by Frank Dunnigan
Looking back through the photo archives, we are reminded that while the city of 100 years ago bore some striking resemblances to what we see today, many things were quite different back then.
These blocks of Collingwood Street in the Eureka Valley/Castro neighborhood, looking north from 21st Street in March of 1923, serve to remind us that numerous San Francisco streets, while accessible to pedestrians, horses, and motor vehicles, were still unpaved – a condition that persisted on some streets until the years after World War II.
This scene at Washington & Laguna Streets in 1923 features a promotional event for automobile sales. Note the shadow of the photographer and large box camera on a tripod at the bottom of the image.
Homes and businesses in the North Beach neighborhood that were destroyed by the wide swath of the 1906 Fire were soon rebuilt and the area seems to have recovered nicely by 1923. Saints Peter & Paul Church, facing Washington Square and built to replace an earlier structure at Filbert & Grant that was destroyed in 1906, was nearing completion in 1923.
The “modern” office building at left was designed in 1923 to replace a row of tiny storefronts that were hastily constructed after the 1906 Fire. Its handsome façade remains largely unchanged today, while the buildings to the right were later demolished. In the late 1960s, the Crocker Building at far right was torn down and replaced by the high rise known today as the McKesson Building and the adjacent Crocker Plaza.
Just prior to the 1923 mayoral election, this billboard joined a growing number of such advertisements that were built in response to the increased popularity of the automobile in San Francisco. James B. McSheehy, a member of the Board of Supervisors, was defeated by incumbent Mayor James Rolph, Jr. in this election. Many of McSheehy’s pronouncements while on the Board of Supervisors became known as McSheehyisms, for their convoluted verbiage.
Read McSheehy’s 1944 obituary by TIME Magazine, which referred to him as a “master of the mangled metaphor” and includes some classic examples.
Read more about the history of San Francisco billboards in this February 2021 Streetwise column from OpenSFHistory.
The newly-built Standard Oil Building (now known simply as 225 Bush Street) was an impressive addition to the Financial District in 1923 and remained the tallest in the city until the completion of the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph building at 140 New Montgomery Street three years later. Today, 225 Bush – having changed hands multiple times in the present millennium – houses numerous individual business tenants.
Originally planned and built as Portola Primary School in 1923, the building opened for the 1924 school year but was later renamed for San Francisco Mayor Edward Robeson Taylor, who had died in 1923. The retrofitted building remains in use today. Note the unpaved street even several months after the school opened.
Construction was still underway on the curved section of Lombard Street in 1923. For this block’s first 20-plus years, there was two-way traffic, but the roadway was converted to one-way traffic in the World War II era.
In 1923, several small buildings were demolished to make way for the construction of the new 26-story Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Building at 140 New Montgomery, which opened two years later. AT&T sold the building in this millennium and there were plans to convert it to residential use, though that did not come to pass. After extensive renovations, it is now home to multiple business tenants, with Internet company Yelp being the largest, occupying many floors.
A newly completed addition to Mission High School at 18th & Church Streets is shown here in 1923. Note “pollution” from neighborhood horses near the bottom center of the photo.
Neighborhoods in the sunny areas of San Francisco were filling up with homes and businesses in the years after World War I, but there were still many vacant lots in this 1923 aerial shot of the Excelsior District and surrounding areas.