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Streetwise: Fill 'Er Up in the Western Neighborhoods

by Frank Dunnigan
March 2024

Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Over the years, residents of the western neighborhoods have not had access to quite so many gas stations as in earlier times. Once popular along every neighborhood shopping street and many residential street corners, gas stations have often been replaced in recent years by housing, retail, offices, houses of worship, or sometimes even vacant lots. Read on to see the fate of some places that many people visited regularly in days gone by — though some still remain active.

Richfield Service Station on the southeast corner of Noriega Street and 27th Avenue, circa 1948 - Courtesy of Al and Julie Alden.
27th AVENUE & NORIEGA STREET — This Richfield station, once popular among neighborhood kids for its root-beer Popsicles, was replaced with three floors of residential condominiums above ground floor businesses in 1981.

View north on 19th Avenue near Lincoln Way toward the entrance of Golden Gate Park, circa 1930 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
19th AVENUE & LINCOLN WAY — These two gas stations (Associated on the left and Shell on the right) once had the distinction of being the first station that drivers encountered after exiting the Golden Gate Bridge and heading south (Associated) and the final station they passed when heading north to the bridge (Shell). The Associated station closed in the late 1970s and was replaced by Arthur’s at the Park in 1980 — a fairly short-lived restaurant operated by Art Zimmerman, owner of the Zim’s chain. There were attempts to install musical entertainment on the second floor, but that idea was abandoned in the face of neighborhood opposition. The site went through a number of other restaurant operations over the years and the 10,500-square-foot property is currently being used as a house of worship. The Shell station at right, rebuilt at the turn of the millennium, remains in business as a full-service gas station today.

Carl's Service at 6901 Geary Boulevard on the southwest corner of 33rd Avenue, 1951 - SFPL Assessors Office Collection.
33rd AVENUE & GEARY BOULEVARD — This station, on the southwest corner of 33rd and Geary, was replaced in 2006 by a mixed-use building known as 501-33rd Avenue/6901 Geary Boulevard, with three stories of residential condominiums above ground floor business spaces.

Northeast corner of Balboa and 37th Avenue, 1951 - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
37th AVENUE & BALBOA STREET — This Shell station was demolished for the 1975 construction of a three-story building with 15 apartment units, plus a ground floor restaurant and retail space.

View west from Geary near Stanyan, May 10, 1960 - Photo by George Fanning / SFMTA.
GEARY BOULEVARD & STANYAN STREET — The McKale’s 76 station at the southwest corner of Geary and Stanyan was demolished for the 2018 construction of three floors of condominium units above ground-floor retail space, now known as 1 Stanyan Street. Note the prominent Ben-Hur movie ad above the marquee of the Coronet Theater, a site that is now home to a recently-built senior-living facility.

View east on Judah from 19th Avenue, April 8, 1941 - Photo by Horace Chaffee, SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
19th AVENUE & JUDAH STREET — This site remained a Union 76 station for many years, but in recent times, it has been rebranded as a Valero station. Note the adjacent billboard promoting See’s Easter candy; this photo was taken on April 8, 1941, and Easter that year was just five days later, on April 13, 1941.

Southeast corner of 16th Avenue & Irving, circa 1938 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
16th AVENUE & IRVING STREET — For many years, this Union 76 station was a neighborhood landmark of the Inner Sunset. Closed and threatened with demolition, there were hopes that the unique structure might be repurposed into a new use. Sadly, it fell to the wrecking ball in 2018, and the site remains a vacant lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. Read Lorri Ungaretti’s 2013 article on the station, and this article about the end of the station.

Southeast corner of Laguna Honda Boulevard and Plaza Street, circa 1933 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
LAGUNA HONDA BOULEVARD NEAR PLAZA STREET — Remodeled since the time of this 1933 image, this service station (just north of the Forest Hill Muni station) remained active for another 70 years until it was demolished and replaced by a three-story condominium building in 2004.

View easterly on West Portal from 14th Avenue, circa 1970 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
WEST PORTAL AVENUE & 14th AVENUE — The old Safeway store and the adjacent Shell station on the northeast corner of 14th Avenue and West Portal at right were demolished in the early 1970s and replaced by a one-story bank building on the Safeway site and a one-story office building on the site of the Shell station. Of note in this image is the seldom-photographed Daylight Market at far left, which was demolished and replaced by a Bank of America branch with underground parking a few years later. Many of the other businesses shown here — Homestead Savings, Manis Jewelers, Sherry’s Liquors, Renie’s Liquors, Kerman Rug Company, and Round Table Pizza — have also transitioned since the time of this photo.

45th Avenue and Judah, 1951 - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
45th AVENUE & JUDAH STREET — This Associated station has been closed for decades, though auto repair was performed on site until about 2010. More recently, it has served as an occasional Christmas tree lot, but has mostly remained an abandoned, graffiti-covered building surrounded by a chain-link fence. In 2019, a five-story apartment building with 20 units and ground-floor retail was proposed for the site, while some local residents argued for a smaller four-story building with only 16 units. The project developers received approval of the plans and construction finally began in late 2022. See the original 2019 proposal for this site.

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