Ten Views from 1973-74: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

We recently processed a run of images in the OpenSFHistory collection taken by local photographer Greg Gaar in 1973-74. Looking back forty-five years makes for a strange mix of familiarity and disorientation, as there are views and buildings in the city that look the same today, while others are wholly changed.

The prospect north from 1st and Harrison is definitely different. In 1973, Greg captured the sleek vertical lines of new skyscrapers downtown, including the tallest of them all, the Bank of America building and the Transamerica Pyramid.

View north from 1st and Harrison Streets, 1973.View north from 1st and Harrison Streets, 1973. (wnp28.2610.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

The recent craze of building South of Market has produced a new king, as the Salesforce Tower obliterates any view of the Transamerica, while the Bank of America building is barely visible behind a crane. The humble Unical 76 gas station held on until very recently, and the Sailors Union building on the right remains:

View north at 1st and Harrison, December 2017.

From 1975 until March of this year, a McDonalds restaurant and parking lot occupied Stanyan Street between Haight and Waller Streets across from Golden Gate Park. An animated conversation is now underway about the size of a city-planned affordable housing development for the site. Will it be five stories or seven? Here is that parcel just before the fast food giant moved in, occupied by a drive-in and gas station. In the background is the building that currently holds the Stanyan Park Hotel, covered in fake-brick siding with a bike rental place on the ground floor:

Haight and Stanyan, view south past Alec's Drive-In to Sutro Tower.Haight and Stanyan, view south past Alec’s Drive-In to Sutro Tower. (wnp28.2562.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

Greg used a night view of the Ferry Building to give the Embarcadero freeway an elegance it never had in day light.

Embarcadero freeway and Ferry Building at night, 1973.Embarcadero freeway and Ferry Building at night, 1973. (wnp28.2568.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

Some views can be re-created in our Instagram age, but Greg’s artistry as a photographer might be hard to match. The balconies of the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Embarcadero here combine to make an M. C. Escher woodcut:

Terraced balconies of Hyatt Regency Embarcadero hotel, 1973.Terraced balconies of Hyatt Regency Embarcadero hotel, 1973. (wnp28.2646.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

Diamond Heights homes stand sentinel at Glen Canyon, while their master, the Sutro Tower lords over them:

Looking north in Glen Canyon to Sutro Tower. Houses on right on Turquoise Way, 1973.Looking north in Glen Canyon to Sutro Tower. Houses on right on Turquoise Way, 1973. (wnp28.2628.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

The Mount Davidson cross tries to do as well, but is almost overcome by a eucalyptus forest:

View northeast from Sherwood Forest. Dalewood Way in foreground and Mount Davidson Cross above, 1973.View northeast from Sherwood Forest. Dalewood Way in foreground and Mount Davidson Cross above, 1973. (wnp28.2583.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

And to finish the theme, the defeated Dutch Windmill (pre-renovation) at the northwestern edge of Golden Gate Park is mocked on the Great Highway sea wall:

Graffiti on seawall at Ocean Beach. Dutch Windmill without sails, 1973.“Loss of Face” graffiti on seawall at Ocean Beach. Dutch Windmill without sails, 1973. (wnp25.4765.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

Fashion can be relied upon to change. This Golden Gate Park meadow view with the Sharon Building and carousel behind looks the same. The artfully posed trio, however, could only be living in the early 1970s.

Three very stylishly dressed individuals on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. Fire damage to Sharon Building in background, 1974.Three very stylishly dressed individuals on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. Fire damage to Sharon Building in background, 1974. (wnp28.2673.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

Then again, one has to have a keen eye to date this shot. For all I know, these men are still huddled around their xiangqi game at Portsmouth Square:

Men playing xiangqi in Portsmouth Square, 1974.Men playing xiangqi in Portsmouth Square, 1974. (wnp28.2728.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)

Greg had such a keen eye for characters and composition that stories wrote themselves in viewing his photographs of people. In our final shot, this Union Square quartet is no doubt cooling their heels between takes of a caper or heist movie. “One last job, Morty, and then I’m quitting the business.”

Four men on bench in Union Square. I. Magnin department store behind, October 1973.Four men on bench in Union Square. I. Magnin department store behind, October 1973. (wnp28.2685.jpg; Greg Gaar photograph, courtesy of a private collector.)