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A look at the Forest Hill Station

San Francisco’s oldest Muni station deserves a second look

The Forest Hill Station, built in the Classical revival-style and serving the Forest Hill and Laguna Honda neighborhoods of San Francisco, is perhaps best known for being one of the deepest Muni stations in the city. So much so that the arduous trek up and down the many staircases, day in and day out, has many regular passengers opting for the more convenient elevator route.

But the station’s most important claim to fame is its ripe age. The oldest subway station west of Chicago, opening in 1918, turned 100 last year.

Originally christened Laguna Honda Station (lettering with its old name remains carved on the station headhouse), the station was designed in the classical revival style. At the surface level, period pilasters and archways remain. The coffered ceiling and crown moldings are also a treat to behold. And the platform level subway tile in white, black, and red checker pattern is some of the finest in the entire system.

Don’t forget to clock the grapevine crests on the walls and windows. So very Napa, however unintentionally.

Commuting prettiness aside, the story of Forest Hill Station’s origin could be used as a solid argument today as to why public transit infrastructure is so crucial for residential growth.

According to Origin SF, Forest Hill Station was built with this in mind:

It began thanks to the former mayor of San Francisco, Aldoph Sutro, who owned real estate all over the city. Twelve years after his death, A.S. Baldwin, a real estate agent from Baldwin and Howell, was hired to allocate Sutro’s real estate assets. At the time, the Forest Hill area of San Francisco was underutilized, with space composed of sand dunes and grassy land; it was not a desired lot to purchase. But Baldwin, showing foresight, developed a corporation to buy the forest and then sell the land. Newell-Murdoch bought that land and then deeded 21 lots to the City of San Francisco for free, in order for the Forest Hill station to be built. Why? Because Newell-Murdoch was banking on Laguna Honda to be the next big development once a train was built to bring people there. And they were right.

Indeed, the area nows hosts a slew of gorgeous Tudor and Spanish-Mediterranean specimens with no multi-unit residential complexes. (One of the least-densely populated neighborhoods in city, many residents and area home associations take a firm NIMY stance on any type of growth.)

In the 1950s, according to blog Outsidelands, during the height of the Cold War, a plan was allegedly proposed to build a vault in the station in order to protect city records from nuclear attack. Alas, that paranoid element was never put in place.

And the station’s most whimsical touch: an abandoned public payphone booth with plastic phonebook cover at surface level. Though not part of the original station’s design, it’s a delightful tip of the hat to a bygone, pre-iPhone era.

The station received a much-needed refresh in 1985 to the tune of $6 million, which updated the station while keeping its historic architecture intact. In 2004, the city designated it a San Francisco landmark.

If you’ve yet to experience the classic splendor of the Forest Hill Station, simply keep riding the M, L, or K lines past the Castro Street Station. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the phantom Eureka Valley Station, which closed in 1972, and can still be seen, however briefly, while heading to Forest Hill.

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