Category Archives: Then and Now

A look at how buildings in San Francisco have evolved.

The Education of Buildings

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 3.30.24 PM

Having lived in San Francisco’s Mission District for 20 years come this fall, I have seen dramatic changes. There is the old saying that California is a reflection of the larger psyche of the United States only more so. That phrase could be adapted to describe the Mission as a reflection of San Francisco’s eternal flux.

Two decades ago Stewart Brand wrote How Buildings Learn that a few years later was adapted into a BBC series .  Not unlike species adapting and evolving, buildings are almost living things.

A building in the block north of me is a dramatic example of that.  The former green house at 1161-1163 York Street has always been a bit intriguing as one of the largest structures in the block, usually having somewhat nefarious characters hanging out on its front steps.

Though it looked to be a duplex or triplex, I always assumed it was rented out by the room or had some complex multiple room mates living there.

It came into greater prominence a decade ago when it was used as the primary residence of Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness.  The oddest part of the movie was that it was presented as being in Chinatown, something that anyone local would know that no residences of that size or character exist there.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 3.33.06 PM

During the filming, I and other residents in my block were approached by the film’s producers and offered $200 to keep our front room lights on all night for the shooting of a short sequence in the film.  For maybe 10 seconds, my front windows can be seen in the out of focus background.


The house was used again and a bit more prominently a few years later for La Mission with Benjamin Bratt.  At least this time it seemed to be more credible of a “character” and true to its actual location.


This fall, the house went on the market for $1.2 million.  Actually fairly low for a building of that size, but the photos demonstrate that it is definitely a fixer upper though with great potential for whatever buyer will invest in it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 3.32.11 PM

The realtor did a very quick “tarting up” of the place, throwing on some paint on the front but not even the sides that are still weathered and have peeling paint.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 3.32.39 PM

It will be curious to see how it will evolve from here, and how its neighboring buildings learn as well.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 3.32.24 PM


The Jennes Arrive in Maine for August

The Jennes in Maine

Then and Now VIII: Montgomery Solitude

Market and GrantWhen I lived in New York, my favorite time of the week to visit Wall Street was Sunday morning when it was almost vacant.  The San Francisco Financial District is much the same that time of the week, with the few people there seeming to be on their way to North Beach, the Embarcadero, or Chinatown.  Last Saturday, I started out at Market and Grant (above in 1934), and then I headed north and east to Montgomery.IMG_6959

Sacramento & Montgomery (Anglia Bank)At the intersection of Sacramento and Montgomery (above in 1918) the buildings in the foreground are much the same.  Instead of the Bank of Italy towering on the left, we now see the Transamerica Pyramid.  The building on the corner is the Anglo Bank Building.IMG_6967

IMG_6974 Built in 1910, it’s Doric columns are attractive, and here is a bit more history on it.

Seagram's buildingJust to the north at 520 Montgomery is what was the Seagram’s Building (Seen above in 1936.)  I never knew we had our own Seagram’s Building and have been unable to find any history on it.IMG_6973

Montgomery and CaliforniaDown the corner is Montgomery in California.  I love the stylish woman above from 1922.  I wonder if she is heading out with her stock broker for lunch.  The Logan & Bryan sign is long gone, but it does seem to be the same arched doorway on the left.IMG_6966

Montgomery and Pine

Here we have Montgomery and Pine (in 1924 above) looking east towards Market.


Montgomery Looking up from Pinearking in the city can always be a challenge in the city, but I don’t envy those in 1949 trying to navigate a space here at Montgomery and Pine.IMG_6964

Then & Now VII: Communists and Italians on Valencia, Oh My!


Crowd of anti-communists raiding the Mission Workers Neighborhood House at 741 Valencia Street - 1934

No place in San Francisco more embodies the city’s rapidly changing cultural/economic divide more than the Mission and no street more than Valencia and no block more than the 700 block of Valencia.  It was already becoming more upscale when I moved here in the mid-1990s but still more bohemian.  While Mission Street still holds onto the shreds of its working class history with check cashing places and dollar stores, little of Valencia Street’s former working class and leftist history remains.

I have long heard about the 1934 San Francisco general strike, but thought it was more confined to Rincon Hill, Market Street and the shipyards.  So I was surprised to discover the  above shot of  “communists” being ousted from the Mission Workers Neighborhood House at 741 Valencia.


Today it is home of Tacolicious.

Gantner-Maison-Domergue Funeral Home, 777 Valencia street

A few doors down the street at 777 Valencia is a more substantial landmark, what I knew for years as New College which was in operation from 1971 to 2008.  Above it is shown in 1964 when it was a funeral home.

777 Valencia

I expect to see it as the green and pink building above as it appear throughout the first 16 or so years I lived her, faculty including people such as Robert Duncan and where I attended many lectures and presentations by environmentalists and progressives.



IMG_6789So it is a shock to see it today as “The Chapel” and “The Vestry”, upscale performance venue and restaurant.


And its sister campus was across the street at 766 Valencia.Today it is a mini-mall.  I couldn’t’ find any vintage pictures of it.

[Four people standing outside of Luchetti meat shop at 780 Valencia Street 1956

Right next door was Luchetti Deli,at 780 Valencia, seen here in 1956.


It took me a while to recognize its current incarnation above, but then I recognized the columns on the facade that are among the few details that remain.

Valencia Street between 19th and 20th streets-1927

Further down the block is this view looking south from just north of the intersection of 20th and Valencia taken in 1927.


And as it appears today.


With Genentech, Google and others running commuter buses in the neighborhood that have garnered national attention over the battles of gentrification, it has become a symbol of a rapidly changing city that seems to be wiping away its history at an increasingly faster pace.


While I used to spend a good deal of time in this part of the Mission, I find it feels increasingly less welcoming as it becomes safer, cleaner, whiter, more expensive, and less interesting.



City Hall, 1896

Taking on  City Hall

Then & Now VI: More Mission Street Theaters

Lyceum TheaterLyceum Theater interior

Lyceum Theater 1947

This afternoon I decided to venture out in the rain and continue my documenting of old movie houses on Mission Street, tackling those south of Cesar Chavez.  What I initially thought was going to be a depressing journey proved to be one of the most enriching to date with an unexpected encounter with a volunteer tour guide.

First up at 3350 Mission was the Lyceum Theatre that operated there from 1907 to 1964 (Unknown date of the interior and top shot, the one with the street car is from 1947).  What remains today is, well nothing.  It’s a Safeway.  Located in what is now called La Luenga (The Tongue), this little strip of Mission Street is an odd mix of Bernal, Mission and the edge of Noe Valley. It has a feel of what the Mission was 20 or more years ago.



I continued down to the Excelsior, a part of the city that virtually no tourists and even few locals visit.  I’ve spent only a little bit of time there, but it definitely has the feel of a San Francisco that is rapidly disappearing.  It is a neighborhood that has plenty of problems, but it’s unfair to dismiss it as just some blighted neighborhood to speed up and lock your doors when driving through.  No “live/work” lofts, upscale shops, Euro-bistros or high end chains here.  Besides Walgreens and O’Reilly Auto Parts there are almost no chain stores.

Granada Theater 1964

At 4631 Mission, the Excelsior Theater operated from 1922 to 1931 and then continued as the Granada Theater until 1964.


Now a Goodwill Store, it has retained little of its original ornamentation except for the medallions above the Walgreens.




Turning the corner I found this great mural that documented the neighborhood and the incarnation of the theater as both the Excelsior and the Granada.


Just as I was taking a photo of Jerry Garcia on the mural, an older guy walked up to me and said, “May I tell you something?”  My years as an urban dweller made me initially cautious, and I could tell he sensed my wariness.  I could hear my mother’s voice reminding me not to talk to strangers, and here I was lugging around a fancy camera.  But on such a busy street I didn’t think a man 15 to 20 years my senior was likely to mug me. He seemed a little disoriented, and his accent suggested that he was probably a San Francisco native since he spoke with that nearly Brooklyn-like cadence that is all but gone but you know it when you hear it.


“You see that guy,” he said, pointing to the blue eyed boxer.  “He was a good friend of mine.  I passed him every day on this very spot.  Oh…gosh…what is his name?  You know, it will hit me a 3 a.m. , and I will want to call you. It’s a good likeness of him but a little dishonest.  I knew him for 50 years, and he had a eye knocked out from a fight early on.”


He continued explaining how the mural had been traced in outline on the wall, and local children were given specific instructions on how to paint.  “It was all done by kids, none of them more than 12.  It was really a beautiful sight.”


My cynical instincts kept telling me that any second the encounter would get weird.  He was going to ask for something — money, to join him at his evangelical church, to sign a petition.   He asked me if I was a professional photographer and said that he was touched and impressed that someone was interested in the neighborhood he had lived in his entire life.


Having had a father who had Alzheimer’s I could sense he might likely be in the early stages of it whether he knew it or not.  And he seemed like the kind of guy I could see my dad spending an entire Saturday afternoon with drinking strong, really bad coffee and eating pie while they gabbed away about the past, politics, car repairs.  A side of me wanted to invite him to lunch or coffee, and another side kept saying that this encounter would have to end oddly.  But as I thanked him, he said that his name was Jim and then asked if he could shake my hand, as if he had enough awareness that he sensed my wariness.  I heartily shook his hand and thanked him for giving me so much history.  As I walked away and tried to dismiss it as a random, meaningless encounter I realized that I was tearing up.

Bell Theater 1919

About a block south at 4734 Mission an earlier version of the Excelsior operated from 1911 to 1913.  It then became the Bell Theater and operated until 1920.  The above fascinating photo is from 1919.


Now a “his and hers” hair salon, it’s hard to tell if it is the same building, but the size and top of the structure suggests that it may be.


At 5177 Mission, the Billiard Palacade began as the Rialto Theater in 1928, but I can’t find any vintage photos or info on how long it operated.

State Theater 1929

Finally, the biggest and most pleasant surprise was at 5825 Mission which opened operated as the State from 1925 to 1931 and as the Del Mar from 1947 to 1950. It is seen above in 1929.


The ornamental integrity of the exterior is in tact, and there is a sweet irony in seeing a cross competing with the bas relief of what appear to be Roman soldiers.


Then and Now V: The Valley of Darkened Screens

Roosevelt Theater - 1944


The Mission was once the home of more than a dozen movie theaters.  Many remain in varying states of repair, but the only one I am currently aware of being used is a performance space of any kind is two doors down from me. Seen at the top in 1944, the Roosevelt Theater opened September 22, 1926, until being renamed the York Theater in 1962, closing sometime in the 1990s and becoming the Brava Women’s Theater about 14 years ago.


It is also the namesake for the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor down the street on 24th, whose name always takes newcomers for a loop without the context of the theater as its initial namesake.

Grand Theater 1970


Swinging over to Mission, there are various remnants of what once was a real hub of movie houses that could be found from 16th Street southward. (I am stopping at 24th Street with this post.)


Seen at the top in 1964, the Grand at 2665 Mission is a rare example of modernist  architecture that would be at home in Los Angeles or Miami but is not common in San Francisco.  It opened in 1940 and operated until 1988


Its clean elegant lines deserve a better fate than being a One $ Only store.

New Mission - 1943

New Mission 1964

New Mission 1975IMG_6642

I wrote here about the New Mission Theater at 2550 a couple of weeks ago.  It opened as the Idle House in 1913, became the Mission Theater in 1916 and the New Mission Theater in 1943, operating unit 1993  Above we see it 1943, 1964, 1975 and today.


Its mix of modernist and indigenous architecture make me hope it is saved.

Wigwam 1913

Crown corrected

Cine Latino

Up the street is probably the oldest theater in the Mission.  Opened in 1913 at 2555 Mission as the Wigwam (seen in the top picture the year it opened).  From 1930 to 1947 it served as the Rialto and New Rialto.  In 1947 it became the Crown (seen in 1963 in the middle photo) and finally served as Cine Latino from 1974 to 1990.

Tower Theater corectedIMG_6638

From 1911 to 1941, the Majestic operated at 2465 and later 2457 Mission, becoming the Tower in 1941 and closing sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  The top photo is from sometime in the late 1950s.


El Capitan Theater - 1933

El Capitan Theater - 1939


Even as a remnant of its glory days, El Capitan at 2353 Mission operated from 1928 to 1964.  Though one of the most elaborate, it had the shortest life.  It is seen above in 1933, 1939 and today.

El Capitan Theater - aerial view

This 1939 shot shows a premier with a moving billboard coming down Mission.

El Capitan Theater - 1928El Capitan Theater - CeilingEl Capitan - water fountain

These interior shots from 1928 give a sense of the details.


This is what remains of the “interior” today, a parking lot behind the elaborate Mission Street facade.


Part of the building remains, operating as a “hotel”.

El Capitan - 1928


But the glory of its facade’s detail remain and have been a favorite of mine since moving to San Francisco nearly 20 years ago.


Then & Now Part IV – Noe Valley and Buses, Bread and Baseball

3969 24th Street 1941


I was in Noe Valley this morning, and it seemed like a good chance to do another round of Then and Now photos.  The photo at the top from 1941 of 3969 24th Street is fascinating on several levels.  I count 13 house painters at work.  Did they manage to do the job in one day?  And look at that collection of hats in their “audience”.  And why did it draw such an audience.  I suspect this was taken before December 7 of that year when global issues drew more attention than house painting. What appears to have been a private residence in 1941 is today a dental office — complete with a rare pay phone outside.

Diamond at Elizabeth 1940s


A couple of blocks to the west and north are Dolores and Elizabeth Streets intersecting, looking north to the Castro.  Also from 1941, the original shows that besides trees and the removal of the 7-Up sign, the basic architecture has remained the same.

1021 Sanchez 1978


Then over to 1021 Sanchez, seen in the upper photo in 1978, the year of the Moscone-Milk assassinations and the Jonestown massacre.  The growth of trees is again the big difference.




This Presbyterian Church called the Noe Valley ministry is being renovated, and has a long, interesting history.

25th and Dolores 1945IMG_6537

A list shot in Noe Valley is at 25th and Dolores, looking west towards Twin Peaks. The upper photo was taken in 1945.  Today the main changes are trees and the addition of Sutro Tower.

17th and Bryant 1964 bus barn


Heading back to my neighborhood, there is the upper image from 1964 of the MUNI bus lot and barn at 17th and Bryant. Bus styles have obviously changed, and the building on the upper right is KQED’s broadcast building that was not there 50 years ago.

17th and Bryant 1964


Taking a turn at the same intersection to look to the northwest, there is the Oroweat baking building seen in the same year that appears to have been razed or given a haircut to house the current Oroweat outlet.

1525 Bryant 1964


I have always thought that the U-Haul two and a half blocks north at 1525 Bryant was a fairly striking building worthy of a more stylish tenant.  And, the upper photo suggests that this neighborhood was a baker’s row back in its day.



The upper photo of Seals Stadium in 1958 was taken the year before it was demolished after the arrival of the Giants and the rise of Candlestick Park.  It was home of auto dealerships until the construction of Potrero Center, a little bit of suburbia in the Mission that seems to have gone hill in my 17 years in the area.

21st and Harrison 1994


Finally the last photo of 21st and Harrison shows it above in 1994, and it’s how I remember it appearing when I moved her two years later.  The building on the corner was surely once a retail spot but has seemed to be a gallery and/or residence for as long as I have lived here.  The contemporary photo suggests that somebody got a great deal on gray paint and decided to share it with the neighbors.

More Then and Now Photos: The Bitter Kiss of Modernism and Progress

25th and Capp - 1949

It was another rainy Sunday, so I did some walking over to central Mission where I had my first apartment, beginning at lower Capp Street.  Capp is a curious street that is pretty seedy at its northern end around 16th (once notorious as a hang out for prostitutes, and may still be) and having some rather pleasant residential as you get below about 18th Street.  The first building — the “Telco Building” — that houses what is now SBC-Pacific Bell is no more charming today than it was in 1948.  Virtually unchanged 66 years later, I couldn’t figure out how to replicate the original photo angle which appears to have  been taken from the roof or a upper story window across the street,


843 Capp - 1936

Head up the street a couple of blocks to 843 Capp shown above in 1936 and below as it appears today. It’s not the duplexig that was a tragedy but the stripping of the building of all of its original “Stick” style details.


Go up a couple of houses, and the one below is more typical of how others in the block have been restored.   Of course, the folks living at 843 likely have rent control, and it’s only a matter of time before someone does restore it to its original glory while the current residents are forced to move to Daly City or Stockton.


675 Capp - 1954

The Seventh Day Adventist Temple at 675 Capp was no architectural marvel to begin with, but what a sad looking place it is today. In the 1954 photo above and the  one below from today, it is impossible not to feel it is upstaged by the impressive steeple on the right



These pagodas behind the larger structure, suggest this house of worship has evolved through the years.



Its cornerstones tell us that 114 years ago it was built to house a German evangelical Lutheran Church.


Today it houses Hua Zang Buddhist Temple.   You can learn more about it here.



I used to live a block away in the mid-1990s, and once before it became the temple it was used for an episode of the Don Johnson series  Nash Bridges.  The show had  a fake explosion coming out of one of its Gothic windows.

500 Capp - 1886

Take a stroll another two blocks on Capp, and you have 500 Capp shown above in 1886 and below seen this afternoon. Today it is the 500 Capp Foundation, a gallery and the former home of artist David Ireland.  Before the restoration work began in 2009, it was painted a dark gray and was always a mysterious building.


Too bad they weren’t able to bring back the old street light, but the one across the street at Alioto Park isn’t bad.


Bartlett and 22nd - 1940

Now let’s head west and south a few blocks to 22nd and Bartlett.  The large building on the right at the end of the block in both the above 1940 photo and in the one below is the Mission branch of City College.  The private homes on the right in 1940 are long gone and now a public housing project.  This street is shut off Thursdays as home of the Mission Community Market that started about four years ago.


22nd and Mission 1948

Wind around the corner a block, and we are at the southwest corner of Mission and 22nd Street. What was Leed’s Shoes in 1948 is now a Skechers outlet. I actually prefer the mid-Century design of Leed’s, but at least they have not altered the integrity of the second floor design which I suspect predates Leed’s.


22nd and Mission - 1936

Turn to the right and we are looking north up Mission Street, seen above in 1936.

22nd and Mission - 1944

Now we see it eight years later in 1944.  I find this photo especially interesting because of the woman in the foreground crossing 22nd Street.  Even in San Francisco, it would be unusual to see a woman wearing trousers.  Maybe it was because this was late in World War II and she was getting off her shift working in the Oakland shipyards.  I’d love to know her story!


In today’s photo above as well as the two earlier ones, we see the iconic New Mission Theater midblock on the left.  Long slated for restoration, it appears that may finally be happening as the Alamo Dafthouse Cinema.


It couldn’t happen soon enough.  There is an informative document that petitions for historic preservation of the Mission Miracle Mile, once home to at least half a dozen large cinemas.  I have long heard old timers say that the decline came in the 1970s with Mission being torn up to build BART.


Mission Street used to be the vestige of the old heart of the Mission, filled with dollar stores, taquerias, mom and pop watch and jewelry stores.  But look what is going in next door to the New Mission Theater.


I just hope someone saves this building on the other side of the theater that has sat vacant for much of my nearly 20 years in the Mission.  I’d had to see it razed for “modern condos”.

More Now and Then in My Neighborhood

Shotwell and 20th - 1887

A much needed light rain came to our neighborhood this morning, and it seemed like a perfect day for a long walk and continuation my then and now photos.

Shotwell has always one of my favorite streets in the Mission, with some of the most historically consistent buildings in the city.  The iconic photo above is chronicled in this great blog about other sections  of the street.  The historic stick houses with their elevated yards remain much as they did more than a century and a quarter ago, having not had garages added or the street widened.


A few doors up is the view of 20th and Shotwell below.

Shotwell & 20th - 1887I

Is this, in fact, Shotwells, that claims to have been in business since 1891?  They offer this history of the spot.


IMG_6438 IMG_6437

And I love this interior shot from its past:

Shotwell enlarged 2

A few blocks south, and there is this 1906 shot of 24th and Folsom.

24th & Folsom - 1906

In the contemporary view I can’t find anything familiar, but I like the idea that Local’s Eatery might be in the same spot that used to be the Oyster lunch counter.


Just to the East between South Van Ness is Cypress and 24th seen in 1958Cypress and 24th - 1958

Today it hasn’t changed much.  Still a nondescript alley.


If you look closely, you can find the remnants of the old “Mission Railway” and industrial corridor.  This train chugs along at 22nd and Folsom in 1907.


Today, the odd and enchanting Atlas Stair Building sits on the spot, with remnants of the railway seen on the left of the building.