How We Figured Out What Was There

December 16th, 2011 by David

At the Western Neighborhoods Project, we often get inquiries about specific houses or buildings or intersections on the west side of the city. Sometimes we have pictures or articles on our site, but more often we turn to the same references over and over.

This week someone sent us the following:

hi just a curious question here. what was located where blockbuster/walgreen’s/domino’s/ross is on geary street — between 16th and 17th? i go by there all the time, and it really looks out of place! what was there before? when did that “strip mall” go up? I thought maybe you might have some insight. I’ve looked at all the old photos of that area, but none seem to catch that exact block. anyway, just curious! thanks mike

Here’s where we looked and what we found:

The San Francisco Assessor’s Office tells us that the building went up in 1966 through the SFParcel Viewer (which will soon be replaced by San Francisco Property Information Map) A caveat: Pre-1906 buildings will often not have an accurate date.

SFParcel Viewer:

San Francisco Property Information Map:

Then we checked the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps available (with a library card) at the San Francisco Public Library’s eLibrary system, where we found this: apartment buildings taking up the entire end of the lot.

Apartment buildings on Geary

Sanborn Maps California:

Then we consulted the 1938 Aerial views of San Francisco, another great collection by the SF Public Library, digitized and hosted by the David Rumsey Map Collection.

1938 San Francisco Aerial Views

Geary Blvd and 17th 1938

Then it was on to the Jesse Brown Cook Collection from the Bancroft Library through the Online Archive of California (Jesse Cook was a police officer and later SF Police Chief who took thousands of photo of city streets from 1895 to 1936). There we found a view of our apartments from the street.

East on Geary St. from 17th Ave. March 1928

East on Geary St. from 17th Ave. March 1928 Jesse B Cook Collection, Bancroft Library

We’ll usually check both of our own maps to see if anything comes up there.
All WNP Articles and Images:

1951 West Side Assessor’s Department Images:

And that’s it! We answered Mike’s questions with just a few minutes of online research. We’re sure there’s more to the story of the Geary Boulevard mall (some of us remember it as “Value Giant” and “Giant Value!”), but hopefully we’ve gotten him on his way. Maybe he’ll even decide to join as a member..?

5 Responses to “How We Figured Out What Was There”

  1. Paul Judge says:

    Thank you guys for the step-by-step insight to forensic methods of your research.

    Now all I have to do is rattle my brain cells and discover if I can recall
    the 4, 5, or more incarnations of retail outfits that have occupied the site since ’66. I vividly recall sitting with my pal Tad Oride in his white Pontiac GTO parked in the building’s parking lot dialed into KYA grooving to ‘Summer in the City’ by the Lovin’ Spoonful on a summer evening in ’66. It was a hot ride to be seen in.

  2. Joe Thompson says:

    I vaguely remember the two white apartment buildings, which were unusual because each was U-shaped, with a central courtyard. There was a similar building on Clement, I think, where a friend’s grandmother lived. The first store on the site was USE (United Service Employees?), followed by Value Giant, then Giant Value (or the other way around), then it became sort of a mall. My friends and I were banished from the premises for racing the elevators.

  3. John Martini says:

    My mother, grew up no far away on 10th near Balboa, once told me that Lana Turner lived in one of the apartment houses that used to site on that side of Geary.

    Mom had a great memory for local history, and an internet query reveals that the then-Julia Turner and her family did indeed live in SF between 1930 and 1931.

    Guess I’ll have visit the City Directories now to see if they list any Turners living on that block.

  4. Guillermo Turnbull says:

    I lived on the corner of 15th and Geary from April 28,1962 thru 1968. I remember the apartments in question and yes they were u-shaped and they had some interesting landscaping. My friends father owned the Rancho between 15th and 16th. on the south side of Geary. Two other friends lived in the apt. bldg. across from our apts. on 15th. My siblings went to Star of the Sea and St.Thomas up on Balboa. I attended George Washington H.S. When I lived in Santa Fe,NM I met a wood carver who claimed to have dated Lana Turner one time, and he told me she had also gone to George Washington H.S. My paper route ( the Chron, of course) was from 15th and Geary to Fulton Ave. and down 14th also delivering to Cabrillo,Balboa and Anza Sts. You have a great web site, I have many memories.Thank you.

  5. Fascinating to learn that Lana Turner lived along that block as a little girl. I have walked that street a million times with no knowledge of any future Hollywood bombshells having lived there as little girls.

    According to Wikipedia, her father was murdered near Potrero Hill in December 1930. Soon after her Mom developed health problems and the doctor told her she should live in a drier climate so they moved on to LA. So Lana wasn’t there long, but long enough to count.

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