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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 20: Beach Chalet

Talking about the old and new Beach Chalet on the western edge of Golden Gate Park at Ocean Beach.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - May 24, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 20: Beach Chalet Outside Lands Podcast Episode 20: Beach Chalet

(above) Golden Gate Park, 1957

Woman posing in car in front of Beach Chalet (Lee Family)


Podcast Transcription

WNP20 – Beach Chalet

Woody: [00:00:00] David?

David: Yes, Woody.

Woody: I'm a little worried because our podcast today is again about drinking and beer in places we used to drink beer.

David: Don't worry. Woody, do you wanna lay, do you wanna lay down while you…

Woody: I just feel like we're giving people the wrong impression about our sobriety? I think that's what I'm worried about. Because I'm not an alcoholic. I don't drink. I have like one beer every day. Don't roll your eyes at me. It's true, but…

David: Let’s cut that part out.

Woody: It's Outside Lands San Francisco podcast. The podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: And we got some mail, David.

David: We did?

Woody: Yes. Last week John Martini was here. He said he was podcast listener number five, but that's not true. We have more than five listeners and some people wrote in. Sue wrote in. She says, “I just want to say that I really enjoy your podcast. I [00:01:00] just moved here from New York and I really appreciate the history and perspective your podcasts provide. There are many more than four people listening.” That's a little remark to you, I think, David.

David: It's a remark to everybody now.

Woody: And Sue says, signs her name, “Sue, person at least number five.”

David: Thank you, Sue.

Woody: Thank you, Sue, and welcome to San Francisco.

David: Number five has a lot of claimants.

Woody: Yes. Well, somebody's six. And another person wrote in. Ruby Tandu says, Ruby says, “I live in the Anza Vista / NOPA (north of Panhandle) / Western Edition. Is that part of the Western neighborhoods? And by the way, I listen to every one of your episodes on my iPod. I love it.”

David: That's nice.

Woody: That was nice.

David: Thank you Ruby.

Woody: Does she live, does Ruby live in the Western neighborhoods, David?

David: Well, yes. We definitely cover the Anza Vista because that's where the cemetery was up there on the hill. And so, [00:02:00] we do have things on the cemetery. We don't really cover the NOPA area or we kind of arbitrarily stop at Stanyan Street. I don't know why we stopped there. Can't cover everything.

Woody: We can't cover everything.

David: There's only two of us.

Woody: It's true. Well, there are more than two of us, but you're right. And the Western Addition sounds like we should cover it, but we don't.

David: Let's do it.

Woody: All right. Well…

David: Start right now.

Woody: I'll put that on the to-do list. Cover Western Addition history.

David: We'll have to discuss it with our board of directors.

Woody: Yes. Terrance Ryan wrote in and said, “I just listened to your podcast about the Surf Theater. When you and David were listing Richmond District movie houses, you forgot the still operating 4 Star.”

David: Doh!

Woody: 4 Star Theater. Two blocks, three blocks from my house too.

David: How could we forget that?

Woody: We do patronize the 4 Star, so we're happy it's still there. Terrance writes, “I used to live around the corner from the Surf and went there often.” And he has memories of [00:03:00] going and seeing a movie at the Surf about the communist revolution. October: Ten Days That Shook The World and how the whole audience burst into applause when Lenin walked on screen.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And how when he said “Peace, land and bread,” everybody went delirious. Times were different then.

David: Who could argue with peace, land and bread?

Woody: I don't know. Who can argue with Lenin?

David: I don't know.

Woody: Maybe McCartney, I could argue. Oh no, no. This is probably the other Lenin. Okay. Socialism in the Sunset District. Not around anymore. We also got one more note from our friend and board member, Paul Rosenberg, who was talking about our podcast on George Turner Marsh and the naming of the Richmond District.

David: Right.

Woody: I guess we had said that we didn't know where Richmond, Australia, was. Which is where George Turner Marsh came from. And he points out that there's a Richmond just two or three miles east of Melbourne.

David: Oh, okay.

Woody: So…

David: That's probably it.

Woody: Yeah. Suburb of Melbourne.

David: Came from the [00:04:00] countryside outside of Melbourne.

Woody: Which makes sense because if the Richmond district looked like the countryside back then, maybe that's why it reminded him of it. But thank you Paul for writing in. Thank you for your help. And if you have any corrections or comments on what we do here at the podcast, please go to our website, outsidelands.org, and drop us a note like these fine folks.

David: And claim listener number six.

Woody: No, we've already got like seven, eight right there.

David: Alright. Claim listener number 10.

Woody: Yeah. Who's our sponsor today, David?

David: Our sponsor today, Woody, is… nobody.

Woody: That's because you say we only have 10 people listening. If you, if we act like we have a lot of people listening, maybe somebody will sponsor our podcast.

David: Right.

Woody: And then we could have coffee.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Or something or snacks.

David: Maybe we could have a coffee company sponsor our podcast.

Woody: Java Beach. What do you think? You think those…

David: Now, now you've done it. You've just given them a free plug.

Woody: Oh, no. Nevermind. Nevermind. What are we talking about today, David? Not too far from Java [00:05:00] Beach. What are we talking about today? Where they have excellent coffee.

David: We're talking about the Beach Chalet, a place that we've both drunk beer.

Woody: I don't think we're alone. But I had beer there when it wasn't called Beach Chalet. It was called VFW.

David: Well, it was still in the Beach Chalet.

Woody: You're right. The building was the Beach Chalet. But everybody called it VFW. Do you know what that stood for?

David: Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Woody: Yeah. They had a bar in there, the little Veterans Association. And I was underage and I snuck in and it was pretty depressing at the time. But I had a couple beers there.

David: The Veterans of Foreign Wars ran the San Bruno Park concession stand when I was a kid.

Woody: Really?

David: Yeah. So, in San Bruno everything was, it was just Coca-Cola and soda and popcorn.

Woody: Ah, nice innocent beverages. I interviewed this surfer the other day about, he talked about surfing VFW. And surfers would often [00:06:00] talk about the waves across from the Beach Chalet, and they called it VFW back then. Just because that was what everybody thought of that place. But the Beach Chalet is much older than when the VFW was in there. Right?

David: Right, right.

Woody: What are the origins, in fact, that's not even the first Beach Chalet, is it?

David: No, there was one before that.

Woody: We should probably say where the Beach Chalet is.

David: The Beach Chalet is a building at the end of the Park right across from the beach. Right on the Great Highway there.

Woody: Right.

David: But it's in Golden Gate Park.

Woody: A handsome structure.

David: Right there. Beautiful. 1925.

Woody: Yeah. Spanish Colonial Revival has kind of like the red clay tile roof and big pillars in the front, little steps.

David: It was the last building designed by Willis Polk.

Woody: The famous San Francisco architect. That was the last building he designed?

David: Yeah.

Woody: What do you know?

David: He couldn't, he couldn't top that building.

Woody: That was apex, the apogee of his career?

David: I'm done, I'm done.

Woody: I can [00:07:00] rest now. But we said…

David: And he did. I think he died after, actually died before it was finished.

Woody: Completed. That was not the first Beach Chalet though.

David: No.

Woody: That building is not the first one.

David: No, no. The first one was across the Great Highway. It wasn't in the park. It was on the, on the bluff of the dune there across the Great Highway.

Woody: Practically on the beach.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And that was a building that looked more like a Swiss chalet or something? It had a little…

David: Yeah. That's probably why it kept the name, the chalet from the, you know, despite being a Spanish colonial revival style.

Woody: Yeah, the new building.

David: Yeah.

Woody: The old one was called the Beach Chalet. And, you know, the funny thing about it, it opened in 1890, right there on the beach, and it was sort of, it was a public building. I think it was run by the city. And it was to provide a relief station and a resting place for women and children specifically. Because there were bars and [00:08:00] roadhouses at the beach where men could go in and get a beer or a drink. But this was built specifically for women and children who didn't wanna go into a bar.

David: A more refined atmosphere.

Woody: Yeah, you could have a lemonade and sit inside there and look at the water. But the problem with the old Beach Chalet, which I think we said was built in 1890 by architect, designed by architect William O. Banks, was, it was right on the beach.

David: And that means that it's built on sand.

Woody: And the ocean started gnawing away.

David: The wild and wasteful ocean.

Woody: Yeah. And there were giant storms. And we have a whole article about this by our friend John Freeman on our website, if you search for Beach Chalet. In 1914 in January, there were some big storms. And they actually had a battle to save the Beach Chalet, the old one from just being sucked away into the surf.

David: Right. I mean the sand was, it was getting eaten away right underneath it. It was about to, it was about to fall into the [00:09:00] ocean.

Woody: Yeah. There were crowds coming out to see if the Beach Chalet would go in. And there's pictures where you could see they put up fences and rocks and all this stuff to try to keep the sea at bay. And it survived that. But then it closed in 1924, I guess, is what we think.

David: Right. So, even though even though the sand eroded in 1914, it stayed there for nine more years?

Woody: Yeah. I don't know. What they did, I think, they did a lot of work to try to kind of prop it up and keep it there. But it was not a good long-term solution, even though it was there another nine years. And then it had a very funny history of what happened after that. The building was taken down and moved.

David: Right. So, it was a two-story building. And it got, the top floor got taken off.

Woody: Kept, kind of saved.

David: Yeah. And moved down Lincoln.

Woody: South side of Golden Gate Park and all the way up to 24th Avenue.

David: Right.

Woody: Where it was used as a Boy Scout hall. [00:10:00] It kind of had a new first floor put in there and it was a Boy Scout hall for a number of years till it burned down. So that's sort of the history of the old Beach Chalet building.

David: Right. But so, they built the new Beach Chalet because they knew this old one was…

Woody: On its way out.

David: Unusable and wasn't gonna get used. It was going to be demolished or removed.

Woody: Right. So, while the Boy Scouts are taking the old building, the new one's being built right across the way. Like you said, designed by Willis Polk. $60,000 the Park Commission allocated to build the building. And Barrett and Hilp who is a contracting firm, comes up a lot back then, built a lot of buildings and West side buildings, including, oh, a little thing called the Golden Gate Bridge later. They were responsible for building the new Beach Chalet.

David: That's in NOPA, right? Not covered by us.

Woody: So, what's in the new Beach Chalet? This opens May [00:11:00] 30th, 1925.

David: What did they have in there?

Woody: Well, they have, if you go into the Beach Chalet today, a lot of the same stuff. Except the old Beach Chalet was made for people to come in and have changing rooms. To come in, in their clothes and change into swimsuits and go out there.

David: Ooohh.

Woody: They had a glass walled sort of restaurant, like they still do on the second floor to kinda look out at the ocean.

David: Back then?

Woody: Yeah.

David: Alright.

Woody: They had a restaurant on the top floor.

David: Well, where were these changing rooms?

Woody: Well, that's a good question. I haven't seen, I haven't seen a sort of schematic, but I think they were off, I gotta get this right, I think they were off to the back right if you walk in. I'm not sure though. And I know there was a little tea room that somebody set up. I guess there were some sisters that had a little tea room with Oriental rugs and that sort of thing, off, I think that was off to the left as you entered. But the funny thing is now, David, if people go to the Beach Chalet, what do they think of when they walk in the doors? What is the first thing they notice that really sticks out?

David: The [00:12:00] murals. I think the frescoes in the downstairs building are all, you know, overwhelm the senses.

Woody: Yeah. And it's funny. And that's what I think too. But those weren't there originally. Those were not part of the original Beach Chalet. They came later. They were part of the WPA, the Works Progress Administration in the Depression.

David: Huh?

Woody: Yeah.

David: So, what was in the, so there was nothing there?

Woody: I think they were just…

David: Plain walls?

Woody: Plain walls, yeah. But tell us a little bit about, do you know anything about Lucien Labaudt and that his artwork in there?

David: Do I? No, I don't really.

Woody: You don't know anything? Well, what are the murals of? What do they look, have you…?

David: They're all of various San Francisco scenes and people enjoying themselves on the beach, often picnicking, doing kind of recreation things. And I know that he did paint a lot of [00:13:00] images of himself. Or at least one of himself and of his friends.

Woody: Right. I think famous people in there too.

David: There might be some famous people in there.

Woody: Yeah. I think John McLaren.

David: Yeah.

Woody: The Park Superintendent is somewhere in there. In the murals, they have little quotes from famous, like San Francisco poets and writers along the top.

David: Right. It's all San Francisco.

Woody: Yeah. And it's really neat. Like little kids in the park and people enjoying the sea and boating, flying kites and stuff like that. Lucien Labaudt. So, this was part of the Federal Art Project, which was part of the WPA.

David: Right.

Woody: And it was to put artists to work during the Depression.

David: Right. And so, well, I'm curious because the other thing that really strikes me when I go there, are the wood carved banisters?

Woody: Yeah!

David: Or the one wood carved banister that goes upstairs.

Woody: Michael von Meyer was the artist who did those.

David: So, was that a WPA?

Woody: Yeah, that was part of it too. Magnolia. It's Magnolia, the wood they used there.

David: Oh, alright.

Woody: Right. [00:14:00] And it's got little octopus sea scenes.

David: Yeah. It's all like this octopus that curls its tentacles all the way up the stairs.

Woody: Yeah. And if you haven't noticed that going up, you should pay attention. There's little details like that all through the main lobby as you walk in. There's also little mosaic, or what would you call that?

David: Yeah, there are mosaics on the, near the bathrooms. And on, right in the front, at the front door, there's a big mosaic on the ground.

Woody: Oh yeah, like on the floor.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, the stone mosaics were done by Primo Caredio. I probably messed that name up.

David: Sounds messed up.

Woody: C-A-R-E-D-I-O. He's the one who did the stone mosaics. And he framed the doorways and made kind of a wainscot there. So, David, all this artwork comes in in 1936, middle of the ‘30s. And despite all that, despite all that ornamentation and all that beautiful elaboration of the Beach Chalet, it wasn't a [00:15:00] very successful operation. And it closed. I think the restaurant closed in 1940, just a few years after all that artwork was put in there.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And probably people weren't using the changing rooms. It's too darn cold at Ocean Beach, I bet. You know?

David: Yeah. I'm still curious about the use of the upper floor and where these changing rooms were.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Because I don't see where they were. I mean, if there was a restaurant upstairs at the time. We don't know.

Woody: We have to see a schematic. We have to look for a floor plan. But in, then World War II hits right after that. And the military takes over the Beach Chalet. Like most of these sort of coastal buildings and things, the military steps in. I think they used it as a housing station for a signaling corps that was right nearby. So, the military took over the Beach Chalet building during World War II. And then it was after that, somewhere after that, that the Veterans of Foreign Wars leased it, used it, I think as a [00:16:00] meeting hall. But mostly I remember it as a bar.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And that was there, I think until the early ‘80s, that bar.

David: Yes, I agree with you.

Woody: If I drank beer there, it had to be in the early ‘80s.

David: I agree with you. Yeah. I never went out there. But yeah, I remember it being a bar and I wanna say, I have a vague recollection of going in there when it was a bar.

Woody: Yeah.

David: But it wasn't somewhere that I went frequently or even maybe more than once.

Woody: Well, when I went the veterans, if they were veterans in there, were kind of a rough and tumble. I think they were Vietnam veterans mostly, and they just were kind of a little rough edged.

David: It was kind of a biker bar.

Woody: Yeah. It kinda had a biker feeling. Exactly. It's a lot different now. So, the VFW left, I don't know….

David: It was just closed and derelict.

Woody: Yeah.

David: For probably 10 years at least.

Woody: Yeah, I think it was. I think it closed in the early ‘80s. It got made a landmark. It's a city landmark and it's on the National Register of [00:17:00] Historic Places, partly cause Willis Polk designed it, but because of the great artwork inside. But I think it needed a lot of work. I think the building had kind of deteriorated and it closed for work.

David: My main memories of it was seeing it kind of fenced off and seeing the upper floors with these curtains in it and cardboard and newspapers pasted up. I think there was a caretaker living there, maybe.

Woody: Oh yeah.

David: And it looked very, it looked like a weird old derelict building.

Woody: Yeah. And…

David: Not totally abandoned, but…

Woody: Yeah. Not used. Not open to the public for sure.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then I remember when it reopened, and that was in 1996, I think, right at the end of the year, like December, near the New Year. And it opened with great fanfare as a brew pub.

David: Right.

Woody: And restaurant. And that's what it still is today. It's the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, I think it's called. And it's run by actually an acquaintance of ours [00:18:00] who her children went to the same nursery school, Sunset Nursery School, as my kids, my daughter.

David: Locals.

Woody: Very local. They live like not that far from there. And they've made a great success of it. I think it's very popular.

David: Right. And so that's in the upstairs part. And the downstairs is all open to the public.

Woody: Right.

David: Free of charge and has a little interpretive display.

Woody: Kiosk or something, yeah.

David: The murals have been restored and beautiful.

Woody: Yeah, it's a beautiful, really neat thing. And if you've been inside Coit Tower and looked at the murals there, I think Labaudt did some in there. They have that kind of chunky WPA style. But they're really neat and they look great right now. And then they were so successful upstairs, they got permission to add an addition in the back called Park Chalet.

David: Right.

Woody: And I know there's always people sitting out there in the back lawn and playing guitars. And it is, again, a very popular place. So, it's a great success story.

David: And it's nice, and it goes back [00:19:00] to its original function of the original Beach Chalet, which is just kind of a place of respite.

Woody: Yeah.

David: From the elements.

Woody: Yeah. And great views. Great place to see a sunset. So, Beach Chalet. That's our story today. Anything else you want to add about it?

David: No.

Woody: You wanna go get a beer?

David: No. Too early.

Woody: It's two o'clock.

David: Depends on when…

Woody: Two o'clock.

David: Depends on when I listen to this.

Woody: Well, until next time, I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: Write in. Let us know you listen to this podcast. Send us a note about everything or anything and give us some suggestions for things you'd like us to talk about. Because, David, how much time and preparation do we put into these podcasts?

David: Almost none. I'm sure you could tell from this episode.

Woody: We walk up, we set up the mic and we say, what are we gonna talk about this week? And we pretty much wing it, don't we?

David: Yep.

Woody: But just think if we prepared how good they'd be.

David: They might be good.

Woody: We'll see you next week.

David: I can tell you more about Primo Caredio [00:20:00] first.

Woody: Okay. Well, what's up with Primo Caredio?

David: Well, he came to San Francisco during the Pan Pacific International Expo.

Woody: Exposition.

David: And he died in 1964. And he was the manager of the Italian American Social Club. He was a local.

Woody: Wow! The guy who did the mosaics and the stonework.

David: Let's leave this out.

Woody: Okay. We're leaving this out. We'll see you next week. Bye.

Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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