The Beach Chalet restaurant in San Francisco was established in 1925. My friends and I would use the changing rooms on the ground floor of the Spanish Revival building before venturing across the street to Ocean Beach and the freezing waters of the Pacific. For a special treat, my dad would take us upstairs for a Shirley Temple where another two hundred patrons would be sitting.
The frescoes in the lounge depict a simple and casual life of San Francisco. I was quickly reminded, however, that life during the Great Depression was anything but simple. Those boys at the WPA (Works Project Administration) must have had a sense of humor.
There was nothing funny about what came next. The attack on Pearl Harbor ushered in WWII. Mom was typical of many civilians back then, fearing that the Japanese’s next target would be the West Coast. The Army must have felt the same way, shoring up their defenses around the City.
The military commandeered Beach Chalet for use as its Coastal Headquarters. Dad and his buddies camped in Golden Gate Park, providing an extra line of defense until getting shipped overseas. After the war, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) used the upstairs as a meeting room while the downstairs became a biker bar of disrepute. Those bad boys! In 1951 the VFW moved out and the place was shuttered. It was padlocked and surrounded by a chain link fence, which only enticed the curiosity of feral cats, vagrants and more than a few of my friends. Eventually over two million dollars from City coffers and private grants enabled the restaurant to reopen in 1996. My favorite spot inside is the Park Chalet, a sunny filled garden cafe, but don’t overlook the brewery upstairs. Tasty!