Guest Blogger Wed.: Celebrating an Epic WIN, Old SF Style with the Sunset Tunnel
City politics and poor MUNI performance got you down? Cynical and skeptical? Perhaps all you need is a feel-good story from an era with a can-do attitude.
Sunset District property owners and real estate men lobbied aggressively at the dawn of the 1920s for new streetcar service to the neighborhood. Transit lines had served the area since the 1880s, but many wanted municipal railway service via tunnel, expecting to significantly cut down commute times and, hopefully, increase property values. With the help of housewives trudging door-to-door across the dunes to get petitions signed, the effort paid off in 1925 when the Board of Supervisors voted for the proposed Duboce Tunnel route for what would become the N-Judah streetcar line.
Although the cars wouldn’t begin running until 1928, the Sunset District couldn’t wait to celebrate. Led by realtor Frank Doelger (brother to Henry Doelger, who would fill the Sunset with blocks of stucco houses in the 1930s and 1940s), the community threw a massive party on the night on April 25, 1925. The supervisors had just approved the tunnel plan the week before, but the celebration organizers had no problem pulling together a ridiculously outsized program.
At 7:30 p.m., everyone met at Arguello and Irving streets, including marching bands from the fire department, the 30th Infantry, Polytechnic High School, and the Boy Scouts; drill teams from fraternal organizations such as the California Grays, Woodmen of the World, and Loyal Order of Moose; and every dignitary from the mayor to the manager of the San Francisco Chronicle’s circulation department. A parade started fifteen minutes later with the bands and drill teams leading pedestrians, automobiles, and floats festooned with torches, fireworks and sirens to Twenty-fifth Avenue. Everyone returned to a stage at Eighth Avenue and Irving Street for speeches, music, and performances of all kind lasting until midnight.
The Chronicle ran a special section with advertisements from apparently every Sunset house builder, and a large number of local businesses. What wasn’t an ad in the section might as well have been, as the tone of the “booster” journalism extolled every far-sighted grocer and cobbler of the area who “believed” in the Sunset District and expected its eventual growth and prosperity to surpass any work of the pharaohs.
Plastering contractor J. Johnson thought the Sunset District’s new streetcar tunnel “practically assured its greatness,” and men’s shop proprietor William Schmidt, Jr. felt that the tunnel’s completion “will show all of San Francisco ‘how.’” PG&E announced plans to expand service in the area in expectation of the thousands of new homebuyers the tunnel’s existence would produce. The city superintendent of schools promised new and expanded schools. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, way out on 43rd Avenue and Judah Street, planned for an increase in its congregation “comparable only to that which will characterize the population of the district.”
Even the Sunset’s reigning royalty was excited. Grace Kiernan had been elected as “Queen of the Sunset” in 1923 during an earlier push for the tunnel’s approval. The residents, “stricken by her beauty, chose her from all the pulchritude of Sunset to be their queen,” and Grace was finally getting her parade march, with an increased train of maidens attending her.
Guest Blogger Woody LaBounty is the director of the Western Neighborhoods Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the history of western San Francisco. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please Email Greg and find out the details!