Behold Da Dog

For tenants in San Francisco (over 2/3 of us rent), it is cat city, owing to the paucity of green open spaces. Dog owners are an embattled minority. Their animals’ soil coat every square inch of grass, making lawn play a dangerous pastime.

Even so, perhaps inevitably: Dogs are the objects of worship, and contention- both as living beings, and as kitsch icon. There remains one darling dachshund-on-stick where it was left behind on Ocean Beach by the defunct Doggie Diner chain. (Other Doggie Diner heads are in private hands.) Atop a rusted pole at the corner of 46th Ave. and Sloat is the sole surviving shill on location since 1965.

Doggie Diners were among the first of their kind in the years following WWII. The chain was based in Oakland. In its hey day, thirty outlets served up hotdogs and hamburgers around the greater Bay Area. No visit to the zoo or Playland-at-the-Beach was complete without a stop at the DD.

I never had the pleasure of eating there in its original incarnation, but the successor Carousel Restaurant is a reasonable facsimile. For patrons today, it provides the same inexpensive comfort food without frills or pretension.

An unlikely combination of local history buffs, carnivore nostalgists, and humorous icon-worshippers have mounted a campaign to save this Dog on location, now that the land is owned by the Sloat Garden Center, which is interested in further developing its property. 100 or so supporters turned out on a rainy Sunday to rally in support of the Dog.

“If this were the last Starbucks, we’d fight to preserve that,” said author Gil Bates, whose filmscript Dogalypse Now is forthcoming from Modem Times Press.

Bates’ luncheon companion paused over a chile dog to reflect. “Not since Bummer & Lazarus-those canine sidekicks of Emperor Norton-has there been such an outpouring of affection for a San Francisco mascot,” said San Francisco history buff Ford Henry.

Perhaps the Dog sign is just one more bit of 20th century detritus waiting to be replaced by its Y2K dot commie equivalent. In response to the threat of removal supporters of the Dog and civic history have lobbied for landmark status to be conferred on this totemic mutt.

At a follow-up meeting next Tuesday, February 29, supporters of the Dog hope the Supervisors get the message to let this sleepless Dog remain on its post with diner intact. The alternative, they dread, is that both will be removed and replaced either with a parking lot, or condos.

Again, I never got to Playland-at-the-Beach, but I see only too clearly the condos that replaced it. There’s no doubt in my mind which I would prefer see on trips to the beach.

In January a tentative deal was brokered which would allow this Dog to remain till 2005…but the Dog’s future is anything but assured. Supporters of the Dog will be watching the City’s Supervisors to see how they respond to yet another threat to the material evidence of San Francisco’s ever evanescent history. (Also at risk further up the coast is the Camera Obscura by the Cliff House.)

Not everyone’s nostalgia is linked to the passion of carnivores for dead meat in a tacky grease-pit. Many who missed the Doggie Diner’s sanguine offerings (the last one closed in 1986) see in the Dog the Ideal Animal: well-dressed, happy, eager to attend to soul needs as it once did one’s flesh-eating appetite.

The sign of the Dog has become part of the genius loci of its Ocean Beach neighborhood. To separate the two would be to let that much more the City go-to the lower case dogs.

This Dog could be the best friend we’ll ever have, so why mess with it? As Marcelle Clements has observed, in a book bearing this title, The Dog is Us. To turn our back on the Dog would be to spite ourselves, allowing another much-loved relic of our living past slip into the memory hole.

D.S. Black