Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

Streetwise: Western Neighborhoods Landmarks

by Frank Dunnigan
February 2023

Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Many places in San Francisco – both past and present – have been so universally well-known to residents that they have required only a single-word description (sometimes prefaced with a simple THE) to evoke a clear image in everyone’s mind. Here are some of those places – both past and present.

Aerial view of Golden Gate Park, looking west, circa 1960 - Moulin Studios / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
THE PARK – The layout and planning of San Francisco’s great urban park began in 1870 with engineer William Hammond Hall. At 1,017 acres, Golden Gate Park today is the largest of the 47 parks managed by San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department. When a San Franciscan says “let’s hang out at the Park,” everyone knows which one. Learn more about San Francisco’s civic treasure that turned 150 years old in 2020. It has been featured in 81 separate Outside Lands Podcasts from 2013 to 2022.

West Portal of Twin Peaks Tunnel, September 1976 - John Harder / Courtesy of a Private Collector.

Mayor Dianne Feinstein cuts the ribbon to open the new West Portal Station, April 2, 1979 - Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar.
THE TUNNEL – The Twin Peaks Tunnel, completed in 1917, opened for streetcar service between West Portal Avenue and Market Street in February of 1918. In order to accommodate Muni’s new Metro cars for service in the Market Street subway, the façade of the West Portal entrance (shown in the first photo above in 1976) was demolished soon thereafter in order to build what became known as West Portal Station, shown in the second photo above at the time of its unveiling on April 2, 1979.

The 12th annual San Francisco Soap Box Derby on Sunset Boulevard near Vicente Street, July 23, 1949 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
THE BOULEVARD – Residents have long regarded Sunset Boulevard, laid out between 36th and 37th Avenues in the early 1930s, by its singular name. Shown above is the 12th annual Soap Box Derby, running from Ulloa to Vicente in 1949 – a competition which continued until the 1970s.

Children's Playground, Sharon Building on left, Carousel on right, circa 1940s - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
THE PLAYGROUND – The Children’s Playground, in operation since 1887, is the nation’s oldest public recreation space for youngsters. Slides, swings, a barnyard, a carousel, and other amenities have entertained many generations of young San Franciscans and their families. Read Pat French Swenden’s 2002 recollections of the area. See also Birth of a Playground by Arnold Woods. Listen to Outside Lands Podcast #260.

Conservatory of Flowers, circa 1950 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
THE CONSERVATORY – Completed in 1879, the Conservatory of Flowers remains the oldest building in Golden Gate Park and one that survived the 1906 earthquake relatively unscathed. With a sporadic maintenance history over its 100+ year life, the Conservatory was severely damaged in the winter of 1995-96 by wind and rain from a series of storms. A massive rebuilding effort was required to restore the structure and thousands of its 16,000+ glass panels. The refurbished Conservatory was reopened to the public on September 20, 2003 and remains a jewel of Golden Gate Park. Learn more with Outside Lands Podcast #101.

Sears, Roebuck store on Geary at Masonic, July 31, 1956 - George McLane / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
SEARS – Built in the post-World War II era after the site of the old Calvary Cemetery (opened circa 1860 and with its last burial in 1916) had been cleared of remains, the Sears, Roebuck store attracted customers from every corner of San Francisco. The store’s other location in the Mission District was not at all a city-wide attraction. In addition to the usual shoes, clothing, and accessories for the entire family, the store also featured large hardware, major appliance, and garden departments. Highly memorable was the snack bar on the 2nd Floor, from which the smell of popcorn permeated the entire building. Over the years, business declined and the store closed in 1990. It is now a shopping complex for a variety of retail tenants. Learn more with Outside Lands Podcast #407.

First Navy jet in Larsen Park, circa 1966 - Courtesy of Richard Lim.
THE JET – In 1959, a Grumann F-9 Cougar retired Navy jet plane was installed in Larsen Park near the southwest corner of 19th Avenue and Vicente Street. With a hollowed-out interior and metal ladders added for access, the Jet was a popular play structure for local children. In 1967, the original F-9 shown here was replaced with a North American FJ-2/-3 Fury, and in 1975 by a Vought F-8 Corsair II. In 1993, City officials had the final plane removed because of the costs required for lead paint removal. The site remained empty for the next 20 years until then-Supervisor Carmen Chu led a fundraising effort to refurbish the Larsen Park playground, including the placement of a smaller jet-inspired climbing structure. The new piece was installed at the northwest corner of 19th and Vicente during a playground rededication ceremony in 2015. Read Woody LaBounty's 2015 article on the history of the Larsen Park jets.

Children folk dancing on the lawn at Sigmund Stern Grove, circa 1950 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
THE GROVE – Thanks to the generosity of Rosalie Meyer Stern, who had been persuaded by her friend, Parks Commission President John McLaren, to donate the land at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, Sigmund Stern Grove (named for Mrs. Stern’s late husband) was dedicated in 1932 for recreational purposes. Many upgrades have been undertaken in the 90+ years since the opening, and it remains the site of a popular free summer concert series beneath the trees. Learn more in Jacob Pemberton’s 2002 article and STREETWISE: A Corner of History.

Midtown Terrace, SF Youth Guidance Center building in lower left, February 1959 - San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
JUVI – San Francisco’s Juvenile Court and Youth Guidance Center, shown in its original army-green paint scheme at the left-hand edge of this 1959 image, moved from the downtown area to this new facility at Woodside Avenue and Portola Drive in 1950. Generations of local teens were encouraged to maintain appropriate behavior and safe driving practices, lest they be sent off to “Juvi.” The Board of Supervisors voted to close the facility by 2021, but plans have not yet been completed for such a transition.

St. Francis Blvd & Santa Ana Ave., view west toward the circle with fountain, November 3, 1916 - DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer - SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
THE FOUNTAIN – Located at the intersection of St. Francis Boulevard and Santa Ana Avenue, the fountain was one of the many architectural embellishments included in the St. Francis Wood development, circa World War I. Some misbehaving youth in bygone eras may recall certain times when bottles of dishwashing liquid were secretly added to the fountain, resulting in clouds of floating bubbles not dreamed of by the community’s designers and builders. Hear more about it on Outside Lands Podcast #4.

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