Streetwise: Western Neighborhoods Under Construction
by Frank Dunnigan
Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Given that the architecture of the Western Neighborhoods is largely made up of closely-built wood-frame buildings, residents are fortunate that the San Francisco Fire Department has been very successful over the years at controlling those fires that have taken place. In fact, many of the images below were taken by the SFFD's official photographer, Chet Born. This month, we take a look back at some of the ones that have occurred locally in the post-World War II era from 1949-2001.
Early morning fire destroying the Market Street Railway terminus of the 2-Sutter-Clement streetcar line that also gutted Louis' restaurant, February 12, 1949 - San Francisco Examiner / Courtesy of Tom Kasinger.
SUTRO STREETCAR TERMINAL - The section of Point Lobos Avenue adjacent to the Cliff House seems to be one the most frequent sites of large fires over the years, including this blaze at the Sutro streetcar terminal in February of 1949. Streetcars were about to be replaced by buses and so the structure was never rebuilt. Other major events in the area include the loss of the Victorian Cliff House in 1907, the fire that wiped out several businesses just uphill from the Cliff House in November of 1963, and then the Sutro Baths fire of 1966.
Arson fire at Jefferson School main auditorium, June 1, 1959 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
JEFFERSON SCHOOL - The Jefferson School fire occurred near the end of the academic year in 1959. A student at the school, located at 19th Avenue & Irving Street, confessed to fire investigators that he burned a piece of schoolwork on which he had received a poor grade, thus causing the blaze. The classroom building had to be demolished and rebuilt, though the school auditorium in the foreground was able to be saved and refurbished.
Fire at buildings in Presidio, April 27, 1962 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
PRESIDIO - Many of the old wooden buildings once located at the Presidio of San Francisco pre-dated laws requiring fire alarms and sprinkler systems, and fires often gained a foothold very quickly, such as the one shown here in 1962.
Fire at 323 Moraga started by a Christmas tree, January 3, 1964 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
323 MORAGA - This house fire at 9th Avenue & Moraga on January 3, 1964 was attributed to a Christmas tree. The small house was later replaced by a set of flats.
Smoke coming from residence on 42nd Avenue near Anza, October 18, 1964 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
42ND AVENUE - This image of a 1964 house fire on 42nd Avenue near Anza Street shows a brand-new Pontiac Bonneville escaping damage while parked on the street in front of the burning home.
Firefighters at Upper Terrace fire, March 15, 1965 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
UPPER TERRACE - The very narrow streets of some neighborhoods present a serious challenge to firefighters, such as this Upper Terrace location on March 15, 1965. Note the close proximity of the local fire house just ½ block away.
Fire at Morningside and Ocean Avenue, September 2, 1965 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
MORNINGSIDE AND OCEAN - This 1965 fire at the corner of Morningside & Ocean Avenue was attributed to a burning candle. Damages were soon repaired.
Fire in small dwelling in backyard of 1351 48th Avenue, January 1, 1966 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
1351 48TH AVENUE - New Year’s Day of 1966 saw a fire in a small backyard structure in the Outer Sunset. Locations such as this one involving structures behind a main house present serious access challenges to firefighters.
Sutro Baths fire, June 26, 1966 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
SUTRO BATHS - The fire at Sutro Baths—already closed and under demolition—occurred on June 26, 1966. Widely believed to be arson by SFFD investigators, there were never any arrests in the case. Demolition was eventually completed, resulting in today’s breathtaking expanse of open space. Other businesses, once located to the left of the Cliff Chalet sign and adjacent to the Cliff House itself, were destroyed in an earlier fire in November of 1963.
Flames billowing from fire in apartments at 342 Arguello, April 22, 1969 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
342 ARGUELLO - This large blaze on Arguello Boulevard near California Street took place on April 22, 1969, severely damaging multiple structures. A large, modern apartment building replaced these structures.
Fire in Victorian home at Carl and Schrader, May 7, 1970 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
CARL AND SCHRADER - This fire occurred in May of 1970 on Carl Street near Shrader. The building still survives, but the top floor has since been removed.
Smoke from fire in residence at 14th Avenue and Ulloa, June 6, 1970 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
14TH AVENUE AND ULLOA - This residential fire at 14th Avenue & Ulloa Street on a Saturday afternoon in June of 1970 drew a large crowd of neighborhood onlookers, including this author, then on the way to his own high school graduation ceremony. Fortunately, there were no injuries, and the cause was determined to be a defective water heater. The house was soon repaired.
Fire in Laurel Village on California near Locust, January 17, 1972 - Chet Born, photographer - SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City.
LAUREL VILLAGE - Fires at commercial structures can be difficult because an unknown variety of caustic substances that may be contained inside. This scene in Laurel Village shows a retail store, a cocktail lounge, and an ice cream/candy shop from the rear parking lot in 1972.
Fire damaged house on 29th Avenue, 1990s - Philip Liborio Gangi, photographer - Richmond Review Newspaper Collection / Courtesy of Paul Kozakiewicz, Richmond Review.
29TH AVENUE - Firefighters prevented this 1990s fire on 29th Avenue in the Richmond District from spreading to adjacent homes.
Three fire engines fighting fire on Frederick near Stanyan, August 1, 2001 - © Greg Gaar Photography (Greg Gaar Street Photography 1970s-90s / Courtesy of Greg Gaar.
FREDERICK NEAR STANYAN - This fire, on the top floor of a multi-story, multi-unit building located on Frederick Street, west of Stanyan, took place on August 1, 2001.
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