The Streets of Sunnyside, Part Two: From Baden to Hamburg - A Neighborhood Built on German Beer

[This is the second in a series of articles exploring the history of the naming of the streets in the Sunnyside District in San Francisco. Read the first one here. Below is a shortened version of this article— the complete article available as a PDF download can be found here.]

Sunnyside street signs. Photo: Amy O’Hair

The role that big brewery money played in Sunnyside’s beginning in 1890 has yet to be completely told, as many of the traces have been obscured over the years. It is not surprising that brewery profits helped establish the neighborhood; from the year of the Gold Rush onward, many German immigrants who came to San Francisco brewed beer, and their businesses thrived, accumulating hefty capital. New techniques like steam beer were even developed especially for the California climate.

Some of the money invested in the new neighborhood came from a spate of brewery take-overs that happened shortly before the neighborhood’s birth. Foreign investors paid cash up front for many of San Francisco’s established firms. This left brewery owners or their sons with substantial piles of money, scouting for places to invest it.

Ad for Sunnyside real estate, San Francisco Call, 27 May 1891. Strangely devoid of pesky hills.

For anyone with cash to spare in the 1880s and 90s, San Francisco real estate was an irresistible opportunity—the newest way to bring forth gold from dirt. Several brewery men speculated on Sunnyside real estate, getting their family names, or the names of places in Germany they came from, used for the newly laid out streets.

Five of the original Sunnyside streets—Mangels Avenue, Spreckels Avenue, Wieland Avenue, Baden Street, and Hamburg Street—I trace directly to these men. Today, three of those names have been changed, leaving only two remnants of this important element in the story of the neighborhood’s beginnings. Spreckels was changed to Staples Avenue, Wieland to Judson Avenue, and Hamburg to Ridgewood Avenue. For the story of those changes, see Part Four of this series (yet to come). In addition, Edna Street likely to have been named for the beloved daughter of one of these brewery men, Rudolph Mohr, and this will be covered in Part Six of this series (also yet to come).

The Sunnyside Brewery Boys

The owners of three breweries, and several officers of the Brewers’ Protective Association, all German men, are the players in the story Sunnyside’s beginnings. Here’s a summary, before I spin out the various stories:

Robert Wieland. San Francisco Call, 28 May 1893. From Newspapers.com.

Robert P. Wieland (1861 – 1908): son and heir to the Philadelphia Brewery fortune. This brewery was ranked the top producer in the city. Robert’s father John H. Wieland (1829 – 1885) was from Württemberg, Germany, near Baden. John had died several years before Robert became part of the initial group of Sunnyside investors. Even though the brewery was bought by foreign investors, he remained on the board, and also on the board of Brewers’ Protective Association. Their family name is the source of name of Wieland Avenue, original name of Judson Avenue, changed in 1909.

John Henry Mangels. Photo: Ancestry.com

John Henry Mangels (1865 – 1897): son and heir to the fortune left by father Claus Mangels (1832 – 1891), who founded the Albany Brewery with Claus Spreckels in the 1850s. The Mangels fortune was also tied up in Spreckels sugar empire. Young Henry put his father’s money into real estate, including Sunnyside, but he didn’t live long enough to see even one house on his namesake street, Mangels Avenue. The name survived a wave of street-name changes later.

Claus Spreckels. Photo: Wikipedia.org.

Claus Spreckels (1828 – 1908): the “Sugar King” and head of the wealthiest family in late nineteenth-century California, which included his four sons. His first money maker in San Francisco was Albany Brewery, founded with Claus Mangels in 1850s. By 1869 it was ranked third in the city. Claus Spreckels suffered ill health and was known to have visited Baden-Baden, the spa town in Germany, to restore his health.

Claus Spreckels was one of Behrend Joost's biggest creditors, to the tune of $50,000 ($1.3 million today), revealed when Joost fell into a legal morass due to mounting debts a couple of years after Sunnyside was laid out. That sum was just a small part of the $10 million ($260 million today) that Spreckels had tied up in San Francisco real estate in those years, but certainly enough cause for Joost to name a Sunnyside street Spreckels Avenue (which is now Staples Avenue). Perhaps Claus Spreckels also had money in the contemporaneous Visitacion Valley homestead to the south, where there was a Spreckels Street. This reduplication is likely to have been one of the reasons why Sunnyside's Spreckels Avenue was changed in 1909 to Staples Avenue. (For the story of all those changes, see Part Four of this series, yet to come).

Philip Rohrbacher. San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 1897. From Newspapers.com.

Philip Rohrbacher (1838 – 1897): President of United States Brewery in San Francisco. Came to California from Alsace, near Baden, Germany. He was a saloon keeper who made a fortune in the Stockton area, came to San Francisco, and bought into this brewery just before it was bought out by foreign investors. He is sure to have profited heavily from his investment. He served on the board of Sunnyside Land Company, and was clearly one its initial investors, as well as being an officer in the Brewers’ Protective Association.

Rare newspaper photo of Rudolph Mohr. San Francisco Examiner, 20 March 1907. From SFPL microfilm.

Rudolph Mohr (1858 – 1928): a whip-smart, behind-the-scenes corporate secretary who came to California from Hamburg, Germany, as a young man. He worked his way up from clerk at San Francisco Stock Brewery, a brewery ranked fourth in the city in 1869. By the 1880s he was the brains behind the Brewers’ Protective Association, helping to calm nerves during the show-downs with brewery workers. He was secretary of the Sunnyside Land Company, as well as a few other home loan and land companies. He is the only Sunnyside investor from Hamburg, Germany, and therefore likely to have been the source of that street name for the new neighborhood (later changed to Ridgewood Ave.). A few years before Sunnyside was laid out, he and his wife had their first child, a daughter named Edna, and thus, I believe, he is also the source of Edna Street. (The full story about Edna Mohr Russ in Part Six of this series.)

Big Beer, Big Bucks

Before I relate more detailed stories about these men’s lives, here is some background on the beer business of that era. The brewing industry in nineteenth-century San Francisco was profitable and well developed by the 1880s. Brewery workers formed a good proportion of the labor force in San Francisco, but their lot before unionization was grim: filthy on-site lodging, 16-hour days, and low pay. The brewery workers’ union finally became established in 1888, bringing with it the abolition of the lodging system, a 10-hour day, and a living wage. You could raise a family on a brewery worker’s pay.

On the other side was the Brewers’ Protective Association, a cartel of producers that had been in 1874 formed to manage labor issues and set beer prices. It was comprised of brewers, malt makers, and hops growers. This organization came into its full prominence the following decade, when labor disputes made it a pressing matter for producers to maintain control over workers and their increasingly powerful unions. From then on there were regular power struggles and strikes, but overall business was good and growing, and both sides benefited.

The Brewers’ Protective Association raises the price of steam beer. San Francisco Call, 24 November 1890. From Newspapers.com.

Beer was at this time, in an age before mass refrigerated shipping, largely local. There were a great many breweries in San Francisco—almost 40 different firms in 1880, many of them quite small. Brewing a few tanks of “steam” beer—which was ready for drinking in less than two weeks—was not hugely capital-intensive or complicated. Steam beer accounted for most of the beer brewed in San Francisco. Despite the number of breweries, a few of the establishments rose to great levels of production, such as Philadelphia Brewery, founded in 1857 by John H. Wieland. Between 1869 and 1889, the firm quadrupled the numbers of barrels it sold.

Advertisement in the SF Directory, 1880. From Archive.org.

All over the US, there were similar upticks in the brewery industry. So it is hardly surprising that in 1889, faced with an economic downturn in Great Britain, a consortium of British and Irish bankers and investors came to the US with $200 million in capital ($5.2 billion today), hoping to cash in on this booming industry. They moved across the country, buying up successful breweries, and forming local syndicates.

Not all US breweries were vulnerable or willing to be bought; nonetheless, the “English Syndicate,” as they were called, made a big impact. In San Francisco, they entered into long negotiations with several breweries, included the very successful Philadelphia Brewery, the United States Brewery, and several others. All told, they spent $7 million ($182 million today) in San Francisco, forming San Francisco Breweries Syndicate (Ltd.) by 1890.

Download a complete PDF of the article here, which includes many more images, full footnoted references, links for further exploration, more about Baden Street, and details of the lives of the Sunnyside investors and their brewery ties.​

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