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Streetwise: Never-Built West Side Landmarks

by Frank Dunnigan
November 2021

Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

The Western Neighborhoods have been home to many memorable buildings and civic infrastructure improvements going back more than a full century. In addition to what is still here today, there have been many other plans that looked promising at one time, but were never constructed. Here are just a few examples of them.

BART—An early BART proposal, prior to the 1962 election that approved regional construction, included a branch line from Montgomery Street in the Financial District that would have extended deep into the Richmond District, with stations at Union Square, Van Ness, Fillmore, Masonic, Arguello, 11th Avenue, and 25th Avenue. See the proposed map:

Proposed routing of BART in San Francisco, September 1961 - Courtesy of Eric Fisher--http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingsf/5430312770/

Burnham Plan—“Report on a Plan for San Francisco” was prepared by Daniel Burnham in 1905 and presented to City officials. Although it was an ambitious civic beautification project, including a massive new public park in the center of town, the consideration of it was interrupted by the 1906 earthquake and fire. The more pressing need to rebuild the City quickly after that catastrophe took priority. Read Rex Bell's 2011 Burnham Plan article with more details and images of the plan.

Cliff House—As plans were being considered for the Sutro Baths site in 1965 (just one year before its closure and the eventual fire that occurred during the demolition process), thought was also being given to replacing the nearby Cliff House with twin high-rise residential towers. Wiser heads thought better about this plan.

Cliff House Proposal 1965 - Courtesy of Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Whitney Bros Property Drawings - GOGA 35155

Cross-Park MUNI line—Long-time Park Superintendent John McLaren had a noted dislike for statues, stadiums, and streetcars in his beloved park. Still, the City and County of San Francisco continued to explore a number of ideas for a Richmond-Sunset streetcar line through the park. See some of the plans that were envisioned in 1913 and drawn up by "father of the third rail" Bion J. Arnold:

Cross-park Diagrams, 1913 - Courtesy of Report on the Improvement and Development of Transportation Facilities of San Francisco, by Bion J. Arnold

Forest Hill Station—Early architectural plans show the convergence of streetcar lines at the Laguna Honda/Forest Hill Station. Listen to Outside Lands Podcast #57 about the station and the surrounding neighborhood and see the original design that involved multiple buildings and a Dewey Boulevard overpass:

Forest Hill Station original plan, n.d. - Courtesy of San Francisco History Center, SFPL

Fort Funston—Upon the acquisition of Fort Funston from the federal government in 1960, Mayor George Christopher requested the San Francisco Planning Department present a residential land use plan for the property. See the map and suggested uses for the property, which included residences, a school, and shops:

Ft. Funston Proposal, 1960 - Courtesy of Report to the San Francisco City Planning Commission on alternate land use plans for surplus property at Fort Funston

Geary MUNI—Richmond District residents have long desired faster access to downtown, and there have been a number of proposals over the years after the Geary streetcar line closed down in 1956. One plan that piqued the public's interest in 1967 was for a MUNI subway running beneath Geary, with vehicle parking at some of the stations. The proposal never came to be (according to the late historian Paul Rosenberg, who served on the committee studying the proposal) because of public dissatisfaction with the idea that many riders would have to walk or transfer upon reaching Market Street. Interestingly, MUNI is again considering plans for a Geary MUNI Metro subway line. See a drawing of the MUNI subway proposal cutaway at Geary and Park Presidio:

Proposed Geary Subway, 1967 - Courtesy of Eric Fisher--http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingsf/4385936046/

Golden Gate Bridge—An early model, circa 1922, was thankfully put aside in favor of a more attractive design by architect Joseph Strauss. The alternative plan is shown here:

Drawing of Golden Gate Bridge, 1922 - DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer - SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector

Golden Gate Heights—In 1923, the City displayed a 3-D model of proposed streets for the Golden Gate Heights area, not all of which were constructed as shown. See the model here:

Golden Gate Heights Model, July 27, 1923 - DPW Horace Chaffee, photographer - SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector

Golden Gate Park Lake—In 1926, there was a proposal for a large lake adjacent to the Murphy Windmill in Golden Gate Park. See an artist’s rendering here:

Golden Gate Park, January 27, 1926 - Courtesy of a Private Collector

Golden Gate Park Stadium—A grand 1910 design for a Golden Gate Park stadium was envisioned by City officials, but never carried out. Instead, the Polo Fields you see now were built. See the original plan here:

Golden Gate Park Stadium, November 1910 -

Irving Theatre—Architectural plans from the 1920s called for a much more elaborate Irving Theatre/retail complex than the one that was built. The theatre was constructed at 1332 Irving Street between 14th and 15th Avenues and was in operation from 1926 until it was closed in 1962 and demolished. Compare and contrast the original Irving Theatre plan with the Irving Theatre that was actually built.

Point Lobos—In 1927, there were ambitious plans for the construction of The Pacific Edgewater Club adjacent to and just to the north of the Sutro Baths, but the start of the Great Depression two years later scuttled those plans. See a newspaper ad of what was being proposed at the site:

Lands End Proposal, San Francisco Chronicle March 15, 1927 - WNP Collection

St. Gabriel Church—In the early 1970s when St. Gabriel Church was struggling to accommodate Mass goers, there was a plan—complete with architectural drawings—for a new and modern structure to be built at the southwest corner of 40th and Ulloa to replace the 1941-42 church building located farther south on 40th Avenue. In 1973, a more cost-effective solution was implemented by expanding the existing church structure with “wings” to provide additional seating, and the new design was never carried out.

St. Ignatius High School—Then located at 222 Stanyan Street, St. Ignatius High School was dealing with crowded conditions and outdated science labs from the time of the school’s 1929 construction. By 1963, there was a plan to remodel the existing campus, and architectural drawings included an 8-story high-rise faculty residence and an adjacent chapel at the southeast corner of Turk & Stanyan, plus the addition of a student activities center and parking garage south of the original building, next to the 1947 gym. These proposals were soon abandoned in favor of a new campus in the Sunset District, which opened in 1969.

Sunset Boulevard—Prior to the Sunset Boulevard that we know today, there was another planned roadway named Sunset Boulevard envisioned in 1926—stretching in a diagonal line from 19th Avenue & Lincoln Way to the Sloat Boulevard location of the Zoo. See the plan:

Unbuilt Sunset Boulevard, San Francisco Examiner, September 18, 1926 - WNP Collection

Sutro Heights Park—In the 1920s, there was a grand design put forth for Sutro Heights Park that includes what appear to be a number of monuments. That plan never came to fruition. See the artist’s drawing for what this proposal for the hill above the Cliff House:

Sutro Heights Proposal, October 1922 - DPW Horace Chaffee - SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector

Western Freeway—In the 1950s, there was a document called the San Francisco Trafficways Plan, which recommended the construction of several interconnecting freeways throughout the City. Public opposition to the plan and its perceived detrimental impact on the Western Neighborhoods managed to scuttle most of the proposals. Read more about the Western Freeway and see the proposed map:

San Francisco Freeway Plan, 1950s - Courtesy San Francisco Planning Department

West Portal Theatre—The movie house, originally the Portal Theatre and later known as the Empire and then the Cine Arts-West Portal (closed permanently in February of 2021), had a much more elaborate construction plan in 1923 that was never realized. See the original plan:

Plan for West Portal Avenue and Vicente Street, 1923 - Courtesy Irving F. and Gertrude Comfort Morrow Collection, Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley

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