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Sunnyside: Begotten of the Panama Canal

Early Years

The Panama Canal

The First Electric Railroad

Development of the Sunnyside

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The story of the Sunnyside district is as much about Behrend Joost, an iconic figure in the history of San Francisco, as it is about the land itself. Joost made his fortune primarily as a retailer, a real estate developer, and a principle investor in the French phase of the Panama Canal.


Early Years

A native of Germany, Behrend Joost was the 6th child among four brothers and two sisters born to farmer Marten Joost and and his wife Anna (Borchers) Joost, of Amt Leke, Hanover, Germany. Most United States Federal Census and California Voter Registration records indicate he was born in 1841. While attending school in his village, he was reported to exhibit great aptitude. He also received practical instruction on the family’s farm, where he received training in the “… habits of industry, economy and honesty.”


Older brothers Fabian and Tonjes had already been in the United States several years by the time Behrend arrived in 1854, based on U.S. Naturalization Records. A “Berendt” Joost (the name is spelled differently three times on the same form) of Hanover signed an intent to become a citizen in 1854, possible the year of his arrival. If so, he would have made the transatlantic trip at the age of 13 or 14 years! Behrend would become naturalized in California on September 1, 1866, with brother Fabian as his witness.


After arriving in San Francisco, Behrend found Tonjes running a successful grocery business and joined him as a salesman, then wasted no time building up his financial holdings. One biographic account states that within a year, Behrend had saved up $1,000 (about $27,000 today). Only six years after arriving from Germany, the 1860 U.S. Federal Census documents the value of his real estate holdings as $3000 ($78,000 today), and his personal estate $4,000 ($104,000 today). Joost soon used these funds to open his own store along the old Mission Toll Road at today’s Mission and 11th Streets. He eventually opened a total of eight stores across the City, all carrying “a good line of staple and fancy groceries.”


In the History of the New California, Irvine describes Joost’s approach to business:


“One of the secrets of his success, perhaps, is that he never paid rent for any property, but always made it his plan to buy wherever his business was located. As time and opportunity afforded he thus made judicious investments, and having retained in his possession many pieces of choice property he is to-day the owner of valuable realty holdings, including some of the most desirable business locations in the city.”


Joost sold his grocery businesses in 1877 because he was “… especially disliking of the liquor feature of the trade.” He then partnered with brother Fabian, who had been working in the California mining field longer than Behrend had been in San Francisco. Together they opened a hardware store, which Behrend found more to his liking. Also located at Mission and 11th Street, the popular retailer became commonly referred to as the “Mission Tool Store.” Behrend and Fabian were so successful in their hardware import business that, in September 1891, they incorporated the Joost Brothers Company with capital stock of $250,000 ($6.5 million today).


In a hardware retailer’s magazine interview in 1918, Behrend’s son, W.W. Joost, describes the family’s business philosophy:


“We will sell only guaranteed goods here, for we are building our business on a quality foundation, and if a manufacturer will not stand back of the goods he makes, and which we sell, we prefer not to handle them.”


The Panama Canal

While running the hardware business, Behrend and Fabian made some investments in a new venture, the French phase of the Panama Canal. Irvine states, “When the Panama canal project was first undertaken by Mr. De Lesseps Mr. Joost became one of the organizers of a company to contract for fourteen million dollars to be expended in dredging. This enterprise proved a financial success. Mr. Joost’s profits amounting to eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars [$21 million today] in 14 months.”


Based on media reports, it is unlikely either Behrend or Fabian actually worked in Panama. Instead, they were principle investors in at least one dredging venture, the American Dredging and Contracting Company, formed in 1882 with other financial heavyweights from San Francisco. By the time their work was completed in 1888, the company had dredged the opening of the canal on the Atlantic side from Colon to beyond Gatun, eight miles distant.


The reported takeaway for Behrend and Fabian in this particular venture was $167,500 ($4.3 million today). While not the $850,000 reported elsewhere, the Joost brothers may also have made up the difference as principle investors in an earlier phase of canal work with Huerne and Slaven, also of San Francisco. After building 20 villages along the route of the canal, the company was contracted to begin dredging. However, delays in the start of canal work had caused Huerne and Slaven to pull out of the project in late 1883. (Note: Apparently, Huerne was involved in an American Dredging and Contracting Company incorporated in 1876, five years before Panama Canal work began. It may be that the same company was “morphing” over the years.)


Behrend and Fabian, after making “some easy money” on the Panama Canal, were financially prepared to move on to “… outside real estate, becoming one of the city’s heaviest and most successful dealers in outside lands.”


The First Electric Railroad

In 1889, Joost franchised the first electric railway in San Francisco, the San Francisco and San Mateo Railroad Company. The laying of rail was completed with six whacks by Behrend himself to drive the last spike at the county line on July 29, 1891. The $1.6 million ($41 million in 2014) railroad began service on April 14, 1892.


Also known as the Joost Road and beginning at Steuart and Market Street, it ran south on Steuart to Harrison, north then southeast to 14th Street where it headed east to Guerrero, then north to intersect with Chenery Street at 30th Street on the northern edge of the Fairmount Tract. The train then ran along Chenery to Diamond, where it turned to cross a trestle over Islais Creek between today’s Chenery and Bosworth in Glen Park. Making its way along the old San Jose Road on its way to the county line, the railroad ran parallel to the Southern Pacific tracks. A brick powerhouse was built on the triangular corner of the modern intersection of Circular Avenue and Monterey (formerly Sunnyside) Boulevard. Joost later began building a spur that traveled up Falcon Street (today’s upper Market) and turning on Clayton to make its way towards Ashbury and Frederick near Golden Gate Park - the same severe turn negotiated by MUNI's 33-Stanyan bus line today.


Despite healthy ridership, by 1896, the electric railroad was $1.5 million in debt, buried in litigation over alleged financial mismanagement by the Joosts, and reportedly in ramshackle condition. Only 15 miles of the 40 miles planned had been built. Behrend and Fabian sold the line at a loss for $300,000 ($8.4 million today) to James D. Spreckels, son of the sugar magnate.


Development of the Sunnyside

With the electric railway under construction in April 1891, Joost purchased the most southerly 200 acres south of Twin Peaks of the former San Miguel Rancho. Contrary to popular belief, Joost did not purchase this land directly from Senator Leland Stanford. An article in the January 8, 1891 issue of the Daily Alta California reports the following:


“Leland Stanford, by attorney, to James P. McCarthy, tract of land containing 589.03 acres, San Miguel Rancho, $10,000. The same day a mortgage of $325,000, to run two years at 7 per cent, was placed on the land. The Carnall-Fitzhugh-Hopkins Company conducted the negotiations. The firm, which is interested in the purchase, states that the most southerly portion of the land, comprising about one-third of the purchase, will be subdivided, graded, macadamized (an early form of asphalt made of gravel and tar), planted with choice trees along the lines of the streets and avenues, and all the blocks fenced. For the present the other portion of the land will not be improved, but the high mesa between Twin Peaks and one of the higher peaks farther on will be put in condition exclusively for fine residence sites. Another feature of this section of the tract is that it is on the line of the proposed Market-street extension, and near to the lines of two projected electric roads for which franchises were recently granted. It is understood that the purchase price was about $750,000.”


That purchase price would be over $19 million today. The transaction between Stanford and McCarthy had actually been completed sometime before December 25, 1890, based on a brief mention of the sale of that appeared in the San Francisco Call on that date. This was only 10 days after Joost had been granted the franchise for the San Francisco-San Mateo Electric Road through the same region.


When Stanford sold the land in December 1890, James P. McCarthy, Charles McCarthy, and James’ son, E. Avery McCarthy, were employees of Carnall-Fitzhugh-Hopkins at 624 Market Street. Yet, by March they had announced they were leaving the company to establish their own offices at 646 Market Street. The Sunnyside Land Company was also newly incorporated with capital stock of $1,000,000 (about $26,000,000 today). Behrend Joost was listed as president, and their first business address was likewise at 646 Market Street, but soon moved to 38 Flood Building. James P. McCarthy sold the 200-acres of land that would become the Sunnyside to Joost in April 1891.


Improvements to the land, including grading, fencing, tree planting, and track-laying, began immediately under the direction of McCarthy and his son, E. Avery McCarthy. The San Francisco Call reported,


“The new tract will be called ‘Sunnyside,’ a name particularly adapted to the land, which is charmingly situated on the line of the San Jose railroad, and also on the line of the new San Francisco and San Mateo Railroad, one branch of which will run through the property … there is every reason to believe that, with the many natural advantages afforded by the superior location of the land, and its proximity to the city, together with the many improvements headed that way, the tract will become popular.”


In May of the same year, McCarthy sold another 150 acres of his purchase from Stanford to the Stanford Heights Company, whose directors included M. L. Wicks (president), John Foley, Alfred Clarke, M. A. H. Connor, and L.G. Young. It was apparently McCarthy who, in honor of Senator Stanford, had named the area Stanford Heights (today’s Miraloma Park, likely the “high mesa” noted above).


In June 1891, the Carnall-Fitzhugh-Hopkins Company brought suit against James P. McCarthy to determine the title to the Sunnyside tract. In March, Frederick Boegle claimed he had also been in formal partnership with McCarthy in the real estate firm F. Boegle & Co. at the time of the transaction and had been defrauded when, “McCarthy purchased in his own name, but for the benefit of the copartnership, 589 acres of the San Miguel Rancho from Leland Stanford, ..” The partnership of F. Boegle & Co. had dissolved on January 1, 1891, one week after the sale was first mentioned in the media.


The outcome of these proceedings is not clear. There is no further mention of the Carnall-Fitzhugh-Hopkins Company in the press after 1891, and there appears to be no follow-up report for Boegle’s suit. Since James McCarthy is always mentioned as the sole purchaser, it may be that the courts determined the accusations to have no legal foundation.


On April 26, 1891, the “Sunny Side” Land Company announced,


“THE ‘CRÈME DE LA CRÈME’ OF SAN FRANCISCO SUBDIVISIONS NOW ON SALE! SUNNYSIDE is by far the largest and most important subdivision made in this city for years and undoubtedly the largest that will ever be placed on market in lots and blocks. TWO HUNDRED ACRES, FORTY-EIGHT BLOCKS, TWO THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY LOTS. Just think of it! Twenty-two hundred and fifty lots in the city of San Francisco … NOT IN THE SAND HILLS. All fine land and beautifully located on a magnificent slope, being the most southerly portion of the San Miguel Ranch, formerly owned by Senator Leland Stanford, recently sold by the Senator to James P. McCarthy, and now owned by the Sunnyside Land Company, … SUNNYSIDE is destined to be the beauty spot of San Francisco …!”


Advertisements for the sale of Sunnyside lots in 1891 were frequent and humorous. For example:



That is what the goat said when he struck the boy.

But that has nothing to do with the Sunny Side.

But if you don’t invest in the Sunny Side

Now you’ll be looking for a goat to but you all over town.

Sunny Side Land Company”


With every sale, the “Sunny Side” Land Company, “… offered to show their faith by guaranteeing the [electric] road with every sale, together with a guarantee of the title, the sales have increased and the inquiry is unabated.” For an eye-catcher on a page full of ads in micro-sized font, the name of Sunnyside was spelled backwards: EDIS YNNUS. In August, the Sunny Side Land Company announced the start of construction of the powerhouse for the electric railway, located at Baden and Sunny Side Avenue (today’s Monterey Boulevard). Another ad invited the public to come see the laying of the cornerstone for the building. [Read more about the street names of Sunnyside Part 1, and Part 2.]


Despite the hype, sales of Sunnyside lots remained sluggish. Those who had made the move to Sunnyside, as well as those in Glen Park and the Fairmount Tract, were plagued by an ongoing lack attention from the City for the same level of services received by residents in more affluent areas closer to downtown, such as sewers, good roads that didn’t become quagmires after rainstorms, and schools. For years, Sunnysiders complained of being hemmed in, having to go three miles out of their way every time they wanted to leave the district. They wanted the City to create a direct connection with an existing main artery, such as Mission Street, that would shorten their journey downtown.


It would take a catastrophe to kick-start home sales in the Sunnyside and its neighbors throughout the outer reaches of San Francisco. After the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, displaced San Franciscans needed a new place to live. The City improved the region’s infrastructure, approved the construction of Sunnyside school, and added a new streetcar line, the 10-Sunnyside, forerunner of today’s 10-Monterey bus line. A real estate promotion for the Sunnyside declared, “You can live in beautiful, healthy, convenient Sunnyside in the center of San Francisco and get to your work downtown quicker than can a millionaire in Pacific Heights.” When considering Sunnyside residents’ easy access to Interstate 280, MUNI’s J-Church streetcar line, and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in Glen Park, little may have changed in the past century.


Sadly, Joost died by his own hand on September 24, 1917. He was of ill health and apparently had lost most of his fortune, complicated by strained family relations. He is buried near the terminus of his electric railway, in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma.



Early Years
Panama Canal
Electric Road
Dev of Sunnyside
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