Then and Now: 111 Years of History on Virginia at Mission


If you’re planning to attend the fashionable Bernal Heights history show-and-tell tonight, you’ll likely hear mention of the SFMTA Photography Department & Archive. That’s the wonderful, searchable online photography collection that documents various infrastructure and public works projects in San Francisco dating back to the earliest years of the 20th century. It’s a gold mine.

The photo above is a sample from the SFMTA archive, and it’s a gem. It’s a view of Virginia Avenue at Mission, looking west, as it looked on June 8, 1904. To help you get oriented, today, this is the view looking toward the Bernal Safeway. The old Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack would be on the left, and the Pizza Hut-that-shall-not-be-spoken-of is on the right.

But in this photo, all that was still a century away. In this photo, we can clearly see the spires of St. Paul’s church off in the background, along with the pre-Sutro Tower nakedness of Twin Peaks:


Let’s take a closer look at those fantastic advertising billboards on the fence:


Zoom and enhance:

1904billboards copy

J. Noonan Furniture! Overalls! Amazing!

And check out the kid laborer working at the corner of the building on a left! And his ladyfriend admirer:

mission.Virginia.1904 copy

Just three years after the SFMTA’s 1904 photo was taken, development came to the parcel behind the billboard fence… in the form of the Lyceum Theater:


Bernalwood wrote about the Lyceum in 2013:

The photo above was taken in the 1920s, and a brief history of the 1400-seat Lyceum lives on at the Cinema Treasures website:

The Lyceum Theatre opened in mid-1907, with vaudeville and motion pictures. By the late-1920’s it was featuring Vitaphone Talking Pictures, and remained a popular low priced, late run house for patrons of the outer Mission district for the next twenty-five years.

Like so many other secondary houses, it was one of the first to feel the impact of television in the early-1950’s, and, after several closings and re-openings, became the temporary home of the San Francisco Revival Center [church], before they moved to the former State/Del Mar (q.v.) which they then made their permanent home.

The Lyceum was torn down and replaced by our Taoist Safeway in the 1960s(?). And ever since, Bernal residents have been waiting on long, long checkout lines there. Here’s the view from the very same spot today:


Notice how much parallelism there is between then and now. We can still see the spires of St. Paul’s church. Twin Peaks are still there, of course, having now sprouted a Sutro Tower. Fortuitously, they were even doing some work on the street last weekend — although that laborer kid has now been replaced by a tracked mini-excavator. After 111 years, this is what progress looks like.

PHOTOS: Top, Virginia at Mission, June 1904 via SFMTA Photography Archive. 2015 photo by Telstar Logistics

13 thoughts on “Then and Now: 111 Years of History on Virginia at Mission

  1. Behind the billboard fence in the middle distance, at at least two points, I see rectangles on poles. Are these billboards? Or… they almost look like light standards around a ballfield or racetrack. Any ideas what these things are?

  2. We know someone whose grandmother owned one of the buildings on that first block of Virginia back in 1907, when the City bought property along the south side of the block in order to widen the street (only for that first block, for some reason(?)). You can see how narrow those buildings now are on the map.
    p.s. It’s Virginia Ave, not St.

  3. Looking at the tracks, did the streetcar go up Virginia to Cortland? I always assumed it came down Cortland to Mission.

  4. All of these old photographs are fabulous. Wondering if anyone has unearthed any south of Cortland pictures from 1900-1950? Trying to see how my street has changed over the years (Andover).

  5. Been looking for old Coleridge pictures (further east of the barn) forever. There were a few workshops on my block (my first floor unit may have been one originally as well), seems like they must be documented somewhere, but being that it was called California street…

  6. Going back to the prior Bernalwood history posts with the wonderful photos, before sure was much nicer than now. The car barn was terrific. It not replaced w/the bowling alley, it probably would have been converted to lofts today. Big Lots & Safeway ruins it.

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