The Outside Lands

Friday was an interesting day for me as I got together with a couple of friends for lunch in the Inner Sunset district. This is a great place to eat because of the area I refer to as “the Cross”. It runs from roughly 8th avenue to 10th avenue and from Judah to Lincoln Way. Every other shop is a restaurant pretty much and you’ve got a choice of foods from around the world.

As we were sitting and gorging ourselves at Crepevine we started talking about how San Francisco used to be before people decided it might nice to live here. Well, the picture here is of 7th and Lawton streets before the construction boom that finally killed off the last inland sand dunes somewhere around the 90’s [it’s now a soccer field behind St. Ignatius High School]. I remember the sand as a kid, it was everywhere. If you dug down less than a foot in the grass planted around my elementary school you hit sand. I think the street cleaners used to be there more for cleaning the sand off the streets than for picking up garbage.

When my parents bought our house in 1954 their backyard was a long strip of sand enclosed in low cost fencing [much the same as many of the pot farm houses still retain]. My dad used to tell me how he’d take my mom’s dog to rear fence and drop him over on the dunes and let him run. Don’t worry, it was a low fence. These were what was known as the “Outside Lands.” Because of Twin Peaks it didn’t used to be very easy to get here so people would have to drive from downtown out through the Mission and circle around until the street car tunnel was put in and roads were able to built to bring people over.

It probably had something to do with 1894 Midwinter Exposition that gave us Golden Gate Park as well. First thing built in the Sunset District was the Shannon Bar, the oldest remaining bar in San Francisco. If you travel out by the beach you might find some remains of Carville where people bought old streetcars and cable cars and turned them into housing kind of like what some people are doing with the steel shipping crates today. Steve “Woody” LaBounty of the Western Neighborhoods Project has written an excellent book on this time and I remember seeing him at a removal of an old earthquake shack from someone’s back yard several years ago. Oh, and what was in that backyard…sand. We still have it. If you travel along Taraval or Judah streets closer to the ocean you’ll see it filling in cracks along the streetcar tracks still, just not as much as it used to.

Our cool, foggy beaches are what says Sunset District to me along with the Indian summers that bring us out of our houses more to do nothing except be outside. Oh, and then there’s the sand.