The History of Sunset Heights, 1920s to present, with Woody LaBounty

Monday, November 27, 2017

In 2016, Woody LaBounty won an ovation from a full house when he came to SHARP to present the history of Sunset Heights until the 1920s. He returned in 2017 and packed the house again, with an equally appreciative audience, as he charted the development of Sunset Heights to the present.

Again using historical images from the OpenSFHistory program, an archive whose expansion SHARP has supported financially, Woody showed how our neighborhood grew from an isolated, sparsely settled suburb of dairies, railway workers, and a chicken farm into a dense and vibrant San Francisco neighborhood.

The population of the Sunset grew from 15,000 in 1920, to 35,000 in 1930, to 48,000 in 1940, to 83,000 in 1950. As the numbers show, the Depression slowed but did not stop the growth rate, and World War II only increased it. The opening of the N-Judah, in 1928, helped spur development by better connecting the Sunset to downtown, but most of all it was the increasingly affordable automobile that transformed our neighborhood, like so many others. The car was so dominant that the MUNI railway lines survived only because their tunnels were too narrow to be converted into roads. God bless the hills of San Francisco.

The opening of the N-Judah, 1928, Judah and 31st. Woody said, "The N-Judah came to the Sunset in 1928; now of course it never comes."
The opening of the N-Judah, 1928, Judah and 31st. Woody said, “The N-Judah came to the Sunset in 1928; now of course it never comes.”
14th Avenue, 1928
14th Avenue, 1928
Looking west over Seventh Avenue and what is now the Garden for the Environment, 1921
Looking west over Seventh Avenue and what is now the Garden for the Environment, 1921
The Moraga Steps, 1928
The Moraga Steps, 1928

Builders such as Henry Doelger and the Gellert Brothers (who developed Forest Knolls on Mt. Sutro in the fifties) aggressively marketed their relatively affordable houses. But not everyone was welcome. In 1950, the population of the Sunset/Parkside was 85% white, 1% African-American. Though no longer legally enforceable, restrictive covenants encouraged homeowners not to sell to minorities. In 1963, a builder refused to sell a luxury home in Golden Gate Heights to Wilt Chamberlain, star of the San Francisco Warriors, because Chamberlain was black.

Looking down Lawton Street toward the site of the present-day Pumpkin Patch and Christmas Tree lot, 1953
Looking down Lawton Street toward the site of the present-day Pumpkin Patch and Christmas tree lot, 1953. The construction of Forest Knolls has begun with tree-cutting and road-building on Mt. Sutro.

 

The Irving Street movie theater, between 14 and 15th avenues, closed in 1962, killed by TV.
The Irving Street movie theater, between 14 and 15th avenues, in the 1920s.  It closed in 1962, killed by TV.
The Number 6 bus turns west onto Quintara from 10th, 1974
The Number 6 bus turns west onto Quintara from 10th, 1974

Few know more about the history of San Francisco’s west side than Woody LaBounty, and few can tell the story as engagingly as he can. He is an award-winning author, raconteur, and founder of the Western Neighborhoods Project, an ever-growing trove of information and images about the city, particularly the west side. A circus performer in his youth, Woody knows how to educate entertainingly. He presents history as it should be presented: with insight, relevance, and fun.

 

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