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

Learn more about Heritage

Visitacion Valley October Roundup: All Posts

Oct29th

Thank you for following along during our Visitacion Valley Month (#VisValleyHeritage), part of our Heritage in the Neighborhoods program. While we are looking forward to celebrating at Visitacion Valley Heritage Night soon (stay tuned for the date!), we’d like to share all that we’ve written during October 2021 so you may easily find what you missed.

From architectural resources and legacy businesses, to cultural communities and public art, we’ve spotlighted many of the things that make Visitacion Valley a hidden gem in San Francisco. We hope you learn something new and get excited to go out and explore the neighborhood in your own time.

Clockwise from upper-left: Visitacion Valley History Project member Betty Parshall poses with “the rock”; View to Schlage Locks administration building from Teddy and San Bruno Avenues in 1941 ( OpenSFHistory / wnp5.50043); home in Little Hollywood; Sunnydale kids on Beniamino Bufano’s “Bear and Head” sculpture. (Barbara Bernstein photograph © Creative Commons BY-NC-ND.);

Visitacion Valley History 
  • Home to two Yelamu settlements before the Spanish “discovered” and named what is today Visitacion Valley, the area was home to early settlers’ cattle farms and nurseries before giving way to a mix of housing and commerce. Read Woody LaBounty’s short overview of “The Valley of the Windmills.”
  • Until the early 20th century, Visitacion Valley was a neighborhood mostly of farms and acres rather than houses and streets. Starting in the 1920s, the Valley became synonymous with one thing: the giant Schlage Lock factory standing just north of SP’s hydra of railroad tracks.
  • Like the best secrets, Visitacion Valley sub-neighborhood Little Hollywood gives the discoverer a sense of surprise, delight, and the hint of further mysteries to unravel.
  • Conceived at the end of the Great Depression, constructed during World War II, the 80-year old Sunnydale housing project was a great experiment, an answer to the affordable housing problem with which we still struggle in San Francisco.

Clockwise from upper-left: 198 Leland Street, part of one of the oldest grouping of buildings on Leland Avenue; Casa Bahia Loma in Little Hollywood, rumored haunt of Hollywood star Mae West; the brick homes, designed by Joseph Eichler; and A. Silvestri Co, a legacy business candidate operating in the former home of Sam’s Lodge and George’s Log Cabin.

Architectural Resources and Local Landmarks 
  • It’s certainly not every neighborhood that can boast of having a palace, a castle, and a log cabin within its borders, but SF’s Visitacion Valley can – and does! Visitacion Valley History Project’s Cynthia Cox tells us more.
  • The former Bay Shore Hotel, a colorful Art Deco block, and a midcentury market are among Woody LaBounty’s favorite commercial buildings along Leland Avenue.
  • There are no designated landmarks in Visitacion Valley. Sadly, this is not surprising. Humbler structures in outlying neighborhoods have a tougher path to recognition, their significance more likely connected to working class people and marginalized cultural communities. Bu there are multiple obvious landmark candidates in the Valley, including a Julia Morgan-designed church, Joseph Eichler-designed town houses, and a 1913 firehouse.
  • Read a short history (and watch the implosion) of Geneva Towers, the Joseph Eichler designed structures that dominated the Visitacion Valley skyline for three decades.
  • Starting in the mid-19th century, Visitacion Valley established three “mile houses,” places to get water for horses and a strong drink on the way to and from the city. Two of the original buildings are still intact, and one is still serving food and drink.
  • The log cabin at 2629 Bayshore Boulevard that straddles the line between San Francisco and San Mateo counties has been the site of several popular bars and restaurants over the years, including Sam’s Lodge and George’s Log Cabin.

Clockwise from upper-left: The Visitacion Valley Pharmacy at 100 Leland Avenue, Teddy’s Market at 296-298 Teddy Avenue, Forty-Niner Cleaners at 51 Leland Avenue.

Visitacion Valley Legacy Businesses 
  • Just as Visitacion Valley currently has no landmarks, it also does not have any businesses on San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry. We spotlighted a few longtime businesses in the neighborhood that are each worthy candidates, two of which have histories dating back over 100 years.

Visitacion Valley resident Neo Veavea shares some neighborhood secrets in this short video interview.

Video/Written Interviews with Visitacion Valley Residents
  • Visitacion Valley History Project co-founder Edie Epps tells us why Leland Avenue is one of the Valley’s best kept secrets.
  • When he first came to Visitacion Valley as a child, Neo Veavea first settled with his mother in Sunnydale housing projects. Five decades later, he resides in the Joseph Eicher-designed brick homes and is an active community member.
  • In our new “Community Voices” column, Visitacion Valley resident and Visitacion Valley History Project member Russel Morine shares a common misconception about the neighborhood.
  • In addition to sharing her favorite places, resident Selina Low also shared a wonderful written memory of her parent’s store, Sunlight Grocery, formerly located on Visitacion Avenue.
  • Watch our informal brown bag lunch conversation with the Visitacion Valley History Project, who shared some of the fun Valley ephemera they’ve collected over the years.

David Gallagher helped partially solve the mystery of 2 Hahn Street, which was moved to Visitacion Valley in the 1940s.

…a History Mystery Partially Solved
  • The Visitacion Valley History Project have wondered about a mysterious building at 2 Hahn Street, as well as a secret room at 150 Delta Street. We were on the case, and solved a few mysteries along the way.


We’ve mapped Visitacion Valley’s standout public art. Click to browse!

Fun Stuff!

We’d like to hear your favorite places, stories, and ideas for what preservation projects you’d like Heritage to focus on in Visitacion Valley. Reply to this email or email me, Kerri, at kyoung@sfheritage.org.

Video: 4 Questions with Visitacion Valley resident Selina Low

Oct28th

For our final Thursday video segment, we interviewed Visitacion Valley resident Selina Low to discuss her favorite places in the neighborhood. Selina was raised in Visitacion Valley, and is now a licensed clinical social worker who provides therapy and assessments for children and youth.

In the video, Selina talks briefly about growing up in and around her parent’s neighborhood grocery store, Sunlight Grocery. As a companion to the video, she wrote a short reflection called “Remembering Sunlight Grocery,” which details some her fondest memories of the store (no longer in operation). Read Selina’s piece below.


As I reflect on growing up in Visitacion Valley, I know my story would be incomplete, without mentioning our little corner grocery store. My parents owned and operated Sunlight Grocery for over twenty years in the 70s through about the mid 90s. It’s no longer there on Visitacion Ave., but the fond memories are in my heart and mind.

I can still remember the brown tile floor and the white counter that held the two large calculators. I can picture the built in shelves that went all around the perimeter of the store and, the freezers and other shelves. We sold food from canned soups and spaghetti to boxes of Cream of Wheat and cereal to frozen TV dinners and pot-pies. We sold bread, rice, lunchmeat, milk, juice and soda, baby food, cookies, cupcakes, ice-cream, fruit and vegetables, beer, wine and more.

Selina in her family’s store dressed up for Halloween, c.1987. Courtesy of Selina Low.

We sold cold cuts like salami, American and Swiss cheese, ham, bologna and liverwurst. I remember my mother making sandwiches for me to take to school–ham and liverwurst in a small paper bag packed neatly with a napkin and small carton of orange drink. I remember her cutting the cheese very thin some times and we would call it “paper cheese.” I remember being cautioned not to take too many snacks!

I can picture many things we sold and remember being told by customers that we had the coldest drinks in town. I remember kids buying pickles to go with peppermint sticks. I remember the store being a place where people chatted as they made their purchases. I can recall as a youth, when a friend would come to the store and when he was ready to leave, I would come out from the behind the counter and we would race up the street to see who would win.

Selina, aged 7 or 8, with her dogs behind the family store. Courtesy of Selina Low.

I remember neighbors coming to buy things, but it was the conversation even if brief, that was so community. My parents perfected their English though it wasn’t their first language.

Some times it was rough, because my parents worked long hours and some times in challenging conditions, to care for their children. But we also worked together as a family. And I recall my parents trying to help others, by offering tabs to some customers they knew well. When I think of my parents’ hard work and being good people who wanted to help others, I am proud of them and my family and am grateful for what they taught me.

When I see someone from the neighborhood that knew me when we operated Sunlight Grocery, I am some times referred to as “the little girl from the store.”

The Log Cabin, Then and Now

Oct27th

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).

Sunnydale’s Next Chapter

Oct26th

Sunnydale kids on Beniamino Bufano’s “Bear and Head” sculpture. (Barbara Bernstein photograph © Creative Commons BY-NC-ND.)

by Woody LaBounty

Sunnydale should have a book written about it. The 80-year old housing project in Visitacion Valley has been the set, and often the antagonist, in the lives of thousands of San Franciscans.

Conceived at the end of the Great Depression, constructed during World War II, Sunnydale was a great experiment, an answer to the affordable housing problem with which we still struggle in San Francisco. The Federal Housing Authority, born out of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, sought to “devise new housing projects in which low-income families [could] be more decently accommodated at low rentals.”1

Sunnydale was the third housing development planned in San Francisco after Holly Park (Bernal Heights) and Potrero Terrace (Potrero Hill), and it was the most ambitious, covering 48 acres with 772 units in dozens of low-slung buildings surrounded with white picket fences and children’s playgrounds. Ground was broken on February 17, 1940. Long-time San Francisco park superintendent John McLaren himself attended to bless the new community beside his namesake park. Barrett & Hilp, builders of the Golden Gate Bridge, had the contract for Sunnydale and gave a touch of Streamline Moderne style to the buildings. On March 1, 1941, just a year later, fifty families moved in, paying $17 to $29 a month rent ($317 to $535 in 2021 dollars).

View of Sunnydale under construction in January 1941. (San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, January 10, 1941. San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Center, AAD-6107)

People fought to get into the new housing project, applying even if their monthly income crept over the maximum to qualify for a unit, which kept being reset higher as the crunch for housing intensified. From $73 a month the income level shot up to $133 in June 1941 and $175 for defense workers by January 1942. (These monthly income amount would be roughly $1,300 to $3,200 in 2021 dollars.) The Real Estate Board complained that projects like Sunnydale were too attractive and hurt apartment building owners.

Bobby-soxers posing for 1941 article on Sunnydale. Caption read “This is close view of one of the Sunnydale apartment homes. Their units are of similar design but their excellent planning avoids any monotonous look.” (San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, January 10, 1941. San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Center, AAD-6107)

Public housing in San Francisco was segregated for its first dozen years, with African-Americans limited only to the Westside Courts project in the Western Addition at Sutter and Broderick Streets. The San Francisco Housing Authority claimed to be “maintaining neighborhood patterns.” In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ended the city’s discrimination by refusing to hear an appeal by the Housing Authority from a lower court decision, which deemed the policies “a guaranty of inequality.”2

Public housing across the nation began to deteriorate in the 1960s, a process that accelerated and, with rare exceptions, has continued to the present day. Our nation’s adopted stereotypes of “the projects” born out music, television, movies, and the media aren’t universal, but Sunnydale particularly suffered over the decades from neglect, crumbling infrastructure, vandalism, crime, and violence. Every ten years or so, a reporter visited to highlight the problems from which most of the city turned its eyes, and still does. In 1988, one newspaper summed up life in Sunnydale as “a no man’s land—a safe house for criminals and an emotional prison for its tenants.”3 In 2008, another article on Sunnydale was headlined “Life at the Bottom.”

That 2008 article mentioned mayor Gavin Newsom’s “Hope SF” program to rebuild the city’s eight worst housing projects, including Sunnydale. Resident Kenneth Johnson was quoted as skeptical: “The mayor tells us to sign up for this and wait a little for that. But we are always disappointed. We’ve been set up for failure”4

Thirteen long years later, the new Sunnydale is finally emerging. Boxy four-and-five story buildings in shades of gray and brown are opening or under construction. Last month, demolition permits for a dozen of the 1941 buildings were filed. Along with replacement housing for existing residents, an additional 995 “affordable” and market-rate units are planned for the site.

Mercy Housing’s 290 Melosi is scheduled to open this fall, with current or former Sunnydale residents having first preference in the placement lottery. (San Francisco Housing Portal)

So any author planning that Sunnydale book may want to wait. After years of neglect, major changes are finally underway at Sunnydale. Will the cartoonish sketches of leafy streets and farmers’ markets become reality? Will there be positive changes for the people who actually live there now? The next chapter is yet to be written.


Notes:

1. “Housing Authority,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1939.

2. Richard Reinhardt, “S. F. Segregation in Housing to End,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 25, 1954.

3. Rick DelVecchio, “Who’s to Blame for Crisis At S. F. Housing Projects,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1988.

4. Leslie Fulbright, “Life at the Bottom: S.F.’s Sunnydale Project,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 2008.