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Visitacion Valley

Editors Note: City Guide Cynthia Cox fell in love with Visitacion Valley after purchasing a wonderful old fixer-upper there six years ago and hearing tales of the community’s past from her octogenarian neighbor. Cynthia incorporated this information into her two-part City Guides Special Visitacion Valley May/October Neighborhood Walk. GuideLines is grateful to Cynthia for sharing the following Viz Valley historical overview:

For thousands of years, today’s southern San Francisco neighborhood nestled between Bayview Heights and John McLaren Park was inhabited by Native Americans who hunted in the hills and fished in the nearby bay. But with the July 2, 1777 “discovery” and naming of Visitacion Valley by Spanish friars and soldiers en route to the Presidio, the land was claimed by the Catholic Church and used to graze herds of livestock. In 1835 the now-Mexican government took back the land that Spain had granted to the Church and awarded it instead to prominent Californios. One such grant, the Rancho Cañada de Guadalupe, La Visitacion y Rodeo Viejo, was awarded to Jacob Primer Leese, a trader from Ohio married to a sister of the powerful General Mariano Vallejo.

After 1848 and the American annexation of former Mexican territory, acreage began to be sold off. Among the earliest landowners in Visitacion Valley were Francois Pioche, whose French Gardens specialized in roses, and Henry Schwerin, a German whose extensive acreage supported a dairy farm, a nursery specializing in ferns and tulips, and honey bees. Other Europeans, including numerous Italians and Maltese, established truck farms irrigated by windmills, leading to the area’s nickname of Valley of the Windmills.

By the 1870s business had come to the Valley – Ralston’s silk ribbon factory, several breweries, two quarries, a gas plant, a fertilizer company, and the Southern Pacific Railroad, which filled in the bay for its tracks and tunnels. Schlage Lock was a major employer between 1925 and 1999. The Five-, Six- and Seven-Mile Houses offered lodging and recreation. With business came transportation, evolving from the original one-track streetcars that cost 5¢ each way, to the MUNI buses that replaced them, to the light rail system due to open next year.

In 1905 the Reis-Paul Tract sold $125 lots throughout the Valley for $1 down and $1 a week. Sunnydale was erected for World War II defense workers, and Joseph Eichler’s 1960’s plan for luxury housing in two 20-story high-rises evolved into Section 8 housing at Geneva Towers, imploded in 1998.

Within the next few years Valley residents look forward to completion of a new branch library and to finalizing the beautification of the Valley through the greenways that spill down the hillsides on water department lots. With such projects, Valley boosters are continuing the revitalization of this neighborhood named in 2000 by the Fannie Mae Foundation as one of the ten “Just Right” urban markets in the entire U.S. Photos reprinted with permission, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

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The SF Auto Camp at “Beautiful Burnett Grove”

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“Pop Blanken’s” Six-Mile House

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