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Legacy Business Spotlight: The Businesses that Celebrated the Opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937

May27th

Cover of the Official Program of the Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta, from 1937. Prelinger Library, Internet Archive.

On May 27th, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge, the “world’s longest single span” at the time, was completed and opened to the public. Inside the Official Souvenir Program for the Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta, a visitor guidebook of sorts celebrating the bridge’s opening, are more than 130 advertisements for various businesses across the city that wanted to ride the wave of this historic moment. Most of the businesses advertised, like Chutes Tavern and Schwarz Delicatessen, are long gone, but a few remain and even reside on San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry. Below we highlight three of these business: Alioto’s Restaurant, Lucca Delicatessen, and John’s Grill.

And to better understand the San Francisco of 1937, a city celebrating the second bridge opening of the decade (the San Francisco Bay Bridge opened just the year prior in 1936), browse the guidebook for yourself to learn more about the details of everyday life, from where to get a haircut to where to rent a bike.


Alioto’s Restaurant at #8 Fisherman’s Wharf, May 2020. Heritage Photo.

Alioto’s Restaurant
8 Fisherman’s Wharf
415-673-0183
https://aliotos.com/
Date placed on Registry: January 14, 2019

By the time the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, Alioto’s had already been serving fresh fish and lunchtime provisions at stall #8 in Fisherman’s Wharf for twelve years. Far from the tourist attraction the Wharf is today, Alioto’s surroundings were a sprawling lumber yard, train tracks, and a union hall, and the fare was popular with San Francisco’s growing population of Italian laborers. The business was started by Sicilian immigrant Nunzio Alioto, who used gas-burning crab pots and served his popular steamed crab and shrimp and crab cocktails on trays that could be attached to car windows – one of the earliest attempts at drive-in eating. Business grew steadily and, by 1932, he constructed the first building on Fisherman’s Wharf by combining the fish stand with a seafood bar specializing in crab and shrimp cocktails and fresh cracked crab.

Advertisement for Alioto’s Fish Company, Ltd. in the Golden Gate Fiesta program, 1937.

Nunzio Alioto passed away in 1933, survived by his wife Rose and three children: Mario, Antoinette, and Frank. Left with no other means of support, Rose took over the business, becoming the first woman to work on the Wharf. Initially, her male neighbors refused to sell her fish, but Rose had help in her husband’s former employee Phil Rubino, who helped her procure fish in those transition years.

By 1938, a year after the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, Rose installed a kitchen and officially opened Alioto’s Restaurant. She continued to improve and develop seafood specialties, including the shellfish stew called Cioppino. This San Francisco culinary classic is still on Alioto’s menu today.

The following years included Alioto’s purchase of Castagnolas #7 next door and a fire and re-building on the same site in the 1950s. Around 1958, Rose’s son Frank assumed the operation of the restaurant. In 1971, grandchildren Nunzio and Joe took over management responsibilities and this third generation honors Alioto’s past by continuing the fine tradition of Rose’s original recipes. The restaurant displays their history on the stairways and in its Calamari Room with photographs, menus, and ephemera from their seven decades on the wharf.

Alioto’s is facing multiple setbacks during the COVID-19 crisis; they have made the tough decision to remain closed for business during the shelter-in-place, and a recent fire at Pier 45 has devastated the local fishing industry’s capacity to harvest the fresh seafood. At this time, you can support Alioto’s by purchasing gift cards through their website.

John’s Grill
63 Ellis St.
http://www.johnsgrill.com/

While not officially on the Legacy Business Registry, John’s Grill has remained an indelible part of San Francisco’s living history since 1908. Featuring original period furnishings, the dark-paneled walls of this downtown establishment are replete with old San Francisco memorabilia and portraits, reminding patrons of the city’s rich past and the restaurant’s layered history. The business played a role in the business district’s recovery after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, and claims the distinction of being the first restaurant to open in the rebuilt downtown core.

Advertisement for Girard’s French Restaurant and John’s Grill in the Golden Gate Fiesta program, 1937. The original founder of John’s Grill, Wilfred Girard, was also running Girard’s French Restaurant upstairs at 65 Ellis Street.

John’s Grill solidified its place in popular and literary culture when it appeared in Dashiell Hammett’s noir masterpiece, 1930’s The Maltese Falcon. Hammett started dining and drinking at John’s Grill in the early 1920s, when he worked as an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in the Flood Building next door. The restaurant proudly displays photographs of Hammett and Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet – stars of the celebrated 1941 film adaptation, and today you can order Sam Spade’s lamb chops with baked potato and sliced tomatoes.

When the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, original founder Wilfred Gerard was still operating the restaurant (as well as a French restaurant upstairs in the same building). The advertisement for John’s Grill’s in the Golden Gate Fiesta program touted “Good Steaks – Oysters -Fish,” all items you can still find on the menu today.


The ground floor interior of John’s Grill at 63 Ellis Street. Photo courtesy of John’s Grill’s website.

Gus Konstin bought John’s Grill in the 1960s, and today his son John Konstin, the current owner, is preparing his son Johnny and daughter Sydna to run the landmark restaurant. While John’s Grill is a popular tourist destination today, it has also been a haunt for politicians, newspaper barons, financiers, and private investigators for generations and continues to serve its time-honed fare to its dedicated “regulars.”

John’s Grill has made the difficult decision to close at this time, but has put together a fundraiser on GoFundMe to help with the significant costs incurred during the COVID crisis.

Lucca Delicatessen at 2120 Chestnut Street. Photo courtesy of Lucca’s Legacy Business Registry Report.

Lucca Delicatessen
2120 Chestnut Street
415-921-7873
http://www.luccadeli.com/
Date placed on Registry: January 22, 2018

“Three generations, one LOCATION! Since 1929” is what Lucca Delicatessen proclaims from its website and, true to their word, this family-owned deli continues serving up homemade Northern Italian food from its original storefront on Chestnut Street in the Marina District.

Michele (Mike) Bosco, along with his partners, Chef Maggiore Colona and Italo Cencini, opened Lucca in 1929. Bosco was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and grew up working on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and at the Star Hotel in Glenwood. Like many other Italians in the years before the Great Depression, he decided to move to San Francisco to start a business and raise his family.

The Marina was the site of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition and after the fair private developers slowly turned the area into a residential neighborhood. As the Marina District became more populated in the 1920s, landlords realized that by converting the spaces under their upper-story residential units to retail they could generate more income. This is how Lucca Delicatessen was born – it was originally a parking garage beneath a 6-unit apartment building. Like Alioto’s in Fisherman’s Wharf, by starting Lucca’s Bosco and his partners helped feed an emerging Italian community that lived and worked nearby.

In the 1930s, with the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street (now Highway 101) was widened, and soon developed into a strip of roadside motels. This only helped grow nearby Chestnut Street’s business district, and Bosco and his partners showcased Lucca (by this time almost ten years old) and its “Italian Sausages and Ravioli” in the Golden Gate Fiesta program.

Advertisement for Lucca Delicatessen in the Golden Gate Fiesta program, 1937.

In 1959 Mike Bosco became the sole owner of Lucca’s, and managed the deli with his son Ed until 1968. Ed ran Lucca’s continuously with great success for 40 years. Today, Ed’s children Linda and Paul Bosco run Lucca’s as a brother and sister team, and continue to share Lucca’s wonderful tradition and legacy.

Lucca cofounder Mike Bosco (back) and his son Ed Bosco (far right) with other employees, c.1960s. (Photo: Courtesy of Lucca Delicatessen)

Lucca’s Legacy Business Application sets the scene for what customers experience at Lucca’s:

Going to Lucca’s is an experience. It has an old-world charm that is unique to the Marina. Folks first see the Lucca sign on the window and the traditional green, red and white striped awning similar to those that hang from many Italian food establishments. Then they see the front windows with all of the different products for sale – pastas, wines, olive oil, vinegars, cookies, torrone, panforte and more. The next thing that brings them in is the smell of the salami hanging on the rack and the prosciutto being sliced on the slicer. Once customers are inside, everywhere they look there is something good to buy – cold cuts, cheeses, olives, bread, roasted chickens, and prepared to go items. It reminds one of taking a mini vacation to Italy. All sorts of smells can be emanating from the kitchen into the front depending on what the chef is up to. It’s an old-school, take-a-number-to-get-helped sort of place. On the weekends, things can get a little noisy as there could be up to 10 customers waiting to be served.

 

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Lucca Delicatessen remains open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and you can order their sandwiches and entrees for take-out and delivery on their website.

Octagon Houses: City Landmarks #17 and #36

May26th

McElroy Octagon House at 2645 Gough Street, April 1972. (OpenSFHistory, wnp25.6304)

by Woody LaBounty

“A Home for All” is what Orson S. Fowler named his 1853 book on the benefits and “superb arrangement” of the octagonal house he constructed in Fishkill, New York. Inside, readers learned how an eight-sided building improved air circulation, maximized light, and, in approximating a sphere, drew nearer to natural perfection. Fowler brooked no disagreement on the superiority of roundness over angularity: “This is not one of those fancy matters which allow of diversity of opinion, but is a fixed ordinance of Nature…”1

“A Home for All” was more than an instruction manual or set of floor plans; it was a philosophical treatise, a judgment on taste and acumen (“[t]he quantity and quality of man’s INTELLECT evince themselves in the houses they build.”), and practically a call for revolution. Eight-sided houses of all sizes and elaborations sprung up across the country in the wake of Fowler’s book, which went through several printings and was commented upon as far away as France, Hawaii, and China.

Some enterprising builder brought the fad to the boomtown of San Francisco, where amid humbler shanties, pre-fab iron houses, and gothic cottages, at least five octagon houses went up from Russian Hill to Rincon Hill south of Market Street.

Octagon house at 329 2nd Street, owned by Wales L. Palmer, circa 1864. Carleton Watkins photograph. (OpenSFHistory, wnp25.578)

Two octagon houses that survive today in San Francisco are city-designated landmarks.

Feusier Octagon House
1067 Green Street between Leavenworth and Jones Streets.
1067 Green Street in 2014. (Google Streetview)

Built as a two-story house in the late 1850s, 1067 Green Street received a Mansard-roofed third story and a cupola (octagonal, of course) under the occupancy of the Feusier family, who owned the property from the 1870s to the 1950s. This house is constructed close to Orson S. Fowler’s specifications with its exterior walls composed of lime cement. One section of his book is titled “Wood is Objectionable,” but on lime concrete he wrote, “Mixed with sand, formed with brick or stone into any shape we please, it petrifies and remains forever. How simple! How effectual! How infinitely useful!” From New York State, Fowler didn’t consider the seismic vulnerability of such construction in a place like California, but situated on the firm ground of Russian Hill, the Green Street house withstood the 1906 earthquake and was lucky to be missed by the subsequent fires.

Feusier Octagon house at 1067 Green Street, 1968. (OpenSFHistory, wnp25.5051)

While it has a good-sized garden around it, Fowler would be disappointed that today surrounding trees and apartment buildings deny it the full advantages of sunlight on the west and north.

The Board of Supervisors designated 1067 Green Street as San Francisco City Landmark #36 on November 2, 1970.

McElroy Octagon House
2645 Gough Street at Union Street.
McElroy Octagon house at 2645 Gough Street, 1972. (Photograph from National Register of Historic Places nomination form.)

William and Harriet McElroy built their octagon house on the east side of Gough Street between Union and Green Street in 1861, when Cow Hollow’s bovine population truly rivaled the neighborhood’s human presence. William died ten years later, but his widow lived in the house until 1891. Poet Daniel O’Connell lived inside for the next three years, making it somewhat of a Bohemian haunt before Harriet McElroy sold the property in 1894.

Unlike rocky Russian Hill, the McElroy house stands on shakier ground and the 1906 earthquake inflicted major damage.

Damaged McElroy Octagon house after 1906 earthquake. Refugees sorting through clothes in foreground. Arnold Genthe photograph. (OpenSFHistory, wnp33.00768)

The post World War II years were not good ones for preservation. One of the last San Francisco octagon houses, at the corner of Green and Jones Street was demolished for an apartment building in 1950. The following year, the McElroy house was endangered. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company had purchased the property as a possible substation site, and owned the house for years as a neglectful landlord to three spinster sisters. Ironically, the house was not wired for electricity under the electric company’s ownership.2

In 1951, the company decided to sell the property and it seemed little chance any new buyer would preserve the ninety-year-old house in its state of disrepair. In stepped the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, who saved the house by purchasing it and moving it directly west across Gough Street onto property donated by Lucy and Edith Allyne.3

McElroy Octagon house in process of being moved across Gough Street, 1952. (Thorne Hall, “Famed Gough St. Octagon House to Become Architectural Museum,” San Francisco Examiner, October 29,1952.)

On April 7, 1953, the restored house was dedicated as a museum of eighteenth century furniture, manuscripts, and mementos, and still serves as the California headquarters for the society.4 The building was designated as San Francisco City Landmark #17 on December 30, 1968, and it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Colonial Dames open the house for tours twice a month (although, of course, pandemic restrictions currently have those on hold). When you visit, pay particular attention to the upper floor, which retains the original wedge-shaped room configuration, and decide for yourself if, in the words of Orson Fowler, “the octagon form is more beautiful as well as capacious.”

More information

A Home for All, or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, by Orson S. Fowler (1854 edition at Archive.org)

Historic American Building Survey information on McElroy Octagon House, including photos of interior from 1960. (Library of Congress)


Notes:

1. Orson S. Fowler, A Home for All, or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1853.

2. Thorne Hall, “Famed Gough St. Octagon House to Become Architectural Museum,” San Francisco Examiner, October 29,1952, pg. 3.

3. The remainder of the Allyne’s property to the south became a city park in 1964.

4. “Historic S. F. Structure is Now Museum,” San Francisco Examiner, April 8, 1953, pg. 8.

Islam Temple: City Landmark #195

May19th

Former Islam Temple at 650 Geary Street is City Landmark #195. (Blatteis Realty Company, 2019.)

by Woody LaBounty

When the Islam Temple was under construction at 650 Geary Street in 1917, The Architect and Engineer described future City Landmark #195 as “logical and quite in harmony with its surroundings.”1

Home of the Alcazar Theatre, the Islam Temple is perhaps more in harmony with fourteenth-century Spain rather than San Francisco, inspired as it was by the Alhambra in Granada. The 1989 case report for designation of 650 Geary Street as a city landmark admitted as much, noting it “is so extraordinary in its design that it offers little in the way of continuity to the street.”2

Entry to former Islam Temple at 650 Geary Street. (Tony Hisgett photograph, 2014.)

Islam Temple is not, nor has ever been, a mosque or Islamic center. While home to the Alcazar Theatre since the 1970s (with frequent periods of inactivity and renovations during that time), 650 Geary Street was not constructed primarily as a venue for theatrical productions. The Moorish Revival eye-catcher between Jones and Leavenworth Streets began life as a headquarters for a local chapter of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a fraternal organization better known as the Shriners.

Shriners have always embraced pageantry and garishness in their organizational activities, ceremonies, and meeting places. Known for their red fez headwear, Shriners of last century sported elaborate quasi-Middle-Eastern attire at parades and assemblies: blousy pants, sashes, vests, white gloves, white boots, and ceremonial swords.

Shriners marching at East-West Game festivities in Kezar Stadium, circa 1955. (OpenSFHistory, wnp28.1900.)

So while San Francisco chapters of the Native Sons of the Golden West, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and Independent Order of Odd Fellows each had handsome new halls constructed after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Shriners insisted their building—with committee rooms, storage and rehearsal space (for musical bands), offices, and auditorium be on a scale more ornate and exotic. They turned to a brother in the temple, architect Thomas Paterson Ross, to deliver.

Ross was very comfortable incorporating historical elements from different cultures in his modern buildings. In Chinatown, Ross was the first to introduce tourist-pleasing, pagoda-inspired designs with the Sing Fat and Sing Chong buildings that flank Grant and California Streets.

View down Grant Street with Thomas Paterson Ross’s Sing Fat and Sing Chong buildings on left, 1920s. (Marilyn Blaisdell Collection/OpenSFHistory, wnp37.01754.)

Built just after the 1906 earthquake, these are not historically accurate creations. A sympathetic eye would see them as playful; a critic would call them hokey cultural appropriations. But for a business corridor like Grant Street or an organization looking to draw attention like the Shriners, Ross’s Orientalist productions filled the bill.

With the Islam Temple, Ross laid polychromatic tile and terra cotta, geometrical moldings, friezes, filigree latticework, arches, and a dome over a reinforced concrete structure. There are recesses, alcoves, balconies, and, unlike the real Alhambra, an automobile garage.

Postcard advertising the Islam Temple’s garage, circa 1920. (Jack Tillmany Collection. Courtesy of San Francisco Theatre blog.)

The Shriners moved into the Islam Temple of Mystic Shriners on May 11, 1918 with an “informal house-warming, smoker and entertainment.”3 When the national Shriners Convention came to San Francisco in 1922, the Islam Temple was a showplace for the local chapter, which claimed to have some 9,000 members on its rolls at the time.4 Over the course of the decade, new Shrine Centers from Los Angeles to Milwaukee to New York used Moorish Revival style for their temples and many are now local landmarks or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Detail of the center balcony of the former Islam Temple at 650 Geary Street. (Photo by Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons.)

The Shriners departed from 650 Geary Street in 1970. After the demolition of the old Alcazar Theatre downtown, a venue opened within the Islam Temple using the same name. Since the 1970s, the Alcazar has been the site of musicals, magic shows, lectures, and theatrical productions of all kinds. Here’s to live theatre and safe gatherings in our very near future.

More information

San Francisco City Landmark #195

Alcazar Theatre at San Francisco Theatres blog ( a great site to spend hours on).


Notes:

1. J. F. Dunn, “Islam Temple—An Example of Arabian Architecture,” The Architect and Engineer of California, September 1917, pg. 93.

2. Chris Krahn and Patrick McGrew, Final Case Report Islam Temple (Alcazar Theater), Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, May 17, 1989.

3. “Shriners to Meet in New Temple,” San Francisco Examiner, May 11, 1918, pg. 8.

4. “S.F. Oasis Is Renowned for Great Nobles,” San Francisco Examiner, June 12, 1922, pg. 43.

Haas-Lilienthal Virtual House Tour: Part IV

May18th

We invite you to continue exploring the Haas-Lilienthal House through our new virtual tour segments. Each segment is based on an audio tour created by Allison Dufty, digital storyteller, and made possible by a grant from the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation. It draws from archival and recent interviews with Haas-Lilienthal House family members, San Francisco Heritage staff, and other experts.

Watch Part IV below. This segment focuses on the Second Parlor, the room most akin to the modern living room. If you missed Part Iview it here, Part II is here, and Part III is here. Stay tuned as we bring you more areas of the house in the weeks to come (closed captioning is available)!