The Last Legs of S.F.’s Motorcycle Lore

In a soon-to-be demolished Valencia Street building lies a history of mid-1900s motorcycle culture.

A cyclist rides by a former motorcycle garage at 235 Valencia Street slated for demolition. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

Before a new housing development in the Mission springs up, a final marker of mid-1900s motorcycle racing culture must first fall.

The corner building at 235 Valencia St. is slated for demolition in the coming weeks, marked by the arrival of construction crews, boarded-up windows, and sidewalk signs from Public Works ordering the public to steer clear until mid-May. But between 1930 and 1950, North Valencia once held the largest concentration of motorcycle dealerships in San Francisco. Of the roughly three that remain, 235 Valencia St. is the “the last intact representation of early motorcycle dealerships in San Francisco,” according to a landmark designation report.

Almost a century before it would be turned into a five-story building with 40 housing units and two commercial spaces, a prominent figure in West Coast motorcycle history owned it. Loren “Hap” Jones rose in the late 1920s as a top motorcycle racer, coming to own a motorcycle business in 1940 at the stucco-clad masonry building on Valencia and Clinton Park streets, one block from Zeitgeist, according to the landmark designation report.

It was there that Jones helped incubate the motorcycle culture that took off after the Great Depression. What began as a bicycle-rental business near Golden Gate Park turned into a motorcycle parts-selling operation that, in 1936, led to the Hap Jones Company, which hosted an annual “birthday party” that attracted riders from all over the country. One year later, he became the first civilian to cross the Golden Gate Bridge — on a motorcycle, of course.

Jones’ 235 Valencia showroom specialized in Indian, Norton, and BSA motorcycles. But it was also where he created and trademarked the quarterly Motorcycle Blue Book, which set pricing guidelines for all makes and models honored by the industry. No one but authorized dealers, financial institutions, insurance companies, and local governments could get a copy, and even then, only after requesting it on official letterhead.

The American Motorcycle Association hall-of-famer also helped the San Francisco Motorcycle Club buy its home at 2194 Folsom St. in 1947, where it still stands. (In 1910, it was the first clubhouse to admit women who could vote as members before they could vote in elections.)

Though Jones retired from racing, he promoted and sponsored races at all levels, mentoring legends like Dick Mann. But by 1970, he sold the rest of his share to his brother-in-law Dave Golden, who renamed the 235 Valencia St. dealership after himself until it closed upon his death in 1988.

S.F. Auto Works was the last business to operate out of the building until its owners agreed to terminate the lease early last year, Mission Local reported.

The push for a landmark designation wasn’t enough to save the building from demolition, which the Department of Building Inspections approved in November. Developers with DDG Group did not respond to questions regarding plans for a demolition timeline or commemoration of the Hap Jones Dealership.

Colorful graffiti cats with a black backdrop almost mask the history of San Francisco’s role in early motorcycle culture. But if you strain through the boarded-up windows, you can imagine the signs that previously advertised “Motorcycles Wanted” and “Parts for All Makes.”

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