Architectural and Historical Resources of the Sunset District:
The Oceanside Neighborhood
The History of Oceanside
The first permanent settlement in the western reaches of San Francisco, other than those of Native Americans, grew gradually in the most inhospitable part of the outside lands near Ocean Beach and was called Oceanside. Various archival sources indicate that the Oceanside neighborhood was that portion of the Sunset District lying west of 40th Avenue, between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard, and that the name was used by residents of the area from the early 1900s until about 1930.
Because the Oceanside was geographically isolated, its early history is distinct from that of the rest of the Sunset, and during its first two decades the neighborhood developed its own character and architectural style. During the 1930s-1950s, new development linked the Oceanside with the rest of the Sunset. No longer isolated, the area lost its distinct identity. Its character has been further eroded by the replacement of many of the Oceanside's early houses by new development.
The oldest houses with high integrity, especially small houses and cottages, have the ability to evoke the Oceanside's early years. These early and distinctive houses are rare survivors, for only about ten percent of those houses that stood in the Oceanside in 1915 still stand today, have been relatively little altered, and therefore still have a high degree of integrity. Accordingly, by the criteria of the California Register, these houses possess historical significance.
The Early Oceanside Community
The first building, and namesake for the future community, was the Ocean Side House, a roadhouse built in 1866 on the Great Highway between what is now Ulloa and Vicente Streets. The U.S. Coast Survey map of 1869 shows it surrounded by sand dunes, almost a mile from the nearest building, on an isolated spot.
The Ocean Side House operated more or less continuously for 35 years under a series of proprietors. In 1902, it was converted into the home of Alexander and Ida Russell. Alexander Russell was a salesman for the Bowers Rubber Company, and later made a living from mining and investments. Ida Russell was known for her interest in Eastern religions. The Russells became the hosts of Soyen Shaku, a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher, for nine months in 1905. The lectures he gave on Buddhism in this house may have been the first ever given on a regular basis in the United States. In 1919, after Ida Russell's death, the main building returned to commercial use as Tait's-at-the-Beach, a popular restaurant and bar. Tait's closed in 1931, and several efforts to revitalize the restaurant were unsuccessful. The building burned in 1940. Read more about Ocean Side House, the Russells, and Tait's
By 1895 a cluster of buildings began to form near and on land bounded by Lincoln Way, Irving Street, 48th Avenue, and La Playa. This cluster consisted of old horse-cars and cable-cars that were sold as surplus by streetcar companies and hauled out to the beach. For $20 (equivalent in purchasing power to more than $425 in 2007), a buyer could have a sturdy streetcar and attach additions to it to create extra usable space. This former rolling stock was adapted by Carville residents in a number of ways: as a women's bicycling clubhouse, an artists' hangout, a vacation cottage for rent, and as permanent residences.
Within a few years, this nascent community spread to other blocks near the ocean. In 1898, the builder Jacob Heyman assembled a number of streetcars into a permanent residence for a client. Others followed his example, placing streetcars side-by-side and opening the walls between them; placing them end-to-end to form T-, L-, U-, or even W-shaped houses; and stacking them on top of one another to make two- and even three-story dwellings. Those with ambitions as landlords arranged streetcars in neat rows and rented them out. Owners constructed porches and fences to enhance the impression of domesticity. If a house was located in a protected hollow amid the dunes, a garden was also possible. If it was located on top of a dune, residents could enjoy a fine view of the ocean, but wind-blown sands swiftly buried any garden. People found that they could have a garden or a view, but not both. Sometimes dwelling exteriors were clad with siding or shingles to disguise their streetcar origins and to protect them from the wind and salt.
In reference to its streetcar origins, the community became known as "Carville," and attracted somewhat Bohemian residents. A women's bicycling club, the Falcons, started with one streetcar as a clubhouse and, when membership increased, added a second. Here, the seven married women members hosted many social events. Sometimes, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, they waded in the ocean, "choosing a moment when the beach is deserted." Their car, noted the Chronicle reporter, "was admirably adapted for entertaining." Another clubhouse, that of the Fuzzy Bunch, attracted artists and writers, reportedly including the writer Jack London and other notables such as Gelett Burgess, George Sterling, Ina Coolbrith, and Anna Strunsky.
One former streetcar became a clubhouse named "La Boheme" for musicians who congregated there. A group of professional men who liked to walk on the beach, The Barefoot Club, used a car as a clubhouse at 46th Avenue and Lawton. All in all, these structures ranged from makeshift to substantial and reflected the unconventional preferences of their Bohemian inhabitants. The fame of Carville was not only spread by local newspapers but was also newsworthy for national publications, including Scientific American. It was, by all accounts, a singularly eccentric and picturesque place.
The earthquake and fire of 1906 brought more streetcar houses to Carville. After the disaster, transit companies converted many of their lines from cable cars to electric streetcars, making much of their old rolling stock surplus. Some people who had lost their homes bought the old cable cars and moved them out to Carville, swelling the number of such residences. By about 1910, the community stretched from Lincoln Way south to Moraga Street. A two-story Episcopal church, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, consisted of three streetcars and was located on 47th Avenue near Irving Street.
"After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, refugees made permanent homes in the clubhouses and weekend cottages," wrote Gibbs Adams in the Overland Monthly, a literary magazine of the period. "By 1908, Carville had a population of 2,000, with "its own stores, restaurants, churches, hotels, its artistic settlement, its colony of prominent musicians from the city, and best of all, its quaint homes, real yet of almost nominal cost."
Even before the earthquake, it was clear that Carville's days were numbered. Shortly after 1900, people attracted to the outer Sunset built conventional wood-frame houses amid the converted streetcars. Residents of these houses had another name for the neighborhood, Oceanside. Their houses represented a greater financial investment than did the streetcar houses, and they were more likely to lobby for street improvements, utilities, and schools. They regarded the streetcar residences as an embarrassment and an impediment to progress. In 1913, Alexander Russell, president of the Oceanside Improvement Club, secured the permission of Adolph Sutro's daughter, Emma Sutro Merritt, to clear away the original cluster of Carville houses on her land at Lincoln Way and Great Highway. As part of the Fourth of July celebration that year, they torched the houses and trumpeted, "We have taken the car out of Carville" and "Make clean today by sweeping and burning up the debris of yesterday."
Many other Carville houses still stood in 1915, but few were left by the end of the 1920s. Today only one house made of streetcars, at 1632 Great Highway, is known to remain. Built in 1908 for Minnie Collins, a notary public and photo-journalist, it consists of two streetcars and one horse car raised to a second-story level and enclosed with a nondescript exterior. A three-story building at 1415-1417 - 47th Avenue originally belonged to early Carville residents Robert and Ida Fitzgerald. It once had streetcars within an upper story, but these were removed when the building was remodeled. As Carville historian Natalie Jahraus Cowan wrote, "Today, the observer in the old Oceanside district is tempted to see a streetcar in every long, narrow structure and to imagine lines of them hidden in backyards." It is unknown, however, whether any exist today other than the one at 1632 Great Highway.
Earthquake Refugee Shacks
The 1906 earthquake and fire left about two-thirds of the population of San Francisco homeless. With private donations, a relief fund was established and about 5,600 small cottages were built to house the homeless population. They were placed in parks and open spaces around the city. There was a camp in the Richmond District but none in the Sunset or Oceanside.
By the end of 1906, the City determined that it would no longer maintain the homeless camps, and began to sell the earthquake refugee cottages, to be removed to privately owned lots. Since the Sunset had plenty of available lots, several earthquake refugee shacks were brought there. Often several of these small cottages, which measured only 14 by 18 feet, were combined into one building. Such structures provided modest and affordable housing for many years. For example, four shacks at 4329-4331 Kirkham Street survived until 2005, when the owners proposed developing the property. As a result of a community effort led by Woody LaBounty, the cottages were saved and moved to a temporary location at the San Francisco Zoo. One of the cottages was restored and went on display in downtown San Francisco for the centennial commemoration of the 1906 earthquake and fire.
The Oceanside Neighborhood Name
"Oceanside" was widely used as a neighborhood name from at least 1903 into the 1920s. The first school was named the Oceanside Primary School and began instruction in 1903. A newspaper article from October 1903 referred to the neighborhood as "what was once Carville, but is now known by the more dignified title of Oceanside." The old roadhouse, the Ocean Side House, still stood at Great Highway and Vicente, and it may have inspired the neighborhood name.
The number of businesses that were named "Oceanside" attests to the popularity of this name; however, some of the businesses were short-lived. In 1905, the Oceanside Electric Light Company had a plant on 47th Avenue near Kirkham Street. In the same year, the Oceanside and Park News was at 48th Avenue and Judah Street. In 1906 or 1907, the Oceanside Pharmacy, owned by Matilda Burns, opened at the northwest corner of 48th Avenue and Judah. In 1908, the Ocean Side Bakery and Ocean Side Realty Company came to the neighborhood. At about this time Harry D. Rupp named his butcher shop at 1446 - 48th Avenue the "Oceanside Market." From 1909 to 1921, the Oceanside Fuel and Transfer Company offered hay, grain, wood, and coal, and with express, storage, and teaming services. The Spring Valley Water Company's water tower, on 41st Avenue near Lincoln Way, was called the "Oceanside tank" in 1915. Today, only the Oceanside Heating & Furnace Company at 2331 Taraval Street retains the name "Oceanside."
Carville Melds with Oceanside
The boundaries of Oceanside were never formally defined, and for residents of the time, they did not need to be. Those who lived within eight blocks of the beach considered themselves residents of the Oceanside, during a period when hardly a resident could be found between the Oceanside and the Inner Sunset. The 1915 Sanborn map reveals that, even by that year, very few houses could be found from between 20th and 40th Avenue.
Today, a number of blocks still have the feel of the transitional period during which Carville became Oceanside: the 1500 block of 45th Avenue, the 1600 block of the Great Highway, and the 1700 block of the Great Highway all contain the informal and vernacular architecture that reflects the range from makeshift and self-built cottages to fully realized Craftsman houses.
Well Water and Piped Water
During the early days in Carville and Oceanside, people made do with water from wells, roads made of sand, and lanterns instead of electric lights. By 1904, however, the population of the neighborhood was sufficiently large to induce the Spring Valley Water Company to lay water mains. The result was an immediate population explosion. Eighty-four lots were connected with water in 1904, and another ninety-one were connected the following year. The largest numbers of these were on streets closest to the ocean and to Golden Gate Park; the streets east of 46th Avenue and south of Moraga were much less populous. While some of these connections were for houses that already stood in 1904, the vast majority were for new houses. Since many lots contained more than one house, and since some houses probably continued to use well water, it is safe to say that more than 200 houses stood in Oceanside by the end of 1905. After the earthquake and fire of 1906, more people moved to Oceanside, until by 1908, Oceanside had a population of 2,000 people. A city map from 1913 shows the location of water wells and the underground supply line that piped water via Pacheco Street and Quintara Street almost to the beach. Although the Spring Valley Water Company's water tower on 41st Avenue near Lincoln Way no longer exists, a few individual well houses remain, notably one at 2274 - 45th Avenue, and a water tower at 1468 - 47th Avenue.
Other Improvements and Neighborhood Amenities
Sol Getz and Sons, a realty firm, was responsible for some of Oceanside's early growth by buying a block of land in 1902 and grading it flat. Getz continued to buy Oceanside lots for many years. The firm opened a branch office at 47th Avenue and Lincoln Way and promoted the Oceanside from there. In later years, Jules Getz recalled that most prospective home-buyers who drove their buggies out to look over the empty lots "would scoff at us and tell us to peddle our sand somewhere else." Getz and Sons encouraged the building of streetcar houses and "any kind of building" in the early years, "just to get someone out there."
Their efforts yielded results. Once a large enough population had formed, residents banded together as "improvement clubs" in order to demand city services. The first such club formed in 1903. City directories first list an Ocean Side Improvement Club in 1909. The various improvement clubs changed names, merged with, or succeeded each other. There was an Oceanside Promotion Association in 1910-11, an Oceanside Improvement Association in 1911-13, an Oceanside Club in 1914-16, an Oceanside Improvement Club in 1918, and the Oceanside Community Council in the 1920s. They met in the Oceanside Hall at 1315 48th Avenue during 1909-23 and in the Oceanside Community Hall at 4131 Kirkham during 1924-30. The same general goals inspired them all: to bring sewage lines and electric streetlights to the area, to grade and pave the streets, to build a firehouse, to improve school facilities, and to increase police protection. When the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was being planned in 1911, the Promotion Association lobbied for it to be built in Golden Gate Park, close to the neighborhood.
As far as is known, all of the officers of these clubs were men. There was also an Oceanside Women's Club in 1913. It split into two feuding factions, one of which was named the Campbellites (probably a reference to the Disciples of Christ Church, known for being morally rigorous and strict), who felt that the morals of the neighborhood were entirely too loose and should be cleaned up; and the other, the anti-Campbellites, who disagreed with this view.
The first school in Oceanside was founded in 1903 and met beneath a grocery store on 48th Avenue. In 1908, a large, new Oceanside Primary School was built on 43rd Avenue, between Irving and Judah. Two stories and a basement in height, and covered with wooden shingles, it was a substantial addition to the neighborhood. This school building was demolished and rebuilt in 1913; the name was subsequently changed to Francis Scott Key School. In the late 1910s or early 1920s, a large, wooden half-timbered Francis Scott Key School Annex, its first story clad in 12-inch wide redwood planks, was built at 1351 - 42nd Avenue. The building still exists today.
Churches were also established in the Oceanside. In addition to the before-mentioned Episcopal St. Andrews-by-the-Sea in Carville, the first permanent church was probably St. Paul's Presbyterian Churchon Kirkham Street between 46th and 47th Avenue. The brown shingled building was dedicated on September 9, 1906, and was soon expanded with a gymnasium named the Oceanside Boys Club, which offered much-needed recreational service for youth. The growth of the congregation necessitated a new facility and, in 1923, the new church was built at the corner of 43rd Avenue and Judah Street, where it still stands today.
Makeshift Houses, Family Houses, Vacation Houses
Many were cottage-type buildings, but there were also a few large single-family residences and apartment buildings. Some houses were built at the front of the lot, some at the back of the lot, and sometimes two were built, one at the front and one at the back of one lot.
Roadhouses, Bars, and Restaurants
In addition to residences of various classes, shops, a school, a church, a movie theater, and clubs, the Oceanside was home to roadhouses, restaurants, and saloons as well.
Residential Architecture of the 1900s-1910s
The houses in Oceanside varied widely in appearance, ranging in size from the tiniest cottages, of which there were many, to rather large houses of one-and-one-half to two stories, of which there were about a dozen. A few buildings were built as flats, duplexes, or multi-story apartments, but the great majority was single-family houses. One architectural theme predominates: the use of wooden shingles to cover the exterior of the house.
Shingled houses in the Oceanside can be classified in three major categories: "Shingle style," "Craftsman style," or "Shingled Colonial Revival style." Other styles in the Oceanside are the Classical Revival, with its columns, pilasters, pediments, and layered window moldings; and the pure Colonial Revival. These styles are very common elsewhere in San Francisco but are less so in the Oceanside.
Few Oceanside houses were designed by architects. Instead, the designers were builders, carpenters, and contractors. Many carpenters moved to the Oceanside in 1904 and built their own houses and houses for others. Some of the builders active in the 1900s-1910s were Peter Leonard, Lawson Fenn, Clarence Judson, Carl Wengard, Alonzo Harrington, William W. Thayer, Carl Carlsen, Walter Percival, and James L. Smith. Each lived in the Oceanside or elsewhere in the Sunset and built attractive houses that still stand today. Except perhaps for Harrington, none of these can be considered a major builder. They built houses one or two at a time, instead of in rows or tracts. A few clusters of four houses or more still stand from those built in the Oceanside before 1915. These clusters were individually-built houses, not tracts. Tract development was virtually non-existent before the 1920s.
Whatever the style, Oceanside houses from the 1900s to the 1910s are few in number. Many were demolished when older houses were under-appreciated in the 1950s through the 1990s. Of the 549 residential buildings that stood in Oceanside in 1915, by some counts only about 50 or 60 houses, or 10% of what once stood here in 1915, retain high integrity, meaning that they have not been altered greatly by renovation or other architectural changes.
Fading of Oceanside as the New Sunset Emerges
At the beginning of the 1920s, large areas of Oceanside remained undeveloped. But from that decade through the 1950s, the empty spaces were filled in with stucco-clad houses, most of which were built in rows by speculative builders. The 1920s through the 1950s were also the decades that the middle Sunset filled in with stucco-clad houses, meeting the Oceanside and blurring its visible boundary. In terms of appearance, these later houses represent a sharp break with the houses of the 1900s to 1920s.
The name "Oceanside" seems to have faded from use during the 1920s. One improvement club, and the hall in which it met, used the name "Oceanside" during the 1920s, but only one business, Oceanside Heating and Furnaces, used the name after 1921. The last year that the Oceanside Community Hall was listed in city directories, 1930, could be considered to be the last year to call the Oceanside a distinct community. As one resident commented in 1947, "Now it's not Carville or Oceanside, but the Sunset, an integral part of San Francisco." If the blocks west of 40th Avenue had their own name after 1930, it was simply the "outer Sunset" or "out at the Beach."
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Page launched 3 December 2007; updated 13 May 2010.