Streetwise - Noriega Neighbors


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Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

Streetwise - Noriega Neighbors

by Frank Dunnigan
July 2010

When I bought my first house on 22nd Avenue near Pacheco in May of 1979, I discovered a whole new village—Noriega Street—right down there at the bottom of the hill. For the next 20 years or so, the stretch from 19th Avenue to Sunset Boulevard became a regular destination for me, just as Taraval and West Portal had been when I was growing up on 18th Avenue near Vicente. Here's what I recall, from east to west, with just a couple of locations beyond the boulevard.

Retail Store (NE corner of 19th)—When I was in high school, it was an Alioto for Mayor office, then later became a produce stand, pet food store, and a couple of other things before being demolished in the late 1990s for the present housing/retail use.

Nineteenth Avenue Liquors (SE corner of 19th)—One of the most stable businesses in the area, with little or no change since I was riding the 28-19th Avenue bus past it in the fall of 1966 on my way to St. Ignatius on Stanyan Street. One large ceramic dog still stands sentry at the door, while the other disappeared years ago, leaving behind only a base.

The Infant Shelter, later the Conservatory of Music, visible in center. Looking southeast from Noriega Street to 20th Avenue, 1930. - San Francisco Examiner

Chevron Gas Station (NW corner of 19th)—Operating there for years, it was torn down in the 1990s and replaced by an auto service center that does not sell gasoline. Finding a gas station in the Outside Lands remains a far tougher job than in years past, which readers will see as they read on.

Pioneer Investor Savings (SW corner of 19th)—That was the name of the firm that built the modern banking structure on this corner in about 1965. Even with many name changes, the building remains a bank today. Great place to do banking, since it has one of the few on-site parking lots in the area.

Big Daddy Hamburgers (south side near 20th)—With the "new" S.I. campus still under construction as I attended my senior year in 1969-70, many of us gravitated up & down Noriega in search of a mid-day meal during that short-day "lunch-less" school year. Big Daddy had freshly ground beef and the thickest, best-tasting fries ever. And no, I do NOT want to know what they were using in the deep-fryer to cook those fries. Gone by 1980 or so.


Sunset Restaurant, 1243 Noriega Street, October 2006 - WNP Photo

Sunset Restaurant (south side near 20th)—Not as fancy as Luzern just a couple of blocks to the west, but this Irish-owned and staffed place also packed the customers in nightly, unless you opted for the early bird special beginning at 5 p.m. Excellent prime rib, any night of the week, and the full meal, including soup or salad and dessert was under $10. Gone since the early 1990s.

Saxe Realty (NE corner of 20th)—Old-time Sunset real estate office that had been there and in a couple of adjacent locations since before World War II. An agent from there sold me my house on 22nd Avenue. They were caught up in the merger mania of the late 1980s, are now part of some large conglomerate.

Tien Fu (SE corner of 21st)—Great long-time Chinese restaurant that also had an outlet in Noe Valley. They offered the fastest delivery in the neighborhood, especially when I got home from work late on rainy winter nights. Gone since about 1997.

Shell Gas Station (SW corner of 21st)—Another one of the many gas stations on the street, this one disappeared in the mid 1970s.

Department of Motor Vehicles (south side near 21st)—The Sunset Branch was long gone before I moved to 22nd Avenue, having closed in the 1960s. Yet it was still famous for its fast, efficient service throughout the 1950s. Mom & her sister, both timid drivers, insisted that taking the driving test here vs. the other San Francisco office on Fell Street was much easier. Testers had a reputation for navigating applicants up and down the quiet side streets, and never along 19th Avenue.

Luzern (south side between 21st & 22nd)—Charming little place that my new neighbors told me about in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, it moved into a new building a couple of doors away. Run by a delightful Swiss couple, every meal featured a small cup of leek soup, and salad of butter lettuce and vinaigrette. The place was packed nightly, but is now just a memory since the owners retired in the late 1990s.

Fay Cleaners (north side near 22nd)—Owned by a friendly Asian couple who taught me more about dry cleaning than I could have hoped to know. To this day, I recall that certain fabrics and colors need to be cleaned "in a fresh solution" in order to look good. It costs a bit more, but the folks at Fay would do it for you at no extra charge if you knew enough to ask.

Hibernia Bank (NE corner of 22nd)—What can I say, other than forever and always, since April 15, 1974, it will be remembered as the Patty Hearst branch. There was, however, a wonderful black-and-white photo mural of the entire western half of San Francisco mounted on the lobby wall. I wonder whatever happened to that? As for the bank, it merged with Security-Pacific, which later merged with Bank of America, which later merged with something in Charlotte, North Carolina to become… Bank of America. It stayed that way for a couple of years before being closed in the waves of downsizing. Video stores have come and gone since then.

Hibernia Bank at 22nd Avenue and Noriega Street, January 1976. Robbed by Patty Hearst and the SLA on April 15, 1974. - AP Wire photo, WNP Collection

Gulf Gas Station (SE corner of 22nd)—Yet another neighborhood gas station that disappeared in the mid-1970s to make way for more apartments.

White Lumber Company (NW corner of 22nd)—This was probably the first place that I visited the day I received the keys to my house. It was still in business in 1979, right down at the bottom of the hill. Imagine a scaled-down version of Home Depot (yet much larger than an average hardware store) right smack in the middle of your own neighborhood—what convenience that was! As a new homeowner, I was in there a couple of times a week in 1979 and 1980. Financial pressures from the big box stores as well as rising neighborhood rents did them in circa 1981.

La Boughan Florist (south side, near 24th Avenue)—Long-time neighborhood florist, well know to S.I. Juniors and Seniors in the late 1960s for selling prom corsages at $4.99.

Emerald Cleaners & Tailor (north side between 24th & 25th)—The proprietors were a delightful older Jewish couple who always seemed to have spools of thread and needles emerging from the pockets and lapels of their clothing. They could mend or alter anything beautifully. Once, after I had lost a significant number of pounds on Weight Watchers, and was having some suits altered, the wife took me aside, and asked with grave concern, "Darling, are you feeling all right? Are you eating well? I make a nice chicken soup, and I thought…"

Seabright Market (south side between 24th & 25th)—Large 1950s grocery store run by a outgoing Greek family. Again, a friendly and courteous staff attracted a loyal following. Gone since the 1960s.

Dave's A-1 Pharmacy (two different locations, both on the south side between 24th and 25th)—Another neighborhood institution owned by a local family and known for friendly service, free delivery, etc. Like most neighborhood drug stores, gone since the 1990s when the owners retired.

Carriage Market (NW corner of 25th)—Classic full-service neighborhood market that was always there. One of the last places that I remember having paper bags of various sizes for the fruits and vegetables. No need for them to install credit or debit card readers—if you lived within a 6 block radius, they would happily take your check and not ask for ID. If you were older and couldn't get out, they would deliver. If you wanted something and didn't see it, just ask and they would order it for you. By popular consensus, their butcher shop had the best Italian sausage (hot and mild) outside of North Beach. Closed and transformed into Walgreens in the late 1990s.

Vacant lot for theater (SW corner of 25th)—Per the neighborhood's old-timers, this corner lot was set aside by Costello Homes, a large builder in the area, circa 1940, to become the Noriega Theater, but it was never built.

Green House Pharmacy (north side, between 25th & 26th)—This had to be one of the most obscure businesses in the area. After living on 22nd for nearly 20 years, I offered to pick up a prescription there for a neighbor in the late 1990s. I had to drive past the place 3 times before I found it, as I had never seen it before. I was the there only once, and I never knew anyone else who had ever patronized the place.

Baghdad Bowl (NW corner of 26th)—Dark, smoky interior and the unique sounds of a bowling alley. Hang-out for teenagers who were trying to escape from their parents, but who still obeyed a stated curfew. Became a savings and loan office in the early 1980s.

ARCO Gas Station (SE corner of 27th)—Formerly a Richfield station, it had been there for years before being razed for construction of a small condo building in the early 1980s.

Chevron Gas Station (SW corner of 30th)—Yes, another one, and one that always seemed to have a supply of gasoline (and mammoth lines snaking around the block) during the 1974 "gasoline shortage" when I once spent 2 hours waiting in line there.

Bank of America branch (south side between 30th & 31st)—One of the tiniest store-front branches of the bank anywhere, and remarkably still open after the institution has gone through multiple waves of downsizing and branch consolidations. Neighbors suspect that the building owner must have signed a 99-year unbreakable lease with the bank when the place first opened in the late 1950s.

Safeway (north side between 30th & 31st)—The current version dates back to 1984 or so when it replaced the prior store which was smaller, and located closer to the 31st Avenue side of the property, with only a small street-level parking lot on the 30th Avenue side.

Gibraltar Savings & Loan (NW corner of 31st)—Just like gas stations, banks and savings & loans dotted the neighborhood back in the day when FDIC insurance maxed out at $10,000 per account, and people moved their money around to get that free toaster offered to new customers. Several years of vacancy and new uses since the late 1990s.

Taffy's Liquors (SW corner of 31st)—Now housing a busy donut shop, in the late 1960s the building was home to a liquor store that had a reputation for not looking too closely at a customer's ID, hence it quickly became a favored spot of certain S.I. students. I admit to nothing here, since my friend Keith lived nearby on the north side of 31st Avenue, and his ever-vigilant mother kept a sharp eye on the comings and goings at this place from her living room window, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Across the street, on the north side of Noriega, between 31st and 32nd, there was Quarts & Pints, which allegedly had much tougher scrutiny of male customers under the age of 35. Is it my recollection, or were there far more liquor-only retail stores in the neighborhood 40 years ago?

House of Bagels & Gilbert's Kosher Deli (south side between 31st & 32nd)—A couple of well-placed adjacent businesses that catered to both the Jewish and Gentile population of the area.

Bino's Restaurant (NW corner of 32nd)—Long a neighborhood institution where you were expected to "dress up" (coat & tie for men and boys, hat & gloves for women and girls) in the 1950s and 1960s. It became South Pacific, with a Hawaiian-Polynesian theme, in the late 1970s, expanded circa 1982, and then evolved into several different Chinese motifs.

Ace Pharmacy (SW corner of 32nd)—This was an incredibly large place compared to most neighborhood drug stores, and it was one of the first to go under in the early 1980s as the big chains expanded.


1842 Noriega, circa 1951 - WNP collection

The Blanket Company (north side near 32nd)—Believe it or not, there used to be a place that did nothing else but repair electric blankets, and I was in there more than once. They did good work, and the prices were low enough that it made sense to repair rather than replace. There are likely a lot of old blankets in the landfill now, since these folks closed up.

Texaco Gas Station (NE corner of 33rd)—A quiet place that seldom seemed to have any customers. The gas station closed sometime in the early 1980s and became a vegetable and produce outlet before new buildings were constructed on the site in about 1990.

Three Star Market (south side between 33rd & 34th)—One of the first large Asian grocery stores in the area, it had an excellent selection of fish and seafood that attracted customers from all over the Sunset.

True Value Hardware (north side near 38th)—A well-stocked neighborhood hardware store for many years, enduring a few moves. The place expanded all the way to the corner of 38th in the 1980s.

Polly Ann Ice Cream (north side between 38th & 39th)—Operating there since the 1950s, I was introduced to it as an S.I. senior in the Fall of 1969 by classmates who lived nearby in Holy Name Parish. There was a lot of anxiety in the late 1990s when the original building was to be demolished and replaced by housing, but Polly Ann survived, with just a short move to a ground floor corner spot in the new building. Although I like the seating in the new place, it still has a vaguely sterile smell—lacking all those years of built-up aromas in the old location.

Chicken Delight (south side, between 44th & 45th)—Dinner delivered to your home, with the motto, "Don't cook tonight—call Chicken Delight". Their standard offering was an improbable combination of fried chicken, cole slaw, and blueberry muffins, all delivered to your door faster than today's pizza deliveries. Mom loved the place when it opened in about 1964, and called them at least twice a month. Despite a great idea and reasonable prices, it vanished from the scene sometime in the 1980s.

Cala Foods (SE corner of 46th)—Another large neighborhood grocery store that housewives walked to back in the days after World War II. It was another of the neighborhood spots known for both good meat and produce. Torn down and replaced with housing and a small convenience store in the early 1990s.

Fotomat (NE corner of 46th)—A tiny kiosk near the corner where you could drive up and hand over your film for processing and buy new film and flashcubes without ever getting out of your Volkswagen Beetle. These little yellow and blue shacks were all over the Bay Area back then, and they sure beat waiting in line to drop off and pick up film.

When I mentioned some of these places to my 25-year-old god-daughter, she was especially puzzled by the Fotomat concept—she couldn't understand why we didn't just download pictures onto our computers. Of course, she's the same one who didn't recognize a 1950s manual typewriter when she saw one, couldn't figure out how Superman ALWAYS found a phone booth to change clothes, hasn't ever driven into a gas station and heard the bell ring, and doesn't know what carbon paper is.

How just a few years can define an era…


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