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Streetwise: Getting Caught Up

by Frank Dunnigan
January 2021

Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

It's nice to be back from my two-year sabbatical, and now resuming the monthly STREETWISE column that I wrote for WNP for 10 years from 2009 until 2019.

What's up, you ask? Over the course of the last two years, I managed to complete another book called CLASSIC SAN FRANCISCO: From Ocean Beach to Mission Bay, published by The History Press in October 2019. I also became involved in a variety of activities, including two years of volunteering with Meals on Wheels, ushering and other activities for my local church, visiting with my far-flung family members (at least in 2019 - not so much during 2020), plus a year-long return gig with my pre-retirement employer of 20+ years, the Federal Government, working on Census 2020.

Now it's time to get caught up with what has been taking place on the western side of San Francisco. As I leaf through electronic and paper files of correspondence, news articles, and photos that have crossed my desk, I'm amazed to see just how many changes there have been - Covid-related and otherwise. Here are just some of those stories, from A-to-Z, outlining changes to long-time/widely known businesses, schools, places, and people of the Western Neighborhoods. Many of these transitions have been apparent to locals, though some might have escaped the notice of those in other neighborhoods, including readers who are now living beyond San Francisco.


ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN HIGH SCHOOL - Operating on Frida Kahlo Way (the former Phelan Avenue was re-named in the closing days of 2018) near City College, it has been an all-boys Catholic high school since opening in 1949. In response to the January 2020 announcement about the impending closure of all-girls Mercy High School, Riordan's governing board voted later that same month to convert to a co-educational format in the Fall of 2020. With a successful boarding program in place for overseas students for several years, the school now has its highest enrollment since 1983.

Ashley & McMullen mortuary on the northwest corner of Geary Boulevard and 6th Avenue, 1920s., circa 1920 -

ASHLEY & McMULLEN-WING SUN FUNERAL HOME - In October of 2020, it was announced that the building at the NW corner of 6th Avenue and Geary Boulevard, a small funeral home dating back 100 years, was about to be converted into a seven-story structure with 98 apartments for low-income, formerly homeless seniors.

CHANNING, CAROL - Well-known actress and graduate of Aptos Junior High School (now Middle School) and Lowell High School, died in January 2019 at age 97.

Paul Judge, Tammy Aramian and Annabelle Piercy, October 15, 2007 at the Cliff House., n.d. - WNP photo

CLIFF HOUSE - One of the more shocking closure announcements of 2020 came from the Hountalas family, operators of the iconic restaurant for the past 47+ years. The recently renovated site (2003-2004), acquired by the National Park Service in 1977, had been operating on a series of short-term leases for a number of years. Lease negotiations over another extension were inconclusive, and the NPS issued a statement saying that various options were being explored for future uses of the property - though not necessarily as a restaurant. In an ultimate auld lang syne moment, a group of spectators (including WNP's David Gallagher and WNP Emeritus Woody LaBounty) watched the sign on the 157-year old restaurant come down, letter-by-letter, on the afternoon of New Year's Eve.

Emporium department store and parking lot at Stonestown shopping center before grand opening in 1952., circa 1952 - Photograph by Martin Reinsch.

EMPORIUM/MACY'S STONESTOWN - Construction crews have been working through the Covid-era to transform the original 1952 building into a cluster of new, smaller stores, eateries, and a large multi-plex theater. In 2020, the iconic towering wall (built to conceal a vintage, recently-dormant incinerator smokestack) that once held a red-scripted letter "E" (and later, the lower-case lettering of the name Macy's) was finally demolished after 68 years of being a 19th Avenue landmark.

GOLDEN GATE PARK - Plans for a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Golden Gate Park in 2020 have included light shows, a Ferris Wheel in the Music Concourse, plus a variety of virtual events. WNP was an official Community Partner of the anniversary, which is why you'll see a many OpenSFHistory photographs and hear some familiar podcast voices on the official website. Read more at https://www.goldengatepark150.com/.

GREAT HIGHWAY - In the Spring of 2020, City officials closed the upper portion of Great Highway to vehicular traffic because of the perennial problem of drifting sand, and also to provide another place for outdoor pedestrian and bicycle recreation that enabled social distancing. Enter the law of unintended consequences - north-south traffic then spilled onto on nearby streets and drivers between the Richmond and Sunset districts lost their only direct route. At least one member of the Board of Supervisors is now calling for a re-evaluation of the closure plan. On the flipside, a group called Great Highway Park has formed and is lobbying the City to permanently close the stretch between Lincoln and Sloat Boulevard.

HALLINAN, TERENCE - Member of the at-large Board of Supervisors (1989-1996) and SF District Attorney (1996-2004) was born in San Francisco, son of one-time Progressive Party candidate for US President, Vincent Hallinan and his wife, Vivian Moore Hallinan. The young Hallinan, nicknamed "Kayo" for his time as a boxer, and who lived near the far eastern edge of the Outside Lands, died in January 2020 at the age of 83.

HOUSING - After more than a decade of planning and construction, a new condo development of 56 homes and four units of ground-floor retail space opened in 2019 on the site of the old Roberts-at-the-Beach motel on Sloat Boulevard near Great Highway. Priced in line with other nearby homes, the one/two/three bedroom units were being offered at $800,000 to $1,000,000+.

Rachel, nicknamed Rose, started waitressing at Louis' Restaurant, 902 Point Lobos Avenue, in 1947., circa 1999 - Sunset Beacon

LOUIS' RESTAURANT - Owned and operated by successive generations of the Hontalas family since 1937 (cousins of the Hontalas family, long-time operators of the Cliff House), Louis', perched on the hill above the ruins of Sutro Baths, closed permanently in July of 2020, having been shuttered due to Covid-19 since March 2020.

LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL - In October of 2020, the San Francisco Board of Education voted to change the admission criteria for Lowell High School for one year only, effective for school year 2021-22. The existing policy called for using an applicant's grade point average from 7th Grade and the first semester of 8th grade plus standardized test scores - factors which were not available due to the pandemic (pass/fail grading and no standardized testing held). The school board voted to implement the one-year-only change that made admission to Lowell subject to the same rules as other City high schools, essentially using a lottery-preference system.

MERCY HIGH SCHOOL - Some 30 years after Sacred Heart and St. Ignatius went fully co-ed, Mercy High School on 19th Avenue opposite Stonestown, which had been operating since 1952, announced in January 2020 that it would close permanently following that year's graduation ceremonies. Declining enrollment (many parents having opted for co-education for their daughters in recent years), combined with aging infrastructure, increasing costs for staffing, lack of a significant endowment, plus declining numbers of women entering religious life as nuns were all cited as contributory factors. Within that same month, Archbishop Riordan High School made the decision to go co-ed for the 2020-21 school year, thus offering a nearby option for existing and prospective Mercy students at the same tuition, with significant financial aid available for both new and transfer students.

NORDSTROM - Opened in the Spring of 1988 as the final step in the re-development of Stonestown as a "Galleria", the store was an instant hit with shoppers. It was linked directly to the main part of the mall, unlike its predecessors (Bullock's, City of Paris, Butler Brothers) which required shoppers to cross Winston Drive. Changing shopping patterns in the pre-Covid era led the company to close the Stonestown branch in September of 2019, maintaining only a downtown store.

OLIVE GARDEN - The popular chain outlet, operating in Stonestown for more than 20 years, closed in late 2020. Many customers mourned the passing of the company's only San Francisco branch, thus ending an era of bottomless soup and salad bowls and unlimited soft bread sticks in the Western Neighborhoods.

OPENSFHISTORY GUERRILLA HISTORIAN POSTERS - In response to Covid restrictions that limit large gatherings, WNP's David Gallagher launched a new program in May of 2020 by posting flyers of vintage images onto utility poles, showcasing a "then/now" mini-history of a particular local street or building. Chronicle columnist Peter Hartlaub praised the program in June of 2020:


PORTALS TAVERN - Operating as a beloved West Portal Avenue watering hole for 80+ years (opening several years prior to World War II), The Portals had multiple owners over time, but always maintained a cozy family ambiance. It closed abruptly in August of 2019 once the building was sold and the bar's lease was not renewed. It's recently been transformed into... another bar called The Sherwood.

RISTORANTE MARCELLO - Dispensing hearty Italian fare since 1978 in the space formerly occupied by the Villa Capri Cocktail Lounge at the NW corner of 30th Avenue and Taraval, Marcello's announced its closure in the Summer of 2020.

SEAL ROCK INN RESTAURANT - Located on the ground floor of the Seal Rock Inn since the early 1970s, the restaurant attempted a switch to take-out orders at the start of the pandemic in March of 2020. That did not work well, and the site closed temporarily. The family operation was then hit with a large rent increase by the lodging owners, thus leading to the announcement that the restaurant was closing permanently, putting an end to some memorable brunches with an ocean view.

SHAW'S - Operating at 122 West Portal Avenue since the early days of the shopping district just after the 1918 opening of streetcar service through the Twin Peaks Tunnel, Shaw's was once a 50-store chain of ice cream and candy stores that radiated out to the suburbs. In pre-Covid February 2020, the original store location was suddenly empty and sporting a FOR RENT sign, though by August, new owner Diana Zogaric had recreated the classic Shaw's design and products, including a large collection of PEZ dispensers, and it was reopened for business by the holiday season. The Zogaric family is now putting the finishing touches on a thorough renovation in the first week of 2021. Read Richard Brandi's 2002 article on the history of Shaw's here:  https://www.outsidelands.org/wp11.php

STAR OF THE SEA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - Declining enrollment was cited as a major factor in the closure of the 110-year old elementary school in June of 2019, and a portion of the building has since been leased to an outside academy. In late December of 2020, it was announced that Star of the Sea's closed parish school was "rebooting as a classical academy".

STERN GROVE SUMMER CONCERTS - A San Francisco entertainment staple in a stunning outdoor venue since 1938, the series went virtual in 2020 due to Covid, but is expected to return to live performances in 2021. Read the history of Stern Grove here:


And some additional background on the Grove's Trocadero Building here:


STREET RENOVATIONS - In late November 2020, a 27-month construction project began along 19th Avenue in the Sunset, involving work on water/sewer lines, curb/sidewalk upgrades, and traffic signal improvements. Once the $46 million plan is complete, there will be a full repaving of both sides of the street from Lincoln Way to Holloway Avenue.

TON KIANG - One of the City's largest dim sum banquet restaurants closed in August of 2020 after 42 years in business (first in Chinatown and then on Geary Boulevard near 22nd Avenue) when 2nd-generation owner Richard Wong opted for retirement.

TOY BOAT DESSERT CAFÉ - Operating at 5th Avenue & Clement for 38 years, faced closure in June when founding owners Jesse and Roberta Fink decided to retire. However, there was a positive outcome when local baker Amanda Michael purchased the business - renaming it TOY BOAT BY JANE - much to the delight of local dessert lovers.

ZANSE'S CHEESECAKE BAKERY - Walter Zanse opened his tiny bakery on Ocean Avenue near Junipero Serra Boulevard in 1978. Cheesecake was his specialty - a product developed by his father, a German pastry chef - and perfected over the years at the family's restaurant in Santa Cruz. Zanse's produced 50 cheesecakes per day, four days per week, and these sold out quickly. The shop was temporarily closed at the start of Covid-19 in March of 2020, and the 87-year-old Zanse later confirmed that it would NOT reopen, though he also announced that he was trying to develop plans for wholesale distribution.

ZOO - The Zoo has been subject to on-again/off-again closures since the pandemic began, but there are continuing efforts to upgrade exhibits from cages to more natural habitats. Another major project has involved a painstaking restoration of the historic 1925 Mothers' Building and its WPA-era murals. See this installment of "SF West History Minute" from 2010 for some background:


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Page launched 11 January 2021.

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