Driving out to “The Avenues,” or San Francisco’s Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods that hug the Ocean Beach coastline, can seem like a trek to those more centrally located within the city. But the payoff is worth the trip. Out there you’ll find the slowed down bustle of mom and pop shops, a salty fresh breeze from the ocean, and the sprawling Golden Gate Park (neat fact — it’s larger than New York City’s Central Park).
The Richmond district used to be sand dunes as far as the eye could see up until the late 19th century. Since then, it’s grown up into a diverse residential neighborhood with some of the best Chinese and Russian cuisine in the city. Explore its rich history below, and don’t forget to take a trip to see it for yourself.
Sand dunes on the horizon at Ocean Beach, circa 1870
In 1868, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed the Outside Lands Ordinances, which set aside land in the Richmond district for parks, schools, fire stations and a cemetery, with the hope that the city would continue to expand westward.
The Richmond district is actually named after a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. One of the area’s first residents, an Australian immigrant named George Turner Marsh, called his home “the Richmond House,” and the name stuck.
Troops waiting for deployment to the Philippines, 1898
Situated between Point Lobos Avenue (Geary Boulevard) and Fulton Street, between Arguello and Sixth, Camp Merritt deployed 18,000 troops to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. Remaining troops were later moved north to The Presidio in August of 1898.
A home near Mountain Lake, circa 1899
Up until 1906, development in the Richmond district was slow. Geary and Arguello were the first roads to be paved, and that didn’t happen until 1889.
The second Cliff House along Ocean Beach, 1906
This second version of the Cliff House was built by Adolph Sutro in 1896. Designed as a Victorian chateau, it was nicknamed by some locals as “the Gingerbread Palace.”
La Bonita Theatre, 1919
La Bonita Theatre — now known somewhat ironically as the 4-Star Theatre — made headlines back in January when the property was listed on Craigslist.
Construction of Point Lobos Avenue, 1922
The 1906 earthquake destroyed much of San Francisco’s Financial District and South of Market neighborhoods, which led residents westward where the streets weren’t filled with rubble. Now a major thoroughfare in the Richmond known as Geary Avenue, Point Lobos Avenue used to be a must see attraction in the late 19th century.
A rare snow sighting and snowball fight, 1932
Playland at the Beach was an oceanfront amusement park spanning ten acres. It was open for 59 years, from 1913 to 1972.
The Big Dipper roller coaster, 1935
The Big Dipper was a huge hit after it joined the revelry of Playland attractions in 1922. That year, The San Francisco Chronicle deemed the rides, “clean, safe, moral attractions.”
Portion of a street caved in on 29th Ave. and Clement, circa 1940s
Central Richmond, where this photo was taken, typically had “Marina Style” homes, characterized by a large bay bedroom window facing onto the street, as well as split bathrooms where the toilet is located in a separate room from the sink and shower.
16th Ave. between Geary and Clement, 1957
Beginning in the 1950s, Chinese immigrants came to the Richmond district en masse. Now nearly half of the residents in the Richmond are of Chinese descent.
Playland demolition, 1972
Unfortunately, the popularity of Playland stagnated after WWII, and the amusement park fell into disrepair. It was demolished Labor Day weekend in 1972.
Along 2nd Avenue, near Cabrillo, 1974
Everything moves slower in the Richmond, and the buildings and people are usually wrapped in fog. In this photo, however, we see the Richmond through a different lens.