The Log Cabin, Then and Now

October 27th, 2021 No Comments »

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

By Cynthia Cox, Visitacion Valley History Project

In an earlier post we shared stories about our neighborhood’s “palace” (the Cow Palace) and our “castle” (the 3-building complex at Bayshore and Visitacion). Now we turn our attention to the last of the triad, the “log cabin.”

Although it truly is a log cabin now, the first known building on the site – 2629 Bayshore – was neither a cabin nor constructed of logs, but rather a simple wooden structure reminiscent of the buildings seen in Hollywood Westerns. When it transitioned to its present form is not known. What we do know is that in the early 1930s Swiss-born Samuel Chappat and his wife, Lena, opened Sam’s Lodge, a roadhouse that straddled the line between San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

Interior of Sam’s Lodge. Courtesy of the Visitacion Valley History Project.

Photos from that time show that this was a place where good times were had by a well-dressed clientele. In addition to Swiss-themed nights and games that included mounting small metal “horses” and rocking one’s way across the wooden floor, it was said that after-hours one could stand in one county (San Francisco) and play the slots in another (San Mateo, with its less-restrictive alcohol and gambling laws). In homage to its raucous past, the yellow line designating the separation between the two counties has now been repainted. And if you look up, you’ll still see small glass panes in the ceiling of the San Mateo portion, allowing someone above to keep a watchful eye on the “festivities” below.

Guests at Sam’s Lodge mounting small metal “horses” during a fun evening. Courtesy of the Visitacion Valley History Project.

Exactly when and why Sam’s Lodge closed is not known, but in the 1940s the log cabin made the transition to a still popular but now refined dining-and-dance spot known as George’s Log Cabin. Owned by George Chan Sr., who had previously operated George’s Shrimp Palace at Hunter’s Point, he offered both a somewhat limited “American menu” (filet mignon for $2, anyone?) and a more extensive “Chinese menu” for equally low prices. In addition to dining, patrons could dance to live music performed by George Chan Jr. and his “Blue Notes” or other combos.

Flyer for George's Log Cabin listing musical acts such as Morning Glory, Allmen Joy, and Charlie Musselwhite

1969 flyer for George’s Log Cabin listing musical acts such as Morning Glory, Allmen Joy, and Charlie Musselwhite. Courtesy of the Visitacion Valley History Project.

The Blue Notes, who performed regularly at George’s Log Cabin. Courtesy of the Visitacion Valley History Project.

George’s Log Cabin menu. Courtesy of the Visitacion Valley History Project.

In addition to their successful nightclub, the Chans also “sold tropical fish in the back of the barroom. They were beautifully displayed with tanks mounted in the walls,” recalled Alan LaPointe, who grew up in the neighborhood.

In the 1960s the use of the log cabin underwent a transformation once again. Under various monikers – the Polynesian Hideaway with fire dancers (a use that would almost certainly not be allowed today in a building with a low ceiling composed of logs!); Moonrose Forest, which hosted various rock bands (including the Deviants, punk rockers, for at least one performance); George’s Log Cabin again, albeit with a very different type of music than the “Blue Notes” had once played; and finally, in 1970, the Soul Cabin.

Inside Silvestri’s Statuary, former home to Sam’s Lodge and George’s Log Cabin.

But for the past 50 years the log cabin has served as the showroom for Silvestri’s Statuary, originally founded by three Italian brothers who peddled their wares, including Kewpie dolls, from door to door before returning to Tuscany during the Depression. Years later several of their descendants returned to San Francisco, setting up shop in Glen Park until their property, now the site of the BART station, was taken by eminent domain. It was then that the Silvestris relocated the business to its present site, ensuring that the log cabin remains a viable and welcome part, not only of Visitacion Valley’s historic past, but also its present.

Although now long-gone, the Silvestri family has re-painted the famous “line” down the middle of the cabin in tribute to the phase of the building’s history where one could stand in San Francisco and play the slots in San Mateo (with its far more liberal laws on gambling and after-hours drinking).

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