Streetwise: December Celebrations in the Outside Lands
by Frank Dunnigan
Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
This month, we look back at some classic December images from the archives, recalling how various places in the Outside Lands used to appear during the month of December. While there are relatively few holiday-related images in the archives prior to World War I, the quantity of such photos began to grow significantly by the 1920s.
Woman singing Christmas Carols at dedication of Examiner Christmas tree at Twin Peaks, December 24, 1928 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
The Examiner’s annual Christmas tree installation on Twin Peaks was a noteworthy annual event from that era that brought out festive crowds.
McLaren Lodge Christmas Tree, 1940s - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
By the 1930s, the large Monterey Cypress tree near the corner of Fell & Stanyan Streets in front of Golden Gate Park’s McLaren Lodge began to be decorated with lights each holiday season. Built in 1896, McLaren Lodge served as the home of John McLaren, the Superintendent and caretaker of Golden Gate Park from 1887 until his death in 1943. Today, the building houses the offices of the Recreation & Park Department.
Christmas decorations on West Portal Avenue between Vicente and 14th Avenue, December 1947 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Neighborhood merchants supported holiday lighting programs along commercial corridors in many different areas of San Francisco. West Portal Avenue was looking particularly bright and festive during the 1947 season.
2600 block of 18th Avenue decorated for Christmas, circa 1949 - Courtesy of Frank Dunnigan.
The 2600 block of 18th Avenue began sponsoring a holiday lighting event when the first homes were built in the 1930s. Taking a break during the World War II years, the event and appreciative crowds returned in 1945 and continued until the end of the 1960s. Read more about the 18th Avenue Christmas block
1948 letter to Sylvan Drive residents about Christmas decorations, 1948 - Courtesy of Christine Meagher Keller.
Residents of Sylvan Drive, South of Sloat Boulevard, also sponsored an annual holiday lighting event in the years after World War II.
Christmas decorations on Engine 49 firehouse at 18th Avenue and Rivera, 1950 - Courtesy of Robert and Marilyn Katzman.
San Francisco fire houses had a City-wide competition for several years in the late 1940s and early 1950s to see which one of them could arrange the most striking displays. Here, Station 49, located on 18th Avenue near Rivera Street is ready for the 1950 competition. Read more about the San Francisco firehouse Christmas decoration contests
Mobil Oil Corp. Christmas candle, 1949 - Courtesy of Frank Dunnigan.
In the late 1940s, the Mobil Oil Corporation conducted a give-away of holiday-themed candles to customers. Most of these were never burned, and thousands of boy and girl carolers, snowmen, Santas, reindeer, and trees are still tucked away in countless local homes.
Christmas decorations on Twin Peaks tunnel entrance at West Portal and Ulloa, circa 1960 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Most baby-boomers from the Western Neighborhoods remember the years of the late 1950s when West Portal merchants created a fireplace façade around the entrance to the Twin Peaks Tunnel (the 1917 flat-fronted façade was demolished in the mid-1970s to make way for MUNI Metro’s West Portal Station).
Christmas decorations on Geary Avenue between 3rd and 4th Avenues, December 1963 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Citywide, neighborhood merchants sponsored street decorations to encourage “holiday spirit” among their customers. Geary Boulevard, Clement Street, West Portal Avenue, and other shopping areas in the Outsidelands were outfitted in flashy tinsel decorations from the week of Thanksgiving through the first week of each new year. Budgets varied by neighborhood, but trees, bells, candles, and garland made up the standard décor each year. In addition to recalling the actual decorations, these images also evoke memories of many long-gone neighborhood businesses—such as the late, great Larraburu Bakery in this 1963 photo.
Willie Mays visiting Oakland Children's Hospital to promote upcoming Christmas Tree Benefit Auction, November 1964 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
San Francisco Giant and Western Neighborhoods resident Willie Mays was a frequent participant in holiday charitable efforts, including this 1964 event for Oakland Children’s Hospital that featured a unique Christmas tree decorated with autographed baseballs.
Am Tikvah Temple on Brotherhood Way, December 9, 2022 - Courtesy of Arnold Woods.
One of the most visible menorahs marking the annual celebration of Hanukkah in the Western Neighborhoods was the one displayed on the front wall of the Brotherhood Way synagogue built in 1964 (seen here in 2022 without the menorah). Formed through a 1969 merger of Temple Beth Israel on Geary Street near Fillmore and Temple Judea that was founded in Daly City in the 1950s, the Congregation recently renamed itself Am Tikvah (translated as “People of Hope”) following a 2021 merger with Congregation B’nai Emunah that operates nearby at 46th Avenue and Taraval.
Happy Holidays flower bed at Conservatory of Flowers, January 1981 - Meg Oldman, photographer, Courtesy of the Meg Oldman Collection / Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project.
Golden Gate Park landscapers have created ever-changing scenes in front of the west wing of the Conservatory of Flowers to celebrate special events for well over 110 years. In addition to on-going displays celebrating Black History Month, Fleet Week, Mother’s Day, Pride Parade and more, there have been hundreds of other one-time commemorations of: Golden Gate Park Centennial (1970), San Francisco School-Work Program (1962), Boy Scout Week (1955), American Legion (1946), United Nations (1945), John McLaren’s Birthday (1932), Portola Festival (1909), and many more. The reindeer display shown here was installed for the 1980 holiday season.
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