The Giant Doggie Diner Heads of San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic)


Good Evening:

Nostalgic? San Francisco? Nostalgic?!

Superficially, this seems impossible for a city as young as this one: furthermore, if San Francisco is not change, then San Francisco is not at all. Personally, I don’t feel nostalgic for much; although I have little cause for complaint about my past, I have too much in my future (and too much fun in my present) to have time to look back. Nonetheless, some people do very well with nostalgia. Herb Caen’s columns during his final years tended to reminisce in great detail about friends departed and nightclubs shuttered.

And then there are these guys:


Some day in the distant, distant, very distant future, archeologists will stare at these 8 foot tall monoliths on the Pacific Coast with their flat gazes and enigmatic smiles and wonder what sort of civilization created them, why they created them, why each one is slightly different, and what they represented. They will speculate if the primitive humans who molded them were refugees from Easter Island, perhaps, or ancient Celtic explorers and settlers who lifted these stelae to worship their gods or commemorate fallen chieftains.

The reality was a little different.


The Doggie Diner was a San Francisco/Oakland fast food chain, a very small fast food chain, that waged a valiant struggle for survival from 1949-1986 against the rising national chains, but ultimately could not make it. The diner achieved a peculiar sort of immortality through the giant wiener dog heads erected over each diner. Though the restaurants have disappeared, the heads remain, reminding us of a lost era, even as they have become cultural icons. Very minor cultural icons–legendary underground comic book character Zippy the Pinhead once fell in love with one of these heads–but iconic enough that one has become an official San Francisco Designated Landmark. If you click on that link you will find over 40 pages of landmarks. The other heads remain in private ownership, such as these three in an industrial neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of the city.

The Doggie Diner (website devoted to their history here) does represent an older San Francisco in one respect. The city used to be the home of a variety of businesses, ranging from small chains of fast food places or department stores such as The Emporium and The City of Paris, that could not survive the onslaught of massive national chains and folded during the period roughly from 1975-1995. People from all over the world still come to San Francisco for the shopping, but I don’t know why: don’t they have Nike Stores, Apple Stores, Macy’s, Old Navy, et cetera, et cetera in their hometowns?

Hmmm. Another mystery. I wonder if this fellow knows the solution.


Well, if he does, he isn’t telling.

Vonn Scott Bair


6 responses »

  1. Pingback: Save the Doggie Diner Three! | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

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