Hayes Valley: Then & Now

A San Francisco neighborhood changes across 110 years.

These five sets of images show Hayes Valley’s evolving streetscapes, impacted over generations by its location at the crossroads of San Francisco. The contemporary photos were taken from as close a position and angle as possible to each historic image.

Fell St Looking West towards Laguna St: 1906 and 2018

Photos: OpenSFHistory/wnp27.3753.jpg (1906), Ben Zotto (2018)

The “Ham & Eggs” fire began in the immediate aftermath of the 1906 earthquake when someone attempted to cook breakfast indoors with a damaged chimney. To prevent further destruction of this kind, meals were then prepared (safely) outdoors for a time. This view of Fell Street, taken between Octavia and Laguna Streets, shows the makeshift kitchens in the road. Look very closely and you might see “KEEP OUT” scrawled on one of them.

The whole streetscape of buildings at left would eventually be demolished for a Central Freeway off-ramp. That site is today under construction as a future 108-unit affordable housing complex.

The tower of Sacred Heart Church (currently hosting The Church of 8 Wheels) on Fillmore St is just visible in both photos at the center background. A handful of other buildings also survived the 112 years between the images: the two western corners at Laguna St are still there, as are a couple structures on the right side of Fell St in the photos.


Hayes St at Octavia St: 1920 and 2018

Photos: SFMTA Photo (1920), Ben Zotto (2018)

This east-looking view from 1920 along the old 21-Hayes Streetcar line shows a very different intersection of Hayes & Octavia than we see today. Octavia St was widened into Octavia Boulevard and opened in 2005 after the Central Freeway (which would have passed across this view) was demolished. Patricia’s Green was dedicated in 2006 to the memory of Patricia Walkup, dedicated community organizer instrumental in the shaping of contemporary Hayes Valley.

Octavia Street returns to its original width north of Hayes, the same in both photos (at left). There are only two structures that appear in both images: the bright green Victorian at left that houses bars Brass Tacks and Anina; and the the building at the southwest corner, visible at the very right margin of both photos, with (today) restaurant Stacks at the ground floor. Both have seen minor cosmetic alterations in the intervening century.


Oak at Octavia: 1956 and 2018

Photos: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library (1956), Ben Zotto (2018)

Captured shortly before the modest 19th-century structures were demolished for Central Freeway construction, the corner of Oak and Octavia is today on its third incarnation. After spending a half-century or so beneath the Oak St freeway on-ramp, this corner of land was finally redeveloped as the Avalon Hayes Valley, a 182-unit apartment complex facing the new Octavia Boulevard, opened in 2015.


Octavia at Linden St: 1961 and 2018

Photos: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library (1961), Ben Zotto (2018)

The huge double-decker Central Freeway loomed over what is today the popular “Proxy” open space adjacent to Patricia’s Green, lumbering northbound for several blocks until reaching terminal on/off ramps at Turk St and Golden Gate Ave. This northernmost spur of the freeway, only a couple years old here in 1961, was mortally damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It was fully demolished in 1992, leaving the double-decker running up to Fell and Oak streets until that too was brought down following years of neighborhood activism.

Today, the Proxy area that was once beneath the overpass is city-owned land, operated with temporary uses until 2020 when its lease ends. Housing is slated to be built on the site.

The two buildings on Hayes St at the left edge of both images survived the duration of the Freeway experiment. The prominent unfinished edge of roadway in the 1961 photo was intended for an interchange with the never-built Panhandle Freeway, an east-west highway connecting this double-decker all the way into Golden Gate Park. That plan was finally abandoned in 1966, part of the Freeway Revolts that limited the once-comprehensive rewiring of the city.


Page at Octavia: 1991 and 2018

Photos: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library (1991), Ben Zotto (2018)

The Central Freeway double-decker continued to run north of Market Street to ramps at Oak and, finally, Fell Street, until 2003. Construction began soon after on a widened Octavia Boulevard — a surface-road compromise design between those who wanted to maintain convenient access to Fell St from the Freeway, and those who wanted the oppressive overpass gone from the neighborhood.

Mercury Café today occupies this prominent corner at Page St. Octavia Street is seen at its original (standard) width in the older photo. Don’t let the vintage car disorient you — it was already an antique in 1991 when it was captured here.


Ben Zotto is a board member of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. Text and 2018 photos are Copyright © 2018 by Ben Zotto.