Before the Summer of Love: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

Few things can transport one to a San Francisco neighborhood in the first half of the twentieth century than the view of an old streetcar in operation or the blade sign of a neighborhood movie theater. When both are in one image, it’s as if we have cracked the secret to time travel. The recently uploaded batch of scanned photographs to OpenSFHistory features a few terrific compositions of streetcar and theater, such as this great snapshot below, taken by a streetcar fan in 1948.

Haight Street at Cole Street, 1948
Haight Theatre, car #452 of the 7-Haight streetcar headed westbound just before the line transitioned to trolley bus service (wnp27.2720, courtesy of a private collector).

Urban planners talk of placemaking: the act of designing public spaces that promote social street life and where people have a sense of neighborhood—in short, making cities for people over cars and shopping malls. This often feels forced in new developments, with barren plazas, arty obelisks, or large rocks plopped on street corners. Designers provide this window-dressing, but people still need to “make the place” by seeing friends at local businesses, running into each other on public transit, or going a movie or meeting in the neighborhood.

What imparts a better sense of the Haight Ashbury just after World War II than the photograph above? The theater sign tells you where you are. One of the last runs of the 7 streetcar line, along with a few automobiles of the period and the woman on foot, tells you how you get there. The woman may have just left Metz Superior Doughnuts after having coffee with a friend. Jay L. Macfarlane not only ran the paint and hardware store next door, he also lived around the corner on Page Street with his wife Sigrid. The tall window above his storefront let light into the Park Masonic Hall, a meeting place for neighborhood groups and the Haight Ashbury Merchants Improvement Association.

The counter-culture and hippie movement did its own placemaking using the same mix of storefronts, flats, and public spaces. During the 1967 Summer of Love, fifty years ago this year, the Haight Theater became the Straight Theater and a home to concerts, “happenings,” and consciousness-raising lectures. Love quickly gave way to a seedier time in the neighborhood, and after many arguments on the Haight/Straight Theater’s future, it was demolished in 1979. A drug store was built on the site, before that burned in 1988.

A strip of housing over storefronts, built in 1992 and 2004, occupy the space where the theater, donut shop, hardware store, and Masonic hall once stood. The block is lively with a Goodwill thrift store, a café, a shoe store, and a small branch of Wells Fargo bank. Placemaking doesn’t need to be forced here, but the bank gives a nod to imagery that resonates with those who love city life. A collage of historical neighborhood images decorates the bank entrance and prominently featured are streetcars and the old Haight Theater.

Straight Theater, July 1967
Straight Theater, formerly the Haight Theater, reincarnated for the Summer of Love in July 1967. (wnp25.2421, courtesy of a private collector).

Shenson’s Kosher Meat Market

by Judi Leff

Gold is more than just a soft metal found from scratching in “them thar hills.” Gold is also found when we dig below the surface of our own history, and see what has been paid forward by those descended from the immigrants and refugees of the past. Here is an immigrant tale from an OpenSFHistory image.

The January 1931 photo below shows not only a city firehouse, but also, just to the right, Shenson’s Kosher Meat Market at 1053 McAllister Street. The business was started by Aaron Shenson, who arrived here in 1880 from Vilnius Russia. Aaron started as a Kosher butcher for Rabbi Markowitz and, in 1882, opened his own shop at 955 Folsom Street. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, he moved the business to McAllister Street. A religious man, Aaron served as president of Kneseth Israel Congregation for eighteen years and was one of the founders of the Hebrew Free Loan Society.

McAllister Street Fire House and Shenson's Kosher Meat Market
McAllister Street Fire House and Shenson’s Kosher Meat Market, 1931. (wnp30.0260, Echeverria/Brandt Collection).

Three of his four sons were in the business with him, and Aaron’s grandsons, Drs. A. Jess and Ben Shenson went on to have an impact on the medical and arts worlds that resonates to this day.

This butcher shop was the place where the values of hard work, family, and support of community and the arts were passed on through the generations. Aaron’s son, Louis, was once approached by White Russian importers of sausage casings from Shanghai. He couldn’t use the non-Kosher casings, but through this new friendship, he began an avid interest in collecting Chinese art, which was passed on to future generations. Another son, Jesse (Shy), began working for wholesale importers I. Shainin Company, purveyors to Gumps, and became a partner for a time.

Involvement with music began very early, with the grandsons getting music lessons and attending performances grand and small, including music receptions on Saturdays at the homes of prominent Jewish immigrant-descended family names such as Sloss, Stern, and Koshland. They attended public schools including Lowell, where Jess developed a life-long friendship with classmate Carol Channing.

Ben Shenson was an accomplished pianist, winning a local piano competition despite a broken hand. Though Ben stopped playing music when he entered medical school, the passion both brothers had for the world of art and music manifested in a lifetime of involvement and patronage. They practiced medicine together in offices at 450 Sutter Street and through St. Francis Hospital on Hyde Street. Neither brother married, but the young singers and musicians they sponsored and supported became their extended family. Their magnanimity continues to benefit the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Performances, the Merola Opera Program, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and the California Historical Society, as well as Stanford University.

The brothers also were responsible for reviving and expanding the posthumous career of outstanding painter Theodore Wores, and established the Louis and Rose Shenson Memorial Fund to provide no-interest loans to Stanford medical students.

They supported numerous Jewish causes as well, and I had the immense privilege of getting to know Dr. Jess when I produced some of the annual concerts he sponsored in Ben’s memory at Temple Emanu-El.

The immigrant Shenson family business pictured here fed generations of San Franciscans. How fortunate we are all to continue to be nourished by that valuable legacy.

Milk Punch House: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

For years, the parents of the Inner Sunset had cajoled, lobbied, and petitioned to get a new schoolhouse to replace the humble Laguna Honda School on 7th Avenue between Irving and Judah Streets. Finally, in 1905, the city added the school to a list of new educational buildings to be constructed across the city, and by the next spring, the new brick-clad Laguna Honda was well underway and predicted to be ready for the fall term. On April 18, 1906, the San Andreas Fault slipped.

Earthquake Ruins, Laguna Honda School
Earthquake Ruins of Laguna Honda School, 1906. The Milk Punch House roadhouse is on the left (wnp15.1265, courtesy of a private collector).

In the photograph above, the school doesn’t look that badly damaged after the earthquake, but official deemed it beyond repair. The whole project went out to bid again, and the parents waited until 1909 to see a new building open—one that still stands today as Independence High School. Laguna Honda closed as an elementary school in the 1970s.

While seeing the never-occupied Laguna Honda was a treat when we scanned this large glass plate negative, I personally was more excited to see the ramshackle two-story edifice with the small stable just to the north.

This was the famed Milk Punch House, a roadhouse stopping point for travelers day-tripping to Laguna Honda lake or winding through the dunes and scrub of the Sunset District to Lake Merced.) Milk Punch was made with rum or whiskey, shaken to a froth with milk, and topped with nutmeg—think brandied eggnog without egg. The nearby hills around Mount Sutro were home to a few dairies, and no doubt the primary ingredient of Milk Punch (if not the most essential) could be easily obtained.

Milk Punch House had seen better days by 1906.
Milk Punch House had seen better days by 1906.

Laguna Honda School started in 1869, and had been a companionable neighbor with the roadhouse for many years before some people began to object to having a drinking establishment so close to children. New ideas of respectability had arisen after the 1894 Midwinter Fair brought more businesses, families, and church-goers to the area. While downright closing the Milk Punch House seemed outside their power, a few concerned citizens tried to cripple it by attacking its popular proprietor, Elizabeth Chadwick. Outside of her punch-concocting, Chadwick earned $20 per month as the “janitress” of Laguna Honda School.

In 1895, the Board of Education received a letter from a grand jury which described the Milk Punch House as “a roadway saloon, the resort of sporting people, including women of the demi-monde class, and their carousals and living example have a tendency to deprave the moral status of the school children and to cause self-respecting families to keep their children from attending school.” The letter called for Chadwick’s removal from the school payroll.1

Mrs. Chadwick reportedly had “pull,” and said she couldn’t be fired. The response from some of the Board of Education members certainly bore her out. One joked that perhaps instead of closing the saloon, they should close the school. Another, obviously a patron, complimented Chadwick’s mixology. A third conjectured that people’s complaints were likely more about milk punch not agreeing with their constitutions.

When the Board of Education began looking into actually moving the school building to the 6th Avenue frontage as a solution to the problem, the press began making it a bigger issue. The San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed the Board had capitulated to the saloon “so that the orgies that are carried on there may not be interrupted.” 2

Some of the school parents came to Mrs. Chadwick’s defense, submitting a petition to keep her, and one of the Directors defended her as a “typical English barmaid,” which he meant as a compliment. 3

Eventually, the Board relented and Chadwick, pull or not, had to give up her side gig cleaning the school. A few months later, the Grand Jury discovered her replacement was none other than the Milk Puncher’s daughter. After another outcry on the immoral mixing of saloon and school, a non-Chadwickian custodian finally was found.

More on Laguna Honda School and the Milk Punch House on the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast.

Laguna Honda School, 1934
Front view of Laguna Honda School on 7th Avenue, January 1934. (wnp14.4658, courtesy of a private collector).


1. “School or Saloon?” San Francisco Chronicle, May 23, 1895, pg. 7.
2. “Pull of a Janitress,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 30, 1895, pg. 8.
3. “The Milk Punch Janitress Goes,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 1895, pg. 8.

Elephants in San Francisco: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

Young men traveling to California in 1849 for the Gold Rush called the experience “seeing the elephant.” The expression comes from signs at traveling shows that entreated crowds to take the opportunity (and pay the price) to view the world’s largest land animal up close. Forty-Niners back from the Sierra foothills, poorer in the pocket, used the phrase ruefully to convey experience obtained at great cost.

Below are a couple of real elephants one could see, likely for a reasonable price. Power’s Dancing Elephants performed as part of Keith’s Vaudeville show at the Golden Gate Theatre in 1925 and 1926. A San Francisco Call photographer probably took this publicity shot.

Power's Dancing Elephants
Power’s Dancing Elephants in 1925 or 1926. the act played the Golden Gate Theatre in both years. (wnp32.0145, courtesy of Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection).

William Walter Power’s elephants originally appeared in the Walter L. Main Circus and transitioned into a vaudeville act in the early 1900s. The pachyderms, all female Asian elephants, worked the Hippodrome Theatre in New York City, and some sources claim the show was the first American elephant act on an indoor stage. “Lena,” “Jennie,” “Ada,” and “Lou” played baseball, bowled, and danced to whatever was in fashion, from the waltz to the Charleston. Power’s Dancing Elephants traveled around the world from San Francisco to Spain and beyond for forty years. (See the comments on this thread at for more.)

Getting elephants across oceans couldn’t have been easy, and we have this photograph (with no other information) to show that it probably wasn’t the most pleasant experience for the poor creatures.

Elephant being taken off boat.
An elephant being hauled on or off a boat in San Francisco. (wnp32.0124, courtesy of Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection).

Golden Gate Park’s Children’s Playground used to have an elephant ride attraction. The animals spent their off-work hours in an enclosure nearby where the Park Nursery and Maintenance yard is today. In 1926, as “Babe,” “Margy” and “Virginia” were headed back from the playground, they were startled by a streetcar and made a dash through the Inner Sunset District before being captured in Mrs. Pachtner’s flower beds at 1248 15th Avenue.

Elephants are long-lived, highly intelligent, and sensitive creatures and, despite what many of my circus friends may argue, I think they are probably happier and healthier not being poked with hooks to do tricks for humans, or, in the case of zoos, standing in a concrete pen for decades. Public attitudes are changing on elephantine captivity and entertainment.

After a couple of notable deaths, the San Francisco Zoo removed the last of its elephants in 2005. The city’s Board of Supervisors mandated the zoo couldn’t get another pachyderm unless it was provided with 15 acres of roaming space. Then, just last month, in January 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced this was its last season. Animal rights activists had picketed, protested, and petitioned for the end of animal acts in the show. When the company cut the elephants last year, business dropped off too far.

An opportunity to see an elephant in San Francisco, much less in your flower garden, is likely not to come again.

Circus Elephants being led up Geneva Avenue to Cow Palace.
Circus Elephants being led up Geneva Avenue to Cow Palace, 1940s? (wnp14.2275, courtesy of a private collector).

East-West Shrine Game: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image recently posted.

In the recently uploaded photograph below, a rainy San Francisco day couldn’t keep 60,000 people away from what sportswriter Bob Stevens called “squishy, miserable” Kezar Stadium. It was January 1, 1944, and with the United States two years into World War II, patriotic pageantry with a show of many American flags kicked off the East-West Shrine football game.

Flag parade at East-West Game
Huge crowd shown at Kezar Stadium on January 1, 1944. Army and Shriners seen with dozens of American flags. (wnp14.5812, courtesy of a private collector).

Since 1925, the East-West Shrine Game has supported Shriners International—a fraternal group whose members are known for their orientalist fez headwear—and the organization’s Shriners Hospitals for Children. Proceeds from the game once specifically went to what was then known as the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children on 19th Avenue between Lawton and Moraga Streets (today the Cypress at Golden Gate senior living community). The game also acted as a terrific publicity vehicle to acquaint the public with the Shriners’ work.

The East-West game is a contest between teams composed of all-stars from colleges on either side of the Mississippi River. The West squad traditionally had lots of locals from Santa Clara, St. Mary’s, and Stanford, but also featured players from Washington State to Hawaii. The East-West was a premier postseason game in the mid twentieth century, with scouts from all the professional teams coming out to assess talent. Seventy-two players once on East-West Shrine Game rosters are now in the National Football League Hall of Fame, and a few are sure to be there eventually, including five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady.

Flag parade at East-West Game
East West Game Parade of Flags, Kezar stadium showing sailors and giant flag. Looking west, January 1, 1944. (wnp14.5814, courtesy of a private collector).

The muddy 1944 game ended up a 13-13 tie. Many of the best college football players who might have played for the East side were serving in the Armed Forces, but the underrated “all-civilian” squad outplayed their opponents, gaining 309 yards rushing against 43 for the West. Only a couple of big pass plays for the West, which was led by five men from the Fourth Air Force, saved the tie.

The Shrine game used to be part of a manageable college football postseason. On New Year’s Day, 1944, five bowl games were played in addition to the East-West: the Cotton, Sugar, Orange, Rose, and Sun Bowls. In contrast, the 2016-17 “bowl season” had forty games, and, in addition to the East-West, other all-star games now include the Senior Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The Shrine game moved off the traditional New Year’s Day date some time ago to try and stand out from the every-increasing football mania of that day, and is now played in mid January.

For most of its history, the game was played in San Francisco at Kezar Stadium (now much reduced in seating capacity) in Golden Gate Park. The 1942 game was moved to New Orleans because, less than a month after Pearl Harbor, officials feared the large event would be a tempting target for the Japanese.

The last East-West Shrine game at Kezar was in 1973. From 1974-2000, the game’s home was Stanford Stadium, and since then it has bounced from stadium to stadium and region to region: back to San Francisco in AT&T Park (2001-2005), over to Houston, Texas (2006-2009), and even farther east to Florida, where it’s been for the last seven years. Last month, the East beat the West 10-3.

Flag parade at East-West Game
Michigan State Spartans working out at Kezar Stadium at a quieter time in 1937. (wnp14.5482, courtesy of a private collector).

Holy Cross Church: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image recently posted.

When we scanned the image below of earthquake damage to Holy Cross Catholic Church in 1906 (another view is here), one of our content experts first typed the title as “St. Patrick’s,” before I noticed and corrected it. Our expert wasn’t too far wrong with the name. Just next door to the two-towered church, out of view in this shot, stands San Francisco’s first St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, two-and-a-half miles from where it was erected in 1852. Outside of Mission Dolores, this humble wood-frame building, designed in a simple Classical Revival style, may be the oldest standing religious structure in the city.

Holy Cross Church
Earthquake-damaged Holy Cross Catholic Church, 1822 Eddy Street at Divisadero, 1906 (wnp27.1879, courtesy of a private collector).

Below is an 1854 photograph by George Robinson Fardon. St. Patrick’s Church, on the right, stands in its original location on Market Street between 2nd and 3rd Street, then known as “Happy Valley.” (The handsome brick structure on the left is the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum.) In 1872, a new large brick St. Patrick’s was dedicated on Mission Street, between 3rd and 4th Street, where, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, it stands today. To make room for the construction of the Palace Hotel, the original St. Patrick’s building was moved to the nascent Western Addition on Eddy Street between Octavia and Laguna Streets, where it became St. John the Baptist church. When a massive new St. Mary’s Cathedral opened on Van Ness Avenue in 1891, St. John’s congregation was folded in, and the little church building was conscripted once more to serve a young parish.

Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum and St. Patrick’s Church on Market Street, 1850s (AAD-5882, courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library).

The Church of the Holy Cross formed in the 1880s, with mass held in the chapel at the entrance of the Calvary Catholic Cemetery on Lone Mountain near Divisadero Street. With the parish growing, Holy Cross’ pastor, Rev. John McGinty, had St. John the Baptist Church moved seven blocks to Eddy Street near Scott Street, where it was re-dedicated as the new Holy Cross Church on May 24, 1891.

No one was under the impression that after being outgrown by two parishes the small hall would be Holy Cross for long. The San Francisco Chronicle noted at the time that the forty-year-old building would “probably only be used as a church for the parishioners of Holy Cross parish for a short time, as it is Father McGinty’s intention to build a fine edifice in the near future.”

After a few years of fundraising, Father McGinty did have his fine edifice. The cornerstone-laying ceremony—complete with grand neighborhood parade—was held on April 3, 1898, and the new Holy Cross church was dedicated on August 13, 1899. The 1852 church building became the parish social hall.

Eddy Street
Eddy Street near Scott Street. Beyond the Scott Street Market rises the new Holy Cross Church with towers and classical portico, circa 1900. (wnp27.0258, courtesy of a private collector).

Despite the damage in the 1906 photo, Holy Cross was rebuilt after the earthquake and served Western Addition Catholics—including a few of my relatives—for close to ninety years. But the estimated $3 million cost of seismic retrofitting after the 1989 earthquake persuaded the archdiocese to put it up for sale in the late 1990s. Developers consolidated part of the church building into a condominium complex. The rest of the 1899 church, and the old St. Patrick’s, are now occupied by a Buddhist temple, the Macgong Monastery.

The Macang Monastery complex on Eddy Street, using Holy Cross Church (1899) and San Francisco City Landmark #6, the first St. Patrick’s Church building (1852). (Image from

Sea Lions in the Park

by John Martini

Retired National Park Service ranger John Martini shares some information about one of his favorite images. John is a volunteer helping us process the OpenSFHistory collection. His excellent book on Sutro Baths is available on

Academy of Sciences’ sea lion grotto, with the Francis Scott Key Monument, and de Young Museum behind, circa 1950, (wnp25.1335, courtesy of a private collector).

The above image, a scan of a color slide taken in Golden Gate Park in 1950, shows a somewhat disorienting landscape of the “old” de Young Museum, the Francis Scott Key monument, and a trio of sea lions reclining on mock Seal Rocks. Nothing is in its correct location—at least by today’s standards. And the presence of sea lions inside the park is especially jarring.

As it turns out, there actually were sea lions in Golden Gate Park, in the courtyard in front of the Academy of Sciences, to be specific. This wonderful juxtaposition of San Francisco landmarks is the result of the repeated remodeling of the forecourt of the Academy of Sciences and the meanderings of the monument to Francis Scott Key, author of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Some background: the Academy of Sciences was built in sections starting in 1916. First constructed was the North American Hall of Birds and Mammals, followed by the Steinhart Aquarium in 1923. Contemporaneous with the Aquarium’s opening, a trio of “seal and sea lion pools” were built directly in front of its main entrance. According to the Academy of Sciences website, “During the first years the Aquarium was open, the pools housed California Sea Lions, Steller Sea Lions, Fur Seals, and Harbor Seals.”

As the Academy continued to grow, the seal/sea lion pools ended up in the middle of a U-shaped court yard bounded by more science buildings: the Simson African Hall with its dioramas of big game was completed in 1936, followed by the Morrison Planetarium in 1951, and the Science Hall in 1952. How well the pinnipeds fared in these tiny pools isn’t recorded, nor how long the grottoes served as outdoor exhibits. In fact, the 1950 color photo is the only documentation I’ve found that the pools actually remained in use for more than a few years.

(This author remembers looking into the empty pits as a small child in the mid-1950s, and being told by his font-of-all-knowledge Auntie that the pools had also once housed otters.)

As for the Francis Scott Key monument, older San Franciscans will remember that the monument also once sat in the forecourt of the Academy. Actually, this was its second location. When dedicated in 1888, the monument was originally located across from the Conservatory of Flowers. When that area was redeveloped as tennis courts in the 1920s, Francis and his marble monument were moved to near the new sea lion pools, as shown on the construction photo below.

Sea Lion pools and Francis Scott Key monument circa 1923. The original de Young Museum building, a relic of the 1894 Midwinter Fair, is in the background. (wnp15.164, courtesy of a private collector.)

During the late 1950s, the courtyard was redesigned and the sea lion pools removed. In their place, a granite statue of two intertwined pilot whales was installed, surrounded by a circular fountain and bench. Originally displayed at the 1939–1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, the much-loved whales were relocated to the front of the Steinhart Aquarium in March 1958, where they became a welcoming symbol to the thousands of grammar school children who annually visited the Academy on school trips.

In 1967, the Francis Scott Key monument had to be removed to make way for the final structure in the Academy of Sciences campus, Cowell Hall, dedicated in 1969. The monument ended up in storage for nearly ten years until it was re-erected in its present location at the east end of the Music Concourse.

The Academy of Sciences complex suffered extensive damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, and some of the exhibits had to be closed to the public. As plans were being made to rehabilitate the aging buildings to bring them up to modern code, it was decided to demolish the old complex and build a state-of-the-art Academy instead. Construction of the new $500 million Academy of Sciences began in 2005, and it reopened in its present form in September 2008. The pilot whales, unfortunately, were nowhere to be seen.

This 1948 aerial photo clearly shows the sea lion pools, Francis Scott Key monument, and arrangement of the Academy of Sciences buildings. The reason for the off-center location of the Key monument in the courtyard is not known. (wnp14.2451, courtesy of a private collector.)

Signs of Sutro Baths

Retired National Park Service ranger John Martini, an expert on Sutro Baths, shares some information about one of his favorite images. John is a volunteer helping us process the OpenSFHistory collection. His excellent book on Sutro Baths is available on

This photo came as complete surprise to me and other Sutro Baths aficionados. It shows another of the omnipresent little kiosks that Adolph Sutro purchased from the 1894 Midwinter Fair, but what makes this one unique is its location—on the Main Promenade level of the Baths, directly at the foot of the staircase leading down from the museum and ticket booth level. Curiously, it doesn’t show up in any other photos of the Baths.

Close up of signs on promenade kiosk
Close up of signs on promenade kiosk

My personal suspicion is the photo was taken shortly after the Baths opened for public swimming in March 1896. If you remember your Sutro Baths history, Adolph opened the Baths to visitors in late 1894, but didn’t open the pools until March 14, 1896. The kiosk sold tickets to folks who had already paid general admission to the Baths and now needed a separate ticket to go swimming.

Other fun details: tickets are advertised as “Good any time during bathing season 1896;” a blackboard lists the day’s temperatures for all six pools (even though tank #2 was shortly afterwards to be planked over to become a stage); water temperatures in the tanks that day ranged from 66 degrees to 80 degrees; and tank #6 is listed as “Empty,” probably for cleaning.

I especially like the handmade sign stating “No Tub Bathing.” I’ll bet some folks arrived expecting to find individual bathtubs like in smaller bathhouses around the city.

A very cool moment in time.

Read more about Sutro Baths at

Celebrating the Opening of the Golden Gate Bridge

This year, the most iconic and recognizable bridge in the world celebrates the 79th anniversary of its opening on May 27, 1937. Among the huge collection of scanned glass plates, negatives, stereoscopes, and color slides that we’ve been scanning over the past year, we’ve selected a gallery of rare Golden Gate Bridge-related images that you’ve probably never seen before.

Before the Bridge, there was no need to cut through the Presidio. There was no Veterans Boulevard, no MacArthur Tunnel, no Park Presidio Boulevard, and no Doyle Drive. The familiar route that we all drive to get to the Bridge today was possible, in large part, to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under President Rosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

OpenSFHistory’s latest gallery starts the journey by showing how the Golden Gate looked before there was a bridge. The galley progresses chronologically from there, and geographically, moving South to North, showing segments of the route to the bridge during construction. The gallery finishes with images from the Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta, a week long celebration for the opening of the Bridge.

Be sure to catch the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast on the roadway construction and Bridge opening here.

Introducing OpenSFHistory

by Woody LaBounty
Founder of Western Neighborhoods Project

OpenSFHistory is a program of Western Neighborhoods Project to make private collections of historical San Francisco images open to the public.

But OpenSFHistory isn’t just a website of old photos. The name is intended as a description, a directive, an expressed philosophy. We at Western Neighborhoods Project want history to be available, accessible, and even positively transformative. Being a small local history nonprofit, doesn’t mean we can’t dream big.

Western Neighborhoods Project started in 1999. The idea of an organization with a mission to preserve and share the history of western San Francisco really came the year before, when David Gallagher and I wondered how towns like Belvedere in Marin County (pop. 2,100) could have a historical society, or even a museum, but the Richmond District (pop. 59,000) was often unmentioned in books on the history of San Francisco.

Researching, writing, and reading history is time-travel, of course, but as WNP approaches its 17th anniversary I find myself wishing for a true time machine.

First order of business when I return to 1998—after buying as much Mission District real estate and Apple stock I can—would be to come up with a better name for the organization. We’re officially Western Neighborhoods Project, but a lot of people, even decade-long members, call us “Outside Lands,” which is obviously a good name, as why else would a successful music festival adopt it? We still disagree on the board if we’re Western Neighborhoods Project or the Western Neighborhoods Project. The WNP or just WNP?

“Project” sounds too limiting anyway. A project is something one plans to complete, with a finish line, an end result, and likely over budget. But we have not finished our work, and truthfully, never can.

Nothing has made this clearer than our acceptance this past year of a massive photo archive, perhaps the largest private collection of San Francisco historical images. The collector, who prefers to remain anonymous to the greater public, is sharing custody with us of perhaps 100,000 negatives and prints. The collection is the cornerstone of OpenSFHistory.

Our goal is the same as it has always been, concisely described in the two verbs of the WNP mission statement: to preserve and share the history of the western neighborhoods. With volunteer help from archivists, historians, and smart, enthusiastic newcomers to the world of collection management, we have processed and safely stored some 6,000 images so far. Most of these prints and negatives have been scanned. Some have been shared on our website (, our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), at presentations (Balboa Theatre, Internet Archive), and in our quarterly magazine, SF West History. Many, many more we are now unveiling on this website, which we created for making such private collections public and open.

OpenSFHistory is a work in progress. We intend to add tools, filters, and better search functionality. There may be a wrinkle or two to straighten out. The important point is we are sharing (at the time I write this) 3,703 historical images from San Francisco history.

You will see that we have moved beyond our western neighborhood borders: photographs of downtown after the earthquake, family snapshots from the Western Addition, views of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in today’s Marina District. But there are plenty of west side images: Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, and the haunting sand dunes of the Sunset District.

We will keep scanning negatives and prints and adding to the site, but posting images online is just a first step. We’re a history organization. Preserving and sharing for us means more than just an archival envelope and online access to a digital photo. Each image is just a starting point so that investigation, interpretation, new research, and story-sharing can follow.

Project, then, doesn’t work as a word to describe what we’re doing. Even with a thousand scanners, a thousand volunteers, in thirty years we will not be “finished” with this work. Even with all the images online, the research evolves, the stories to share unravel forever, and the audience grows and changes in one of the most dynamic cities of the world. The best WNP can hope for is a smooth hand-off of this amazing collection to other researchers, librarians, and lovers of San Francisco history. Someday.

But today, we could use some help, which brings me to my second time-travel task upon arriving back in the late 1990s: encourage a WNP community from day one, because that’s where the opportunity to make a difference lies.

We were slow in engaging with the people who found our website or who happened upon one of our presentations. We shied from hosting our own events, nurturing our membership, and truly building a community.

Grants and institutional funding sources for local history are almost nonexistent. The support to do our work really comes from “regular people” who love history and the neighborhood and give a little each year. Because of our supporters and WNP members, we can take on the private collection, order the supplies to store it safely, and buy the computers and scanners and bandwidth to share it.

We’re still trying to do more, do better, with programs like OpenSFHistory. The extent of our success depends heavily on your generosity. Please contact us if you have ideas, connections, or resources to offer. And support San Francisco history, made open to the public, with a financial donation to this new and exciting program.