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Archive for the ‘History’ Category


New documentary “The Cliff House” premieres at the Balboa, April 12

From the same director who brought us documentaries on Playland and the Sutro Baths comes the next installment on Richmond District history: The Cliff House.

On April 12, the Balboa Theater will premiere Tom Wyrsch’s latest documentary, The Cliff House. It’s a full length documentary about the historic Cliff House and Sutro Heights, both legacies of Adolph Sutro. The film features hundreds of rare archival photographs, motion picture footage, and interviews with historians and current Cliff House personnel.

The historic Cliff House stands perched on a headland atop the cliffs on the northwestern edge of San Francisco, California. Originally built in 1863, it is now a key part of the Sutro Historic District. That district included the lavish gardens and structures of Sutro Heights, the home of Adolph Sutro, entrepreneur, real estate developer and populist mayor of San Francisco, now a park. The ruins just north of the Cliff house housed the world-class swimming pool and museum complex called Sutro Baths. A major amusement park, San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach once spilled over more than five city blocks south, across from Ocean Beach. The Cliff House has been rebuilt or remodeled many times through its century and a half of operation. It remains a favorite for both locals and tourist alike.

The premiere party for the film is on Friday, April 12 at 7pm. Tickets are available through the Balboa Theater website (select April 12 from the dropdown).

If you can’t make the premiere, The Cliff House will continue playing at the Balboa through April 18th, with 5 shows per day: 12:00p, 2:30p, 4:45p, 7:00p and 9:20p.

Sarah B.

11:15 am | Posted under History, Movies | Comments Off

Local links: de Young dirty laundry, Sir Paul in GGP?, hats, Beard honors & more

Photo by stefanie.johnstone

Happy Thursday – here are some local links to get you to the weekend finish line!

  • Nothing like having a national newspaper air your very local museum’s dirty laundry… The New York Times’ Turmoil at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco article about the Fine Arts Museums (the de Young and Legion of Honor) details the low staff morale (including firings), the lack of Director since John Buchanan passed away, and the very mixed reviews of Board President Diane “Dede” Wilsey. Some think has held too much influence over the institution, while others think she is responsible for bringing it back to life. The Chronicle caught up with their own article this morning about the pending appointment of a new Director, rumored to be Colin Bailey, the deputy director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in New York. There should be an announcement next week.
  • Paul’s Hat Works took NPR on a tour and shared some secrets with them in a piece called The Making of a Hat. The owners also did some spring cleaning recently and now have for sale dozens of vintage hat boxes for between $5 and $60.
  • Congratulations to Pastry Chef Melissa Chou of Aziza. She was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award – “the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America” – which will be given out at a ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York on May 6.
  • Here’s your local history for the week… The SFPL Archives published Part 2 of their profile on Adolph Sutro, this time looking at some letters, architectural drawings and great old photographs of Sutro’s land holdings throughout the city. CurbedSF had a story earlier this month on a man who lived in a cottage on the cliffs of Lands End. His name was Charles Harris and he operated the waiting room and concession stand at the train stop near Sutro Baths. “The Harris’ moved to Lands End after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire destroyed their home downtown, and built up a little cottage around the framework of their cable car home.”
  • Local artist Jay Mercado, known for his donut paintings, will be hosting a show of his pillow sketches at his studio at 10th and California Street this Saturday.
  • Could Sir Paul McCartney be the headliner for the Outside Lands Music Festival this summer in Golden Gate Park? Last.fm is listing him as such but there’s been no confirmation from the show promoters. Something tells me nearby neighbors would much rather hear strains of Paul singing “Hey Jude” than the musings of Metallica…
11:19 am | Posted under Art, Food, History, Museums | Comments Off

Local links: Birthdays for Balboa & Lou’s, beach yoga, Sutro history & more

A payroll receipt to Mr. Williams for his tightrope performances at the Baths in April 1896. Courtesy of the Adolph Sutro Collection

Happy Friday to everyone! Hope you’re out enjoying this beautiful day. Here are some local links to take you into the weekend:

  • The Balboa Theater turns 87 years old this weekend and they’re celebrating with a bash on Sunday that includes a screening of the 1924 silent fantasy “Peter Pan”. It will be accompanied by an original score by pianist Frederick Hodges and preceded by a series of short subject films. Oh and there’s a live vaudeville show too! Showings at 4pm and 7pm, tickets are $10.
  • Another business Birthday: Popular Lou’s Cafe on Geary is turning 3 on March 19th and they’re celebrating with 4 weeks of featured sandwiches at a discount, including the LLB Special (3 meats and 2 cheeses), and the Ami-Cado (take the ‘ami in pastrami and add it to the ‘cado in avocado). The discounts are through the Gopago mobile app though when we downloaded it, we couldn’t find anything. But perhaps it will become available on Mar 19?
  • Yoga’s up, dude! Purusha Yoga Studio is offering a “yoga for surfers” class on Ocean Beach every Tuesday at 3:15pm (free or give a donation at the class). No surfing experience required – just bring water, a towel, and “your positive energy”. Meet near the Judah Street entrance at Ocean Beach.
  • The 6th Floor Archive at the SF Public Library has posted part 1 of a series on Adolph Sutro, who you could easily call the godfather of the Richmond District. Check it out to learn more about the man behind Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights Park – even his receipts and records are interesting!

    Speaking of Adolph Sutro, watch this week’s History Minute below from the Western Neighborhoods Project, providing some insight on the tunnels you can see near the ruins of Sutro Baths.

  • Cassava Bakery’s Japanese breakfast got mention as a good way to shake up your brunch routine. “For $10, you’ll get an array of plates: an “onsen tamago” poached egg cooked sous vide; simmered black soy beans; cucumber wakame salad; top-of-the-line koshihikari rice; a housemade natto with Meyer lemon and jalapeño kosho; and dashi miso soup.”
  • The de Young Museum has a new photo exhibition on Iraq entitled “Eye Level in Iraq”, which 7×7 describes the collection of photographs documenting the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, as “one of the most compelling exhibitions the De Young Museum’s young photography department has shown.”

10:52 am | Posted under Art, Business, Food, History | 2 comments

Local links: GGP history, new sushi spot, BRT resignation, bank robbery & more

  • The Western Neighborhoods Project produced a fun history minute on the Prayerbook Cross that lives in Golden Gate Park. Some of you might not even know about it… Check out the video above.
  • Daigo Sushi opened recently on Clement near 25th Avenue. We think they’re one of the few to offer delivery in the neighborhood (and online ordering). Owner Jesse tells the blog, “We are a sushi only restaurant, however, we do things really deep and are trying to bring up more and more special fish to our neighbors. There is a lot of home made stuff in our restaurant.” Stop in to say “Moshi Moshi” when you get a chance.
  • Fed up with bureaucracy much? Kieran Farr is. He resigned from the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee in January, telling members “what this seems like is we’re having developers re-do the same product five different times without ever launching it to the public, and that’s really concerning.” You can read more about his frustrations in a blog post explaining his departure. “What I’ve seen in the past 6 years has been a severe disappointment during which I have lost trust in America’s regulatory framework to enact effective transit improvements.”
  • Don’t be alarmed when some trees start disappearing from Golden Gate Park at the end of this month. It’s part of a Rec & Park initiative to target hazardous trees. They’ll remove 155 trees altogether, with plans to plant more. Factoid: Golden Gate Park has an estimated 25,000 trees in it.
  • Another bank robbery took place in the neighborhood on Friday, February 8 on Geary near 16th Avenue. Around 9:49am, a man between 30 and 40 years old, walked into the bank and demanded money from a teller, police said. The suspect fled in a white van that was last seen heading north on 17th Avenue. No weapon was seen during the robbery and no one was injured. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call the Police Department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444 or to send a tip by text message to TIP411 with “SFPD” in the message. [SFAppeal]
  • Those who don’t pay their taxes… Remember the restaurant owner at Fune Ya (6th & Clement) who was hiding receipts under his floorboards in shoeboxes marked “seasoned octopus”? He was convicted last March of filing false tax returns, and was finally sentenced to two years and nine months in federal prison and ordered to pay $459,000 in back taxes. Those 26 “boxes of octopus” amounted to $1.85 million in sales that Chen had not reported to the IRS.
5:12 am | Posted under Crime, Food, Golden Gate Park, History | 6 comments

Under the floorboards: Discovering the relics of an Ocean Beach roadhouse

The Breakers roadhouse on Great Highway with San Francisco Motorcycle Club posing, circa 1910.
Courtesy of Glenn Koch & outsidelands.org

Though the Richmond and Sunset Districts are often thought of today as sleepy communities, once covered in sand and known as the Outside Lands because of their proximity to the real action of downtown San Francisco, there was a time when the neighborhoods were home to a sin city of sorts, attracting dwellers to roadhouses, saloons, race tracks and other forms of colorful entertainment.

Those days are long gone, but last week, we got a glimpse into their raucous past when historians Woody LaBounty and David Gallagher of the Western Neighborhoods Project announced that they had unearthed relics from an old roadhouse called “The Breakers” within the floorboards of 1536 La Playa.

It all began with a great photo that went up for auction on ebay of The San Francisco Motorcyle Club posing out in front of a roadhouse called “The Breakers”, circa 1910.

Woody recognized the building right away because a couple of years earlier, they had been contacted by the owner of the 1536 La Playa property (which is more accurately 1536 Great Highway) about its colorful history. In 2010, Woody and David visited the nondescript building to see what they could find as evidence of the roadhouse that was once there, but all they saw was some old wallpaper and light fixtures. While they were there, they noticed another hatch door but the owner didn’t have the key on hand.

After winning the ebay auction for the photo, Woody and David got back in touch with 1536 La Playa and made another visit, this time with full access. And what they found this time around was beyond anything they imagined as they opened hatches in the ceilings and climbed into crawlspaces to see up close what had been sealed off during the building’s various upgrades and post-fire remodels.

“Gargoyle” fish jut out from the mouldings, column capitals, marine scenes, and wall carvings are just a few of the architectural surprises that they found, dating back to the glory days of the roadhouse which closed just before WWII.

Read the full story and see more photos at outsidelands.org

Representatives of the Western Neighborhoods Project will show a presentation on Ocean Beach roadhouse history and the discovery of the reliefs on Saturday, February 16, 2013, 7:00pm at 3 Fish Studios, 4541 Irving Street near 47th Avenue. Admission to the presentation will be free.

Thanks to Woody and David for the sleuthing and most importantly, the preservation of this bit of the West end’s colorful past! It’s why we love the Western Neighborhoods Project :)

Sarah B.

A row of gilded lighting fixtures hidden between floors of 1536 La Playa. – Photograph by David Gallagher. Courtesy of outsidelands.org

Photographing roadhouse decorative elements between floors of 1536 La Playa. – Photograph by David Gallagher. Courtesy of outsidelands.org

2:52 pm | Posted under History | 10 comments

Playland Clown on Clement Street, “distressing children in the Richmond”

It’s been 40 years since Playland at the Beach closed down, but many of the colorful artifacts from the amusement park often resurface around the neighborhood.

Several weeks ago, this Playland clown head appeared, eerily lit, in the window of the old Busvan for Bargains store on Clement Street near 4th Avenue, with this sign accompanying it:

One of the nine heads suspended from the ceiling of the main building in San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach, this clown reflects the Fun House’s theme and admonition: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry – and you cry alone”. It was removed when Playland was demolished in 1972 to make room for progress. We are still waiting.* In the 1980′s, the mechanism and detailing of the figure was restored. This is the first time since Playland’s closing that it is again able to enjoy distressing children in the Richmond.

The distressing part may be that the clown’s eyes actually move back and forth (watch the quick clip below). I can almost hear Laughing Sal in the background…

Sarah B.

*I find this statement a little rich considering that the Busvan for Bargains space has been empty for how many years now? 10? 15? How about making some progress to find a tenant…

11:45 am | Posted under History, Ocean Beach, Photos, Video | 14 comments

“Lost Landscapes 7″ screening at the Internet Archive, January 8

“Lost Landscapes” is back again this year with its seventh installment of archival film footage of San Francisco and its surroundings. The first showing was at the Castro Theater earlier this month, and the Internet Archive (300 Funston at Clement) will host an encore screening on January 8 at 7:30pm.

This year’s show consists of 75% new material plus a few sequences repeated by popular demand. You’ll see an eclectic montage of rediscovered and rarely-seen film clips showing life, landscapes, labor and leisure in a vanished San Francisco as captured by amateurs, newsreel cameramen and studio filmmakers.

New sequences in this high-definition program include the Japanese-American community in the Western Addition before redevelopment; shipwrecks off the Northern shoreline; 1930s demonstrations against the shipment of scrap metal to Japan; family films from the Richmond, Sunset and Excelsior Districts; rediscovered films of San Francisco transit; and newly discovered, never-shown documentary footage of Market Street, the waterfront and Rincon Hill. Much of the show has been scanned from Kodachrome and original 35mm material.

A key part of every Lost Landscapes screening is the audience participation. Most of the clips do not have sound, so it’s up to the crowd to be the audience, calling out locations, making comments and asking questions. The clip above is an example of the kind of films you’ll see and how the event flows.

Admission to the screening is $5 or a donation of 5 books for the Internet Archive’s book scanning project. To reserve seats, fill out this online form. Space is limited.

Sarah B.

9:57 am | Posted under History, Movies | 1 comment

Conservatory’s new Garden Railway exhibit celebrates the Barbary Coast

On Thursday morning, we got a sneak peek of the Conservatory of Flower’s new Garden Railway exhibition, Boomtown: Barbary Coast. This year they’ve tackled San Francisco’s historic Barbary Coast, an area of the city that was the “Sin City” of the latter half of the 19th century.

The Barbary Coast encompassed a 40-square-block area bounded by the Embarcadero, Grant Avenue, Broadway, and Commercial Street. It began blossoming in 1849 when adventurers and fortune seekers were drawn to California by the lure of the Gold Rush. San Francisco was a burgeoning port city and a stopover for aspiring miners on their way to find their fortune. A stop on the Barbary Coast was about business during the day – San Francisco was the busiest port on the West Coast at the time. But come nightfall, the area transformed into a dangerous playground, offering gambling parlors, rowdy saloons, whorehouses, and opium dens.

Needless to say, the Barbary Coast has a highly colorful history, and the Conservatory’s new exhibit does a great job of celebrating it. The small-scale railroad cars wind their way by miniature buildings, made from recycled and repurposed materials, that represent the famous landmarks of the Barbary Coast like Portsmouth Square, Union square, Chinatown and Maiden Lane.

Water areas of the exhibition play host to small scale clipper ships, representing the maritime traffic that came through the area. Often ships that came into port were abandoned as sailors grabbed mining equipment and flocked to the hills to find their fortune in gold. Those abandoned ships were often re-purposed into hotels, warehouse and saloons, including one ship called the Nitanic which is represented in miniature in the exhibit. Its remains were discovered in 1976 when a construction crew unearthed the hull.

The exhibit is authored by Daniel Bacon, the city’s definitive expert on the Barbary Coast and Founder and Director of the city’s Barbary Coast Trail. Bacon’s interpretive signs in the exhibit are both informative and entertaining, bringing to life the area’s landmarks like Maiden Lane – so named for the bare-chested maidens who hung out of windows to lure in clientele – as well as its shady cast of characters ranging from Ah Toy, the first Chinese prostitute to jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton who performed on the Barbary Coast from 1916-1919.

In addition to the railway there are also some constructed portions of the exhibit including a saloon entrance that houses a souvenir photo booth, and an old-fashioned teller window at a bank. After all, it was the Gold Rush that we have to thank for Wells Fargo and some of our other early banks, whose mission was to protect the money pouring in from gold prospecting.

As in past Garden Railway exhibitions, the sounds are as much a part of the experience as the visuals and history. Sound engineer Andrew Roth once again went above and beyond to capture sounds from all over the Bay Area that represent the era. He even tracked down an original melodian organ to record some of the old saloon songs from the Barbary Coast’s heyday.

As you step up to the Maiden Lane portion of the exhibit, you’ll hear ladies’ voices giggling and whispering, and at the bank window, you’ll hear an old man wheezing and coughing as he counts money.

The Boomtown: Barbary Coast exhibition at the Conservatory of Flowers opens today and runs through April 14, 2013. Grab a friend or your family and head over there – there’s plenty to entertain (and inform) kids and adults alike.

Sarah B.

5:04 am | Posted under Golden Gate Park, History | 2 comments