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History of a Tree, A Branch, A Block

September 16, 2010

A big branch of the landmark 100+ year old Moreton Bay Fig tree next to St Luke’s fell on a car around 8PM. (15 second exposures.)

It’s the second branch to fall in the past year or so.  A panorama of the tree in better days:

This tree is well over 100 years old, and may have been planted by Bancroft (of the Bancroft Library) himself.

You may have seen the bronze historical marker below the tree – Hubert Howe Bancroft had his library at Valencia and Army / CC for 26 years.

Bancroft moved to SF in 1853 at age 20 to extend the family bookstore.  He started collecting books, maps and documents in 1860.  By 1870 he had opened a library on Market & 3rd, with 120 boxes of books. But within 10 years he had outgrown it and moved 622 boxes to a new library at Valencia and Army next to St. Luke’s hospital. (So, how do I get that job?)

I’ve always wondered why he chose to build on that corner.  It was pretty far out there in the day, and he lived on Van Ness & Sutter.

Good transit may have been a factor: streetcars had been running on Valencia since 1865, but stopped at 25th St (next to the SFSJ railroad station).  The streetcar line was converted to a cable car in 1883, and the line was extended across Army St (the car barn was at Valencia and Mission).

A picture of the “new” library sometime after 1880, looking from Valencia and Army, to the SW. (No fig trees as far as I can see.)

1886 Sanborn map (west is up). Tiny St. Luke’s hospital visible to the left.  Also, an “old ladies home”.

1888 view looking to the NW down from Bernal – the Bancroft library is just behind the big white barn looking building. (Can’t say that I see a tree.  If anyone has a higher resolution version of this I will buy you all the beer you can drink in one sitting.)

1900 Sanborn map.  (Cool, a hen house and a windmill!)

Because it amuses me, I include an undated picture of the St. Luke’s hospital  Taken from Valencia & Tiffany, looking NW. (1890s? 1900? When did guys stop wearing those hats?) Bancroft Library would just be to the right (along with our tree?) You can see the two hospital buildings on the Sanborn map above. (Nice deck!) Note also the tiny predecessor to the 1912 steps. And that retaining wall has been around forever.

Anyway, the Bancroft’s building was the only major library in the city to escape the fires of 1906. Alas UC Berkeley bought the Bancroft Library in 1906, moving it across the bay. “Three great vans full consisting of over three tons have already arrived . . . but it occupies five hours for a wagon to come from Valencia Street to Berkeley.” (24th to Berkeley on BART is half an hour.)

After Bancroft, the building turned into the “Eng Skell Company soda fountain supplies, syrup factory and warehouse” – a rather inelegant transition from a world class research library. Here we have the 1913 Sanborn map:

The shot below is supposed to be from 1910 and is labeled as the St. Luke’s, though I suspect it’s the employees of Eng Skell’s. (If they were nurses they’d be wearing their hats, no?)  Sometime in the early ‘1os, 1538 was taken over by St. Luke’s as an outpatient clinic.

Our Mortenson Fig could very well be the one on the left – it lines up perfectly with the Sanborn-Google overlay (library in red). If so, I’d guess that Bancroft planted it 20 years before this? Any tree people, feel free to comment on my growthstemation.

Note that the Guerrero side (top) isn’t misaligned — remember the city pushed back those house 20 feet when they widened Guerrero in the early 1950s. (Oh, and the green square? Just the site of the Bernal Rancho in the 1840s-1860s.)

The old library stood until the mid 195os:FIGURING IT OUT–Joseph Zem, right, director of St. Luke’s Hospital, and Episcopal Canon Charles Guilbert, talk about the new hospital annex to be built where they’re standing. The 74-year-old building behind them, formerly a library, will be torn down.”

(You can barely see the “ENG” above the door from the Skell days.)

I suspect our Moreton Bay fig is just visible on right in this photo.

Alternate Mission

September 10, 2010

Eric Fischer uncovers a rather startling set of mid-60s plans for the what the Mission could (probably not) have been.  We’re talking massive infrastructure, along the lines of Embarcadero Center, running the length of Mission from 15th to Army/Cesar Chavez. (click images for originals on Flickr)

Mission and 24th:

Note the walkways across Army/CC…

…to massive, circular parking lots.

I somehow doubt Valencia would have maintained its bicycle friendly charm.

Mission and 16th:

Hey, a kite!

Hooray, tacos!

But a piñata tent?  WTF are the chairs for?  To watch people break piñatas?  People pay for that? I’m confused.  (I’d totally dig a Lucha libra tent though.)

Some context is in order.  This was the “Miracle Mile” — the Mission used to be one of the primary shopping districts in the city (there was a Sears at Mission and Army, after all — that was probably what the second walkway over Army St was for).


Pictures of shoppers on the Mile in the 40s and 50s: (from SFPL, but their image site seems to be down at the moment so I can’t link to the metadata, sorry)




I am sure theses 50s/60s era planners were hoping to stem the flight to the suburbs as the city depopulated around them.

(Anyone know how to constrain the date range for Wolfram Alpha charts?)

This is of course a completely different approach of construction destruction than the post-WWII SF freeway plans that we’ve discussed before — imagine a huge Geary-like trench through the Mission, and a highway on the west slope of Bernal, along Coleridge.

Detailed map below of the Mission Freeway from 30th to 14th (south is up). basically, all the odd-numbered streets except 21st would have been cut off, and the even-numbered streets would have been bridges (think Fillmore over Geary).

I need a drink.

Happier bonus material of a slightly modified past via Eric: a great 1966 picture of 24th and Mission (looking north):

Here’s a bunch of 1950 Sanborn maps jammed together to give you an idea of what the pre-BART 24th and Mission was like. (Click to zoom).

The NE and SW corners of the intersection are obviously gone. The McDonalds took out the SE corner, but the building next to it (Last’s Paints) is still there (now Western Dental / Mr. Pollo), as is the Dance Mission Theater building on the NW corner.

Here’s the 1950 Sanborn overlaid on Google Earth:

Note the stores in the diagonal slot where the railway used to be. Next time you have a sausage and beer at Rosamunde, remember that you are sitting right on the railway tracks.

Speaking of which, a 1926 shot of the guard arms for the active railway crossing (looking north up Mission, just before 24th) :

The rails in the foreground are the tracks for the old 14 and 24 streetcars (via SFPL)

And a 1945 shot of an apartment fire on 24th between (1) Valencia and (2) Mission (where that big church is now) from a WWII bomber that happened to be flying over the Mission:


Zooming back to the 1950s and 60s version of the corner, we can get an idea of the vibrancy of the mile:

(Sorry for the lack of bars.  Older Sanborn maps clearly mark bars/saloons as “Sal.” but it’s weird there are NO bars here. I’m guessing Sanborn never updated the maps to show saloons like they did before the 1920s.  Still, a lot happening on the corner…)

Anyway, some great details in the photo:

Theater marquees a few blocks down the street: Grand. Crown. New Mission. Tower. Also the Leeds / Sketchers sign. No trees at all.

Tired of your typical, depressing 1960s bar? Sobered by highway and infrastructure planning? Come get a drink at “Smile Awhile Cocktails!”

Hey, that sign sure is a funny shape. Jigjag, jigjag.  Just north of 24th. Where have I seen that before?

El Farolito, continuing the tradition of old school Mission signs.

And this concludes today’s lesson in Mission bar and infrastructure history.


September 9, 2010

Yesterday, We Built This City discovered this perfectly good head of lettuce inexplicably abandoned in the gutter (location unknown, perhaps Glen Park?)

Nearly one year ago, Mission Mission reader William found this sneaky tomato plant inexplicably growing behind a gas station on 15th and Market:

Six months ago, we discovered this pile of bacon inexplicably dumped in a Noe Valley gutter:

Forget the food pyramid.  We have a BLT Triangle of Mystery going on here.  (Well, a BLT Rhombus if anyone finds bread dumped in the street.  Pictures please.)

But get it together, food dumpers.  Please drop your BLT components closer together in both time and space.

(Insert street food joke here.)

Know Your South Mission Historic Resources

September 8, 2010

Our friends at the SF Planning Department have released a most awesome map of historic resources and historic districts in the southern Mission, including individual lots. Historic districts are marked with borders. (Thanks, Curbed SF.)

Nice clickable interface with lots to drill into.

Unfortunately, all the information is in a clickable map that you have to drill into.

So as a service to society I present you a “Know Your Trees” type article, with labeled, lettered list of the historic districts, sorted and colored by date, with pictures from their PDFs (which are awesome, so do check them out)

The links go to multipage SFP PDFs with much more information. Let’s begin:

A. Alabama Street Pioneers – 1865-1884

A rare grouping of pioneer-era cottages and houses located on a block that appears to have been settled according to an informal “frontier” (pre-suburban) development pattern: a mixture of early rural properties and small dwellings in non-standardized lot layouts. The area, which was located just outside of the City boundary of 1851, between the Union Race Course and the fenced-off Potrero Nuevo tract, may have originated as a “squatter” village.

B. Shotwell Street Victoriana – 1865-1905

Central Mission area that resembles an “ideal” Victorian-era suburban neighborhood: a corridor of mostly high-style architecture and detached, single-family dwellings for the 19th-century middle classes. Located between very early streetcar lines on Howard (South Van Ness Avenue) and Folsom Streets, the area developed as one of the Mission’s early, prototypical residential neighborhoods.

Note that “The Folsom Ladies” are included in this Shotwell district.

C. Horner’s Addition East – 1865-1905

Corridor of Victorian-era, high-style architecture and homes for 19th-century upper middle classes, located along the eastern edge of Horner’s Addition, one of the City’s first platted residential suburbs. The area is eligible as an extension of the designated Liberty-Hill Historic District. Areas west of Guerrero Street (outside of the survey area) also appear to be potentially eligible extensions.

D. Liberty-Hill – 1865-1906 (map URL points to same PDF as Horner’s Addition East)

An intact representation of 19th-century middle-class housing and one of the earliest residential suburbs to be developed in San Francisco, Horner’s Addition. Major building starting in the 1860s and continued through the turn of the century. The area’s houses range from “workingman’s cottages” in the flatlands to grand mansions on the hills. The area is also associated with surviving the 1906 firestorm, which was halted immediately to the north on 20th Street.

E. 23rd Street Shops and Row-Houses – 1873-1895

An architecturally consistent corridor of Italianate and Stick-style buildings – flats above shops, row-houses, and cottages – on 23rd Street (and extending to Bartlett and Valencia Streets), representative of the late-19th-century character of the dense, urbanizing Mission-Bartlett-Valencia corridor.

F. Hampshire Street False-Fronts – 1885-1895

A row of “false-front” Italianate-style cottages and two-family houses designed to follow the early, affordable townhouse model, which persisted to the end of the 19th century: flat façade, centralized entrance flanked by windows, tall parapet and bracketed cornice – and no bay window, which was a later and more expensive elaboration. The row also reflects the historic “working-class suburb” character of the far eastern Mission District.

G. East Mission Florida-to-Hampshire Streets – 1885-1908

Several blocks that exhibit late-19th-century/early-20th-century “enclave” patterns of development south of 24th Street: larger, more elaborate houses and flats located on major north-south streets; smaller, plainer “working-class” flats and apartments located on mid-block alleys; and merchant quarters and apartments above shops on 24th Street. The far southern Mission District in-filled during the post-fire reconstruction period of the early 20th century.

H. South Mission Avenues and Alleys – 1885-1914

Several blocks that exhibit late-19th-century/early-20th-century “enclave” patterns of development south of 24th Street: larger, more elaborate houses and flats located on major north-south streets; smaller, plainer “working-class” flats and apartments located on mid-block alleys; and merchant quarters and apartments above shops on 24th Street. The far southern Mission District in-filled during the post-fire reconstruction period of the early 20th century.

I. O’Donnell-Fowler Homes – 1889

A unique grouping of identical, detached row-houses built by merchant builder C.C. O’Donnell and landowner George W. Fowler that exhibit a combination of Stick, Queen Anne, and Shingle-style influences. The row also reflects the development of distinctive, yet affordable, working-class/middle-class dwellings in the far southeastern Mission District.

J. Gottlieb Knopf Block – 1889-1892, 1920-1940

A block (and three additional properties) uniformly developed with the signature Stick-style row-house cottages of Gottlieb Knopf, a prolific merchant builder in the eastern Mission District. The block contains the largest collection of Knopf buildings known to exist, and includes several that were “modernized” during the 20th-century interwar period in keeping with the general form, massing, and layout of Knopf’s row-house designs.

K. Von Schroeder-Welsh Block – 1889-1895

A block almost uniformly developed by prominent architect Thomas John Welsh with Stick/Eastlake and Queen Anne-style row-houses, for real estate developer Baroness Mary E. Von Schroeder. The block contains the largest collection of Welsh buildings known to exist; most of his early work was destroyed in the Earthquake and Fires of 1906.

L. Juri Street – 1890-1895

A planned arrangement of residential flats (including a mixed-use commercial building on a gore lot) developed around a cul-de-sac, representing late-19th-century urban residential tract design. The grouping also reflects a pattern of increasing densification that occurred in the far southwestern Mission District near the turn-of-the-century.

M. Olsen’s Queen Anne Cottages – 1893

A row of Queen Anne-style cottages developed by A. Olsen, a prolific merchant builder in the eastern Mission District. The row represents the largest, most intact collection of Olsen buildings known to exist. The row also reflects the historic “working-class suburb” character of the eastern Mission District, particularly Harrison Street, which contained a railroad.

N. Orange Alley Stables and Lofts – 1895-1911

A rare cluster of late-19th-century/early-20th-century accessory structures designed according to pre-automobile patterns of development: horse-oriented, with upper story lofts and winch-and-pulley systems, located on a service alley. The grouping reflects the utilitarian character of a back-alley along a major transportation corridor in the Mission District around the turn of the century.

(And a little more historical digging I did last year on the Orange / San Jose area.)

Anyway, thanks San Francisco Planning Department! Hope you don’t mind my remix. (p.s. Please make your map wider and taller.)

UPDATE: sigh, really need to dig a bit first.

SF Murder Mystery

September 7, 2010

The SF Kid brings us Dell murder mystery novels set in SF, with maps.

No crime in the Mission? Clearly fiction.

Oh no, big trouble in Bernal Heights:

Hey, it’s Big Flora!

Hmm, any relation to Flora Grubb?  I can see it now: “MURDER AMONG THE PALMS!” Or — “RITUAL SUICIDE!”

Hey, this gives me an idea. Please leave your ideas for current day SF murder titles in the comments. No Maltese Falcon, but some starter ideas:




Twist The Bridge, Bend The Rail, Mind Your Head

September 4, 2010

A footbridge in Christchurch NZ after yesterday’s earthquake. (Sources embedded in all images.)

Synopsis of the photos below: during an earthquake, do not be on the sidewalk near buildings made of brick or with any sort of facade.

As noted in the comments below — if you are inside, STAY INSIDE.

IMPORTANT AND SERIOUS UPDATE — taking off my smartass hat for a moment, take a look at the comment thread.  The question remains what to do if you are outside in a quake, around downtown and glass.  SF NERT trained people say: “If Downtown, stay inside or get inside as fast as you can. If the big one hits, there will be *several feet* of broken glass in the street from the shattered windows of tall buildings.”

Also, definitely avoid footbridges:

As for brick footbridges — though I have yet to see any pictures, I think that goes without saying.

Many more pictures including broken wine bottles, cracked pavement and bricks, along with bendy roads and skateboards, and people walking over bricks.

Some pictures of the new fault line:

(While New Zealand is best known for its sheep, do note this cow specially trained in geologic field work.)

We’re all familiar with the photos of bent rails from 1906 — case in point, 20th and Valencia — but I think the photo below remind us why BART likes to slow down after earthquakes.


September 1, 2010

Sigh. Eric Fischer brings us BARTstalgia (or whatever the word is for the transit path not taken):

Northbound BART train in Marin County leaving Sausalito (February, 1961)

BART passengers on platform (September 1960) (aka “Mad Men on a train”)

BART passengers on train (September 1960) (Hey, triplets on a train!)

And can ever forget the view from BART over the GGB?

Just call YUkon 2-9838 to express your support for BART to Marin County: