Many San Francisco real estate developers in the early twentieth century used place-making “street furniture” to attract attention and potential purchasers. Most installed simple columns with street lamps to act as gateways, but the new residence parks on the west side of town featured everything from massive staircases to fountains to sundials.
One of the lesser known and more interesting of these public amenities stood not in the western hills, but right off the now busy thoroughfare of Geneva Avenue near Mission Street:
In the above image, city photographer Horace Chaffee captured Department of Public Works street improvements around what appears to be a Greek temple with vases and stairs up to a colonnaded platform—all protected by a reflective diamond traffic sign.
The double structure in the median is actually two pergolas, meant to be a walkway shaded by bougainvillea, roses, wisteria or other climbing woody vines. Perhaps such flowering plants had hung on the pergolas—they appear a bit worn—but were removed as part of the street work and landscaping Chaffee documented.
Stories have been passed down that the pergola median was called “Naples Piazza,” erected for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition and torn down four years later. This tale was repeated during a recent remodeling of the median. If only they asked us history folks questions when they do these projects. Obviously the “piazza” still stood in 1928:
And rather than 1915, the pergolas seem to have been installed in 1912 as part of the expansion of the Crocker Amazon subdivision. The Crocker Estate Company invested thousands of dollars to create wide landscaped streets and boulevards south of Geneva Avenue, and erected the pergolas as a gateway, no doubt to install feelings of a sunny Mediterranean villa garden rather than a sometimes foggy San Francisco suburb.1
The developers called the gateway Crocker Amazon’s “Civic Center” and a reported 1,000 acacia trees were planted around the entry and throughout the surrounding streets.2 In this panoramic view north in late 1912, the pergolas are just beginning to be built behind the white house at center:
View north from Southern Hills, 1912. The two new houses in the foreground are on Seville Street, east of Naples Street, and Munich Street runs across the bottom of image. (wnp15.1593; glass negative courtesy of a private collector.)
Detail of the above photograph with the forms of the pergolas on Naples Street under construction behind white house. A working farm and cows are the north side of Geneva Avenue. (Detail of wnp15.1593; glass negative courtesy of a private collector.)
The number of cows across the street belays any feelings of a Civic Center in the above image, and the acacia trees have not made their arrival. The fanned Crocker Amazon street plan on the slope of San Bruno Mountain had a few dozen Craftsman-style houses built through the 1910s, but was slow to fill. While there was nearby streetcar service, it was a long way to downtown. It took a booming post World War I economy and the widespread adoption of the personal automobile to start vigorous house building activity in the tract.
Ten years after the 1928 Horace Chaffee photographs were taken, the pergolas, and indeed the entire median, was gone, no doubt part of street and traffic “improvements.”
Detail of 1938 aerial showing Naples and Geneva at top with median removed. (Harrison Ryker photograph; courtesy of davidrumsey.com.)
The good news is that in 2010 the median was landscaped with seats, pathways, and a whole “Pavement to Parks’ treatment of 18 trees and hundreds of plants. Named “Naples Green,” it’s no Greek temple, but still a very pleasant addition to the former Crocker Amazon Civic Center.