The Stands at Merrie Way

historic view of Point Lobos Avenue with wooden stands
View looking down Point Lobos Avenue, circa 1890s.

PARC, NPS

 

Commercial Livelihood at Merrie Way

For Sutro, a major part of his vision for Merrie Way as both a “pleasure ground” and a place of business was to create and support a boisterous market scene. To bring this vision to life, Sutro acquired a number of kiosks from the 1894 Midwinter Fair, the same place where he bought most of the park’s rides. The Midwinter Fair contained over one hundred kiosks, all designed in a vaguely Oriental style. Archeologist studying historic photos learned that most of the kiosks were either circular or square structures. The kiosk’s ornamental trimming were either elaborate floral designs or simple linear and geometric patterns. Some of the buildings were practically all glass with windows on every side, while others had enclosed walls with a single window in front. For their size and relative simplicity, they had a considerable range of individual character.

Sutro planned to use the transplanted kiosk’s in a variety of ways. He moved some of the smaller stands to the Sutro Baths where they were used as display cases. Sutro installed over a dozen of the kiosks at Merrie Way, most in a row along Point Lobos, then known as Cliff Avenue. It was likely that Sutro intended to use a few of the Merrie Way stands in the day-to-day operations of the park, as ticket booths or maintenance sheds. However, Sutro’s general intention was to rent or sell the transplanted kiosks to private vendors. These vendors would set up shop along the avenue and sell food and souvenirs -ranging from peanuts and candy, beer and cigars, souvenirs and trinkets, puppet shows and sit-down dinners - to the visitors flocking to the Sutro Pleasure Grounds, the Sutro Baths and Sutro Heights. The whole area was a true pleasure ground for the many working San Franciscans with a little leisure time and disposable income to spare.

 
photo highlighting different wooden stands at a world's fair
The 1894 Midwinter Fair with the stands highlighted

PARC, NPS

 
small wood commercial stand with porch overhang
The Antipa Produce Stand at Merrie Way

photo courtesy of Carola de Rooy

The Oyster and Chop House

The largest and longest lasting of the Merrie Way stands was the oyster and chop house restaurant. The stand’s first owner was Manuel Varvaris and was marked as number 5 or 900 Cliff Avenue, or simply as Stand “S”. With humble beginnings as a simple oyster shop, Varvaris transformed Stand “S” The Acropolis, a full-scale chop house and restaurant.

Better than any of the other businesses at Merrie Way, the Acropolis’ restaurant expansion illustrated the extreme adaptability of the concession stands. Archeologist reviewed historic maps that showed how the original 10-by-10 foot stand expanded in three directions to a structure 5 times as large. By 1900 Varvaris had erected two additions, east and west of the initial stand, and a third larger addition to the rear. While some stands expanded, none of the other stands reached the Acropolis’ final size. As the park’s longest running commercial operation, the Acropolis also demonstrates better than any other the potential for business at Land’s End. While it’s unlikely that the chop house brought large profits to Varvaris, it did outlast its founder by more than a decade, and laid the foundation for the restaurants which line the coast along Point Lobos to this day.

 
architectural plan of historic stand
Concession Stand "O"

courtesy of John A. Martini

Entrepreneurship at other Commercial Stands

Nicholas Antipa ran a fruit and candy stand at Stand “O”. Eager to develop his business, Antipa expanded Stand “O” out of two existing stands; he constructed an addition to the rear and a porch with a canopy in the front. After Varvaris died, Antipa purchased the Acropolis restaurant in 1910; his family ran both businesses until 1918.

Historical data does not offer much more information about the businesses operating at Merrie Way. A handful of photographs show signage announcing what was being sold- “Cigars”, reads one, “Peanuts”, reads another. Newspaper advertisements reveal that “Punch and Judy” puppet shows were a regular feature at the park, and would likely have used certain concession stands as their stage.

 

To learn more about the archeological research of the Sutro Pleasure Grounds, please visit Merrie Way: An Archaeology Case Study

To learn more about the history of Lands End and visitor information for this area, please visit the Plan Your Visit page for Lands End

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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