We have always loved this image of the Ocean View District, the neighborhood along the San Francisco/Daly City border between Lake Merced and the Outer Mission. The photo has been copied over and over, handed through various collections, including the great San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Library, and used in displays, calendars, and murals. With the date unknown to many (including us for a long time), 1910 or 1915 was often attached to it, but this image and two others in the set were, in fact, taken one hundred years ago this past week, on October 4, 1918.
Ocean View District, looking southwest toward Daly City from a spot near present-day Alemany Boulevard close to Crystal Street. Southern Pacific and Ocean Shore Railroad tracks both run between cow and houses. October 4, 1918. (wnp27.0501.jpg; courtesy of a private collector.)
Decidedly rural—there’s a cow center stage—this callback to the area’s agricultural past is also ironically attractive because the bucolic spot is today a confluence of off ramps, boulevards, elevated BART tracks, and Interstate Highway 280.
Some of the cottages are still extant on the hillside in 2018, even if this section of Palmetto Avenue, seen left of the railroad tracks in the photo below, was mostly eradicated by the freeway and BART.
The tracks belonged to the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) and dated back to the creation of the first San Francisco-San Jose Railroad of the 1850s. In 1906, a rival company, the Ocean Shore Railroad, laid a single track that crossed under the SP tracks just east of Crystal Street. While the Southern Pacific ran along a berm the Ocean Shore tracks lay in a ditch dug below the grade.
All the steam train traffic, plus various streetcar lines and farm wagons delivering produce from surrounding fields to downtown, made the Ocean View a fairly busy crossroads. Because of frequent accidents at the five-points intersection of Plymouth Avenue, Sagamore Street, San Jose Avenue, Sickles Avenue, and the SP line, locals nicknamed it “Death’s Crossing.”
The photo below shows a view just northeast of Death’s Crossing, roughly at Sickles Street and Cayuga Avenue. Ocean Shore Railroad employees are digging the cut to pass under San Jose Avenue and the United Railroads streetcar line. The same hillside on the Daly City border seen in previous photos is visible in the distance. The Ocean Shore Railroad’s plan was to connect San Francisco with Santa Cruz via the scenic cliffs along the Pacific Ocean, and advertised with the slogan “Reaches the Beaches.”
Ocean Shore Railroad digger at work on April 3, 1906. View from roughly Sickles Street and Cayuga Avenue today, looking southwest. United Railroads streetcar on San Jose Avenue. (John Henry Mentz photograph, United Railroads. Original glass negative held by SFMTA.)
Just two weeks after this digging photo, on April 18, 1906, the San Francisco earthquake struck and dumped a good deal of the Ocean Shore’s cliff side route into the ocean. The enterprise barely got off the ground in the aftermath and sputtered to its end in 1920.
The SP tracks lasted until the late 1940s, winding through Noe Valley and the Mission District, where evidence of the line can still be seen in odd triangular shaped buildings and diagonal right-of-ways cutting through city blocks. More on that in a future “Closer Look.”