of the official city map. And they didn't match up. Isn't that [00:09:00] funny?

David: That's a good one. That's something you can go out and see today.

Woody: You can look at a map on your computer right now. If you look at, like where Orizaba Avenue is. And you'll see that on the…

David: There's two different, yeah, right at Orizaba.

Woody: Yeah. So, on the right is the old Railroad Homestead Association. And on the left…

David: That's kind of funny.

Woody: Is the city land. And they didn't match up. And even though they were on city maps.

David: In fact, the blocks just go the opposite directions almost. I have long…

Woody: I have no idea why they couldn't coordinate between the two of 'em and figure this out. But yeah, that's why it, that's why it does that, that grid is all kind of crazy there. Early, early homestead associations, like the early 1860s. But, I gotta tell you, people did not go rushing out building houses and populate the Oceanview in the 1860s.

David: Certainly not.

Woody: The map was made and land shares were bought and sold and traded but it was still too far and cold and foggy and removed from [00:10:00] everything.

David: Out in the, out in the hinterlands.

Woody: You couldn't go to work either because if you got on the train, it was expensive. You know, 50 cents or something back then.

David: Right.

Woody: It was a lot of money. What else do we know about the Oceanview, David? You mentioned a kind of a historic building out there.

David: Right, there's an old 1896 firehouse right on Broad Street near Plymouth. Now, Broad and Plymouth is kind of, downtown Oceanview.

Woody: Downtown Oceanview.

David: There's not a whole lot there, and it's very, largely residential. But there are a few businesses, a few barbershops, and a market. And the firehouse is there. A couple different things. Produce market. And this old firehouse was there.

Woody: I remember that when they built it, I read that there was a report in like 1900 saying, oh, the crew that mans the Oceanview firehouse are basically so far out in the country that [00:11:00] although they're bored half the time, they do enjoy the pleasant rural environment.

David: Right.

Woody: Because there wasn't much out there.

David: And that, and that Broad Street firehouse was, I think was supplanted by a newer firehouse. Like built in the ‘20s, maybe at San Jose and Ocean, which is kind of over the hill.

Woody: Right.

David: From where the old firehouse was.

Woody: Yeah. You know, fire engines got bigger, equipment got larger. Because the old firehouse, and this is a sad thing that hopefully it will be remedied, the old firehouse had a tower. And the reason there's a tower on the top is not because there was a bell inside or anything.

David: No.

Woody: But because they needed to dry the hoses.

David: They would hang the hoses up three stories, four stories high.

Woody: Right.

David: To dry them out.

Woody: Isn't that kind of nutty?

David: That is.

Woody: But that firehouse dates back to when they had horses, too, and they have…

David: There was a stable in it. [00:12:00] Yeah, and so some friends of ours owned that firehouse. They bought it from the city in the early ‘70s and the M Oceanview streetcar goes right by it. And I remember being told that when they first bought it, every streetcar driver had a key to the front door. And they would, they would be in their firehouse trying to live their life and someone opens the front door to use the bathroom in the firehouse. They say, hey, we live here now.

Woody: It's not a firehouse anymore.

David: Is it ok to use the bathroom? Well, all right, go ahead.

Woody: Muni doesn't really take care of the bathroom out there, I guess, huh?

David: No.

Woody: They had to use the firehouse. But the sad thing about the firehouse is that our friend sold it and the new owners tore down the hose tower, which was not good.

David: That's not okay.

Woody: We told, or we were told that they're gonna rebuild it. And hopefully they do.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Give it some of its character back.

David: Cause now it's just kind of a big square building. You can [00:13:00] guess that it was a firehouse.

Woody: Yeah.

David: But without that hose tower.

Woody: It doesn't look as much like a firehouse.

David: That's like, it's like cutting the mustache off of Teddy Roosevelt.

Woody: Yeah!

David: Can't really tell it's him anymore.

Woody: Is that true? We have a picture of Teddy Roosevelt here. I'm gonna hold up my finger and, who is that dude? No, he also had…

David: Just some guy with little round glasses and a stick.

Woody: That's right. All right, I guess we have a new aphorism. We'll just use that for all podcasts. That's like cutting the mustache off Teddy Roosevelt.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Another thing about Oceanview is I used to, I did a lot of research on it, and they had the pond with the frogs and they had the streetcar lines that kind of crossed there. And it was so dangerous that they used to call it Death's Crossing.

David: Yeah, because of the railroad.

Woody: Because there was so many accidents.

David: How do you even cross it?

Woody: It was just nutty.

David: It was an underpass that went below grade, right? It wasn't, usually you think of a trestle but I think that there was a train that went, they dug it [00:14:00] underneath.

Woody: It was just a crossing with, you had two railroad lines and an electric streetcar line I think at one point.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Going back and forth there. Plus, all the regular traffic of just wagons. Because there were a lot of farms sort of near Lake Merced. So, there was a lot of wagons bringing produce downtown.

David: Right.

Woody: On that road out there. The Oceanview though was pretty, like we said, not heavily populated until after the 1906 earthquake when a lot of these outlying lands sort of boom.

David: There's one house out there that I really like that does predate the earthquake. That's right at Plymouth and Broad. 222 Plymouth. It's kind of a farmhouse that sits on the corner.

Woody: Yeah.

David: It's got a fence around it. It's a little tough to see, but that was built in 1904.

Woody: Yeah, there's a few pre-earthquake houses for sure, and some really nice ones. The nice thing about neighborhoods that are kind of ignored, that haven't become trendy or anything, is a lot of the buildings don't get restored or renovated a lot, so you have…

David: And now after this [00:15:00] podcast, people are going to be flocking to the Oceanview.

Woody: The Oceanview. And the Oceanview also, a lot of people think that neighborhood, it's kind of part of a group of neighborhoods, gets called a lot OMI, or the OMI, which is Oceanview, Merced Heights, which is kind of the hill going up from Oceanview to the north, and Ingleside, which is even farther north.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, a lot of people call that area OMI as well. We have a lot of friends…

David: And there is a Lakeview Street, right?

Woody: Oh, right. Why is it, why do people call it Lakeview? That's true. The top of the hill is Lakeview Street. And it became a...

David: Kind of goes right over the ridge.

Woody: Yeah, it became a thing, it seems, in the ‘60s, maybe? And it's mostly among the African-American population that had moved in there after the war. They started calling the area Lakeview after that street, Lakeview Avenue. And it still sticks. There's still people who don't know it as Oceanview and call it Lakeview. Why? I don't know. They just kind of picked that street, it seems, at the top of the hill to name it.

David: There are a couple other things at the top of the hill there. [00:16:00] There's Brooks Park.

Woody: At the far end, yeah.

David: At the far end, which is a beautiful little spot, where you can see the lake and the ocean.

Woody: That's right. That whole hill was called, in the middle, there's kind of the rocks, at Orizaba.

David: The Rocky Outcrop.

Woody: Right.

David: That's what they call it. That's the park's name for it.

Woody: Nice. And then at the far east side of that ridge line, I think that, that's the one they might have called Poppy Hill or something. A lot of wildflowers used to kind of erupt all over the top of that ridge line to the north.

David: Yeah. We’ve got a couple of pictures that come from old postcards that just show a riot of color of wildflowers on that hill.

Woody: You said that so mysteriously, like it's a euphemism.

David: I read it in National Geographic the other day. It was like, here's a picture of a riot of color. So, I thought I would...

Woody: It sounds violent, yet it's pastoral.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Well that's, I don't know, Oceanview has gone through a lot of ups and downs. They had a lot of problems with drugs and crime in the [00:17:00] early ‘90s, late ‘80s.

David: Got a new library on Randolph, just a couple years old.

Woody: That's true. Maybe 10?

David: Seems like only a couple when we were out there.

Woody: But more recently, the Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center got redone.

David: That's a beautiful recreation center there, a beautiful facility.

Woody: Yeah, and it's named after a couple, a family that lived right there next to the park. Minnie and Lovie Ward, who did a lot of good work, especially in the early ‘90s to kind of fix up the Oceanview, keep crime down, get the parks and the schools rebuilt. So, that's the Oceanview, where you can still see some of the ocean sometimes.

David: Yeah, I like it out there.

Woody: And a lot of people don't know about it.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It still could use a little more economic development. A lot of empty storefronts.

David: There's not many businesses, yeah. There is a good taqueria, though.

Woody: And we want to get that old bait shop, right, as our office?

David: That's right. Capital and, Broad and Capital, I think. [00:18:00]

Woody: Yeah. That'd be great. So, that's the Oceanview, and that's the podcast. I would recommend, David, if people are not members of the Western Neighborhoods Project, that they should join.

David: Join the Western Neighborhoods Project. I mean, join the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Woody: That's right. Are you with me on this?

David: I'm a member.

Woody: Okay, well how do people join?

David: Well, they go to our website and they…

Woody: Which is?

David: Outsidelands.org, and click on the Become a Member link at the top of the page.

Woody: Right. And then you'll get newsletters and special announcements and get to go on our walks.

David: You can pay right online or you can get information on how to send us a check.

Woody: Right. And then we'll have more members, and then we can do more stuff. That's right. That sounds great. But that's it. This is the Outside Lands, oh, you have something else, David?

David: There's one more thing, Woody. July 11th, we're having a special event!

Woody: That's right.

David: July 11th at 7 p.m.

Woody: At the Vogue Theatre, Secret San [00:19:00] Francisco, Adventures in History.

David: Adventures in History.

Woody: Which is our movie of old clips and newsreels and interesting home movies that we put together.

David: And witty repartee that we add live.

Woody: That's right. We do add some witty repartee. And 7 p.m. on July 11th, which is a…

David: Thursday.

Woody: Thursday, at the Vogue Theater, Sacramento Street and Presidio Avenue.

David: I suggest buying tickets in advance, which you can do on our website on the front page. There's a link.

Woody: Good, because the last one sold out. And some people were sad.

David: Some people were sad. Not me. Well, I was sad for them, but…

Woody: We were happy to sell out. So buy, buy, buy while you can. And for now, bye, bye, bye, David.

David: Goodbye, Woody.

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at OutsideLands.org [00:20:00]

On the Map (click marker for larger map)
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