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Trailblazing Reporter Called Marina District Home

Oct23rd

Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils, 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Facing the Marina District’s Palace of Fine Arts Lagoon stands the former home of one of the best-known and most colorful journalists of the early twentieth century. Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils (1863-1936) worked for a number of papers run by mogul William Randolph Hearst, and was known not only for her writing and reporting but her ingenuity and tenacity in obtaining stories.

Taking the pseudonym Annie Laurie, she scored a number of exposés, scoops, and circulation-building publicity stunts. For example, she staged a “fainting spell” to test the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of San Francisco’s emergency services, and her exposé led to the purchase of a city ambulance. In 1900, she disguised herself as a boy and slipped through a police cordon to become the first outside reporter and only woman journalist to enter Galveston, Texas, in the aftermath of the city’s disastrous flood of September 8. She opened a temporary hospital there and administered relief funds collected through the Hearst papers. Her charitable spirit extended to her column in the San Francisco Examiner, where she mobilized public concern by organizing various charities and public benefactor campaigns.

Winifred also reported from San Francisco following its great earthquake of 1906; on child labor and juvenile justice issues; the leper colony at Molokai; and the trial of Harry Thaw in 1907, who was accused of killing architect Stanford White over “the girl in the red velvet swing” (Evelyn Nesbit). The favorable coverage accorded by Winifred and other female reporters to Evelyn Nesbit in the latter case gave rise to the epithet “sob sister,” which despite her dislike of the term stuck with her throughout her career.

Winifred Black was one of only eight women to cover the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles during World War I. Excerpt from the Fourth Estate, February 8, 1919.

She later reported from Europe during World War I, and at Hearst’s request wrote a biography of his mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

The Mediterranean Revival residence at 3320 Baker Street, just steps from the Palace of Fine Arts, was her last home. Built in 1927, it was designed by another trailblazing woman, master architect Julia Morgan. Winifred died here in 1936, and by order of the mayor Angelo Rossi her body lay in state at the rotunda in City Hall.

Legacy Business Candidates in the Marina

Oct21st

The Horseshoe Tavern, at 2024 Chestnut Street. The Horseshoe Tavern’s Art Deco building was constructed during the zenith of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne storefront design, and along with other standout examples on Chestnut Street is a significant example of commercial storefront architecture. Its well-kept neon sign is one of the few examples left in the district. Heritage photo.

By Kerri Young

While not yet on San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry, these beloved Marina businesses deserve recognition.

Horseshoe Tavern
2024 Chestnut Street
Type: Bar
Established: 1934

Affectionately known as “The Shoe” to its regulars, Horseshoe Tavern was established in the Marina District on Fillmore and Chestnut in 1934. According to the San Francisco Assessor’s Report, this was the same year the bar’s Art Deco-style building was erected. The bar’s original owner was storied character Vic Ramos, who served as a US Marine and a football player for an early team that would go on to become the San Francisco 49ers. Ramos set up shop on Chestnut Street at a time when the Marina District’s transformation from pre-1920s mud flats to populous residential district was nearly complete. Ramos gathered a popular following and a devoted local crowd for his small watering hole.

Over the next several decades, the Horseshoe Tavern’s name changed a few times (“The Wrinkle Room” and “God’s Waiting Room”) but always maintained its faithful regulars. Three such regulars, Robert Walker, Brenda Turner, and Stefan Wever, made Ramos many offers to purchase the bar, which he always turned down. Finally after thirty-eight years serving as the bar’s owner and proprietor, Ramos gave them their wish. The three enterprising patrons decided to return the beloved watering hole to its roots and christened it once more the Horseshoe Tavern.

Interior of Horseshoe Tavern in 2009, by FogCityFog on Flickr.

Pool tables and a new jukebox updated the bar, but the Horseshoe remained much as it was since its inception. Amidst a crowd of upscale bars, Horseshoe Tavern boasts being a “non-Marina bar in the Marina” and persists as a classic San Francisco institution. Earlier this month, they debuted a brand-new parklet outside the bar for patrons to enjoy their drinks in the sun. They are open 7 days a week, but their pandemic hours vary: visit them on Instagram @horseshoe_tavern_sf for the latest updates.

The Marina Motel at 2576 Lombard. Heritage photo.

Marina Motel
2576 Lombard Street
Type: Motel
Established: 1939

While Horseshoe Tavern was built the year after construction started on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marina Motel debuted soon after the bridge’s opening. The motel opened in 1939 to celebrate the opening of the city’s now-iconic landmark. While Lombard is today a busy six lane boulevard lined with dozens of small motels, Marina Motel was one of the first to cater to the Marina neighborhood when it was a relatively new residential district in the 1930s.

A mural painted on the side of the Marina Motel touts that it “opened in 1939 to celebrate the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.” Heritage photo.

The motel’s story begins with Henry Louis (also known as Lou), who was the son of Gold Rush miner who came from Hanover, Germany in 1852 to strike it rich in California. Young Lou lived in San Francisco with his mother and three siblings during the school year while his father worked his claim in the town of Madera (on the road to Yosemite) year-round. When Lou was nine, he received the news that his father had suddenly passed away from pneumonia.

With his father’s sudden death, Lou dropped out of school to help support his family and became a “runner” for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin newspaper, delivering stories by hand from reporters around the city to the publisher’s office. As Lou matured, he opened a cafe and bakery along the Embarcadero in the early 1900s to serve hungry ferry passengers. When his business burned down in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Lou tried his hand at opening a Ford dealership selling Model A’s and Model T’s.

A peek inside the Marina Motel’s auto court. Heritage photo.

A view into the motor court from one of the Marina Hotel’s rooms. A classic piece of motor court architecture is found in the individual carport bays beneath each room. Photo courtesy of the Marina Motel.

After the end of the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in 1915, Lou jumped in to help develop out the growing Marina neighborhood. At the age of 70, he took a trip to Niagara Falls and stayed at his first “Auto Court.” These proto-motels incorporated in their plan dedicated parking spaces for automobiles, and were usually erected adjacent to busy thoroughfares and highways. In the Marina Motel’s case, this busy thoroughfare was the new Lombard Street (US 101) which led directly to the Golden Gate Bridge.

According to the Marina Motel, Lou pulled himself out of retirement and decided to open San Francisco’s very first Auto Court. Neighbors thought such a place would attract gangsters, their suspicions fueled by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who railed against auto courts as places “haunted by nomadic prostitutes, hardened criminals, white slavers and promiscuous college students (the Ocean Park Motel in the Sunset District suffered the same suspicions when it opened in 1937).” After a lengthy battle, Lou was able to start building little apartments surrounding an inner courtyard. Just before he finished, he was able to get the “motor courtyard” zoning approved and built the last half of the rooms without kitchens.

Today, the Marina Motel is a unique example of roadside architecture. It predates the golden age of the motels, which began after World War II when motels were used by the traveling middle class. While the growth of interstate highways and chain motels ended the heyday of independent motels in the 1960s, the Marina Motel remains a unique example of an independent, family-owned motel in the city. It is still in the same family and is proudly operated by Lou’s granddaughters. With its distinctive design and years of service as a San Francisco business, the Marina Motel not only qualifies for legacy business status but is also worthy of preservation as a San Francisco landmark.

They remain open to the public with a variety of new protocols and practices in place to keep staff and guests safe.

Home Plate’s present-day location at 2050 Lombard Street. Photo courtesy of Home Plate on Instagram.

Home Plate
2050 Lombard Street
Type: Diner
Established: 1989

Home Plate, at the heart of busy Lombard Street in the Marina District, is a classic food spot that has graced the city of San Francisco for over thirty years.

A look at Home Plate’s original location at 2274 Lombard. By Jerad A. on Yelp, 2015.

Inside Home Plate’s diner-like atmosphere at its original location, 2013. Photo by Micheal L. on Yelp.

For years Home Plate was located up the block at 2274 Lombard Street, where it had a no frills diner atmosphere and became the breakfast spot of choice for a loyal set of regulars. For under $10, customers could order breakfast specials like omelettes, frittatas, and two-egg plates with a side of potato pancakes or hashbrowns. Their namesake is an homage to baseball years of old, and on their walls they displayed photos of classic baseball players like Babe Ruth.

The popular spot outgrew their space, and in February 2018 the business moved from its longtime home to 2050 Lombard, on the ground floor of the Cow Hollow Motor Inn. During the move, they took the opportunity to update the dining experience, and today the interior is less of a diner and more of a nice brunch spot with white-cushioned chairs and decorative light fixtures. The new spot also doubled the seating capacity of their former spot, and Home Plate is now able to serve many more customers. Classic breakfast options remain on the menu with complimentary signature scones, and they have even started opening for dinner!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Satisfy your craving this weekend!

A post shared by Homeplate (@homeplatesf) on

Home Plate is open during the pandemic, and have created a special “value meal” that diners can take home. Explore their menu here.

Black Lives Matter, Black Places Matter (Heritage News Excerpt)

Oct20th

Willie Mays’ home, November 1957. 175 Miraloma Drive. The sale of this house was refused to Giants baseball player Willie Mays by then owner Walter A. Gneadiloff, who cited neighborhood pressure against the sale.

This piece is excerpted from the October-December 2020 issue of Heritage News. Find the original here.


By Woody LaBounty

In 2013, with a grant from San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Fund, the Planning Department commissioned the first-ever African-American Citywide Historic Context Statement. A context statement is the foundation of preservation planning: it describes the broad patterns of historical development of a community or region that are represented by the physical development and character of the built environment. Although frequently based on property types or architectural styles, San Francisco context statements have increasingly focused on the physical and intangible heritage of specific cultural or ethnic groups. When it comes to recognition, education, and advocacy, context statements are of tremendous value. They inform and guide neighborhood survey work, landmark designations, and treatment standards for historic properties.

Metropolitan Baptist Church, at 1682 Newcomb Avenue. The area along and adjacent to the Third Street corridor in the Bayview features one of the densest concentration of churches in San Francisco, including a number of storefront churches.

Since its emergence as a field of work and study in the late 1960s, historic preservation has given scant attention to sites associated with African-American history. Residences, businesses, churches, and neighborhoods significant to Black culture were not the subject of architectural surveys or conservation work. At the canonized national landmark plantations of George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, Black lives integral to historical significance were pushed to the margins or even off the page.

Recently there have been incremental efforts to address this ignorance and injustice. The motivation for commissioning a San Francisco African-American context statement was to provide a tool to recognize and preserve sites associated with a community that has been fundamental to the city’s history and development, especially in the second half of the twentieth century. Since work on the context statement began, in 2013, seven city landmarks associated with African-Americans have been adopted.

Despite such progress, the African-American context statement is still considered unfinished. A tenet of context statements is that they are “living documents,” changeable and subject to additions as new information comes to light or as significance changes through time. In reality, the funding and effort needed to create these weighty documents (which in recent years have ballooned to hundreds of pages) means that just getting a statement adopted can itself be a monumental challenge.

One of seven local landmarks associated with African-Americans is San Francisco Landmark No. 213, the Cecil F. Poole House, designed by Joseph Leonard. The Poole family were the first African-Americans to live in Ingleside Terraces. On June 5, 1958, Charlotte and Cecil Poole found a cross burned on their front lawn. The family resided there until 1982.

“The African American Citywide Historic Context Statement” was prepared for the City and County of San Francisco by Tim Kelley Consulting, The Alfred Williams Consultancy, VerPlanck Historic Preservation Consulting, and staff at the San Francisco Planning Department, and is online at https://sfplanning.org/african-americanhistoric-context-statement. After requests for edits, more outreach, and the inclusion of more voices, Planning Department staff has tried to address community concerns with revisions to the 2016 document and is preparing to engage in renewed public outreach once Covid restrictions on gatherings ease.

Even as a draft, the 296-page document reveals details on individuals, institutions, and sites important to San Francisco history, identifying dozens of potential landmarks associated with the city’s African-American community.

Black San Francisco

African-Americans influenced and shaped the city before it was a city, and are woven into every San Francisco milestone, event, and era. William Leidesdorff, the son of a Danish father and a mother of mixed African and Carib ancestry, stood as the leading citizen of the pueblo of Yerba Buena before it became the boomtown of San Francisco. A part of Chinatown served as the main Black neighborhood in the city’s first few decades and seminal Black churches stood in North Beach and on the slopes of Nob Hill.

A surge in African-American migration to the city, drawn by World War II shipyard work, fueled a culturally rich “Harlem of the West” in the Fillmore. In the 1950s and 1960s, Black judges, doctors, and city supervisors  integrated west-side enclaves while a robust African-American middleclass buoyed by well-paying government and waterfront service jobs, gave the Bayview District one of the highest home-ownership rates in the city. By the early 1970s, San Francisco’s Black population hit a high water mark of more than 13% of the city’s population, and the community’s political influence rose with appointments and elections of African-Americans as city commissioners, supervisors, and, in 1996, Willie Brown as mayor of San Francisco.

The homes of some of these prominent African-Americans are city landmarks or identified in the context statement as landmark candidates, significant not only for their association with the individuals, but also for representing important milestones in the struggle for racial integration in the city. The Leonard-Poole House at 90 Cedro Way, City Landmark #213, falls into this category. Cecil Poole, serving as assistant district attorney in San Francisco, was the first minority homebuyer in Ingleside Terraces. Shortly after his family moved in, a cross was burned on the front lawn.

Willie Mays, one of the top five baseball players of all time, tried to buy a home in Sherwood Forest and despite his popularity and fame was turned down for being Black. Mays was only able to purchase the house after the intervention of Mayor George Christopher. The west-side houses of trailblazing supervisor Terry Francois (1608 10th Avenue) and newspaper publisher Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett (579 Los Palmos Drive) are other significant examples of potential landmarks.

Individual Black churches, such as First A.M.E. Zion Church (2169 Golden Gate Avenue, built in 1960 and designed by architect Robert Batchelor), Bethel A.M.E. Church (916-970 Laguna Street, constructed 1969-1973), and the Third Baptist Church complex (City Landmark #275, built in 1952 at 1399 McAllister Street) are significant for their associations with prominent individuals, their important roles as community centers, and their midcentury architecture. While the African-American context statement doesn’t explicitly make the case, smaller storefront-style halls of worship— key centers of Black community—could make up historic districts in the Oceanview-Merced Heights-Ingleside and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods, and individual churches, such as Mt. Gilead Baptist Church at 1629 Oakdale Avenue (on the cover), combine potential cultural significance with architectural style and integrity valued by traditional preservation standards.

Black Spaces Without Black People

Many sites associated with the city’s African-American history documented in the draft context statement are “not extant.” William Leidesdorff’s house and warehouses are long gone. The first Black churches in North Beach were lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Redevelopment killed the Harlem of the West, decimating hundreds of Black-owned businesses, disrupting and dislocating the community, and razing significant buildings. For half a century Bayview-Hunters Point has been subjected to pollution issues, spiking crime, deteriorated public housing, and ever-rising real-estate prices. The Black community is both leaving and being pushed out of the city. From 13% of the population in 1970, African-Americans will only comprise 3 to 4% of the city’s residents when the 2020 U.S. Census is finished.

Even “improvements” in the neighborhoods are seen by longtime African-American residents as not for them, but just another nudge to leave. Dr. Espanola Jackson alludes to this in the context statement, quoting locals connecting gentrification of the Bayview with the construction and landscaping on Third Street for the T-line streetcar: “For every palm tree, that mean a Black person gone.”

Historic designation could not keep Marcus Books (top, 1712 Fillmore Street, City Landmark #266) in the city or (bottom) Sam Jordan’s bar (bottom, 4004-4006 Third Street, City Landmark #263) in business. 

The needs of the living community are often not directly addressed or factored into traditional preservation work, and when considered, uncomfortable questions for the field arise. Is landmarking a church building relevant if the congregation that makes it significant is pushed out of the city? Is preservation too often only about recognition or commemoration, and if so, does the renaming of streets or schools do the same job, as when City Hall’s address was changed to 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place or, more recently, when Willow Alley between Buchanan and Laguna Streets was renamed for Earl Gage, Jr., the city’s first Black firefighter? A city-organized advisory group is currently considering the renaming of many of the city’s public schools, and African-American names will likely be offered in replacement for some. Does the designation of a historic district or a city landmark or a context statement associated with Black history help the African-American community in any way?

To many in the preservation field and in Black communities, the answer to the last question is still yes. Carl Williams is an AfricanAmerican attorney and writer whose decades of service with several city agencies and participation in Black community affairs has immensely informed an understanding of the historical lineage of African-Americans in San Francisco. Formerly on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco African American Historical & Cultural Society, Williams served as its lead for revision and input on the most recent draft of the African-American context statement.

“The context statement makes—in my view—a potent and persuasive addition to the current national reckoning conversation regarding racial and social inequities. [It] provides a credible vehicle for identifying the multifarious institutional, social, and cultural forces that have shaped the African-American experience in San Francisco.”

Williams notes the context statement is referred to as a “milestone document” in the city’s recent resolution on equity (see page 8). “San Francisco can do its residents proud by adding this ‘milestone document’ to the arsenal in the struggle for racial and social equity.”

Marina Branch Library: a Landmark of Light

Oct19th

Marina Branch Library, 1890 Chestnut Street, after renovations in 2007. (David Wakely photograph)

by Woody LaBounty

“Despite its country-club appearance and location […] the Marina Library is designed to supply two things in abundance—books and light.” — San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 1954.1

Between 1925 and 1930, as single-family homes, flats, and apartment buildings filled the former site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the housing capacity of the Marina District went from almost nothing to more than 25,000.2

The closest public library for these new residents was the Golden Gate Valley branch at Green and Octavia Streets, built in 1917. The Carnegie-funded Beaux-Arts-style building was imposing and formal. Architect Ernest Coxhead had modeled it on a roman basilica and it exuded classical grandeur inside and out. But its size was not adequate to handle a doubling of patrons.

After World War II ended, the city embarked on a broad expansion of its public library system and promised Marina residents they would benefit. A large billboard went up on the northeast corner of Fillmore and Chestnut Streets alongside Marina Middle School reading “Proposed site of the Marina Branch of the Public Library. Construction is to start in 1951.”3

Marina Branch Library, 1890 Chestnut Street, after renovations in 2007. (David Wakely photograph)

But 1951 came and went without a shovelful of dirt turned. The library commission paid the architectural firm of Kent & Hass to draw preliminary plans for a branch, but apparently found them unsatisfactory. The art commission convinced library leadership that the chosen corner lot chosen was inadequate for landscaping design. Meanwhile, the Parkside Branch library opened with ecstatic reviews for its modern design by architects Appleton & Wolfard.4

On April 2, 1952, the library commission approved plans by Appleton & Wolfard for the Marina Branch library on a new site east on Chestnut Street in Funston Square (now known as Moscone Square). This required a land swap with the Recreation and Park Department and the relocation of a children’s playground, but like the successful Parkside branch, the $158,000 Marina library would maximize the synergy of a park setting.5

Ground-breaking ceremonies, complete with gold shovel, took place on October 25, 1953. Sam M. Markowitz, president of the library commission promised “[t]his lasting structure will be enthroned on imperishable books for the improvement of mankind.”6

While Markowitz’s grandiloquent speech would have been at home in the nineteenth century, Appleton & Wolfard designed their “lasting structure” firmly in the mid-twentieth. As with their Parkside library, Appleton & Wolfard’s Marina library resembled an elegant ranch style home in the suburbs, something out of Sunset magazine.

North elevation of Marina Branch Library as originally designed by Appleton & Wolfard (San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1953, pg. 28.)

Like Parkside, the Marina branch featured a fireplace, an open floor plan to browse some 15,000 books on blond wood shelves (in meeting the demographics of the neighborhood, the Marina branch opened with more than 100 books in Italian), and comfortable lounge chair seating. An extra $1,950 had to be appropriated to finish furnishing the branch to Appleton & Wolfard’s relaxed and homey vision.

Interior of the Marina Branch library, 1954. (Philip Fein photograph, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, AAC-6244)

The 6,500-square-foot plan had rubber tile flooring and a laminated beamed ceiling above, red brick walls, and an outdoor courtyard. Under an attached trellis, the Chronicle noted, “mothers will be able to sit and read while keeping an eye on their children in the adjoining playground.” Situated on flat ground with floor-to-ceiling windows framing the park and the view beyond to the north, it was the most light-filled branch of the system.7

In 2007, the Marina branch library underwent a sensitive renovation led by the architectural firms of Tom Eliot and Field Paoli, which included a new glass-enclosed reading area in keeping with Appleton & Wolfard’s design and materiality.

Recognized as a reflection of principles of the modern public library promoted by the American Library Association after World War II, and as an innovative example of mid-century modern design in Northern California, the Marina Branch Library was designated as City Landmark #262 in 2010.

Marina Branch Library, 1890 Chestnut Street, after renovations in 2007. (David Wakely photograph)


Notes:

1. Tim Adams, “Dedication Tomorrow for New Marina Library,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 1954, pg. 9.

2. Christopher VerPlanck, “After the Fair was Over: Marina District Development Takes Off,” Heritage News, Fall 2007, pg. 6.

3. Herb Caen, San Francisco Examiner, January 8, 1952, pg. 19.

4. Dick Nolan, “Under the City Hall Dome,” San Francisco Examiner, April 20, 1952, pg. 68; Alfred Frankenstein, “Music and Art,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 1955, “This World” section, pg. 11.

5. Marina Library Branch Planned,” San Francisco Examiner, April 3, 1952, pg. 5.

6. “Ground Breaking Ceremony Held for Marina Library, San Francisco Examiner, October 26, 1953, pg. 8.

7. “Ceremony Today for New Library,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1953, pg. 28.