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Streetwise: A Look Back to 1923 in the Western Neighborhoods

by Frank Dunnigan
January 2023
Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Sometimes, we take local infrastructure for granted, thinking that certain civic and/or commercial improvements have “always” been there. Looking back through the photo archives serves to remind us that many of the things that we take for granted today came about through some very deliberate planning in the years following the end of the First World War.
Mayor James Rolph at dedication of the L-Taraval line extension, January 14, 1923 - Courtesy of St. Cecilia Parish Archives.
When the Twin Peaks Tunnel began use for streetcar service in February of 1918, the L-Taraval line extended only to 33rd Avenue—which was then a very sparsely populated area. Anticipating further residential growth plus the coming completion of the Zoo and the Fleishhacker Pool in 1925, the L-Taraval line was extended to 46th Avenue, with much civic fanfare, as shown here on January 14, 1923.
Breon Gate at 19th Avenue and Lincon Way, November 20, 1936 - SF Parks image / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Philanthropist Christine Breon, a long-time supporter of the Shriner’s Hospital that was located on 19th Avenue between Lawton and Moraga, paid for this grand entrance to Golden Gate Park, which was dedicated in August of 1923 (though the inscription states 1924). Shown here in 1936, the tall column that was located within the Park itself was removed when the roadway was changed to build Crossover Drive in order to provide access to the newly opened Golden Gate Bridge, as part of the 19th Avenue/Highway 1 widening project circa 1940. Learn more about it on the Outside Lands Podcast about the Breon Gate.
Irving Morrow rendering for West Portal Theater and shops, 1923 - courtesy of Irving F. and Gertrude Comfort Morrow Collection, Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley.
By the early 1920s, movies had become a popular form of entertainment, and many new theatres were opening and being planned for residential areas in the western half of San Francisco. These 1923 architectural drawings for the Portal Theatre were scaled back slightly during construction before its grand opening in 1925. The theatre became known as the Empire in 1936, was subdivided into a 3-plex in 1974, and became known as the Cine Arts at the Empire just after the turn of the millennium. Temporarily closed in early 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic, the operators walked away from their lease one year later, according to news reports, with the site currently remaining vacant.
The second Parkside School on 25th Avenue near Vicente, May 7, 1923 - courtesy of PDIC Scrapbooks.
A growing population of school-age children led to the construction of a new Parkside School in 1922, with its main entrance facing the 2500 block of 24th Avenue, shown here on May 7, 1923. It was closed in 1975, with the building used for administrative offices for many years, before being demolished in 2004. By 2006, it was replaced with “Dianne Feinstein School at the Parkside Campus.” Read more about the Parkside School.
A posed traffic stop on 19th Avenue near Lawton in front of Shriner's Hospital, 1926 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Shriner’s Hospital, a pediatric care facility on 19th Avenue, was constructed in 1922-23 by the fraternal order and shown here a few years after its opening 100 years ago. Read more about Shriner's Hospital.
San Francisco Firehouse No. 39 at 1091 Portola, May 7, 1923 - DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer - SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
San Franciscans who remembered the devastation of the 1906, enthusiastically approved many bond issues in subsequent years for infrastructure improvements that included reservoirs, a high-pressure hydrant system, and new fire stations. This one on Portola Drive, shown in 1923 with a brick façade, was later remodeled with a stucco exterior. Read more about San Francisco's fire-fighting infrastructure.
Auto advertisement photo showing construction of Fleishhacker Pool, 1923 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
San Francisco banker and philanthropist Herbert Fleishhacker was appointed President of the City’s Park Commission by Mayor James Rolph in 1918. While serving on the Commission, Fleishhacker donated to the building of what was then known as the Fleishhacker Zoo on Sloat Boulevard, as well as the adjacent Fleishhacker Pool (shown here under construction in 1923) that operated until 1971. The pool’s abandoned bathhouse stood at the site long after the pool’s closure and was destroyed in a blaze on December 1, 2012, leaving only an ornate wall as a memorial to the generous philanthropy of the Fleishhacker Family. Read more about Fleishhacker Pool and see an image of what remains of it.
Auto advertisement photo showing construction of the Palace of Legion of Honor, 1923 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Another generous San Francisco philanthropist of the 1920s and beyond was Alma deBretteville Spreckels whose money and efforts brought about construction of the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum at Lincoln Park, and its collection if fine art. Here, the grand building is shown under construction in 1923. Learn more about Mrs. Spreckels and her generous gift to San Francisco in Outside Lands Podcast episode #220.
View northeast from Taraval Street and 27th Avenue, August 24, 1923 - Department of Public Works photograph 8906.
Although construction of Sunset District homes and businesses was well underway by the World War I era, vacant lots were still plentiful in the 1920s and beyond. The corner of 27th and Taraval, looking east, shown here in August of 1923, is now occupied by apartment buildings, a restaurant, an auto repair facility, and much more traffic.
Commodore Sloat School at Junipero Serra and Derien, May 7, 1923 - DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer - SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Originally constructed in the early 1920s and significantly rebuilt in the 1970s, Commodore Sloat School is shown here in 1923. It has been a visible part of the neighborhood at Junipero Serra Boulevard and Ocean Avenue for more than 100 years. Today the school contains 16 classrooms serving students in Grades K-5. Read more about the history of Commodore Sloat School.
View west on Clement from 34th Avenue with Lincoln Park on right, circa 1923 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
In 1923, horses still represented a definite presence on the streets of San Francisco. Brick installations down the center of many hilly streets, such as this section of Clement Street near 34th Avenue, were constructed to provide better footing for horse-drawn vehicles. Paved areas on the sides of the bricks were for the benefit of motor vehicle traffic.

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