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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 59: Doggie Diner Head

Seven-foot-tall dachshund wearing chef's hat? Sounds like San Francisco landmark #254 on Sloat Boulevard in the Sunset District.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Feb 18, 2014

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 59: Doggie Diner Head Outside Lands Podcast Episode 59: Doggie Diner Head

(above) Doggie Diner, 1983, 1983

Doggie Diner at Sloat Boulevard and 46th Avenue, December 1983
Photo by Jim Cassedy

Podcast Transcription

59 - Doggie Diner Head

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

David: I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: An angry David Gallagher today.

David: I'm David Gallagher. I'm really irritated.

Woody: What's, what's bothering you today, David? Notice I say today, because I know there's something every day.

David: There aren't as many good places to have lunch as there used to be, Woody.

Woody: Really?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Because here in the diverse Richmond district, there are a billion good places to have lunch, I think. But what are you thinking of?

David: I want a hot dog. You want to start over?

Woody: I know you don't want a hot dog. David. David.

David: All right, we’ll start over.

Woody: David. David. David.

David: We’ll start over.

Woody: John King, our friend over [00:01:00] at the San Francisco Chronicle.

David: Architectural critic.

Woody: Yeah. And, and SF Gate. If you want to just get all Internet-y on everything.

David: Hey, we are coming to you live from the internet right now, Woody.

Woody: That's true. We are. He wrote a little piece the other day about San Francisco Landmark number 254. Which I know you have them all memorized.

David: Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep: The Doggie Diner head!

Woody: That's right. The Doggie Diner head. Now, I would say, I don't know if there was a more controversial landmarking up to that point, but when the Doggie Diner head was designated by the city of San Francisco as an official City landmark, I think there was some, not an outcry, but people kind of shaking their heads. Like, only in San Francisco would they do something like that.

David: I went to something at like the Department of Building Inspection, like a lecture there, and they were talking about landmarks, and they had a map with colored spaces on each [00:02:00] one. And whoever was giving the lecture said, “And what's this tiny dot? Anybody? Anybody? The Doggie Diner head.”

Woody: And was there…

David: “Out on Sloat.” And there was kind of some snickers and…

Woody: Guffaws.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Groans maybe. But I got to say, you know, David, because of the Western Neighborhoods Project, the Doggie Diner head, is right up our alley. We love the underdog.

David: Literally. We are the underdog.

Woody: We love the, we love the kitschy. We love the stuff that is part of popular culture in the Avenues, but maybe isn't appreciated outside of it. And so, the Doggie Diner head is just perfect for us.

David: I think the Doggie Diner head has reached cult status at this point.

Woody: It has, it has. The only thing that might be eclipsing it these days is the Sutro Tower, which maybe we'll save for another podcast. But explain what the Doggie Diner head is to people like in Pennsylvania, snowy Pennsylvania, listening to our podcast. What is the Doggie Diner head? [00:03:00]

David: So, the Doggie Diner was a chain of fast-food restaurants that specialized in hotdogs. They had hamburgers and milkshakes, that sort of thing. Kind of a drive-in sort of place. But I don't believe there was a drive-in Doggie Diner.

Woody: Hmm. I don't think so. No.

David: No car service. No. But anyway, one of the things they had were these eight-foot fiberglass dog heads.

Woody: Dash hounds.

David: Dachshunds!

Woody: I always call them dash hounds.

David: You're, yeah, you're wrong. Wearing a chef's hat. Now that was also the logo, but they made these 3-D sculptures eight-feet tall, and they put them up on a pole in front of each restaurant and they would rotate. And they had a little “DD” insignia on the, on the hat.

Woody: And they had big bow ties.

David: Big bow ties, yeah.

Woody: I mean this, this was a very dapper dog.

David: That's right.

Woody: And he was red. They were very red. Like, like, those kind of dogs are. [00:04:00]

David: While you're listening to this on the internet, you could be looking up Doggie Diner.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And to see exactly what we're talking about.

Woody: Right. So, this is this kitschy roadside advertisement for this Doggie Diner, this chain of diners. And it's a big, seven-foot, eight-foot fiberglass head that spins around on a pole.

David: And there were a number of them around San Francisco.

Woody: I think there were something like forty-five, forty-six Doggie Diner restaurants in the Bay Area.

David: In the Bay Area,

Woody: Isn’t that nutty?

David: But in San Francisco, I think there were, I can think of five or six, maybe seven off the top of my head.

Woody: Yeah. Growing up in the Richmond district, we had three just in the Richmond district. I mean, there was one on 25th, there was one at 11th, and there was another one like down at Arguello, I think.

David: Oh.

Woody: So, we had lots of Doggie Diner options. It was a big part of my youth. So, the Doggie Diner chain starts in 1949. A gentleman named Al Ross was the founder of it. But the heads were designed by this designer, Harold Bachman. [00:05:00] And, he’s, you know, wasn't a famous world class designer or anything,

David: A sign maker.

Woody: Yes. But he created something that really stuck in the memory of one Richmond District boy. I can tell you that.

David: More than one. More than one.

Woody: So, why would possibly, so Doggie Diner starts in ‘49. Expands. There's like forty-nine of them, forty-six of them. We don't know how many, and then they start contracting. I remember, probably the early ‘80s, was that the last time there was a Doggie Diner around?

David: Yeah, I feel like it. I mean, I remember the one at 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra up there right as you get off Highway 1 there.

Woody: Yeah, they, they, a lot of them closed, but continued operating as restaurants. And the one over on Sloat that we're going to talk about today, Sloat and about 46th Avenue, it was called for years, Carousel.

David: Right.

Woody: But so essentially served the same sort of stuff that Doggie Diner did.

David: But still had the dog, it still had the head.

Woody: It still had the head. So that's probably where we're moving now. David. How does this [00:06:00] head become a City landmark?

David: When you are faced with extinction, and you are the last of your kind.

Woody: That's not true though, but okay, go on.

David: People start to worry. They don't want the very last remnant of a memory to be excised from the landscape.

Woody: So, the rarity factor is what came into play, because it was still up on a pole surviving all the other ones that had been on poles.

David: Right.

Woody: And that's what made it special. Now we should say it's not the only Doggie Diner head in existence, right?

David: No. We know of at least three more. I think there are more than three more. I remember there, I used to see one in South City all the time.

Woody: Yeah. I, somebody sent me one, it was like a vineyard in the Napa Valley. Somebody's got a Doggie Diner head sitting in a field.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Just rusting. But the three you're talking about are pretty well known now, kind of a counter-cultural symbol in San Francisco. [00:07:00]

Right. They, they're owned by a fellow named John Law, and he has them on a trailer and he drags them around on the trailer to various events. You know, usually art things or, or counterculture…

Woody: Yeah.

David: Events.

Woody: And they're often, sometimes, like I've seen them kind of yarn bombed, like where somebody did a whole yarn thing and wrapped them up in yarn and…

David: Yeah, that happened last year.

Woody: Yeah.

David: I don't, don't, that artist's name was Olek. I don't know who Olek is, or if he yarn bombs things with regularity but…

Woody: And they're often in the Zippy The Pinhead comic strip done by Bill Griffith. And so…

David: That's right.

Woody: They're kind of, they are, they're icons. They're kind of like this alternative society vision icon. Like, what does the Doggie Diner head mean? Does have to mean anything? Who knows?

David: Right.

Woody: But the one on the pole at Carousel was just advertising the diner, and then the diner [00:08:00] was under threat of being taken over by Sloat Garden, which is right next door. They actually own the property and they were going to close the restaurant. So, the question came up. What….

David: What's going to happen to the head!?

Woody: And this is where our friends who lived just like a block away, Diana Scott and Joel Shechter jumped in, and they really started lobbying to save the Doggie Diner head. This is back in 1999, 2000, right? And surprisingly enough, because we've seen so many of these things fail. You know, people rally, it's beloved, everybody gets behind it, but there's no money, there's no political will, and it fails. This one succeeded.

David: Yay!

Woody: And they convinced the Board of Supervisors eventually to make it a City landmark. They, the City, actually spent the money to fix it all up. But something happened, something terrible happened. Right in the midst of that. April Fool's Day, a big windstorm.

David: It fell down.

Woody: And the nose got crushed.

David: Nose got damaged, right.

Woody: It was terrible! It was horrible in the [00:09:00] paper and everything because the pole was all rusty. It was April Fool's Day 2001. That's when it happened.

David: Wow.

Woody: Yeah. And just, I mean, just in the nick of time, they were saving it, because if it had fallen down five years earlier, it just would've been trashed.

David: Yeah.

Woody: I think, but…

David: Or even a year earlier, maybe.

Woody: Maybe, yeah. So, Diana Scott and Joel Schechter, you know, they, they saved the day. They got the Doggie Diner head turned into a landmark and they moved him. They fixed him all up and they repainted him, and they moved him right to the center median of Sloat Boulevard.

David: Right. He's like the Guardian of the beach now.

Woody: Yeah, and it's funny, I was on the committee when they were talking about resituating him and they were trying to figure out should he face the traffic coming to the beach? Or should he face out over the ocean? And we decided he should face the traffic coming to the beach. Kind of welcome people…

David: Right.

Woody: To the beach.

David: Well, what we said before was they used to rotate, so…

Woody: Yeah, that would be cool.

David: He doesn't rotate.

Woody: He doesn't.And they just gave him a paint job. I mean, that we're talking about a good ten years ago now that all happened. [00:10:00] Over. So, the Department of Public Works gave him a nice remodel paint job. So.

David: That was nice of them. I understand they do something nice every Valentine's Day.

Woody: They do. The first dedication I went to it, was on a Valentine's Day, and ever since then, they've been they've been having a little party. They give out cookies, they have doggies come and celebrate with the Doggie Diner head. So.

David: So, what was it about that location that made it good for Doggie Diner?

Woody: It's across from the zoo and it was at the beach.

David: Right. The zoo, the main entrance of the zoo used to be right there. You would walk in down the ramp and pay your 50 cents.

Woody: The old main entrance.

David: Now it's just kind of a backwater to the zoo.

Woody: That little stretch of Sloat always had like hamburger stands and waffle stands and ice cream places because it was, well, a streetcar line used to go down there to deliver people to the zoo. And then the zoo people would drive and park right there on Sloat to go to the zoo and people would go to the beach. So, all of those things were, made it a good [00:11:00] little commercial strip for like a diner type business.

David: I remember going to Leon's Barbecue down there.

Woody: Oh. Everybody misses Leon's barbecue.

David: I didn't say I missed it. No, I miss it. I miss it.

Woody: That little shack. It's still there. Nothing's happened with that shack.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It's totally begging to be something

David: Something is going to happen with that, I think.

Woody: Yeah. I think it's part of that whole block is going to be redeveloped.

David: We like John's Ocean Beach Cafe too.

Woody: Yeah, yeah.

David: That’s one of our favorites.

Woody: And you know, we have a connection to this too, because we've become known the last few years of having Fat Boy. What's Fat Boy?

David: Fat Boy is a sign that we have that came off of another kind of roadside food stand.

Woody: Yeah. Fat Boy Barbecue Cabin. And there was one exactly where the Carousel was because Fat Boy was there before Doggie Diner. And there was another one down Lincoln Way and Great Highway. [00:12:00]

David: Yeah.

Woody: And so, this sign, I think came from the Lincoln Way and Great Highway one. But if you were to describe this Fat Boy sign, what is, what does it actually look like?

David: Well, Fat Boy is a, is a rather rotund fellow with, wearing shorts and a striped shirt and slicked down hair. And he's winking.

Woody: And like Doggie Diner head. He's got a bow tie.

David: He does have a bow tie! You have to look good when you're eating in a little food joint in the street.

Woody: Yeah. Yeah. So, we're going to bring Fat Boy to the History Expo on March 1st and 2nd at the Old Mint.

David: Fat Boy always makes it to the History Expo.

Woody: But do you think? Well, well -- we were saying I would love to have a Doggie Diner head and actually somebody, I don't know if it was a crank call, but somebody actually called us once and said they had a Doggie Diner head they wanted to sell for $10,000.

David: Oh yeah. That was out of our budget.

Woody: But I love it. I wish we had one. I wish we had a Doggie Diner head.

David: I remember that, but that's when we were on Taraval and we thought, [00:13:00] how could we even fit it in here? The ceilings were fairly low. But maybe the Doggie Diner heads will come to the History Expo.

Woody: John Law’s Doggie Diner heads. Well, they're being fixed up themselves.

David: Oh, that's probably why they won't come to the…

Woody: Yeah, because he just had a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to help fix them up and keep them looking good for the next twenty years. Just like the Doggie Diner head on Sloat.

David: They need it. You know, fiberglass.

Woody: I, I, so should a kitschy, roadside diner sign sort of thing be landmarked? Do you think that's part of American culture? Should be saved?

David: I think roadside culture is part of America's culture. And while it's not the same as some of the wonderful buildings downtown, or some of the amazing homes that we have in some parts of San Francisco. It is, it's a touchstone for a lot of [00:14:00] people. You know, a lot of people went through those doors at Doggie Diner and, and looked up at the dog.

Woody: Yeah. I think what's good about it is, that, people might think it's tacky, but, you know, do we want to remember just the amazing masterpieces that are done by, you know, famous architects? Or do we want to remember stuff that our great grandparents experienced? And I think we want to remember both. So, it's great. I do.

David: Do you think we'll have a landmark to Subway Sandwich shops?

Woody: I don't think so. But I could be wrong. You know, because the thing is, I would say about Subway Sandwich is the signs are so pedestrian, right? It's just a logo and a piece of plastic. But maybe that's what people thought about the giant seven-foot fiberglass Doggie Diner heads. You know, they are mass produced, so. Well, that is San Francisco Landmark 254. One of the only landmarks in the Sunset District. Really.

David: Really?

Woody: Yeah. There's only like three or four. That’s not too many.

David: We got to get some more out here.

Woody: Yeah, but that is [00:15:00] a definite San Francisco-like landmark. I think you talk to somebody in the East Coast and you say, oh yeah, we've got landmarks out here. Giant fiberglass dog head, you know? They'd be like, yeah, it's California all over. But we'll bring Fat Boy to the History Expo and what else are we bringing to the History Expo, David? Just to give people a sneak peek.

David: Well, we're going to bring some, you know, some things on the Mid-Winter Fair. It was in Golden Gate Park, 1894.

Woody: So, a hundred-twentieth anniversary of that.

David: Yeah. So, we'll bring some pictures and information about that.

Woody: Sounds great. David, I think we should tell everybody one last time. This will be the last time. That they should join the Western Neighborhoods Project and become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project.

David: It's, it's the last time we're going to say?

Woody: This is the last time. I'm never going to do it again.

David: Really?

Woody: Yes. I will have you do it every time.

David: All right. All right. Maybe, maybe everyone listening is already a member and that's why they get tired of [00:16:00] listening to our pitch for that.

Woody: I know some people aren't members who listen.

David: Really?

Woody: Yes, I do. But how would those people, now that they feel guilty, join the Western Neighborhoods Project?

David: Well, they can go to the website at outsidelands.org. And click on the Become a Member link.

Woody: It's only like eight cents a day. It works out, over the course of a year. You know that, to become a basic member?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Yeah. So that's it. That's my last pledge drive announcement from now on. David, you're going to do it.

David: Okay. Perfect.

Woody: Okay. Come to the History Expo. You can join and become a member there too, right?

David: Yeah. You can.

Woody: Yeah. March 1st and 2nd.

David: Coming right up.

Woody: Saturday and Sunday. Old Mint, Fifth and Mission.

David: It’s like a week away.

Woody: Yeah. All right, David. I'll see you there for sure.

David: All righty.

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

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