Streetwise: A Sweet Tooth Across San Francisco

by Frank Dunnigan

San Franciscans are never far from their sweets—bakeries, candy stores, and soda fountains. Here are just a few of the many places that appear in the OpenSFHistory photo archive, recalling some days gone by.

 

1573 Haight, circa 1935.Cherry Blossom Bakery at 1573 Haight Street, circa 1935. (wnp26.1375; courtesy of a Private Collector)

The Cherry Blossom Bakery, shown here circa 1935, was a popular Haight-Ashbury neighborhood institution that offered prompt home delivery of its products by the firm’s own delivery drivers.

 

Geary near Stockton, December 30, 1956.View east on Geary towards Stockton, December 30, 1956. (wnp32.2418; photo by Dudley Westler / Courtesy of Emiliano Echeverria)

Blums was a large San Francisco chain of bakeries/candy shops/lunch counters. The Geary Street location, shown here in 1956, offered access to Macy’s before the store had its own frontage facing Union Square. This Blums location closed and became a part of Macy’s in 1976. Blums changed hands multiple times after that, and even the original 1890s location at Polk and California Streets closed, as the firm and its classic Coffee Crunch Cake soon faded away. Note the B-Geary streetcar line in this photo, which operated until December 1956 when it was replaced by the 38-Geary diesel bus line.

 

O'Farrell & Powell, July 13, 1949.View northeast across the intersection of O’Farrell & Powell Streets, July 13, 1949. (wnp14.11108; courtesy of a Private Collector)

Ahrens Brothers Pies, shown here at the northeast corner of Powell and O’Farrell Streets in 1949, operated shops in Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. At that time, the firm also had retail stores on Polk, Chestnut, and Market Streets, with its final location at 1946 Van Ness Avenue. This particular location at 200 Powell Street was the longtime home of Cable Car Clothiers, and later, more retail apparel and an art gallery. The distinctive green art deco façade was beautifully restored in 2006-2008, winning a California Preservation Foundation Design Award. The space has been vacant since 2019. Note the cable car line that still ran on O’Farrell Street past Macy’s until the mid-1950s.

 

O'Farrell & Stockton, 1950s.View west on O’Farrell from Stockton, 1950s. (wnp100.00009; Morton-Waters Co., SCRAP Negative Collection / Courtesy of SCRAP)

Founded in the 1880s and operated for many years after World War II by Regina and Klaus Borchers, Epplers Bakery on Stockton Street between Ellis and O’Farrell Streets, shown here in the 1950s, was a regular destination for many workers and shoppers in the Union Square area. The Borchers retired and sold the bakery chain in 1999, and it was closed by the early 2010s. Note that the O’Farrell Street cable car line, shown in the previous photo, was removed in May 1954, thus dating this image to sometime after that in the 1950s.

 

Missouri & 18th, 1990s.Missouri and 18th Streets, 1990s. (wnp07.00269; Richmond Review Newspaper Collection / Courtesy of Paul Kozakiewicz, Richmond Review)

The Daily Scoop Ice Cream Shop at 18th and Missouri Streets on Potrero Hill was a popular neighborhood spot in the 1990s through the turn of the millennium, until it closed and was replaced by a restaurant in 2002.

 

3472 Mission, 1950.Marie’s Smoke Shop at 3472 Mission Street, 1950. (wnp14.4076; courtesy of a Private Collector)

The operation of the candy counter at Marie’s Smoke Shop on Mission Street was overseen by the owner herself in this April 1950 photo.

 

Market near Valencia, 1948.View west across Market near Valencia, 1948. (wnp27.6334; courtesy of a Private Collector)

Prior to its post-World War II move to an expanded manufacturing facility on El Camino Real in South San Francisco, See’s Candies headquarters was on Market Street near Octavia. It’s shown here in 1948, along with a retail shop. It was said that the construction of the adjacent Central Freeway in the late 1950s prompted the company’s decision to relocate to the Peninsula.

 

24th & York, Nov 1938.View east on 24th Street towards York, November 1938. (wnp5.50675; courtesy of Jack Tillmany)

San Francisco’s oldest candy store is St. Francis Fountain at 24th and York Streets in the Mission District, shown here at right in 1938. Founded in 1918, the business has delighted generations, serving diner fare, ice cream, and milkshakes, alongside a classic candy counter. It operates seven days a week and has been thriving under a new owner since 2023, when it turned 105 years old. Read more about the history of St. Francis in this 2022 SFGATE article.

 

18th & Guerrero, circa 1980.18th and Guerrero Streets, circa 1980. (wnp119.00004; photo by Meg Oldman, Meg Oldman Collection / Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project)

Founded in 1950 by a German couple, Carl and Mabel Reichmann, Carl’s Pastry Shop at 18th & Guerrero Streets (shown here in 1980) was legendary for its cakes and baked goods, often pulling in devoted shoppers from across many San Francisco neighborhoods. When the Reichmanns sold the business, their recipes and traditions continued for many years with several new owners, but by the late 1990s, increasing rents and competition from places like Safeway and Costco bakeries marked the end of Carl’s. Read more about the history of Carl’s in this SFGATE article on its January 1998 closure.

 

Grant near Commercial, July 1972.View north on Grant towards Commercial, July 1972. (wnp25.3922; courtesy of a Private Collector)

Eastern Bakery, at 720 Grant Avenue at the corner of Commercial, turned 100 years old in 2024. Founded by the Lee family, current owner Orlando Kuan and his family bought the establishment in 1985 and have been operating it ever since, with trays of custard tarts, mooncakes, and replicas of Blums Coffee Crunch Cake and other sweets fresh out of the oven daily.