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).

Notes:

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 thecircusblog.com 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).