Heritage's mission is to preserve and enhance San Francisco's unique architectural and cultural identity.

Learn more about Heritage

Chinese-American Life In the Parkside

Jul23rd

Parkside kindergarten class, 1957. (Western Neighborhoods Project.)

by Woody LaBounty

Through World War II, the Parkside District and most of the southwest part of San Francisco was closed to buyers and residents who weren’t white. This segregation was enforced by racial deed covenants and by collusion between neighborhood associations, brokers, and lenders. Long after housing discrimination was made illegal, the Parkside remained white.

A San Francisco Examiner article in 1965 offered a cheerful assessment of St. Cecilia’s parish: “Parkside is a big-city district bypassed by the ugly problems typical of metropolitan America today. […] Its values, escalating through the affluent years, have always been above the means of most Negroes: result, no racial problem.” The only African-American parishioner at St. Cecilia’s was San Francisco supervisor Terry Francois.1

Racist practices that kept out African-Americans kept out Asian-Americans as well. Today, more than half of the residents of the Parkside identify as Chinese or Chinese-American. In the Sunset and Parkside, 53% speak a language other than English, with Chinese far ahead of Russian and Vietnamese.2 But in 1940, not one Chinese-American lived there, according to an analysis of the United States Census by the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA), as part of its Chinese in the Sunset project in 2017.

Based on the excellent research done by Palma You and Steve Haines at CHSA, the first Chinese-American to buy a home in the southwest corner of the city did so just after World War II.

Taraval Street home purchased by the Lee family in 1946. (Google Street View, February 2015)

Sherman and Edna Lee bought their home on Taraval Street near 38th Avenue in 1946. Mr. Lee was an engineer with a manufacturing company in Chinatown that supplied restaurants with aluminum and pewter serving dishes. The market was somewhat limited because Lee’s product was of such a high quality he rarely got repeat customers. He also invented an auto rickshaw used in the Philippines and a coal-powered clothes iron that could double as a cooktop. (The Lee house could be an excellent candidate for city landmark designation.)

Girls posing at Sunset Boulevard in 1952. (Courtesy of the Sherman and Edna Lee Family, through the Chinese Historical Society of America’s Chinese in the Sunset project.)

Less than 5% of the Sunset District’s population identified as Chinese-American in 1950, but the population grew steadily in the district through the 1960s and the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act in 1968 began opening doors in more homogeneous enclaves such as the Parkside. While in 1970, the Parkside was still 85% white (7% Latino and 4% Chinese) according to the U.S. Census, a great migration was beginning. Perhaps half of the property sales in the Richmond and Sunset districts in the 1970s were by Chinese-American buyers. By 1975, Chinese-Americans made up 22% of public school students in the Sunset and Parkside. In the early 2000s, that number would be more than more than half.3

Richard Lim and son in first Navy jet in Larsen Park, 1966, (Western Neighborhoods Project/outsidelands.org)

On an Outside Lands San Francisco podcast episode about the Chinese in the Sunset project, Palma You described what attracted Chinese-American buyers: “A lot of them moved from Chinatown to get away from the overcrowding… They were looking for more space and more parking, and once they left, a lot of them never looked back.”

Then Chinese buyers began arriving from overseas. Higher allowances for Hong Kong emigres to the United States ahead of China’s 1997 take-over increased San Francisco’s Chinese population in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Richmond and Sunset districts, not Chinatown, became the preferred landing spots for these arrivals.

Just Won Ton restaurant at 1241 Vicente Street.

But just because families were able to move to and buy in the Parkside and Sunset doesn’t mean the welcome mat was put out.

“Growing up on the west side of town in the 1970s and 1980s, I remember lots of overt racism—shops selling Nazi memorabilia!—and much of it was directed at Chinese-Americans. Loose affiliations of white teens in the Sunset branded themselves with quasi-gang names such as “White Punks on Dope” and “S.D.I.,” which stood for “Sunset District Incorporated.” With drinking, graffiti tagging, fighting, and vandalism, these gangs also harassed and tried to intimidate Asian-American business owners and residents.

As this year has shown us, racism might hide from time to time, but it never goes away. In 1995, a reported 100 black and Asian students brawled on the Lincoln High School campus. In 1997, teens scratched swastikas on Asian-American businesses in the Sunset District. Fifteen to twenty white youths allegedly yelled racial slurs, kicked, and punched five Asian-American teenagers at 19th Avenue and Taraval in 2003, with only one identified and charged with felony assault and hate crime enhancement. Racist graffiti and swastikas were spray-painted at A. P. Giannini School in 2005. And on and on…4

Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream at 1447 Taraval Street features gelato made from Asian fruits such as durian, lychee, jackfruit & guava.

But having lived in the Parkside, my daughter attending a Chinese-Immersion program at nearby West Portal Elementary School until 2011, I can’t help feeling progress and seeing corners having been turned. Walking in the Parkside District in 2020, the restaurants, the Boba tea shops, the Chinese characters on churches and businesses (even old-school Oceanside Sheet Metal) all give off the feeling of a neighborhood comfortable with its identity and aware now that Chinese-American life has been a significant part of its history.

In 2000, the city switched from citywide to district elections of the Board of Supervisors. The newly-designated District 4, encompassing the Sunset and Parkside, had the largest number of Chinese-American voters. Incumbent Chinese-American supervisor Leland Yee moved across town to ensure he could win re-election.5

Since then, District 4 has elected only Chinese-American candidates, and one, Katy Tang, was a homegrown product of the neighborhood’s foggy streets.

Katy Tang and her brother on a Sunset District sidewalk, 1980s.


Notes:

1. R. B. Read, “’Happy Harry’ Collins of Parkside, San Francisco Examiner, California Weekly Section, September 5, 1965, pg. 6.

2. https://www.instagram.com/p/CCGzcpSh4aW/

3. “The City’s People,” San Francisco Examiner, July 14, 1977, pg. 6; Ted Mao, “Chinatown” (editorial), San Francisco Examiner, July 1, 1975, pg. 35; Maura Kealey, “Summer on Ortega Street,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, October 9, 1977, California Living section, pg. 14.

4. Henry K. Lee, “Racial Tensions Flare at S.F.’s Lincoln High,” San Francisco Examiner, September 30, 1995, pg. 15; Gregory Lewis, “Swastikas in Sunset scare Asian residents,” San Francisco Examiner, March 9, 1997, pg. C1; Vanessa Hua, “Teen tied to hate crime must do public service,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 2004, pg. B4; Rona Marech, “Reward offered for information on racist graffiti at middle school,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 2005, pg. 14.

5. Ilene Lelchuk, “Outer Sunset voters feel short-changed,” San Francisco Examiner, September 18, 2000, pg. 1.

Italian Legacy Food Spots in San Francisco’s Parkside District

Jul22nd

Customers abiding to social distancing guidelines at Guerra Quality Meats, July 2020. (Heritage photo)

by Kerri Young

From the 1910s to the 1970s, the Parkside District was a middle-class suburban enclave of families of mostly western European descent. While there was a large population of Irish-Americans who made the Parkside their home, many Italian-Americans also lived in the district. Many family-owned Italian businesses along the Parkside’s main commercial artery of Taraval Street, founded decades ago, are still serving customers today.

Guerra Quality Meats



In 1954, Mark and Battista Guerra opened their butcher shop on the corner of Taraval at 22nd Avenue, and it flourished in its role catering to the the Italian and Irish families of the Parkside District. In the early 1980s, Mark moved to another grocery store, this time in West Portal, and then back to the Parkside to a 1929 Mediterranean-Revival style building at 15th Avenue and Taraval that they continue to occupy today.1 The business still retains its high-quality butcher shop, and over the years has added a deli, produce section, full-service catering, and even their own brand of sauces and marinades. And, bringing a piece of North Beach Italian heritage to the Parkside, Guerra also carries the legendary focaccia bread from legacy business Liguria Bakery.

Guerra’s has stayed in the family and today Robert and Paul Guerra, Mark’s sons, and cousin John Guerra, Battista’s son, are owners. While continuing to serve second- and even third-generation shoppers, over the years they have also adapted and grown their business to stay current with the times. For example, under this new generation of ownership, Guerra’s has created a robust online shopping portal to make shopping more convenient, a far cry from the businesses’ butcher-counter-days in the 1950s.

A look at Guerra’s revamped website. 

Guerra’s occupies the ground-floor of a three-story Mediterranean-Revival style building, built in 1929. It features red clay tile roofs, embossed wall ornamentations, and a line of archways on the second story. The top two floors of the building hold three other residential and commercial units.

Guerra’s remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic, and you can order online for pick-up or delivery. If you stop by to shop in-person, physical distancing protocols are in place with only a set number of people allowed inside at one time. Masks are required!

A woman orders from the deli counter inside Guerra’s, 2016. Photo courtesy of SF Gate.

A few years ago, Guerra’s expanded to a storefront a block away at 345 Taraval Street. As Guerra’s To Go, this outpost sells a variety of Guerra’s signature dishes ready-to-eat. To adapt during the COVID crisis, Guerra’s To Go has also restocked with basic food necessities such as fresh milk, eggs, butter, dried pasta, and canned goods. Visit this page for their online ordering options and temporary hours.


Gold Mirror Restaurant



Wednesday-Sunday, 4:00 PM-8:30 PM
415-564-0401

Gold Mirror in July 2020. Tables are set out in front for outdoor dining. Heritage photo.

Gold Mirror on Fillmore, April 6, 1938. Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Originally located in the Fillmore in the 1940s, the Gold Mirror began as a cocktail lounge immersed in the local jazz scene. In the 1950s it moved to its current location at 18th Avenue and Taraval Street, a 1937-era building near the gateway to the Parkside neighborhood. Chef Giuseppe Di Grande bought the Gold Mirror in 1969 and transformed it into a family-style Italian restaurant with traditional recipes and ambiance. His sons Domenico and Roberto Di Grande eventually joined the business, carrying on their father’s traditions in the kitchen while making “the best homemade Tiramisu in town.”

The medieval-esque interior at Gold Mirror. Courtesy of Gold Mirror’s Facebook page.

The dining room at the Gold Mirror is set against the backdrop of a medieval castle, with classic Italian music filling the air and warmth from the candle lights. Original signs, doors, and mirrors still inhabit the Gold Mirror from an earlier era.

On April 19, 2004 the restaurant was struck by a runaway truck. Though a shocking event, the accident led to an unusual discovery. As the restaurant was reconstructed, workers uncovered several paintings behind the bar mirrors. Suggestive of 1940s décor and depicting two golden-haired women holding mirrors, the paintings revealed the story behind the business’s illusive name. Having been protected behind the mirror for decades, the paintings were in relatively good condition, and one now hangs in the restaurant as a testament to its past.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Gold Mirror remains open and has starting offering a rotating selection of family meals for curbside pickup. Under the current city order, they are also able to offer outdoor dining, and they have set up tables along their 18th Avenue side. In addition to dining with them, you can now also purchase Gold Mirror-branded masks by adding one to your takeout order.


Marcello’s



415-665-1430
Wednesday-Sunday, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Marcello’s at the corner of 31st and Taraval, July 2020, Heritage photo.

Shupack’s Fashion Furniture at 2100 Taraval in 1954. We are curious about what “Klown House” restaurant was across the street!

Marcello’s is an old school Italian restaurant on the corner of 31st Avenue and Taraval, that has been serving up classic Italian cuisine since 1978. Housed in a building built in 1929, according to San Francisco city directories this spot was formerly home to Shupack’s Fashion Furniture in the 1950s, Villa Capri Tavern in the early 1970s, and then came closest to its current incarnation as Bacchini’s Italian Cusine in the late 1970s. By 1978, “Restaurante Marcello” is listed at the address.

Bacchini’s Italian Cuisine at 2100 Taraval in 1977, precursor to Marcello’s.

Marcello’s serves unfussy Italian classics like Veal Piccatta, Ravioli Bolognese, and a hearty and garlic-heavy spaghetti alla matriciana. Pre-pandemic, you could enjoy these classics at tables with white tablecloths while sitting on red vinyl chairs, or grab a martini facing the stone-covered bar. Outside, textured stone siding, placed on the building in the decades after it was built, remains on the restaurant’s facade, adding to its stuck-in-time look.

A giant billboard now hangs on the wall on Marcello’s 31st Avenue side, alongside an older neon sign not currently in use. Though the building has been heavily stuccoed over the years, remnants of its 1920s origins can be found in its flat, low-pitched roof, rectangular building shape, and the decorative motifs under the eaves.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

We tried out a new old place tonight. Really good. 👍

A post shared by l o r i 🐝 (@miss_cherrydabomb) on

COVID-19 updates on Marcello’s front door, July 2020. Heritage photo. 

After taking a brief summer vacation, Marcello’s re-opened on July 17th, 2020 and is now offering takeout and delivery (the latter is only for Sunset District residents) from Wednesday-Sunday from 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Give them a call (at the phone number they’ve had since 1978!) at 415-665-1430 to order from their menu of Italian classics.


Notes:

1. Anna Roth, “Guerra Quality Meats and the glory of the old-school butcher shop,” SF Gate, August 17, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/food/eatup/article/Guerra-Quality-Meats-and-the-glory-of-the-9146260.php#photo-10757801

Trocadero Inn: Parkside’s Roadhouse Remnant

Jul21st

Trocadero Inn clubhouse in Stern Grove. (Matt Biddulph photograph, licensed under Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.)

by Woody LaBounty

The oldest building the Parkside District area—perhaps the oldest standing in the southwest part of San Francisco—possesses rich architectural details, is the sole intact survivor of a string of early roadhouses that once stretched across the western and southern parts of the city, and is connected to a seminal event in San Francisco’s post 1906-earthquake recovery. But it does not appear on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources, or even as a San Francisco City Landmark.

The Trocadero Inn stands in Stern Grove, down a wooded gully from the Parkside streets, between 19th Avenue and the concert amphitheater, a frame building with a veranda, a prominent center gable, and a tower above. Its tall windows and hooded dormers on the roof invoke a late nineteenth century seaside or mountain resort, and in a way, as a roadhouse built in primarily undeveloped countryside, the Trocadero was one.

Roadhouses are still with us today, situated on popular highways and country roads, providing temptation to Sunday drivers to stop for a meal or a drink. The Pelican Inn in west Marin County or The Mountain House in Woodside among the redwoods are both good examples. In the 1890s, large sections of the west and southern parts of San Francisco were open land. And those taking a day trip to Ocean Beach or Lake Merced had a number of roadhouses to visit, including the Trocadero.

Drawing of Trocadero south elevation in 1936.(N. Yolgulkin, Library of Congress, Historic American Building Survey CA-119)

The Trocadero’s origins start with one family. The Green brothers from New Brunswick—William Henry, Daniel, George, John, Robert, and Alfred—first settled on land north of Lake Merced in the 1850s. There they farmed and, as side businesses, ran small bars and larger roadhouses for day trippers to the lake and Ocean Beach. After his brothers sold most of their land to the private Spring Valley Water Company in the 1870s, William Henry and his sons Leopold and George W. Green continued farming around today’s Pine Lake and Stern Grove. It was supposedly George W. Green who had the idea of building the Trocadero about 1892.

The setting was secluded and picturesque. The gulch was filled with eucalyptus, pine trees, and ferns planted by the Greens over the decades. The Greens originally had grand designs for the Trocadero as the centerpiece of a true resort, with weekend rental cabins, a deer park, and trout stocked in Pine Lake for anglers.1

Families in fine carriages traveling between the city and estates down the Peninsula in Atherton and Belmont may have been the target, but roadhouse clientele usually consisted of groups of less refined men out for a day of drinking, dining, and perhaps gambling.

Trocadero Inn, August 18, 1936. (Robert W. Kerrigan photograph, Library of Congress, Historic American Building Survey CA-119)

Green ended up leasing out the Trocadero to a series of operators: experiences liquor dealers, prizefight referees, and other “sporting men.” Beer gardens, dance pavilions, and couple of tame bears were installed for entertainment at different times and early bicycle clubs often made the Trocadero the location for post-ride parties.

It was at the Trocadero on March 8, 1907 that famed political boss Abe Ruef was arrested during the wide-ranging corruption trials that took place after the city’s massive earthquake and fires. Ruef, who had been hiding out with a stack of magazines for a few days, was captured peacefully, despite stories passed down that the bullet holes in the Trocadero’s front door originated from the arrest.2

By 1910, George W. Green entertained offers on the Trocadero and the 19 acres of land he owned around it. The Parkside Realty Company apparently considered buying as an addition, but likely the sluggish sales from the Parkside’s opening in 1907-1908 discouraged the idea. Instead, the Trocadero property became a rare recreational enclave for women.

Trocadero Inn, August 18, 1936. (Robert W. Kerrigan photograph, Library of Congress, Historic American Building Survey CA-119)

Mrs. Charles A. Hawkins, who had her own estate and home across the street on the northeast corner of 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, leased the Trocadero and land around it in February 1910 with the aim of forming a country club and athletic grounds.3 She established a “Women’s Outdoor Club,” and in 1912, a group called the “Girl Pioneers of America” ran a summer camp in the valley, with campers picking strawberries, pitching tents, and taking 18-mile (!) hikes.4 Also hosted at the Trocadero in this era was a “School of Employment” for women, respectable social dances, and suffragette meetings.

Proposals to build different country clubs came and went through the 1920s, but in 1931, the Greens sold their Trocadero property to the Sigmund Stern Recreation Fund, which granted it to the city’s recreation and park department. Renamed for Mrs. Stern’s late husband, it became a famous local venue for an annual free concert series. The Trocadero itself was remodeled in the 1930s by architect Bernard Maybeck, and is a popular venue today for weddings and other parties.


Notes:

1. L. H. Shoup and Suzanne Baker. 1981. “Cultural Resources Overview: Lake Merced Transport.” San Francisco Clean Water Program: San Francisco, CA., pg 27.

2. “Burns Captures Fugitive Abe Ruef,” San Francisco Call, March 9, 1907, pg. 1.

3. “Country Club May Lease Trocadero,” San Francisco Call, February 28, 1910, pg. 7.

4. “Girl Pioneers Win Their Camping Spurs,” San Francisco Junior Call, June 29, 1912, pg. 3.

San Francisco’s Pinelake Park

Jul20th

Bordering a true park, Pinelake Park is a residential development of the Parkside Realty Company between Crestlake Drive and Sloat Boulevard. Learn about the area’s not-to-be Veteran’s Hospital, its revival-style and Midcentury-modern style homes, and its neighboring natural lake in Woody LaBounty’s new video about this hidden neighborhood.

Visit sfheritage.org/parkside to learn more about our work in San Francisco’s Parkside District!