Grab Bag #014

An apology, some grand views, and other Woody grab-baggery.

Grab Bag column
An apology, some grand views, and other Woody grab-baggery. 

To the People of Daly City

The following apology gives me a great reason to promote my friend Rob Keil's "Little Boxes" book and short documentary on Henry Doelger and Westlake. This is the trailer, here's the whole thing.

I made a joke in the last Grab Bag which rankled some of my friends just across the border. I didn’t intend in any way to poke fun at Daly City, but rather at the geographical cluelessness of some powerful and insular San Franciscans.

I thought my meaning was clear, but if one has to explain something humorous, well, as that old adage by E. B. White or Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde goes, it’s like dissecting a frog: everyone understands it better, but the frog is dead. Of course, it’s even worse if you offend people, so I blew it.

In addition to my apology, I’d like to mention how much affection I have for Daly City. Growing up on the west side of San Francisco, my family zipped over the city limits for eating at Westlake, shopping at “Top of the Hill,” and both at Serramonte Center far more than we went downtown. As a young man, I played in numerous softball leagues at Westlake and Gellert parks.

Daly City Theatre
Daly City Theatre at 6212 Mission Street in 1942. Before my time, as it was demolished in 1958. But I went to the Serra and Serra 6 quite a bit. (Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)

As a historian interested in mid-century housing developments and architectural design, roadhouses, golf courses, and interurban transit, I have been extremely grateful and appreciative of the work of the wonderful Daly City History Guild Museum & Archive.

I hope Daly City will accept my apology. So as not to dilute the sincerity of this mea culpa, I am not tagging on the joke I just thought of about Brisbane.

(Love you, Brisbane! And you too, Oakland! There’s a lot of there there!)

Shacks in Vista Grande

cottages on hillside
Relocated 1906 earthquake refugee cottages just south of the San Francisco city limits, about 1908. (Charles Weidner photograph/California History Room, California State Library, F869.S3.S24794 Vol. 4:057)

Speaking of earthquake shacks and Daly City, the above image I believe shows “Vista Grande,” land in today’s Daly City which got a big boost in population thanks to the 1906 earthquake and fire. Dozens of earthquake refugee cottages constructed in San Francisco city parks were relocated to the Vista Grande and neighboring Hillcrest tracts for use as rental properties in 1908. As you can see, the vista then was indeed very grande, even on a foggy day.

The “cottage plan” was devised by the San Francisco Relief and Red Cross Funds corporation (created with donations for earthquake recovery), which specifically did not want the tiny houses repurposed by landlords: the intent was to help refugees attain self-sufficiency through home ownership. But with the pressure to clear San Francisco’s parks of refugee camps, a few real estate dealers snatched up multiple shacks to create short-lived rental communities just across the border.

Rental cottage
A landlord and his family who nabbed some of the cottages to create a rental community. (Russell Sage Foundation, San Francisco Relief Survey, (New York: Survey Associates, 1913))

I believe a few of the Vista Grande and Hillcrest cottages survive. There are a number of suspiciously shack-shaped residences on the hillside above the Daly City BART station.

(More in this video on earthquake refugee cottages.)

Chinese Nationalists in San Francisco

Panorama photo of men
Panoramic photo of Chinese Nationalist group at Washington and Stockton Streets, April 1919. (Cardinell-Vincent Company photograph.)

Reader Judy C. emailed me this interesting 1919 panoramic photograph she had of Chinese Nationalists posing on the northwest corner of Washington and Stockton Streets in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She was curious about the occasion and also looking for a good home for the fragile print. I contacted Doug Chan from the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) who helped translate the faint Chinese characters along the bottom and provided some great context.