by Frank Dunnigan
The OSFH photo archives contain a variety of images of San Francisco schools from the past—some of which are still in operation and some of which are no more. Many schools originally built in the years after World War I have undergone refurbishment and are still busy places in this millennium. A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at some of those schools in the western neighborhoods. Let’s take a look back at some scenes from the past across the rest of San Francisco.
The daily routine was similar in most schools—assigned seating, public safety posters, and the ever-present aroma of library paste and dozens of bagged lunches lined up the in “cloakroom”—along with the annual class photo. Shown here is the Low-4th Grade at Edward Robeson Taylor School on May 4, 1954. The school, opened in 1924 in the Portola neighborhood, was named for a San Francisco Mayor who had died in 1923. Today, it is a Pre-K-5 school with 600 students.
A co-ed group of Mission High ROTC students poses at the school in 1974. The broken windows remind us that the Mission High campus, built in 1925, was closed from 1972-1977 for an earthquake retrofit project that was made more complex by the fact that Mission Creek runs beneath the building. Mission students were temporarily attending classes at the then-closed Polytechnic High School campus on Frederick Street near Kezar Stadium while the work on the Mission campus was being completed.
The Commerce High football team, The Bulldogs, won the City-wide championship in the school’s final year of 1949-50. The field site was the former location of St. Ignatius Church and College (now USF) from 1880-1906. It remained open space for years after Commerce High’s closure until construction of the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall which was completed in 1980. Shown here, players in the 1949 East-West Shrine Game used the Commerce field for practice in December 1949.
Hanging out with friends before and after class, was a time-honored tradition then and now. This group of girls attended Galileo High School in 1929. Founded 101 years ago in 1921, the school has been known as Galileo Academy of Science & Technology since the 1995-96 school year and currently serves about 2,000 students.
McAteer High, named for a popular state senator who died at a young age in 1967, was built at the northeast corner of Portola Drive and O’Shaughnessey Boulevard and operated from 1973-2002. The buildings, which replaced a golf driving range, are now used by two newer public high schools, The Academy @ McAteer and the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.
The office staff took care of adminstrative matters such as absences, student records, and disciplinary issues. School offices were often staffed by long-serving employees and administrators such as these two ladies at Grattan School in May of 1955.
Many San Francisco students walked to school on a daily basis, circa 1950. This street has now been buried beneath the US-101 freeway, constructed in the area later in the 1950s.
School busing was in place at private schools in San Francisco before being implemented in public schools. Here, many of the students at St. Paulus Lutheran School at Gough & Eddy Streets came from many different neighborhoods by a privately-operated school bus. Sadly, the church in the background was destroyed by fire in 1995. After many years as a vacant lot, a new high rise residential building, with a replacement house of worship contained within the new structure, broke ground in 2019, with completion of the new building scheduled for 2023.
Students from James Denman Junior High School (now Denman Middle School) had no on-site auditorium for assemblies, thus requiring the entire student body to walk several blocks to use the facilities at Balboa High School, as shown here in a posed publicity photo in 1948. Denman’s facilities were later expanded.
Population shifts led to the closure of many small Catholic girls’ high schools after World War II, including St. Peter’s (1966), Notre Dame des Victoires (1970), Star of the Sea (1985). When Catholic boys’ high schools in San Francisco converted to co-education, beginning with Sacred Heart in 1987, most of the Catholic girls’ high schools experienced declining enrollment numbers that led to many more closures—including St. Rose (1990), Presentation (1991), St. Paul’s (1995), and Mercy (2020). Notre Dame de Namur, shown here in 1930, was closed in 1981 and has since been renovated into a senior living facility.
Many San Francisco school buildings constructed during the years just after World War I, have stood the test of time remarkably well, often with just basic maintenance and some earthquake retrofits. San Francisco’s first Asian public school teacher, Alice Fong Yu, (for whom an Inner Sunset school was named in the 1995-96 school year) taught at this building in 1926. In 1998, this school was re-named for former San Francisco Supervisor Gordon J. Lau. Shown here in 1963 on Washington Street near Powell in the Chinatown neighborhood, it has since been expanded and is now a K-5 school with about 700 students.
The end of the school year is eagerly anticipated by students and teachers alike—as with these Commerce High attendees in June of 1939. After the school was permanently closed in 1950, the building has housed SFUSD administrative offices while the former playing field has been home to the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall since 1980.
Today is officially the 50th anniversary of the closing of Playland on Labor Day, September 4, 1972. Earlier this year, we did OpenSFHistory Top Ten features on the rides at Chutes at the Beach, Playland’s predecessor and Playland’s attractions. However, Playland wasn’t all fun and state fair-like games. There was also a great deal of good food to be found both in Playland and nearby. So here’s a Top Ten round-up of what you could eat there.
We will take the food tour by walking up the Great Highway, starting at Fulton Street. That’s where we find the Splendid Inn. Long-time WNP member Pete Batanides grew up working there because his grandparents owned and operated the restaurant. The building the restaurant was in started out as Sheehan’s Tavern and later became the Billows Restaurant. As the Splendid Inn, it had breakfast–coffee and waffles–and diner–hot dogs, hamburgers, and hot sandwiches–options.
We walk up the block toward Cabrillo. Just past the Carousel, we come upon the Chutes Tavern at the southeast corner of Great Highway and Cabrillo. Parents seeking a place to relax while the kids tackled all the rides might find their way there. The men might have an alcoholic beverage or two.
What amusement area would be complete without a coffee shop? At Playland, you had no regular coffee shop, but the Deluxe Coffee Shop. It was conveniently located across the street from the Chutes Tavern at the northeast corner of Cabrillo and Great Highway, where Muni B-line streetcars dropped off Playland-bound passengers. So if you need that jolt of caffeine before starting your day of fun, it was right there when you arrived. Besides the coffee, the Deluxe Coffee Shop, like other food establishments at Playland, also served up hamburgers and hot dogs.
We walk north to the shop next door to satisfy our sweet tooth. This is the Yum-Yum Shop. It has all kinds of goodies that your dentist would surely tell you not to eat. Butter seemed to be a big ingredient as they had hot-buttered popcorn, butter taffies, and butterscotch. Candied puffed rice, walnut cream taffy, and salt water taffy were also featured.
We stop for some skeeball next to the Yum-Yum shop, but then continue on to the This is IT cafe just past the skeeball. It is, of course, well known as the place where the It’s It ice cream cookie sandwich was created in 1928 by George Whitney. However, it was not just a place to get an ice cream cookie covered in chocolatey delicious goodness. It was also another place you could get hamburgers and hot dogs and other foods. The Museum at The Cliff features an original menu sign from the This is IT cafe from the late 1960s. It, or rather its iconic ice cream cookie sandwiches, lives on. Under new ownership, the tasty delight is now manufactured at a shop in Burlingame.
Next door to the This is IT cafe was the Hot House. It opened at Playland in the 1930s and operated there until the Labor Day closing in 1972. Although primarily serving Mexican food like tamales–it was estimated that they served up to 12,000 tamales on busy World War II weekends–the Hot House also featured spaghetti and other non-Mexican fare. You could eat inside or pick up an order at the take-out window. The Hot House lives on today as a pop-up eatery and is run by the son of the original owner.
We pass by the Shooting Gallery on our way to the Pie Shop. They advertised that their pies were homemade and that they were baked fresh daily. And as the signs said on the exterior, you could also get ice cream and soda, so sundaes, milkshakes, and malted milks were all on the menu as well. Besides your typical dessert pies, you could also get meat pies if you were so inclined. With the big windows facing the street, crowds would often stare in at the bakers at work, no doubt salivating over the end results.
As we keep heading toward Balboa, we find the Sea Lion Cafe next to the Pie Shop. This was one of the earliest Playland-owned restaurants and lasted into the 1960s. Unlike the many hamburger and hot dog places, the Sea Lion advertises ham and eggs, roast beef, pork, or chicken sandwiches, fried steak, and clam chowder. After it closed in the 1960s, the space reopened as the Whitney’s Waffle House.
This young lady is sitting across the street from Mac’s Barbecue at Playland, which was located on Great Highway near the corner with Balboa Street and next door to the Sea Lion Cafe. Mac’s featured hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and was the “Home of the Great Apple Pie.” Was the Mac’s Barbecue apple pie greater than the Pie Shop’s apple pie? Inquiring minds want to know. It does seem abundantly clear that pie was very popular at Playland.
We cross over Balboa Street to reach our final destination at the former Ocean Beach Pavilion. At this time around 1930, it had become Topsy’s Roost, a chicken restaurant, that would unfortunately later feature some racist advertisements on the building. Also in the building is the Bull Pup, at bottom left of the image above, a restaurant that moved around a bit, though always in the same general area. The Bull Pup sold tacos, enchiladas, chili, and burritos.
Other restaurants and food concessions came and went in the Playland area over the years. Many of the above were still around at or near the end of Playland’s days. It was all torn down after Labor Day weekend in 1972. It may all be lost to the ravages of time, but the memories of these food delights still tickle our stomachs today.