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A Palace, a Castle, and a Log Cabin – Oh My!

[San Francisco News reporter George Murphy paying cab driver Nicholas Liuzza for a ride from the St. Francis Hotel to the Cow Palace]. May 23, 1958. San Francisco Historical Photo Collection, San Francisco Public Library.

By Cynthia Cox, Visitacion Valley History Project

It’s certainly not every neighborhood that can boast of having a palace, a castle, and a log cabin within its borders, but San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley can – and does!

A view of the Cow Palace from the Visitacion Valley Greenway. Heritage photo.

Okay, so technically the “palace” – for us, the Cow Palace – is not in the Valley or even in San Francisco, but rather in Daly City. However, we claim it as “ours” because it is easily visible throughout the neighborhood and is one of the landmarks we use to tell people how to find us. Per a particularly apt 1985 quote by Jill Kneerim, now an East Coast-based literary agent:

Visitacion Valley is easiest to pinpoint by naming features that are not quite in it. It is the place where you would find yourself if you took the wrong turn at the exit for Candlestick Park. It’s the district across Geneva Avenue from the Cow Palace. When you are driving north on Route 101, it is the first section of town on your left as you cross the San Francisco line….

Constructed during the end of the Depression to replicate the popularity of one of the most visited attractions at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, some San Franciscans objected to the idea of building a ”palace for cows” at a time when people were suffering. It got its now-official name in August 1938, when the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted that “the name has color, and…something of romantic appeal” and adopted it.

[Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Cow Palace for a “Freedom Riders” rally]. July 24, 1961. San Francisco Historical Photo Collection, San Francisco Public Library.

Although it opened with its first event just a month before Pearl Harbor and was leased by the federal government during the war years, the Cow Palace has hosted numerous events besides the rodeos and livestock shows originally envisioned ever since: two Republican conventions; circuses, garden shows, and Exotic Erotic balls; the Great Dickens Christmas Fairs; Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones; Evel Knievel and the 1975 Warriors’ national championship final game. And perhaps some of you, like Tony Ragusin, have fond memories of seeing the Beatles, who played the Cow Palace twice, both times in front of thousands of screaming (mostly female) fans:

I saw the Beatles on my birthday in 1964 after winning free tickets from KYA radio’s Emperor Gene Nelson. Tickets were $6.50 and you could barely hear the band – a 28-minute show at the Cow Palace.

Okay, enough about our “palace” and on to our “castle.”

The largest of “the castle” complex’s buildings. Heritage photo.

Located at the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and Visitacion, what locals call the “castle complex” has stood for nearly a century. Built in the 1930s as income property by Austrian-born Joseph Rodiack, the site includes three distinct buildings, including an apartment house and a second space, currently vacant, used as a series of restaurants and bars popular with Schlage workers, locals, and others drawn to the food, drink, and entertainment offered by various proprietors, including Raymond “Babe” Baron at Babe’s Tower Inn. As Dawn Pyne Murayama reminisced:

The castle was a bar that we went to. We weren’t of age so when we needed to we would run out to the parking lot until the police were gone. We not only drank but danced too. This was in the 1940s.

The third, small building on the site originally served as a gas station (15 ½ cents a gallon!); today it is a good place to get your vehicle washed. The “castle complex” remains intact, awaiting the development yet to come on the empty acres, once occupied by Schlage and other businesses, surrounding it.

The third, small building on the castle site now serves as a car wash. Heritage photo.

As for the log cabin referenced above, it is also intact, now housing Silvestri’s Statuary. You can read all about its earlier incarnations — as a raucous roadhouse called Sam’s Lodge, as a refined nightspot offering dinner and live music as George’s Log Cabin, and its late ‘60s reincarnation with rock bands and fire dancers — in the post yet to come on October 27th.

Silvestri’s Statuary, located in the former roadhouse Sam’s Lodge.

Visitacion Valley – the only (?) San Francisco neighborhood with a palace, a castle, and a log cabin!

Visitacion Valley

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Visitacion Valley

October 1, 2021

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