Tramps of San Francisco

In search of San Francisco's forgotten histories

A-Foresting We Will Go: A History of Trees in San Francisco (Part III)

Part III:  The Land of Giants

”There is not much great timber, nor indeed wood of any kind, …”

 — The Annals of San Francisco, 1855

By 1850, the most significant “trees” in San Francisco could be viewed among the “forests” of the felled kind, mainly in the form of ships’ masts and other structures. By then, over 600 ships had been abandoned in Yerba Buena Cove as captains and sailors alike hurled themselves overboard, abandoning ship in a mad dash for the Sierra gold diggings.

As discovered in Parts I and II of this series, early residents had already recognized the northern San Francisco peninsula as the “the most barren part of the district.” Yet, this lack of immediately available timber would fail to derail the founding of one of the world’s great cities, soon to be rapidly entrenched with “excitement-craving, money-seeking, luxurious-living, reckless, heaven-earth-and-hell-daring” citizens – a description that some may believe applicable to gentrification debates in these modern times.

The paucity of forests in the immediate vicinity provided the greatest of challenges to early residents, beginning with the earliest European settlement. Padre Pedro Font of the 1776 de Anza expedition, standing high on the cantil blanco (the white cliffs of today’s Fort Point), commented on the beauty of the area and noted just one omission: “Only timber was lacking, as there was no tree on those heights; but not far away were live oaks and other trees.”

In another 80 years, standing on Telegraph Hill and spying across the water through atmosphere unstained by particulates, an abundance of trees along the ridges of the Coast Range surrounding the Bay were clearly visible, as noted in the Annals of San Francisco:

“Farther out was the high lying island of Yerba Buena, green to the summit. Beyond it lay the mountains of Contra Costa, likewise arrayed in verdant robes, on the very tops of which flourished groups of huge redwood trees; while far in the distance towered the gray head of Monte Diablo.”

Various types of oak, pine, maple, alder and other species would soon be harvested around the Bay Area. But, the most desirable of all, California’s coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), prized for its size, beauty, and resilience, will be the focus of this and the next two posts. A magnificent species found only in California and a tiny sliver of Oregon, the coast redwood would provide more than a mammoth share to the infrastructure of the burgeoning populace of San Francisco, and in the process be nearly sawed and milled to virginal extinction.

Taking in the tall and straight nature of coast redwood

“There are great numbers of this tree here, of all sizes of thickness, most of them exceedingly high and straight like so many candles.” — Padre Juan Crespi, 1769. Postcard from the collection of Evelyn Rose.

During the Portolá expedition of 1769, only weeks before the team discovered San Francisco Bay, Padre Juan Crespí recorded the first description of these giant trees of the New World in his journal. While traversing along the Pajaro River, near today’s Watsonville:

“For besides the many good-sized cottonwoods on the river, there begins here a large mountain range covered with a tree very like the pine in its leaf, save that it is not over two fingers long. The heartwood is red, very handsome wood, handsomer than cedar. No one knew what kind of wood it might be; it may be spruce, we cannot tell. Many said savin [Trampers’ note: a shrub juniper (Juniper sabina), native to Europe and western parts of Asia], and savin ’twas called, though I have never seen them red. There are great numbers of this tree here, of all sizes of thickness, most of them exceedingly high and straight like so many candles. What a pleasure to see this blessing of timber.”

“… In this region, there is great abundance of these trees and because none of the expedition recognizes them, they are named redwood for their color.”

Miguel Costansó, an engineer of the same expedition, noted,

“We set out from the Laguna del Corral [near today’s Santa Cruz] … We directed our course to the north-northwest, without withdrawing far from the coast, from which we were separated by some high hills thickly covered with trees that some said were savins. They were the largest, highest, and straightest trees that we had seen up to that time; some of them were four or five yards in diameter …”

Seven years later, Padre Font would observe twin redwoods on the banks of San Francisquito Creek in today’s Palo Alto, reportedly visible from distant points around the Bay. He measured …

“… its dimensions by means of the graphometer which he had loaned [sic] from Fr. Palóu at Mission San Carlos. While savage Indians stood gaping at his proceedings, Fr. Font calculated that the solitary redwood tree was about fifty varas* in height (140 feet), and the trunk at the base was five and one-half varas in circumference (15 1/2 feet).”

This tree, known as El Palo Alto (literally, The Tall Tree), is the namesake for the City

In this 1875 photograph, the twin-trunk el Palo Alto is visible immediately downstream from the single-track railroad bridge, from the San Mateo County side of San Francisquito Creek. Image 053-005. From the Guy Miller Archives, Palo Alto Historical Association.

This 1875 photograph shows the twin-trunk of el Palo Alto adjacent to the single-track railroad bridge, looking from the San Mateo County side of San Francisquito Creek. Image 053-005. From the Guy Miller Archives, Palo Alto Historical Association.

of Palo Alto. Designated as California Historical Landmark No. 2, it is California’s first living landmark. In 1861, ground-breaking for the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad was held adjacent to the tree. For over 150 years, El Palo Alto has endured severe physical stress as trains continue to lumber by within a few feet of its base.

Known to be 1054 years old, it is smaller now than it was in 1776, measuring 110 feet in height and over 8 feet in diameter. Its reduced girth is due to the loss of its twin in an 1887 flood; its smaller height the result of preservation efforts in 1977 and 1999 that twice removed the dead top, unable to tolerate decades of exposure to coal-based soot spewed by passing locomotives. A gradual reduction in the Silicon Valley water table during the years when agriculture reigned supreme may have also played a role. Today, El Palo Alto is declared to be healthier than it was a century ago, and projections are it may be able to survive at least another 300 years.

Famed photographer Gabriel Moulin (1872-1945) became famous as the "Redwoods Photographer," capturing images of the coast redwood forest all along the Northern California coast. The location  and date of this image is not yet identified, Moulin became the official photographer for the Bohemian Club beginning in 1898.  Used with permission from Jean Moulin, Moulin Studios. From the collection of Evelyn Rose.

Photographer Gabriel Moulin (1872-1945), known as the “Redwoods Photographer,” captured images of coast redwood forests up and down Northern California. Moulin became the official photographer for the Bohemian Club beginning in 1898. The location and date of this image is not yet identified. Used with permission from Jean Moulin, Moulin Studios. From the collection of Evelyn Rose.

Several features of El Palo Alto hint at some of the special characteristics of the coast redwood that collectively define the redwood mystique, making it highly valued by both loggers and preservationists. I’ve volunteered as a docent at Muir Woods National Monument for over 11 years, and with each visit the trees of Redwood Canyon evoke new wonderment and reflection. Ernest Peixotto, artist, illustrator, and bohemian, described the old-growth coast redwood forest owned by the Bohemian Club in 1910:

“On a bend of the Russian River about eighty miles to the north of San Francisco there stands a forest of redwood trees, never touched by the woodman’s ax, a grove whose mighty tree trunks, massive as the clustered columns of  a Gothic cathedral, lift their heads skyward in stately and imposing order, devoid of branches to a great height. In distant perspectives of these dim-lit forest aisles, the boughs of far-off treetops interlace in flowing traceries, framing peeps of sky into mullioned windows of strange and beautiful design. Sunbeams filter through the shimmering leaves and play in brilliant spots upon the ground, but the light falls sparingly, as in the rich gloom of some church interior.

“Did you ever rest in the nave of a cathedral? Did you ever follow the lift of its mighty piers, the arch of its soaring vaults, the far perspectives of aisle and transept and chapel, the broad sweep of the pavement? So in these forest aisles. The shafts, nerved with bark, the interlacing feathery boughs, the colored sky windows, the floor carpeted with pine needles – droppings of ages, softer underfoot than the priceless weaves of the ‘Savonnerie’ [French tapestry]. No sound breaks the eternal solitude except at times the tap of a woodpecker, the chirp of a squirrel, or the wind sighing through the pine boughs high upon the summit of the trees, radiant in the sunshine.”

Coast Redwood 101

As we’ll see in subsequent posts, many features of the coast redwood created astonishment and perplexity among early residents of San Francisco, sometimes with humorous results. Therefore, a review of these unique characteristics is in order.

Walk within any stand of old growth, virgin (meaning never logged) California coast redwood and you will sense a forest primeval. This fir (not a pine as described by Peixotto) is the tallest species of tree or any other living thing on our planet. Its gargantuan proportions mirror that of some prehistoric reptiles.

This petrified redwood is a remnant of the wide geographic distribution during the time of the dinosaurs. This tree still stands today in Yellowstone National Park near Tower Junction. Postcard from the collection of Evelyn Rose.

This petrified redwood is a remnant of the wide geographic distribution during the time of the dinosaurs. This tree still stands today in Yellowstone National Park near Tower Junction. Postcard from the collection of Evelyn Rose.

In fact, ancestors of the coast redwood emerged during the time of the dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period, 165 to 135 million years ago. By about 65 million years ago, redwoods were thriving in a mild and humid climate, extending their distribution throughout the northern hemisphere. Yet, about 3 million years ago, through the action of plate tectonics, uplift of mountains, and decline of temperate conditions, prehistoric redwood eventually became extinct in the eastern United States, Greenland, Europe, and the majority of Asia. Today, fossil evidence of redwood can be found as close as Calistoga in Napa County (The Petrified Forest), and in such far-ranging locations as Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Spain, and near the North Pole.

After its initial description by Crespí, the first botanist to view the coast redwood was Thaddeus Haenke of the Malaspina Expedition (1791). After making landfall at Monterey Bay, Haenke returned samples and seeds to Spain. As late 20 years ago, it was reported a redwood tree from one of these seeds was still growing somewhere in Spain. Scottish surgeon and botanist Archibald Menzies of the Vancouver Expedition (1792) would also return samples from Santa Cruz to England.

Neither Haenke nor Menzies would attempt to scientifically classify the redwood. That would be left to Aylmer Bourke Lambert, who over a half century later would use Menzies’ samples stored at the British Museum (Natural History) in London. He assigned coast redwood to the Taxodiaceae family, a type of cypress. Many botanists now classify coast redwood as a member of the Cupressaceae cypress family, which has merged with the Taxodiaceae because of many shared characteristics.

Today’s scientific name for coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, was adopted by Austrian Stephen Endlicher in 1847. He died before he could properly explain the meaning of Sequoia. However, it is generally believed he was honoring Chief Sequoyah of the Cherokee Nation. In 1821, Sequoyah developed a phonetic alphabet that gave his people the ability to not only speak but also read and write in their native tongue, an accomplishment that garnered worldwide praise. As a conifer (or, cone-bearing tree), coast redwood is not deciduous but rather sempervirens – Latin for “always green” throughout the year.

Two other types of Sequoia exist today. The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is not as tall as its coastal cousin but in bulk is one of the largest living things on Earth (Trampers’ note: a fungal mat of the honey mushroom in Oregon is the largest living thing in mass, spreading over 2200 acres). Found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and as heavily logged in the mid- to late-19th century as the coast redwood, shipment of giant sequoia timber products from the mountains to San Francisco was considered economically unfeasible with the technology available at the time.

The other type of redwood, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), is confined to only three provinces in central China. Unlike the coast redwood and giant sequoia, the dawn redwood is deciduous and will lose its leaves (needles) in the winter. Once thought to have been extinct for over 20 million years, living specimens were found by a Chinese botanist in 1944. With fewer than 5,400 old growth trees remaining amidst continued expansion of industry and agriculture in its native region, the future of the dawn redwood seems uncertain.

As does the future of the coast redwood and giant sequoia. Neither is listed as an endangered, threatened, or candidate species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, though virgin forests of coast redwood support nine different species of plants and animals federally designated as endangered. However, the Red List of the agency adopted by the European Union, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) does classify all three redwoods as endangered.

An estimated 10 million acres of virgin coast redwood existed along the northern California coast before Euro-American settlement. According to the IUCN, at the turn of the 21st century, coast redwood comprised 843,000 acres of woodland, of which 643,000 acres (76%) was for commercial purposes. Stands of redwood on these lands are considered second- or third-growth, meaning the forest has been logged one or more times. Many heavy-handed methods used to harvest redwood can obliterate nearly all vestiges of the virgin forest. The old-growth survivors of today (about 200,000 acres) only represent about 2% of the original 10 million prehistoric acres. Fortunately, most of these virgin forests are now under California state or federal protection.

It may take around 250 years for a coast redwood to reach its maximum height, with young redwoods growing as much as one foot annually. Today’s top monarch of coast redwood, at a hair-shy of 380 feet tall (equivalent to a 35-story building), is Hyperion, towering over an unidentified location near Eureka in Redwood National Park. Helios, Stratosphere, Icarus, Paradox, Lauralyn, and Orion, are seven other coast redwoods that rise to within 10 feet of this giant. Over 600 trees in excess of 340 feet in height are known to exist in far Northern California between Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve near Mendocino, up through Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park near the Oregon border.  

Moving southward, as accumulation of annual moisture gradually declines, coast redwood generally reaches to lesser heights but are still nothing to scoff at. For example, a tree at Muir Woods National Monument towers 258 feet above Redwood Canyon. If placed on the roadway of the Golden Gate Bridge, it would rise another 12 feet above either of the bridge’s main towers.

The Mediterranean climate of Northern California, settling in place about 8 million years ago, replicates the climatic conditions ancient redwoods required: mild variation in annual temperature, rainy winters, and rainless but foggy summers. Over the past 3 million years, the ebb and flow of glaciers with alternating warming and cooling of climate served to isolate the distribution of California coast redwood to only the northern California coast.

From the Santa Lucia Range in southern Monterey County extending 450 miles northward to Oregon at a tributary of the Chetco River named Redwood Creek, the range extends no more than 15 miles beyond the California state line. Coast redwood, on average, can reach 20 to 25 miles inland, though lesser or greater distances may occur depending on the reach of the cool, foggy marine layer. For example, a native stand of redwood in southern Napa County is 42 miles from the Pacific shore.

This map details the native range of California's coast redwood. Moving from the Northern California Coast from the Oregon Border to Sonoma County. South of Sonoma, distribution becomes more irregular. From Roy DF. Silvical Characteristics of the Coast Redwood. Available at the U.S. Forest Service.

This map details the native range of California’s coast redwood. Moving from the Oregon border south through Sonoma County, distribution is solid. Yet, south of Sonoma County, where average annual precipitation begins to decline, distribution becomes more irregular. From Roy DF. Silvical Characteristics of the Coast Redwood.  1966. Available at the U.S. Forest Service.

A solid distribution of coast redwood is found along the northern range from Oregon southward to Sonoma County, where it begins to take on a more dappled pattern the farther south it extends. Some coastal areas of the southern range are devoid of virgin coast redwood, including the County of San Francisco.

Yet, this was not always the case. While drilling a few hundred feet down in search of artesian wells in the late 19th-century, multiple reports from San Francisco and surrounding areas noted the recovery of fragments of these mega-trees while drilling:

” … a redwood log, four feet in diameter, and partly charred, was bored through at a depth of two hundred feet ; … The specimens of wood sometimes have an appearance of freshness and indestructibility truly wonderful, considering the great length of time which they must have been buried in the ground; others are partly petrified, and appear to have been imbedded at a more remote date.”

Surveyor, engineer, and all-around scientist George Davidson, leader of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey of the Pacific and namesake for San Francisco’s tallest peak, proclaimed in 1896:

“As far back as Spanish history and tradition go … we have no record of redwood trees growing north of San Bruno Mountain on the peninsula. That the entire peninsula was once covered with a redwood forest is certain, however, for in boring for artesian wells redwood logs have frequently been struck at a depth of from 300 to 500 feet. The chips brought up by the drills showed the logs to be in good condition and sound. It is a well-known fact that redwood retains its normal condition when in a damp soil and free from air for an indefinite period.”

To help estimate the age of these redwoods according to depth, a woolly mammoth tooth unearthed in 2012 just 110 feet down in the construction site of the new Transbay Transit Center (Mission Street between Second and Beale) was estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old. This may loosely imply that coast redwood found 200 to 300 feet down may have been living as much as 30,000 to 45,000 years before present.

During the Ice Age, San Francisco was a much different place, being landlocked well inland from the ancient shoreline – today’s Farallones Islands, 27 miles west of Ocean Beach. Abundant woodland brimmed with rivers and creeks. Roaming about the prehistoric landscape along with the woolly mammoth were ancestors of the modern horse, and mega-fauna such as mastodons, sabre-tooth cats, wolves, camels, and bison.

Coast redwood can grow at elevations of up to 3,500 feet, but are generally found between 100 to 2,500 feet. Preferring locations with cool air and abundant moisture, they thrive in areas collecting from less than 30 inches to almost 70 inches of precipitation annually. Greater accumulation occurs the farther north one goes in the range. The coast redwood remains protected from the direct onslaught of salt-laced oceanic winds by typically residing in canyons and valleys with rivers, perennial creeks, or streams that are oriented in a generally westerly direction toward the Pacific.

Abundant access to moisture is a requirement for the insatiable coast redwood, especially when the root system of mature trees is taking up as much as 500 of gallons of water per day. An estimated 30% of annual uptake comes from fog, mostly from drip that is absorbed into the soil. Amazingly, more mature trees have been documented to absorb fog mist directly into the small awl-shaped leaves with the help of a friendly fungus. Fog’s higher humidity also prevents water loss, helping the redwood maintain adequate hydration.

As for drought, mature coast redwoods are able to thrive during our late summer/early fall dry spells (“Indian summers”), as well as droughts lasting a few years. However, recent research seems to indicate that as global warming becomes more of a certainty, an estimated 6-degree rise in average temperature along the northern Californian coast over the next century may mean less fog. This has the potential to not only reduce the availability of moisture overall but also increase water loss from the coast redwood, creating an overall rise in each tree’s water requirements when less moisture may be available.

Coast redwood saplings have been analyzed under experimental drought conditions. Rather than tolerating a temporary lack of water, they were found to be more likely to die early when water dried up. Yet, the hopeful news from this research is that both saplings and mature trees are able to repair drought-damaged cells once water is again available, which may end up being their salvation should accelerated changes in our climate continue.

One might expect the tallest species of tree in the world to have a deep root system with a tap root to help anchor it in the ground. Surprisingly, this is not the case. The coast redwood has no tap root, and the root system only goes down about 10 feet, making it susceptible to surface stressors such as logging, floods, drought, or as seen with El Palo Alto, trains. However, it expands over 100 feet in all directions around the tree, interlocking with other redwoods in the area. So, not only does the redwood community share water and nutrients, the interlocking system helps the trees support each other during powerful winds, floods, or earthquakes.

Height and water intake are not the only significant feature of these primeval survivors. While coast redwoods can live longer than 2,000 years (Hyperion is currently 2,200 years old), the giant sequoia of the Sierra-Nevada can survive up to 3,000 years. In girth, the coast redwood is the second largest of all tree species. The Lost Monarch of Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park is a reported 26 feet in diameter at the base, making it the largest known coast redwood in bulk. Containing about 40,000 cubic feet of wood, the Lost Monarch is surpassed only by its cousin, the giant sequoia. The largest of these, the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park, is 274 feet tall, 36.5 feet in diameter at the base, and contains 52,500 cubic feet of wood. In comparison, the average volume of wood for a tree growing in our backyard that is approximately 16 feet tall and one foot in diameter at the base provides only about 50 cubic feet of wood.    

Redwoods are red because of a high concentration of tannic acid in the bark and heartwood (the center core of the trunk). Besides color, tannic acid serves two important purposes that contribute to its longevity. The first is resistance to microbes, most fungi, and burrowing insects that could bring disease and slow destruction to the tree. In short, the coast redwood is nearly disease-resistant. This remarkable feature also contributes to its popularity as lumber: it is a soft wood that does not require pretreatment for termites, and exhibits great resilience to aging when used in construction.

The other benefit of tannic acid is its flame retardant properties. Research has concluded that coast redwoods may experience two to three natural fires per century. In addition to fire protection provided by tannic acid, the thick bark of coast redwood can be as much as one-foot thick on mature trees and serves as a type of insulation from fire. The tree also lacks easy flammability because very little pitch and resin is present, and because of the tree’s very high water content.

Shiny areas of blackened char from low-intensity fires can persist on the bark of

An example of a "goose-pen," the result of repeated fires over centuries of life. Today, this tree in Cathedral Grove of Muir Woods National Monument

An example of a “goose-pen,” the result of repeated fires over centuries of life. Since this image was taken in the early 20th century, this tree in Cathedral Grove of Muir Woods National Monument has fallen, though the stump up to the top of the goose-pen remains upright. Postcard from the collection of Evelyn Rose.

coast redwoods for decades. The other most visible fire scar are the great hollows seen at the base of some trees. Repeated fires over hundreds of years are able to intrude deeper and deeper into the center of the tree. The heartwood can begin to rot, becoming larger with each successive fire. The bark around the opening heals, and the coast redwood may still be able to survive for several more centuries. Before logging began in Northern California, the early settlers to the region found trees so massive that placing a fence across the opening of the hollow created a ready-made barn for their poultry and small livestock. That’s why they’re still called “goose-pens” today.

Sequoia sempervirens uses two methods for reproduction. As a conifer, the female cones of this tallest living thing are paradoxically small – about the size of an olive. Male cones higher in the tree dispense pollen that drifts around and penetrates small holes in the female cone, resulting in fertilization. Each female cone holds approximately 100 seeds that are shed during the rainy months of the cone’s second year, primarily with the help of wind. Depending on temperature, moisture, seed viability (only 5% to 10% of the estimated 10 million seeds per tree are viable), and whether the seed is able to reach the soil (or perhaps the surface of a fallen, decaying tree), germination may begin within a few days to a few weeks. Then, with the early trappings of a root system in place, a sprout will rise above the soil. A solitary coast redwood, standing afar from its redwood brethren, will likely have sprouted from a seed.

One of the more remarkable features of the coast redwood, however, is its ability to produce by another method. Several types of trees have this capacity but may not be using it to the advantage exercised by this tallest tree of all. In some trees, dark lumps along the trunk (or bole) of a redwood are seen. Sometimes at the base of the bole (in timber-speak, also referred to as the butt), it may seem the redwood has grown shoulders or haunches. Often the lumps appear gnarly and misshapen, as if the tree is diseased with a tumor or large cyst. Most, however, remain unseen as they grow extensively along the shallow root system of the coast redwood.

In fact, these perfectly healthy and natural lumps, or burl, are basically an

This drawing of a crosscut shows the layers of bark and wood of the coast redwood, including the all important burl. From Geology Field Notes, Redwood National Park.

This drawing of a crosscut shows the layers of bark and wood of the coast redwood, including the all important burl. From Geology Field Notes, Redwood National Park.

overgrowth of inactive buds that will sprout whenever the parent tree experiences stress. Redwood stress can come in many forms. As mentioned above, logging, floods, and extended drought can induce stress. Other stressors can include fire, high winds damaging the top of the tree responsible for vertical growth (called the crown), and any significant pressure on the shallow root system. Such pressure may sometimes come from trains, but more frequently from high-volume visitation to the redwood forest, or from pathways laid with heavy asphalt. This is why converting to an access that is environmentally-sensitive – such as raised boardwalks – have become a priority for any heavily visited coast redwood forest. For example, the extension of the entry boardwalk into Redwood Canyon as far as the Pinchot Tree was recently completed at Muir Woods.

The advantage of burl? Unlike seeds that require a significant time delay before sprouting as the root system develops, burl provides a rapid response that no other tree possesses. No matter the stress, or what time of year the stress occurs, many burl sprouts (also referred to as suckers) can appear within a matter of days, encircling the parent tree. Remarkably, each burl sprout carries the exact same DNA as the parent, making it Nature’s clone!

The result of these round groupings of trees are referred to as family circles, or sometimes fairy rings. No need to worry about the lack of diversity in the forest, however, as each independent family circle retains its own unique DNA. Plus, with the mix of pollen and seed still an option, the creation of new family groups with unique DNA are still possible.

Vigorous growth can also occur along the length of the trunk. These buds can be stimulated by injury or enhanced exposure to sunlight. This easily identifiable growth referred to as fire columns can occur after the coast redwood forest has been incinerated, leaving the tree limbless but with a fresh carpet of feather-like budding up and down the trunk.

The ability of a coast redwood to regenerate itself with fire columns and  burl sprouts after a catastrophic event helps ensure it will remain the monarch of that forest. If burl growth is genetically the same as the parent, could these trees be immortal? While it’s impossible for us to know, the possibility certainly lends itself to the mystique of the California coast redwood.

Now with Coast Redwood 101 under our belts, we can proceed to the next two posts, beginning with this reminiscence:

“The redwood forests were a wonder to the first immigrants, who had been accustomed to think a tree three feet in diameter a giant, and one twice that a fable, to be told in the same breath as one of Baron Munchausen’s stories. When they found trees twelve or fifteen feet in diameter, with a trunk towering a hundred feet high, without a limb, their stories were hardly believed and tested the credulity of our Eastern friends … Notwithstanding the beauty of these lords of the forest, the settlers proceeded to chop them down with the same eagerness that they would shoot a seven-pronged buck or a stately elk, until one is about as scarce as another. Marvelous stories are told of the amount of lumber obtained from one of these giants.”

*  A vara is a Spanish yard, about 33-1/3 inches.


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  26. Jaw-dropping find at big dig: mammoth tooth. San Francisco Chronicle, September 13, 2012. Available at the eLibrary, San Francisco Public Library.
  27. Mammoth discovery on Transbay jobsite now on display at California Academy of Sciences. November 8, 2012. Available at the Transbay Transit Center.
  28. KQED Education. The formation of San Francisco Bay. Available at Saving the Bay.
  29. Trevedi BP. Arctic redwood fossils are clues to ancient climates. 2002. Available at National Geographic News.
  30. Burgess SSO and Dawson TE. The contribution of fog to the water relations of Sequoia sempervirens (D. Don): folia uptake and prevention of hydration. Plant, Cell, & Environment. 2004;27:1023-1034. Available at the Online Wiley Library.
  31. Kidder A. Big trees, big trouble: redwoods jeopardized by coastal drought. Fall 2013. Available at The Berkeley Science Review.  
  32. Landmark Trees Archive. Tallest Coast Redwoods. No date. Available at the Native Tree Society.
  33. The General Sherman Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. 2014. Available at the National Park Service.
  34. Roa M. Natural history of the coast redwoods. In: Redwood Ed: A Guide to the Coast Redwoods for Teachers and Learners. Sacramento, California: Stewards for the Coast and Redwoods for California State Parks. 2007. Available at California State Parks.
  35. Trees and Shrubs. Available at Muir Woods National Monument. 2014.
  36. About the Trees. 2014. Available at Redwood National and State Parks.
  37. JDM. In the Redwoods. The Work of California Lumbermen. Destroying the Forests. San Francisco Chronicle, July 5, 1885. Available at the eLibrary, San Francisco Public Library.

© 2014. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update February 17, 2014.

A-Foresting We Will Go: A History of Trees in San Francisco (Part II)

Part II: Bleak and Barren Hills

Apparently, we love trees. I never anticipated the magnitude of interest for this topic. On a Tramper’s scale, Part I: Peninsular Natives is the most visited and forwarded article at Tramps of San Francisco to date. And, because of our adoration for all things arboreal, it is essential that I correct some misstatements in Part I, provided by a more botanically-minded Tramper:

  • The Significant and Landmark Trees is the official list of landmark trees in San Francisco and is maintained by the San Francisco Department of Public Works. This list, defined by the Urban Forestry Ordinance of the Public Works Code, includes significant trees on private property within 10 feet of a public right-of-way that are also: 20 feet or more in height, 15 feet or more in canopy width, or with a trunk 12 inches or greater in diameter at 4.5 feet above the grade. Many of the trees listed, however, appear to be non-native;
  • Contrary to my assumption in Part I, there are trees in San Francisco older than the Bicentennial Tree in Muir Woods National Monument. In Golden Gate Park, there are pre-European stands of native coast live oak among stabilized sand dunes in the eastern end of the park and just west of the Arguello Boulevard (at Fulton Street) gate. Similar stands can be found in the Presidio and the lower slopes of Buena Vista Park, according to our reader;
  • The “dunes” of Golden Gate Park are not just hills of sand. They are also comprised of  oak woodlands, willow wetlands, ponds, and dune scrub, certainly a more diverse landscape upon closer inspection;
  • Chaparral does not exist in San Francisco but is found locally on Angel Island, and on Montara Mountain, rising west of Crystal Springs Reservoir in San Mateo County;
  • The walnut of Northern California is Juglans hindsii and not Juglans californica, the latter a native of Southern California;
  • The  species of alders were transposed in Part I – the red alder is Alnus rubra, and the white alder is Alnus rhombifolia.

Moreover, were it not for this topic, on a recent cross-country road trip I may have not laid such a keen eye on the degrees of forestation throughout the United States. Just head east out of San Francisco, make your way toward New York City along Interstate 80, and you’ll see what I mean.

Interstate 80 overlays or parallels the old Lincoln Highway – the first paved transcontinental road for motor vehicles that is celebrating its centennial this year (2013). The highway also parallels the first transcontinental railroad (1869) and the most traveled emigrant overland trails to California and Oregon (about 1840 to 1860) that originated mid-continent.

The types of forests found throughout the United States are presented in the National Atlas of Forest Cover Types map, developed from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer composite images during the growing season of 1991. Different colors represent the dominant tree species in each geography. Courtesy of, where you can also view the map's legend.

The types of forests found throughout the United States are presented in the National Atlas of Forest Cover Types map, developed from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) composite images during the growing season of 1991. Different colors represent the dominant tree species in each geography. Courtesy of, where you can also view the map’s legend.

After passing through the mixed conifer forests covering the higher elevations of the Sierra-Nevada mountains, primarily consisting of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii Newberry), you enter the northern portion of the Great Basin region, a massive, arid region of 160 mountain ranges that covers nearly the entire state of Nevada. Much of the I-80 route is surrounded by Sonoran sagebrush communities, with intermittent forests of various types of pine, spruce, fir, and aspen at higher elevations.

Next, crossing over Utah’s Wasatch range then traversing the length of southern Wyoming at an average elevation of 6,700 feet, the mostly treeless and dry plateaus of the Rocky Mountain uplift suddenly transition in the eastern portion of the state to the Great Plains, where the banks of the North Platte River are dominated by eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides). Bovine and equine pastures prevail in Nebraska’s western landscape but soon transition to what one would expect in America’s heartland: hectare upon hectare of fields of mostly corn and soybeans.

The hundreds and hundreds of miles of uninterrupted corn in Nebraska through Iowa is absolutely mind-boggling. Yet, it is near the western border of Iowa where trees begin to become more prominent. The now rolling landscape becomes punctuated with quaint barns of various sizes, shapes, and age adjacent to fields of corn and soybeans squared off within arboreal borders. These border trees are mostly conifer rather than deciduous species, the latter apparently being less efficient for the purpose of windbreaks.

During travel through more densely populated Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and finally the state of New York, borders of trees become islands of trees, then islands eventually become uninterrupted forest. Turning southward and moving down the eastern seaboard, forests are so thick that trees covering a highway median 30 yards in width make it impossible to see any evidence of traffic moving in the opposite direction.

This thick and seemingly continuous forest exists despite the fact that half of the virgin forests covering nearly all of the eastern seaboard from Maine to Georgia were deforested for farming, the extraction of fossil fuels, and paradoxically, for forestry. Since the 1970s, additional forests approximating the size of the state of Maryland have been eliminated due to urban sprawl, tree farms, and mining.

These personal observations of forestation across the continent may help place in context the reactions of more forest-focused visitors and emigrants from the East, beginning around the turn of the 19th century. Only San Francisco’s Native Americans, the Yelamu (a tribelet of the Ohlones, as presented in Part I), and early Spaniards occupying the Presidio and Mission Dolores seemed satisfied with the local supply of timber.

Franciscan chaplain Pedro Font accompanied Captain Juan Bautista de Anza on the expedition to locate the sites for the future presidio and mission in March 1776. After placing a cross at the southern shore of the Golden Gate to mark the location for the presidio, Father Font describes their exploration 3 miles to the southeast:

“Passing through wooded hills and over flats with good lands in which we encountered two lagoons and some springs of good water, with plentiful grass, fennel and other useful herbs, we arrived at the beautiful arroyo which because it was Friday of Sorrows, we called the Arroyo de los Dolores. On its banks we found much and very fragrant manzanita and other plants and many wild violets. I concluded that the place was very pretty and the best for the establishment of one of the two missions.”

In June 1776, Franciscan Father Francisco Palóu, builder of Mission Dolores, notes in his diary that while waiting for a ship to arrive with additional supplies for the new presidio, they “… decided to begin cutting wood for the construction of the presidio near the entrance of the port, and for the mission buildings at the same site of the lagoon …” Within 16 years, the Spanish may have depleted much of the of timber available on the northern peninsula.

While surveying the California coast, British naval captain George Vancouver dropped anchor just off the Presidio in November 1792. When he came ashore after riding out a fierce winter storm, Vancouver lamented:

“I was greatly mortified to find that neither wood nor water could be procured with such convenience, nor of so good a quality … A tent was immediately pitched on the shore, wells were dug for obtaining water, and a party was employed in procuring fuel from small, bushy, holly-leaved oaks, the only trees fit for our purpose. A lagoon of sea water was between the beach and the spot on which these trees grew, which rendered the conveying the wood when cut a very laborious operation.”

Aldebert von Chamisso, chief naturalist aboard the Russian exploration ship Rurik, arrived in San Francisco in the fall of 1816 and issued this description of the landscape: “On the naked plain that lies at the foot of the of the presidio, farther to the east, a solitary oak stands in the midst of a shorter growth of brush.” von Chamisso may be responsible for the first documented graffiti in San Francisco, noting that he had carved his name on this lonely tree.

View of the Mission in 1865, described as, "Looking E. from Reservoir Hill, Market & Buchanan Sts., Vicinity Market & Valencia." The "rolling ..." described by Palou are absent, with the only tree visible in the scene located near the fence in the lower left. Courtesy of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library.

View of the Mission in 1865, described as, “Looking E. from Reservoir Hill, Market & Buchanan Sts., Vicinity Market & Valencia.” The “fragrant mazanita” described by Father Font in 1776 had likely disappeared long before. The only tree visible in the entire landscape is located near the fence in the lower left, a pitiful example at best. Courtesy of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection (AB-9512), San Francisco Public Library.

Commander of the British ship Blossom, Frederick William Beechey, provided a more optimistic view of the availability of trees in 1826:

“The port of San Francisco does not show itself to advantage until after the fort is passed, when it breaks upon the view and forcibly impresses the spectator with the magnificence of the harbor … with convenient coves, anchorage in every part, and, around, a country diversified with hill and dale, partly wooded and partly disposed in pasture lands of the richest kinds …”

American Richard Henry Dana, Jr. provides a similar outlook in 1835, but specifies the wood was obtained offshore:

“… we began our preparations for taking in a supply of wood and water, for both of which San Francisco is the best place on the coast. A small island [Angel Island], about two leagues from the anchorage, called by us ‘Wood Island,’ … was covered with trees to the water’s edge; and to this, two of our crew, who were Kennebec [Maine] men and could handle an axe like a plaything, were sent every morning to cut wood … In about a week they had cut enough wood to last us a year …”

Swiss traveler G. M. Waseurtz af Sandels, also known as the “King’s Orphan,” had descriptions of his visit to California during 1842 and 1843 posthumously presented to the Associated Pioneers of the Territorial Days of California in 1878. Though the accuracy of his sketches were at first considered dubious, further research seems to have allayed concerns. His rendering of Yerba Buena as it appeared in 1843, as described by Fritzche, shows “… shrub-oaks and bushes encroach upon the boundaries of the tiny settlement; …”

While the top image might remind some of the art of Paul Cézanne, it predates similar work by Cézanne by about 40 years. This "fanciful" view of San Francisco in 1848 looks across Yerba Buena Cove to Telegraph Hill from Rincon Point. A perfectly symmetric and stately forest seems to cover the shores at the base of Rincon Hill. The bottom image is likely the more realistic view, showing the treeless hills and scattering of scrub oak that seemed to predominate before the population boom. From Lewis O. San Francisco: Mission to Metropolis. Howell-North Books: Berkeley, CA. 1966. (The author provides no information on the source of either image.)

While the top image might remind some of the art of Paul Cézanne, it predates his similar work by about 40 years. This “fanciful” view of San Francisco in 1848 looks across Yerba Buena Cove to Telegraph Hill from Rincon Point. A perfectly symmetric and stately forest seems to cover the shores at the base of Rincon Hill. The bottom image is likely the more realistic view, showing the treeless hills and scattering of scrub oak that seemed to predominate before the population boom. From Lewis O. San Francisco: Mission to Metropolis. Howell-North Books: Berkeley, CA. 1966. (The author provides no information on the source of either image.)

By the time throngs of emigrants began arriving during the Gold Rush, the population density of the northern peninsula had increased 40 times over, from 500 in 1847 to over 20,000 by the end of 1849. A report of the local availability of trees during this time seems dismal:

“June 25th, 1849, we reached San Francisco … This wonderful city is an uninviting spot. There is but a small strip of level land, crowded down to the bay, surrounded by high, sandy hills, covered with short bushes, while not a tree is to be seen. The city is composed chiefly of tents. Each day regularly, at about ten o’clock, there arrives in the city, coming down with a rush over the bleak and barren hills, a cold, chilling wind, which takes one at once from the summer to the winter solstice. Fires are comfortable, and cloaks or serapis are necessary.”

Because of the Gold Rush and Comstock Lode, San Francisco continued to flourish, becoming one of the great cities of the world. At the close of the Civil War, Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of New York City’s Central Park, was asked to provide a plan for a “pleasure-ground” for her wealthy residents. He minced no words when sharing his perspective:

“The special conditions fixed by natural circumstances, to which the plan must be adapted, are so obvious that I need not recapitulate them here. Determining for the reasons already given, that a pleasure-ground is needed which shall compare favorably with any in existence, it must, I believe, be acknowledged, that, neither in beauty of green sward, nor in great umbrageous trees, do these special conditions of the topography, soil, and climate of San Francisco allow us to hope that any pleasure ground it can acquire will ever compare in the most distant degree with those of New York or London.

“There is not a full grown tree of beautiful proportions near San Francisco, nor have I seen any young trees that promised fairly, except, perhaps, of certain compact, clumpy forms of evergreens, wholly wanting in grace and cheerfulness …”

This photographic view of Yerba Buena Cove from Rincon Point in 1851 provides a glimpse of the scrub oak borders  along the shore of Rincon Point that was artistically portrayed in the images from Lewis, above. The original caption is described as, "San Francisco in 1851, taken from Rincon Point. This picture is one of the Albert Dressler Collection and bears the caption 'The large number of idle ships in the bay was the result of sailors deserting to seek gold.' It will be shown in the Naval Historical Exhibition to be held at the St. Francis Hotel during the stay of the Fleet." Courtesy of the San Francisco Historical  Photograph Collection (AAC-8882), San Francisco Public Library.

This photographic view of Yerba Buena Cove from Rincon Point in 1851 provides a glimpse of the scrub oak borders along the shore of the point that was portrayed artistically in the images from Lewis, above. The original caption is described as, “San Francisco in 1851, taken from Rincon Point. This picture is one of the Albert Dressler Collection and bears the caption ‘The large number of idle ships in the bay was the result of sailors deserting to seek gold.’ It will be shown in the Naval Historical Exhibition to be held at the St. Francis Hotel during the stay of the Fleet.” Courtesy of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection (AAC-8882), San Francisco Public Library.

As Olmsted noted, the landscape we know today has been heavily influenced by our rugged climate. Anyone non-native of San Francisco recalls their initial shock over our typical summer temperatures, so greatly influenced by bone-chilling marine winds. Our “… violent coastal environment …” has been described as “… saline salt spray, abrasive sand blast, droughty sand substrate, low soil nitrogen, and high light intensity. As a result, beach vegetation is open and prostrate, made up of only a handful of species at any one location.”

As discussed in Part I, sand dunes up to 100 feet deep became established throughout the northern peninsula during the past 5,000 years. The dunes that covered most of the City were a bane to early residents, who complained about, “… an almost incredible burden of both fine and coarse sand that got into clothes, eyes, nose, mouth–anything that was open in short–besides penetrating the innermost recesses of a household.”

A map of modern-day soil type and earthquake shaking hazard at the U.S. Geological Survey highlights the most common types of soil composition in San Francisco. About two-thirds of the City and County are composed of sand, gravel, silt, mud, and landfill. The next most common composition is comprised of sandstone, limestone, and mudstone, along with a few protrusions of mostly Franciscan complex bedrock among the City’s highest hills. With sands blowing eastward from Ocean Beach over thousands of years, soil composition became less supportive and only the heartiest of trees seemed able to survive.

For example, several hundred willow trees were reported among the sand dunes along the original Chain of Lakes in today’s Golden Gate Park, just east of a ridge about one-third mile from the beach. Strawberry Hill, in the middle of modern-day Stowe Lake, was also thickly covered with low-growth scrub oak (Quercus berberidifolia) and California cherry (Prunus species), as were other areas of the park, the Presidio, and today’s Buena Vista Park, as noted above. Likely, there were other areas of virgin tree stands scattered over the northern peninsula that were never documented before their demise.

Those trees that did survive the landscape’s evolution became valued for the provision of tools, shelters, nutrition, and warmth. From the accounts shared above, it seems much of the City’s wood was in scarce supply by the time San Francisco’s population exploded in 1849, a logistical challenge soon compounded by repeated conflagrations. San Francisco needed wood! Ah, but from where? As we’ll see in the next post, forests of massive trees were only a boat ride away.


  1. Significant and Landmark Trees. 2013. Available at the San Francisco Department of Public Works.
  2. Information About the Lincoln Highway. Available at the Lincoln Highway Association.
  3. Unruh JD Jr. The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1860. Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. 1993.
  4. Anonymous. Forest Resources of the United States. From the National Atlas of the United States. 2000. Available at
  5. Medeiros JL. A naturalist’s transect along the I-80 corridor in California: Rocklin to Donner Pass. Journal of the Sierra College Natural History Museum. 2008;vol 1. Available at Sierra College.
  6. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plants Database. Available at the United States Department of Agriculture.
  7. Unrau HD. Basin and Range: A History of Great Basin National Park, Nevada. A Historic Resource Study. US Department of the Interior / National Park Service. 1990. Available at
  8. Writers’ Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Wyoming. Wyoming, a Guide to Its History, Highways, and People. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. 1981.
  9. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. North Platte River. The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project State Wildlife Action Plan. 2013. Available at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
  10. Great Plains Nature Center. Cottonwood. No date. Available at the Great Plains Nature Center.
  11. Natural Resource Ecology and Management. Windbreaks for Iowa. 2012. Available at the Iowa State University Extension.
  12. Biello D. Slash and sprawl: U.S. eastern forests resume decline. Scientific American. April 13, 2010. Available at Scientific American.
  13. Cleary G, SSF. Franciscan dawn at Mission San Francisco: the first years of Franciscan exploration and presence at the port and Mission of San Francisco de Asís: 1769-1810. The Argonaut. 2003:14;22-35.
  14. Paddison J, editor. A World Transformed. Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heydey Books: Berkeley, California. 1999.
  15. Fritzche B. San Francisco in 1843: a key to Dr. Sandels’ drawing. California Historical Quarterly. 1971;50:3-13.
  16. Diary of Woods DB. Sixteen Months at the Gold Diggings. Available at “California as I Saw It:” First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900. Available at the Library of Congress.
  17. San Francisco Municipal Reports, for the Fiscal Year 1865–6, Ending June 30, 1866.Towne & Bacon: San Francisco, California. 1866. Available at
  18. Anderson MK, Barbour MG, and Whitworth V. A world of balance and plenty: land, plants, animals, and humans in a pre-European California. California History. 1997;2/3:12-47.
  19. Clary RH. The Making of Golden Gate Park, The Early Years: 1865-1906. Don’t Call It Frisco Press: San Francisco, California. 1984.
  20. Elder P. Geology of the Golden Gate Headlands. In Stoffer PW and Gordon LC, editors. Geology and natural history of the San Francisco Bay Area: a field-trip guidebook. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 2188. 2001. Available at the National Park Service.
  21. Howard AD. Development of the landscape of the San Francisco Bay counties. in Jenkins O, editor. California Department of Mines, Division of Natural Resources Bulletin 154: Geologic Guidebook of the San Francisco Bay Counties.1951. Available at
  22. Holloran P. The San Francisco Sand Dunes.  (Quote by Esteban Richardson, 1840s). Available at
  23. Anonymous. Soil Type and Shaking Hazard in the San Francisco Bay Area. 2012. Available at the United States Geological Survey.

© 2013. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.         Last update October 6, 2013.

A-Foresting We Will Go: A History of Trees in San Francisco

Part I: Peninsular Natives                                 An excerpt of this post is simultaneously published                                                                             in the Redwood Log, Muir Woods National Monument.

San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection Color image sand dunes. Golden Gate Park - before the work of reclamation commenced. Britton & Rey. SFPL AAA-8316

This color image of sand dunes  in “Golden Gate Park – before the work reclamation commenced” provides an example of the amount of sand that covered much of San Francisco less than 150 years ago. Britton & Rey (no date). Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection, AAA-8316.

San Francisco, Tree City, USA. That’s the official designation awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation in 2008. Tramp along any City block today, it’s easy to see why: San Francisco has an impressive amount of greenery. The Urban Forest Map of San Francisco, an open-source website supported by CalFire, Friends of the Urban Forest, the San Francisco Department of Public Works, and the San Francisco Department of Environment, documents more than 88,000 street trees distributed throughout the City’s 47-square miles. A 2013 report of street trees in selected neighborhoods for the San Francisco Planning Department estimates upwards of 105,000. Plus, there are likely thousands of additional trees on the properties of private residences.

The City also abounds with groves and forests: a small coast redwood grove adjacent to the Transamerica Pyramid (600 Montgomery Street); a stately forest behind the campus of the University of California, San Francisco (505 Parnassus Avenue); trees in the Presidio aligned in rows as if ready to march off to war (Presidio Boulevard entrance); and from a bird’s eye view, a swath of green fills the rectangular space of Golden Gate Park, supporting 170 different types of trees (bordered primarily by Lincoln Way, Fulton Street, Stanyon Street, and the Great Highway).

Trees are a good thing, for without these photosynthesizers we could not support our aerobic lifestyle. Trees and other plants comprise a giant sink that helps reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), the most prevalent greenhouse gas produced by human activities … including breathing – we exhale CO2. Plants absorb light energy and CO2 to produce sugars for energy and, in the process, release oxygen as a by-product that we can then breathe in. The street trees of San Francisco alone are estimated to reduce CO2 by nearly 27 million pounds annually and, while impressive, just a drop in the bucket compared to the 5,600 million metric tons of CO2 produced by the United States alone in 2011.

A group of visitors in Muir Woods National Monument, a virgin, old growth forest of coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest type of tree in the world. circa 1909. Postcard collection of Evelyn Rose.

This group of visitors is visiting Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, a virgin, old growth forest of coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest type of tree in the world. Circa 1909. Postcard collection of Evelyn Rose.

Muir Woods National Monument, at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, is a protected forest of virgin coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), a species that can live beyond 2,000 years of age. The Bicentennial Tree in Muir Woods, a “toddler” by redwood standards, is known to be 237 years old, sprouting the same year our country was founded, and when the Spanish first established the Presidio and Mission Dolores in San Francisco (1776).

Today, San Francisco has such a robust urban forest that it seems implausible not a single living tree is as old as the Bicentennial Tree or the City herself. Yet, that may very well be the case. The recent street tree inventory used tree diameter in inches at breast height as a substitute measurement for age in years. The surprising result: only about one-third were considered to be “established” (ie, diameter at breast height of 9 to 24 inches). And, unlike neighboring Bay Area communities, San Francisco does not appear to have a listing of Heritage Trees, identifying those trees of a history, girth, height, species, or unique quality that would contribute special significance to our City.

However, there is an unofficial listing of Landmark trees for those “unusual trees that are rare in San Francisco.”According to the recent tree survey, of the over 100,000 trees that line City streets, only about 0.1% are native to the San Francisco Bay region. Of those “rare” native species, Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), and coast redwood are the most abundant. All four species, along with a host of non-native trees, are represented in the Landmark trees list.

Which begs the question: What about that half-acre of coast redwood grove at the Transamerica Pyramid? These tree are not remnants of an old-growth forest of coast redwood, the tallest type of tree found anywhere in the world. The Pyramid and grove actually sit on landfill that was originally underwater in Yerba Buena Cove, just offshore from Montgomery Street. Designer Tom Galli transplanted about 50 coast redwoods from the Santa Cruz Mountains to create this pocket park in 1972.

Transamerica Redwood Park sits atop land fill, the former shoreline of Yerba Buena Cove. In this image from 1972, the pocket park has just been established.

Transamerica Redwood Park sits atop land fill, the former shoreline of Yerba Buena Cove. In this image from 1972, the pocket park has just been established. Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-5488.

The forest behind UCSF? One only needs to look at the bare summits of Twin Peaks or south to San Bruno Mountain to gain a sense of what the hills of San Francisco used to look like before Adolph Sutro would plant more than one million eucalyptus and conifers in the early 1880s.

The regimental lines of eucalyptus and Monterey cypress in the Presidio? When the Spanish landed, the Presidio was nothing more than hills, sand dunes, and coastal bluffs covered with grasses and scrub vegetation. A small number of native willows and oaks resided in the valleys of the future Army reservation. General Irvin McDowell, encouraged by Army engineer Major William A. Jones to regenerate the Presidio into a park-like setting, began planting trees in 1883. General Nelson Miles continued the beautification plan by planting 80,000 trees during the winter months of 1890. Landscape and forestry improvements of the Presidio would continue into the early 20th century, with a total of 450,000 trees planted.

Golden Gate Park? This 1,017-acre urban park, 175 acres larger than New York’s Central Park and visited by 13 million people annually, was nothing more than undulating dunes of sand when Europeans first landed. By 1870, the greening of the dunes had begun, led by William Hammond Hall, Park Commissioner. By 1879, 155,000 trees, mostly Blue gum eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), Monterey cypress, and Monterey pine, had been planted.

So, by the dawn of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of trees had been planted along the wind-swept dunes and chaparral hills of San Francisco. The puzzling conundrum: when comparing the pre-European landscape to modern times, did the northern San Francisco peninsula have trees?

This view of the Old Seal Rock House across from the sand dunes, 1866, where the western end of Golden Gate Park is located today. Just beyond the ridge of dunes, hundreds of willow trees were reported to have grown along what we refer to today as the Chain of Lakes. Photograph courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection. AAC-0016.

This view of the Old Seal Rock House across from the sand dunes, 1866, where the western end of Golden Gate Park is located today. Just beyond the ridge of dunes, hundreds of willow trees were reported to have grown along what we refer to today as the Chain of Lakes. Photograph courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection. AAC-0016.

Research seems to indicate that before the sands began to blow eastward from Ocean Beach, the northern San Francisco peninsula had its share of trees. Near the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago) when the first wave of prehistoric settlers passed through the Bay Area, the water level was about 300 feet lower than today. The massive Sacramento/San Joaquin river system, fed by glacial ice melt, raged so fiercely through today’s Coast range that it separated Angel Island from the Tiburon peninsula. The river rushed onto the vast coastal plain that extended westward through the Golden Gate, where it finally emptied into the Pacific over a shoreline that was 30 miles distant, near today’s Farallon Islands.

Kumiya provides this description of the northern San Francisco peninsula:

“Much of the terrain was covered with scrub brush, although groves of live oak, California buckeye, and bay laurel trees grew in a rectangle running from the southern border halfway through central San Francisco, with isolated stands elsewhere. Juniper (Juniperus californica), pine (Pinus species), birch [the red alder (Alnus rhombifolia) and the white alder (Alnus rubra)], poplar (Populus species), and salix (willow) trees ringed prairie grasslands, bogs, and freshwater ponds in the low-lying terrain in the eastern part of the city.”

Over the next 5,000 years, sea levels began to rise rapidly and sand from the coastal plain began to blow eastward, depositing sand at today’s Ocean Beach. This sand has been supplemented over the last 175 years by sediment from gold mining operations in the Sierra foothills, transported by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. It is these sands, continuously blown over much of the northern peninsula for several millenia, that created the sandy, hilly topography of the young City that so tormented its early residents, an evolution of landscape that generations of local Native Americans had successfully adapted to.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, identified by the Spanish as costeños (“people of the coast,” later anglicized as Costanoans), occupied the California coastline from the southern shore of the Golden Gate strait southward almost 150 miles to Point Sur. An estimated 10,000 people had lived in this region for more than 5,000 years, one of the most heavily concentrated Native American populations on the North American continent. Unlike other Native American cultures, the various tribes throughout California had no common language. Instead, tribelets of people, defined by location of residence and local language, occupied the future state. The Yelamu tribelet of the Ohlones occupied the northern San Francisco peninsula.

Like other Native American groups, the Ohlones appeared to have depended heavily on the availability of trees, needing wood to make tools, weapons, and fires. Native Americans of the Bay Area regularly set forests and grasslands on fire to help stimulate the growth of berries and grasses used for food and basket-weaving, and whose shoots would attract animals for hunting. Yelamu houses were constructed with animal hides covering a framework of local willow [Salix species, including the red willow (S. laevigata), and the arroyo, or white willow (S. lasiolepis)]. Other tribes of the San Francisco Bay region, such as the Coast Miwok of Marin County, covered their willow frames with slabs of redwood bark. This implies that coast redwood, while native to the region, was not easily accessible to the Yelamu of the northern San Francisco peninsula.

Various types of tree nuts were an important food source, and the acorn of the coast live oak had been the most favored by the Ohlones for an estimated 2000 years. For the Yelamu, this species of oak may have been the most readily available, as other types of oaks [with the exception of tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflora), a resident of the coastal fog belt], were more likely to be found in other regions of the Bay Area. Other local nut trees that are reported to have been favored by the Ohlones were California buckeye (Aesculus californica), California black walnut (Juglans californica), California hazel (Corylus cornuta), California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), and the Islay, or holly-leaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). Islais Creek, in San Francisco’s Glen Canyon south of Twin Peaks, is named for the holly-leaf cherry that reportedly grew along this riparian habitat. Whether all of these types of trees were original residents of the northern San Francisco peninsula or acquired from outlying areas through local trade may never be known.

The Ohlones appeared to have maintained their tree resources using sustainable practices during the several thousand years they inhabited the San Francisco peninsula. As we’ll see in the next post, this delicate balance with Nature would be abruptly disrupted with the arrival of tree-consuming Europeans and Americans, beginning with the Spanish missions in 1776.


  1. Tree City USA Communities, 2013. Available at the Arbor Day Foundation.
  2. Urban Forest Map of San Francisco. Available at Friends of the Urban Forest.
  3. Davey Resource Group. City of San Francisco, California Resource Analysis of Inventoried Public Trees. April 2013. Available at the San Francisco Planning Department.
  4. McClintock E, Turner RG Jr, editor. The Trees of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco. Heydey Books: Berkeley, California. 2001.
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  6. Anonymous. Heritage Trees of San Jose. No date. Available at Our City Forest.
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  8. Erovak K. San Francisco’s Best Picnic Parks: Transamerica Redwood Park. San Francisco Examiner, May 5, 2010. Available at the San Francisco Examiner.
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  10. French H. A mountain wilderness in the city’s heart. Overland Monthly. July 1905. Available at
  11. Anonymous. Presidio Improvements. Progress of Work on the Roads, Planting of Trees. San Francisco Call. May 25, 1890. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  12. Anonymous. Means to Adorn Presidio Park. San Francisco Call. March 3, 1903. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
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  18. Howard AD. Development of the landscape of the San Francisco Bay counties. in Geologic Guidebook of the San Francisco Bay Counties: History, Landscape, Geology, Fossils, Minerals, Industry, and Routes of Travel. Jenkins O, editor. California Department of Mines, Division of Natural Resources Bulletin 154: Geologic Guidebook of the San Francisco Bay Counties.1951. Available at
  19. Arnold JE, Walsh MR, Hollimon SE. The archaeology of California. J Archaeol Res. 2004:12:1-73.
  20. Margolin M. The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco–Monterey Bay Area. Heydey Books: Berkeley, California. 1978.
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  22. Evarts J and Poppers M, editors. Coast Redwood: A Natural and Cultural History. Cachuma Press: Los Olivos, California. 2001.
  23. Lewis O. San Francisco: Mission to Metropolis. Howell-North Books: Berkeley, California. 1966.
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© 2013. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.         Last update August 31, 2013.

The Auriferous City: Eureka Moments in San Francisco

It’s number 79 on the Periodic Table of the Elements. Such an inauspicious number for the mineral that continues to drive the masses on a never-ending search for perpetual wealth and happiness. According to some sources, its symbol, Au, is derived from the Latin aurum, meaning the “glow of sunrise” … a time filled with hope and opportunity before the incessant drone of day begins.

It’s what made California’s Mormon leader Samuel Brannan run through the streets of San Francisco in May 1848, waving a quinine bottle filled with the yellow luster yelling, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” Miners flocked to the only store at Sutter’s Fort – Brannan’s store – where they would buy his mining wares at inflated prices and help him become California’s first millionaire.


This wonderful depiction of the frenzy known as the California Gold Rush is a cartoon lithograph published by Nathaniel Currier in 1849 and entitled The Way They Go To California. The dock is crowded with men brandishing picks and shovels, some jumping from the dock to reach the departing ship. A crowded airship flies overhead, with one man parachuting down with a pick and shovel. Unbelievably for its time, a man on a rocket flies overhead. Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Soon, as J.S. Holliday so aptly put, the world rushed in to the tiny village of San Francisco. Throngs of emigrant landlubbers began tramping their way west by the Overland Route. Others would brave a three-month voyage around dangerous Cape Horn, or via the shorter but tropical disease-infested land-crossing at the Isthmus of Panama to catch the Pacific shipping route north to San Francisco.

Once they arrived, it seemed most who rushed in proceeded to immediately rush out to the new diggings. Hundreds of ships were abandoned and left unattended. Some would be connected to shore by long wooden piers extending into mucky Yerba Buena cove, becoming instant storefronts, hotels, and saloons. Eventually, some would be buried in the water lots where they sat, as San Francisco’s rolling landscape was leveled. Tons upon tons of rock and sand dunes would be pushed into the bay, setting the foundation for today’s Financial District and forever changing the shape of the City’s shoreline.

By foot or by ferry, gold-seekers made their way to the Sierra foothills in search of their wealth and future happiness. The majority either came away empty-handed, or barely found enough gold to make their way home. Untold numbers died, with some families never learning of their loved one’s fate.

This hand tinted lithograph entitled "Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California" was published by Kelloggs and Comstock of New York, and Ensign & Thayer of Buffalo in 1850. Image available in Section V. Gold Mania Satirized, at the California State Library.

This hand tinted lithograph entitled Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California was published by Kelloggs and Comstock of New York, and Ensign & Thayer of Buffalo, in 1850. Image available in Section V. Gold Mania Satirized, at the California State Library.

Off they went to the back hills of nowhere with only a pick, shovel, gold pan, and Lady Luck. But, did those Argonauts actually need to leave San Francisco? Could they have found their wealth right here in the City by the Bay?

EUREKA! Gold! Gold on Leavenworth!

What may be the earliest report of gold diggings in San Francisco appeared in the Sacramento Daily Union on May 21, 1855. Men grading Leavenworth street had discovered a “scale” several feet below the surface measuring 8 grains, the equivalent of 0.02 ounces. At today’s gold prices, it’s value would be about $33. The brief article notes, “The diggings then ‘guv out.”

EUREKA! Gold! Gold on Broadway!

In February 1872, quarrymen digging out rock on Broadway between Kearny and Montgomery streets made what was thought to be a valuable discovery. As described in the San Francisco Chronicle, the reporter,

“… found an eager and excited crowd. Every man, woman and child had a chunk of red rock (very valuable, for concrete), and each was busily engaged in endeavoring to detect traces of gold. One reporter found that a vein of mingled quartz and granite, about eighteen inches in width, had been laid bare, and specimens of the rock looked as though a diligent assay might possibly result in a few dollars to the ton; but we wouldn’t care to risk our hopes of future financial independence on the dividends of that mine. The lode or ‘streak’ runs in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction, and dips eastward. The lot on which it was discovered is owned by a Mrs. Cole, and the rock is being quarried by Milles & Brennan, who furnish the rock to Mr. Jordan, the concrete purveyor of the new City Hall. The superintendant of the quarry states that the discovery was first made by the workmen on Thursday afternoon, and that several cartloads of the ‘ore’ must have been hauled off and transformed into concrete before the nature of the rock was known. It is possible that further explorations may develop gold-bearing quartz that would pay for working, but chances are against it. A blast will be exploded this afternoon, which may throw more light on this subject and more rocks on neighbors’ heads.”

EUREKA! Gold! Gold in Bernal Heights!

The first land sold in Bernal Heights had been transferred by auction at the real estate offices of H.A. Cobb and R.H. Sinton, 102 Montgomery Street, on July 14, 1860. The property consisted of “4, 5, and 6 acre lots on the ‘Bernal Heights’ …  within 15 minutes drive from City Hall … for sale at a very low rate … The lands, for beauty of locality, commanding scenery and fertility of soil, are not surpassed in the county of San Francisco.” In August 1865, another 66 homestead lots were offered in on the “Cobb Tract” of Bernal Heights and buyers were to receive title and a U.S. patent. In 1863, the original St. Mary’s College for boys was established on the Old Mission Road by the first archbishop of San Francisco, the Most Reverend Joseph Sadoc Alemany. The campus would move to Oakland in 1870, and in later years to Moraga where it is found today.

Yet, despite all of the homesteading, it would not be until May 1876 when the first report of an “alleged gold-bearing ledge” on Bernal Heights appeared in a small legal note in the Daily Alta California. One might suspect that the discoverer, Victor Bessayre, secretary of the Cedar Hill Consolidated Mining and Milling Company in Virginia City, Nevada (home office at 120 Sutter Street in San Francisco), had the savvy and know-how to appreciate what he had found. Soon after, a second 1500-foot location was “claimed” by Payot, Upham & Co., publishers, booksellers, and stationers in San Francisco, adjoining the northwestern edge of Bessayre’s claim.

Soon, word of the find became widespread and the masses embarked on a feverish San Franciscan Gold Rush. As told by a Daily Alta California reporter:

“Out Folsom street, over a romantic bridge which spans the creek, the ascent of Bernal Heights is begun. The grade is very steep by this route, and frequent stoppages are made in order to rest and view the landscape, which, by the way, is well worth the struggle. Soon you meet persons returning from the gold region, nearly all bearing away specimens of worthless red rock with some quartz sprinkled through it. Some shout ‘we have a sight,’ others ask ‘got a prospect?’ while others say ‘no need of going further, boys, all the claims are located.’ After half an hour of weary struggling against the wind and stones, and over the short slippery grass, the ascent of the first and smaller hill is accomplished.

“After resting a moment, an unexpected sight greets you. Fully five hundred people, consisting of men of all ages, from the very aged to the beardless youth, women gayly [sic] attired, children sporting about under the lee of the larger hill – which towers 100 feet above – engaged in various occupations. Most of the men are in possession of small hammers, and are busily engaged breaking the rocks in pieces in vain attempts to find the precious metal. The women and children are seated on the rocks, digging and pecking away, expecting a rich find. After walking around and examining a few specimens in the hands of some lucky gold-hunters, you come across some boards stuck up, resembling a real estate sign, but much smaller, on which is nailed a notice that the parties therein named have located 1500 feet, bearing from the site, in such a direction so far, and so on to place of commencement, with all the dips, spurs, etc.

“Some speculative individual, with an eye to business, has started a beer shop, consisting of a rude table, underneath which there is gracefully placed two beer kegs, and on top sundry glasses and a free lunch. A short distance down from the summit of the hill you notice our glorious standard, the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ floating in the breeze, and are attracted toward it and find an itinerant peddler, who thinks there is money in it. He has a small stock of fruit and other edibles …

“… On all their faces you can see enlarged eyes and glowing countenances, whether arising from the difficulty in making the ascension, or the expectancy in securing some favorable location which may become a source of profit to them …

“… The better time to make your visit to the gold regions would be in the forenoon, as the wind does not blow and it is clear. As we turn about to make the descent we notice large numbers on the way up the trail, others going down, which would remind you of a large ant-hill, with its little people going back and forth in their daily labors. With streaming eyes and running nasal organs we clutch our hats in one hand and our kerchiefs in the other, and with tears in our eyes, which are hastily wiped away – not caused, don’t think, by regret as to what we are leaving behind – we are forced into a rapid run, caused by the steep grade. We are comically gazed upon by the inhabitants of the Heights, while we in turn wonder at their leaving so much gold undiscovered for so long a time. Once in a while we gain a level place in pause. On reaching the base of the Heights, we meet anxious squads of twos and threes, just commencing the ascent, who anxiously enquire the way to go, and wish to know if we have any specimens. Recrossing the bridge, we once more regain the vicinity of horse-cars, and other conveniences. Almost every car which arrives at the terminus lands some gold-hunter, who makes the trip and returns, weary and hungry.”

A follow-up article in the Daily Alta California the next month entitled “San Francisco on a Golden Fountain” pointed out:

“The announcements that auriferous veins have been found in the rocks at Bernal Heights and San Quentin, and that claims have been staked off there, suggest several remarks. The claims have been taken as if the claimants could acquire ownership in the same manner as on the unoccupied Federal domain, and as if a land patent from the Government of the United States gave a title like a Mexican grant, subject to the right of others to acquire ownership of any deposits of the precious metals. The American title is absolute in that the patentee owns the gold, as well as the gravel, the sand, the loam where the rock … [Tramper’s note: complete sentence illegible due to damage of the original newspaper] … that may be found in it.

“The idea of finding gold in the rocks of the peninsula ending at the Golden Gate has been criticized, but the ridicule shows the … [illegible] … of its authors. Gold, in small … [illegible] … not very different in Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties, and we are assured that the same precious metal was obtained from a well sunk in the yard of the City Jail, on Broadway, and from an artesian well sunk near the center of the block of which the Alta building is part. We confess, however, that we do not anticipate the discovery on our peninsula of any auriferous deposit rich enough to pay for working, and we presume that all the money spent at Bernal Heights or San Quentin, in prospecting, will be thrown away. There is, nevertheless, some satisfaction in knowing or supposing that San Francisco is built upon an auriferous foundation.”

The Bernal Heights diggings appeared to have become quite a topic in the young City. In June of 1876, part of the advertised weekend amusements at Woodward’s Gardens included acts by Thomas Beavans, the Campanlogian; Mademoiselle Clarissa, the Parisian Velocipedist; Blanchette, the Excelsior Contortionist; and, “An elaborate 20-stamp quartz mill will … be operated on some Bernal Heights ore.”

The news of the diggings reached as far as the southland, as the Los Angeles Herald reported:

Bernal Heights, the scene of the recent quartz discoveries, was visited on Friday by a large number of people, including many California street men. Several additional claims have been staked out, and work will be commenced on some of them to test the question. The whole neighborhood is in a state of excitement.”

The news of gold in Bernal Heights appears to have petered out in the press by July 1876. Yet, it wouldn’t be long until …

EUREKA! Gold! Gold at Ocean Beach!


Ocean Beach is all a-glitter with gold! Who knew? Image from the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

In an article entitled “Black Sand that Glitters with Gold Dust,” the Chronicle announced:

“When the Argonauts of ’49 poured into San Francisco and most without a moment’s delay departed for the mountains, where they risked and lost their lives for a few ounces of the precious yellow metal, they little thought that each mile put between San Francisco and themselves was that much of a distance away from a golden deposit which needed but the most superficial working to produce the most satisfactory results. This, too, within a couple of hours tramp of San Francisco, contracted even as its limits were then, and in such a locality that the greatest of the miner’s necessities, water, could be had in the most profuse abundance. They, however, knew nothing of all this …”

According to reports, New Zealander John Frazer reasoned if, “… streams washed a great deal of gold into the ocean from the mountains, then the ocean would be very liable to throw it upon the beach and there deposit it.” He had already proved his point along Oregon’s beaches where he dug down and found gold in strata of jet black sand, though not in sufficient quantities to expend any further effort to extract it. Frazer next found gold along the beaches of Aptos, near Santa Cruz, where his “pay dirt” allowed him to set up camp and begin washing. It was soon discovered he was on private property and was asked to leave but didn’t. Soon after, Frazer was shot and slightly wounded while resting in his cabin, providing ample motivation to move up north to San Francisco.


This crude map points the way to what was hoped to be a pot of gold at the edge of the American continent on Ocean Beach. Ocean House Road is today’s Ocean Avenue. Lake Merced would be found just beyond the lower right corner of the map. Merced Creek, providing a conduit from the lake to the Pacific Ocean, no longer exists. From the San Francisco Chronicle, July 1878. Available at the San Francisco Public Library.

Frazer then began exploring Ocean Beach where he found more of the easily identifiable black sand, an iron ore derivative call magnetite. At a time when the water of Laguna de la Merced (today’s Lake Merced) was still flowing into the Pacific via Merced Creek, Frazer found his so-called “pay dirt” near the outlet. He and a friend staked a claim on July 17, 1878, identifying the diggings as their own. As word of his find leaked out, and with his bullet wound still fresh in his memory, Frazer felt compelled to partner with a larger crowd. He offered a partnership to members of the Workingmen’s Party, whose power and influence, he believed, would protect all involved from being “… overridden or ‘bulldozed.'” The new claim for the Ocean Beach Mining Camp extended 10,000 linear feet along the water line. Notice was posted three days later and included Frazer, CJ Beerstecher, TK Nelson, CC O’Donnell, Denis Kearney, PT Dowling, John Burns, Clitus Barbour, James Matthews, and William Wellock.

The “gold field” at Ocean Beach was noted to be located just below the Ocean Side House at the end of Ocean House Road (today’s Ocean Avenue). Frazer demonstrated to the reporter how strata of black sand could be separated by layers of ordinary sand as one dug down. At an average reported to be about 3-1/2 feet, Frazer explained that a “bed rock” of hard yellow clay was hit, and it was the black sand strata immediately adjacent to the yellow clay that he claimed was the richest. By example, he dug out some dirt with his hands and, after five minutes, had washed out “mother gold” that the reporter claimed “… would cover the end of an ordinary lead pencil.” One of the partners, Burns, hoped his weekly share would amount to $50 to $60 a week (about $1200 to $1400 today).

Soon, however, local landowner AA Green appeared on the scene and, after seeing some results, staked claim to both sides of the mouth of the creek. Other gold-seekers staked claims to the creek itself so that they could control the water for mining. An FH Collyer stated he had found gold at the site in 1854 but never developed it because of the small amount. The Daily Alta California noted, “The unemployed have complained of lack of opportunity to work, and here is developed an opportunity for each man to work for himself by taking up a claim on the beach.” The article considered that because so many individuals would find employment in the “Beach Gold Fields,” the fact that it would not be gainly employment would be lost to them.

To members of the Workingman’s Party mining at Ocean Beach, the Sacramento Daily Union declared, “Let the Workingman be Watchful.” The finding of gold in substantial and paying quantities on Ocean Beach seemed sensational and the report noted that leaders of the Workingman’s Party, including Kearney, had taken up extensive claims along the beach in the “alleged auriferous region.”  They believed the leaders to be acting suspiciously, as if they were “hankering after capital.” They challenged members of the Workingmen to test the “sincerity of their devotion to the cause of Labor, and the reality of their hostility to bloated Capital,” particularly if the claims proved not only true but valuable. The author surmised that followers of Kearney, “… instead of mediating raids upon Nob Hill, would begin looking about for eligible building sites in that locality.”

The Pacific Rural Press noted in October 1878 that the digging of artesian wells had become very popular and provided a series of “how to” articles. It was observed that, while drilling in San Francisco, “… gold has been met with, both in quartz, gravel, and in black sand, though hardly in sufficient quantities to warrant the fear that deep placer mining at San Francisco will detract in any great measure from the ocean beach excitement.”

The fact that so-called “flour gold” could be found in the black sand was reinforced in a Chronicle article in 1892 describing the locations for gold throughout the state of California. San Francisco was noted for its, “… gold-producing beach, which, commencing at the outlet of Laguna de la Merced, extends thence south along the seashore for a distance of about two miles.” It was noted that the gold occurred in strata of magnetic iron ore, “the so-called black sand.” The particles were described as minute, “… almost of atomic fineness.” It was believed that the auriferous beach represented a secondary deposit “… from quartz lodes that formerly existed in the basin.” Gold-bearing quartz veins were also reported to have been located throughout the San Francisco peninsula.

Almost 20 years after attempts by the Workingmen’s Party to join the capitalists in financial glory, I. Banta & Co. of San Francisco announced a demonstration of their recently discovered process for saving fine gold from black sand or gravel. Their new plant was erected about four miles south of the Cliff House, which would place it near the earlier Ocean Beach Mining Camp at Lake Merced.

The Banta chemical process, promoted in the press as, “… ‘two chemically prepared sluice-boxes,’ whatever that may mean, and some peculiar solution to use in connection with them …,” claimed it could wash 20 to 30 tons of sand in 10 hours and only required one man to work it. Furthermore, the process could extract 90% of the gold in black sand, valued then at only 25 to 30 cents per ton. This equates to about $5 to $8 per ton in today’s market, making the yield from 30 tons of sand at the maximum rate of extraction only about $150 to $240 per day – that is, as long as there was still black sand to be had.

Mining men were reportedly anxious to see the process and that, “… it is expected that a large number will be present at the starting up of the works at the beach to-day.” Then, three days later on October 6, the following announcement appeared: “The Banta Chemical plant for saving gold from sand has been disposed of, and was shut down yesterday at the ocean beach, and will not be shown to-day, as was advertised.” I. Banta & Co. was never heard from again.

EUREKA! Gold! Gold in Golden Gate Park!

In 1904, the San Francisco Park Commission was sinking a well near the casino in Golden Gate Park (on the north side near today’s Fulton Street and 6th Avenue), near its northern boundary. A year later, after drilling through fifty feet of sand, the drill encountered a hard red rock. At 120 feet, they hit what was described as a soft blue rock. Three assays were performed on the blue rock, one showing, “… an auriferous yield of $2 a ton (about $50 a ton today), one $8 a ton (about $200 a ton today), and another nothing better than a trace of silver.” The secretary of the drilling company, Amos Currier, noted they were the first to sink a deep shaft in the park, but admitted, “Nothing yet found would indicate that the ledge is rich enough to mine, but if it turns out richer as we go down we will of course try to get permission to take out the ore in commercial quantities.” Apparently, a mother lode was never located.

EUREKA! Gold! Gold in Sutro Heights!

In what the Chronicle described as a “Gold Boom,” laborers digging trenches for a sewer line in 1905 claimed they had discovered gold near B street (today’s Balboa Street) and 47th Avenue. James Daley, one of the laborers, was “struck” by the “profusion of specks glistening in the soft clay. He informed his contractor, Felix McHugh, “… who did not think much of it until Daley declared he was going to stake out a claim. Just to be safe McHugh got his stakes in first …” and claimed the site for his employers and property owners, the Albert Meyer Syndicate. Daley quit the job in disgust and left to share his story. Soon, throngs were standing by the ditch, watching the “sparkling clay being tossed out of the hole. An assay that day was to determine whether it was truly gold, or mica. The result of the assay is unknown.

EUREKA! Gold! Gold in McLaren Park!

Edward Supernaugh, left, Ed Soluago, Carl Summers, and Foreman Theodore Ernst, inspect "gold samples" they found at McLaren Park. Dated April 15, 1931. Folder: S.F. Parks-McLaren, Photo ID Number: AAA-6979. Available at the San Francisco Public Library.

Edward Supernaugh, left, Ed Soluago, Carl Summers, and Foreman Theodore Ernst inspect “gold samples” they found at McLaren Park. Dated April 15, 1931. Folder: S.F. Parks-McLaren, Photo ID Number: AAA-6979. Available at the San Francisco Public Library.

The periodic discovery of flecks of gold within the boundaries of the City and County of San Francisco would extend well into the 20th century. A photograph dated April 15, 1931 portrays Edward Supernaugh, listed in local directories as a hospital orderly, Ed Soluago, an engineer, Carl Summers, a clerk, and Theodore Ernst, a City gardener and “foreman,” inspecting “gold samples” found at McLaren Park. The image retells the tale, as told many times before, of the common man in an unending search for uncommon wealth.

Despite these discoveries, no reports of endless riches extracted from any of the various San Francisco diggings were found. Fortunately, the extraction of the City’s gold is not worth the physical or financial effort. If it were, the landscape of San Francisco would be very different today … a big hole in one immense quarry site.

So, before you become overly dazzled by the gold luster shining in the rock below your feet or in the black sand at Ocean Beach, remember: Every single inch of land in San Francisco  is owned by someone, whether individual, corporation, or City, State, or Federal government. At a minimum, however, we can all relish in the deep satisfaction of knowing that San Francisco, unlike any other city on the planet, is truly golden.

View Auriferous San Francisco in a larger map

  1. Helmenstine AM. 10 Gold Facts: Facts About Gold, A Precious Metal and Element. Available at About.Com/Chemistry.
  2. Anonymous. The Gold Rush, People and Events: Samuel Brannan (1819-1889). Available at American Experience on
  3. Owens K. Far from Zion: The Frayed Ties between California’s Gold Rush Saints and LDS President Brigham Young. California History. 2012;89:5-23. Available at the California Historical Society.
  4. Sacramento Daily News, Daily Alta California, Pacific Rural Press, various issues. Available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  5. Anonymous. Looking Back at Our History: 1863-1870. Available at St. Mary’s College.
  6. Langley HG. The San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing March, 1875. Henry G. Langley, Publishers: San Francisco. 1875. Available at
  7. San Francisco Chronicle, various issues. Available at the San Francisco Public Library.
  8. Polk’s Crocker-Langley San Francisco City Directory, 1931. R.L. Polk & Co., of California. Available at
  9. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls. Available at


© 2013. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update April 13, 2013.

Those “Plucky” Forty-Niners: The Roots of Pro Football in San Francisco

University of California-Berkeley versus Stanford at Haight Street baseball grounds, bordered by Stanyan, Frederick, Waller, and Cole Streets, San Francisco, November 1893. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

University of California-Berkeley versus Stanford at Haight Street baseball grounds, bordered by Stanyan, Frederick, Waller, and Cole Streets, San Francisco, November 1893. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Yes, Trampers, history does repeat itself! The San Francisco Forty-Niners are at last returning to the Super Bowl, after a long, dry 18-year absence. Established in 1946, the Niners have experienced periods of greatness. Just to name a few 49er icons: Y.A. Tittle, R.C. Owens, John Brodie, Joe Montana, Freddie Solomon, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Dwight Hicks, Steve Young, Jesse Sapolu, and Frank Gore. Now, the Niners are blessed with a tatooed, goateed young buck out of Turlock by the name of Colin Kaepernick who can throw like Montana and run like a gazelle. The history of professional football shimmers with Forty-Niner highlights, including  the Alley Oop (Tittle to Owens), The Catch (Montana to Clark), The Catch 2 (Young to Terrell Owens), and more recently, The Catch 3 (a.k.a, The Grab, Alex Smith to Vernon Davis), plus Kaepernick’s all-time, all-game, quarterback rushing record in his very first play-off game.

It was sports pioneer Tony Morabito who founded the Forty-Niners, the first major league professional team in San Francisco. According to official Niner history,

“Before World War II, Morabito was convinced the San Francisco Bay Area was ready for a franchise in the National Football League. The Bay Area was a mecca for college football. Fans came in droves to Kezar Stadium to see the Wonder Teams of California-Berkeley and the Wow Boys of Stanford, led by Frankie Albert.  St. Mary’s, Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco were also area powerhouses that regularly defeated the University of Washington and Southern California inside the walls of Kezar.”

It took much persistence on the part of Morabito to convince the big league executives from the East and Midwest, but ultimately he won his franchise. The San Francisco Forty-Niners played their first home game (an exhibition) at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, just west of the Haight-Ashbury, on September 1, 1946 in front of 45,000 roaring fans. The Niners beat the Chicago Rockets 34 to 14.

Morabito’s insight and sense of sports history had brought the first original professional football franchise to the West Coast. (Rams’ fans, please take note: while the Rams began playing in Los Angeles nine months earlier in January 1946, the team actually originated in Cleveland in 1937. And, by the way, the Niners organization has never abandoned the greater San Francisco Bay Area, though the move to Santa Clara 40 miles away in 2014 is nothing short of bittersweet.)

But what was that local history that so informed Morabito? What made San Francisco such a great football town?

No matter what your colors are,

You’d always find it true.

When the football game is over

They’ll all be black and blue.

—  Anomymous, San Francisco Call, December 1892

(originally published in the Chicago Tribune)

In 1860, faculty at New England’s Ivy League campuses were banning a popular and more primitive form of college football. The basic tenet of this predecessor was to kick a ball at a goal or run it over a line (a “kicking” or “running” game, respectively). As received by Pony Express, the Daily Alta California reported in December of that year that the abolition of the ritual Sophomore versus Freshmen football games at Harvard College had led to what became known as the practice of hazing:

“Since the prohibition by the College Faculty of the annual game of football, in which the Sophomores and the newly entered Freshmen were accustomed to engage, and which have of late years degenerated into a match at boxing and fighting, to the disgrace of the college Delta, the Sophomores have been much more severe in their initiatory attentions to the Freshmen …. “

“… the Sophs have ‘taken it out’ of the Freshmen by ‘hazing’ them whenever there was an opportunity; that is, have played all sorts of practical jokes upon them. This, of late, has been resisted by the more spunkey Freshmen, and the result is, that the subject has been brought to the attention of the government of the college, who have promptly suspended seven of the more unruly members.”

While loosely organized “running” or “kicking” games may have continued in ethnic neighborhoods, the point of evolutionary divergence from the traditional games of soccer and rugby (as played in the British Isles and by her emigrants to America) to the foundation of modern professional football emerged on November 6, 1869 when Rutgers and Princeton played the first modern college football game (Rutgers won, 6 to 4).

The Noisy Contingent delivering auricular torture at the California-Stanford game, November 1893. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

The Noisy Contingent delivering auricular torture at the California-Stanford game, November 1893. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

It would be another 23 years before the first intercollegiate football game would be played in California. On March 19, 1892, the “Palo Alto boys ” (whose team manager was future U.S. President Herbert Hoover) met the “Berkeley players ” at the Haight Street baseball grounds (bounded by Stanyan, Waller, Frederick, and Cole Streets – just over a stone’s throw from the future Kezar Stadium) in San Francisco. The crowds were described as “immense.”  About 20,000 spectators crammed into the 15,000-seat grounds:

“A dark red was the Palo Alto color, and the students wore it in ribbons around their headgear and sleeves and in buttonholes. Each student carried a little flag and a tin horn, or some other instrument of auricular torture. The Berkeley boys did the same in their colors, blue and gold. Much tooting of horns and shouting was heard, the bronchial accompaniments being a special vocal composition arranged specially for each college.”

Cheering for the Blue and Gold at the Berkeley-Stanford game, November 1893. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Cheering for the Blue and Gold at the Berkeley-Stanford game, November 1893. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Play was to begin at 3 o’clock but then it was realized no one had brought the game ball. A “mounted messenger” was dispatched into town to retrieve one and the game was finally able to begin an hour later. Stanford made one goal and two “touch downs” in the first half, while Berkeley scored two touch downs and a “safety touch” in the second. The final score was Stanford 14-Berkeley 10 [Trampers’ Note: According to a compilation of sources available at, a touchdown was 4 points, a field goal 5 points, and a safety 2 points. Based on this, Berkeley’s score correctly tallies to 10, but Stanford’s score based on reported scores is short by 1). Game receipts amounted to $30,000 (almost $750,000 in today’s dollars). The coaches split the profits and financed their respective teams for another year.

Stanford fans making their way to the November 1893 football game against the University of California-Berkeley. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Stanford fans making their way to the November 1893 football game against the University of California-Berkeley. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

November 1892 was a banner month for football. William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, a three-time All-American guard from Yale, was declared the first “professional” football player when he was paid $500 to play for the Allegheny Athletic Association against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club . He recovered a fumble and ran 35 yards to make the game’s only score. Later that same month, the Yale football elite traveled to San Francisco: Heffelfinger, Lee McClung, a teammate of Heffelfinger who also served as Yale’s captain (and who would later become United States Treasurer), and  Walter Camp, captain of Yale in the late 1870s and football coach of Heffelfinger and McClung. These three men, especially Walter Camp, are considered the fathers of modern American football.

Berkeley and Stanford were scheduled to face off again at the Haight Street grounds on December 17, 1892. This time, the game benefited from the professional influence of the Yale football statesmen, with Camp coaching Stanford and McClung guiding Berkeley (interestingly they also served as referee and coach, respectively). Heffelfinger was also reported to be in attendance.

San Francisco was in a high level of excitement and anticipation for the big game. Trainloads of spectators were arriving from as far away as Sacramento. This time, it seems, somebody remembered to bring the ball.

“Both teams had trained faithfully and were in the best condition. The University of California men out-weighed the Stanford boys slightly, but the latter made up in quickness what they lost in weight … Berkeley, relying on superior weight and strength, played a bucking game, and when the team had the ball would gradually work their way through Stanford’s ranks without attempting any fancy plays. Stanford played a more scientific came and made some brilliant runs.”

View of the playing field at the Haight Street street grounds, bordered by Stanyan, Frederick, Waller, and Cole Streets in San Francisco, November 1892. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

View of the playing field at the Haight Street street grounds, bordered by Stanyan, Frederick, Waller, and Cole Streets in San Francisco, November 1892. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Likely to the dismay of all in attendance, the game ended in a 10-10 tie, but newspapers still billed it as “the prettiest contest ever seen on the Pacific Coast.” In 1893, Heffelfinger would return to coach football at UC-Berkeley, while Walter Camp would do the same at Stanford. No wonder the rivalry would later become known as “The Big Game” in 1900.

Two days after the Berkeley-Stanford game, the morning edition of the San Francisco Call provided an overview of the new-fangled game for the benefit of the uninitiated [Tramper’s note: footnotes added],

“Ten or fifteen thousand people went to the football game on Saturday and appeared to enjoy it hugely. It was a new sensation, for there is rather more excitement in football than in baseball. At the latter skill alone commands victory, whereas at the former thews* and sinews are of more consequence than address. The team which can make the strongest rush generally wins, on the Napoleonic principle that fortune is on the side of the heaviest battalions. The game is called football because it is not allowable to use the feet in it. If Ajax still lived, and could enlist four men of his size and muscle to guard him, he would become the champion football player of the day. No one could resist his rushes, and when he got the ball the enemy would merely dash themselves in vain against his stalwart frame in efforts to take it from him. For the idea of the modern football captain is to fling such a force upon the holder of the ball that he shall be knocked down, and probably knocked senseless, then to carry off the ball without meeting with the like experience from the opposite captain.

“Football has become, perhaps, the most popular of our college athletic sports, because it exacts more endurance and especially more pluck than any other. Rowing and baseball involve a strain upon the muscles, but none upon the virile grit. A man may be the veriest poltroon and yet may be able to outrow champions, and to pitch so as to distress the most dextrous batter. But a football player must have pluck. He can never reckon out in advance the net results of the shock of his charges. He may be knocked so senseless that it may bother the doctors to restore him, or he may be crippled for life. These chances he must take, and he who takes them gayly, for the fun and glory of the thing, would lead a squadron of horse upon a battery with a smiling face. As courage is an acquired attribute, which is born in few, but can be learned by experience like the small sword exercise, football commends itself as an apprenticeship to one of the most valuable qualities possessed by civilized men. In the old days of the war it was found that the boys who had been the most proficient at athletic games, involving more or less danger to limb, made the best cavalry officers. They were often stupid as owls, but set them on a horse and show them a battery and it was odds they were presently seen sabering the gunners.

“In the last generation the fault of an American collegiate education was that it neglected physical development. A few scholars were evolved, but much fewer men of muscle or men of pluck. In England they were wiser. College authorities winked at the chronic warfare between town boys and gown boys, and when the latter were drafted into the army hard fighting came natural to them. Some thirty years ago the war [Tramper’s note: the American Civil War] disclosed our mistake, and ever since the leading colleges of the country – Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell and Princeton – have been careful to educate the combative instinct of their scholars. Our own Berkeley was quick to follow the example. Now, if trouble befall, excellent material for officers would be found in the ranks of college graduates, and especially among the accomplished football players.”

In another Call report one month later entitled Scientific Sport, a writer named only as Puck describes his first introduction to the game and why he eventually quit:

“My interest in this game of football was first aroused by seeing various photographs of crack teams. Then, one day in a gymnasium, I was shown the ball itself. It is a quick, willing affair, shaped like a ripe watermelon, and I had fun with it for an hour. Then a young man who said he was captain of the ‘Athletics’ asked me if I wouldn’t join his team … on the following day I met with the team for practice. Although I found this practice delightful in many ways my suspicions were aroused by a stocky young fellow in a blouse, who persisted in throwing me down every time I secured the ball. I did not resent this as I might have done, because I was assured it was a feature of the game …

“I witnessed a game of football. So far as I could determine, it was this way: The opposing teams, each consisting of eleven in uniforms, faced each other, and the ball was kicked out between them. The most of them settled upon it and formed an amusing jumble of padded legs.

An example of the type of football future U.S. President Herbert Hoover forgot to bring to the first Stanford-Cal football game in November 1892. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

An example of the type of football future U.S. President Herbert Hoover forgot to bring to the first Stanford-Cal football game in November 1892. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

“After a moment’s scramble some one aptly remarked, ‘Down!’ Then they all crouched motionless over the ball, while a gifted young man in rear aimlessly recited a mangled version of the alphabet. Just as the recitation was becoming monotonous the whole gang again settled down upon the ball, and each man went into convulsions. The elocutionist climbed up on top of the mass of writhing humanity and danced exultantly upon it.

“This performance was repeated many times, and was, in a way, rather interesting. More collar-bones were broken than anything else I think. Once during the game I asked a man who sat next to me why it was called ‘football’ instead of ‘headball.’ He did not reply. He was a voiceful idiot who yelled most of the time and pretended that he could keep score. It is a rough game – not so many vowels in it, so to speak. I decided that all football-players should speak the Welsh language, enjoy Wagner and eat horse feed …

“Immediately after the game was over I sought the captain of the Athletics and firmly resigned from the team. ‘But you don’t understand the game yet,’ he expostulated. ‘Why, man, it’s the most scientific game played.’

Time out at the 1893 Cal-Stanford game at the Haight Street grounds to attend to an injured player. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Time out at the 1893 Cal-Stanford game at the Haight Street grounds to attend to an injured player. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

“‘I grant you that,’ I said in my scholarly way; ‘but the game is not what it should be; it is handicapped by the restrictions which I presume are imposed against the use of artificial weapons … The game as now played, compared with what it could be made, is as crude as were the ancient ways of battle … you don’t even allow a man to use a club, and the most primeval and degraded savage availed himself of that simple weapon … Of course, there is science in it, if by ‘science’ you mean calculated and concerted effort – there is science in all battles … But they shall never have any of my own personal blood to spill around over a barren waste of ground with white lines painted on it.”

Football safety is as much of a concern now as it was in 1892. Yet, it would be nearly a century before science, medicine, and technology began to converge to develop football uniforms akin to Star Wars’ Stormtroopers. In the Gay Nineties, however, football gear appeared to be designed more for the protection of vanity than the bone-breaking, head-knocking, sometimes paralyzing and fatal injuries players were experiencing. A November 1892 article in the Call described the late 19th century uniform innovations over the previous 10 years:


Devices Worn by Football Players.


The Many Improvements That Have Taken Place in the Game of Kicks.

The uniform of football circa late 1880s. Walter Camp, captain of the Yale team in 1878-1879, would later become the father of modern football and coach at Stanford. From Football Days, Memories of the Game and the Men Behind the Ball, by William H. Edwards. 1916. Moffat, Yard, and Co. Available at Project Gutenberg.

The uniform of football circa late 1870s. Walter Camp, captain of the Yale team in 1878-1879, would later become the father of modern football and coach at Stanford. From Football Days, Memories of the Game and the Men Behind the Ball, by William H. Edwards. 1916. Moffat, Yard, and Co. Available at Project Gutenberg.

“With the onward and upward rush of the game of football many new and startling changes have taken place both in the physiognomy and apparel of the player. The game is now the representative college sport and has been in vogue in American about seventeen years, during which time the percentage of cripples has largely increased.

“As it is now played it is a modification of the Rugby game of England. At the time of its introduction here the pastime was in a very crude state regarding the appliances thereunto appertaining. On this account the players devoted all their time and attention to acquiring a mastery of the rule, laying off between games to recover from the injuries sustained while pursuing their studies.

“As a high degree of proficiency increased the danger of broken legs and necks the brainy men of the football fraternity set to work to lessen the risks of becoming cripples or disfigured for life. The result can now been seen wherever football is played according to Hoyle,§ and the sport is not so remunerative to the surgeon as it used to be.

The "modern" football uniform of the 1890s. Player William "Pudge" Heffelfinger of Yale helped bring "science" to the game of football. From American Football, by Walter Camp. 1891. Harper & Brothers. Available at Project Gutenberg.

The “modern” football uniform of the 1890s. Player William “Pudge” Heffelfinger of Yale helped bring “science” to the game of football. From American Football, by Walter Camp. 1891. Harper & Brothers. Available at Project Gutenberg.

“Visit a game on any of the college grounds, at Central or Golden Gate parks and you can see all the latest improved football machinery to date. The top notch has not been attained, but the difference between the apparatus of ten years ago and that in use at the present is apparent, even to the novice.

“In this respect football has kept pace with baseball. Where the backstop of the latter team wears his face incased in a wire mask the football player protects his nose with a sheet-iron copper-riveted armor or nosebag which he carefully straps to his nasal organ before jumping into the fray. This prevents the flattening of the nose should he jam it against the skull of an opposing rusher.” [Trampers’ Note: Apparently, the impact from what could be likened to a ship’s metal  bow ramming the opponent’s thinking parts was not considered.]

“In the matter of padded trousers the college athlete has kept pace with his brother of the green diamond. The base-runner has portions of his trousers padded to prevent the ruffling up of his epidermis while sliding from bag to bag, and the heavily quilted pantaloons of the football man lessens the danger of a broken leg from a misguided kick.

“In the matter of shoes the college man is debarred from using the razor-edged metal plates that adorn the soles of the ballplayer’s shoes. The reason is obvious. In baseball, where the player does no kicking whatever except at the umpire, men are frequently cut and gashed in a horrible manner. In football these plates would simply result in slaughter, so little bars of leather have taken their place.

Innovations in protection of vanity. The "nosebag" was made of copper-riveted sheet iron. Despite the number of serious head injuries and the number of other central nervous system trauma, helmets were not mandatory. From the San Francisco Call. Available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Example of innovation in the protection of vanity. The “nosebag” was made of copper-riveted sheet iron. Despite the number of serious head injuries and other types of central nervous system trauma, helmets would not be mandatory for another fifty years. From the San Francisco Call. Available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.

“Some players also wear shin-guards similar to those adopted by cricketers. These are strips of heavy canvas or leather strapped to the leg between the knee and ankle and greatly lessen the pain of random kicks received in rushes. Since the introduction of this appliance limps are less apparent on the field of carnage.

“Another item on which the football inventor is still at work is an ear-guard, which will fill a long felt want when perfected. It is not an uncommon occurrence for a player to have an ear shaved off by coming in contact with the sharp shoulder-blades of an opponent, and in some instances large bagsful of damaged ears have been picked up after the game.

“What the player wants is an apparatus which will allow him to retain his ears and his hearing at the same time. The machine now in use is a large pad strapped to the side of the head. It protects the ear, but the player cannot hear the orders or signals from his captain. Therefore the pad is not popular. It is said that some of the greatest inventors of the age are at work on this problem.

These heavily padded pantaloons helped protect players from broken bones due to errant kicks by teammates and opponents alike. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Repository..

These heavily padded pantaloons helped protect players from broken bones due to errant kicks by teammates and opponents alike. From the San Francisco Call. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Repository.

[Players have] a luxurious crop of hair that covers his head in a thorough manner … Ten years ago it was the custom to wear caps while at play, but now the athletes perform bareheaded. The cap will not stay on during the heat of the scrimmage, but as the player must have some protection for his head he lets his hair grow from the time he begins practice until after the game. This guards against scalp wounds, and also gives the wind a chance.”

Incredibly, the helmet would not become mandatory football attire until 1943. Football helmets were invented by the father of carrier aviation, Admiral Joseph Mason Reeve, for the Army-Navy­ game of 1893. Legend has it that Admiral Reeve had been kicked in the head so many times that his physician advised one more impact would lead to “instant insanity.” While his invention was not widely used, it was adapted for use by paratroopers in World War I. Some players wore soft leather head gear in the early 1900s, which became harder leather in the 1920s. Then, John T. Riddell invented the plastic helmet in 1939 that would forever change the game.

So, whether you’ll be rooting for the Cal Bears or the Stanford Cardinals at the Big Game on November 23, 2013, remember to pay homage to both teams. Were it not for the intensity of their 120-year rivalry, Morabito may have never considered the potential for San Francisco to become a frenzied, big league football town.

To paraphrase: The Pluck’n Forty- Niners! Tramp the Ravens!


* Thews: muscular or physical strength

Poltroons: defined as “wretched cowards”

Gown boys: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this was a collective singular for “residents of a university.”

§ The identify of Hoyle and his relationship to football is unknown.

View The Roots of Pro Football in San Francisco in a larger map

  1. Anonymous. The Founder: Tony Morabito.  Available at
  2. Anonymous. St Louis Rams Chronology. Available at
  3. Anonymous. Nov. 12: The Birth of Pro Football. Available at Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  4. Various articles from the Daily Alta California, San Francisco Call, Los Angeles Herald. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  5. Anonymous. Rutgers Football History. Available at
  6. Anonymous. The Big Game: History and Tradition. At
  7. Anonymous. Football Firsts. Available at Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  9. American Etymology Dictionary.
  10. Edwards, William H. Football Days, Memories of the Game and the Men Behind the Ball. 1916. Moffat, Yard, and Co. Available at Project Gutenberg.
  11. Camp, Walter. American Football. 1891. Harper & Brothers. Available at Project Gutenberg.
  12. Stamp, J. Leatherhead to Radio-head: The Evolution of the Football Helmet. October 1, 2012. Available at

© 2013. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update January 31, 2013. 

Tramping Close to Home: Adventures in Backyard Archaeology

After a brief hiatus, Tramps of San Francisco is back on track, searching for evidence of the City’s forgotten histories! After unearthing the story of the proposed Mission Park and Zoological Gardensalong with three months of weekly research and posting of new topics in what was supposed to be a leisurely hobby, it was time to sit back and revisit the concept of moderation. It became apparent that in order to remain sustainable, greater balance between Tramps and other activities is required.

Thanks to those who have shown your support during Tramps’ respite, as well as those new Trampers who signed up for email notifications and registered Likes and Follows during the downtime. Virtual treks in search of San Francisco’s forgotten histories are returning, but will now occur with less frequency than weekly.

Given that, embarking on long tramps and extended excursions to discover our local history is not necessarily a requirement. Sometimes, clues may be found in locations as close as our own backyard. This was my eye-opening discovery when I recently began to prepare our backyard for new sod.

I received my bachelor’s degree in anthropology more years ago than I’d like to recall. Then, a few years after moving to San Francisco, I participated in the initial phases of an archaeological dig at a Miwok shell mound on Strawberry Point in Marin County. After all these years, the urge to lay out a grid and dive head first into dirt with a trowel, whisk, and dental pick has never really left me.

We moved to the Glen Park district several years ago. Unfortunately, the previous owner of 20 years did not disclose any details about the history of the lot or structure, so I’ve always been curious about what might lie beneath.

We had our first chance at a peek a few years ago after removing a diseased 50-year old Monterey pine tree. All we found, however, was an extensive root system. We eventually expanded an existing patio throughout much of the yard, and added a raised planting area in the middle to cover the partially ground stump. This left only the perimeter of the yard available for future digging and planting.

The rear retaining wall, approximately 10 feet high. It appears to be made of an old type of concrete composite, with slots for beams, and some remnants of wood beams. Copyright: Evelyn Rose,

Our backyard is small and can only be accessed by ascending eight steps to reach the top of a 5-1/2 foot retaining wall. Once in the yard, one is faced with a 10-foot high retaining wall at the rear that is constructed with an old composite-like concrete. The wall ends abruptly at the southern border of the property, and to the north it is replaced by an old wall made of small blocks of rock and concrete. About 7 feet above ground, our concrete retaining wall has slots for what might have been used for beams. They are spaced about one foot apart, and a few have vestiges of old wood. In the middle, a single buttress protrudes from the wall into the ground. There is also a remnant of a masonry wall on the south side. It is an earthy red and has evidence of an embossed floral pattern. Finally, along our north boundary rests a two-foot high wall made of what appears to be a very old form of masonry, with a small keystone positioned in the middle.

These structures have been a mystery to us since the day we moved in. Clearly, something was constructed here a very long time ago. But, what was it?

The north wall is about two feet high, is comprised of an early form of masonry, and had a keystone in the middle (just to the left of the shadow of the tree trunk and post). Copyright: Evelyn Rose,

Researching the history of our lot has led us to some surprising revelations. While our house was built in the mid-1920s, a previous owner had moved our structure to today’s address in the Fall of 1959. After some investigation, we believe that our structure’s original location abutted the automotive divide known as the Bernal Cut between the Bernal Heights and Glen Park districts. A little more digging and we surmised the move may have been the result of the conversion of San Jose Avenue in the Cut from a more peaceful two-lane road and railway into what may have been anticipated to become a polluted and blustery four-lane shortcut to a major freeway.

While former Governor Pat Brown and others believed that progress meant snaking a series of freeways back and forth, up and down, and over and under the City of San Francisco, the neighborhoods about to be bisected didn’t agree. In Glen Park, the San Francisco Freeway Revolt was spearheaded by a group of women who became known as the Gum Tree Ladies. Their gumption and determination helped guide the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to vote down seven of nine freeways throughout the City in January, 1959. This stopped dead in its tracks a plan for a major route right through Glen Canyon that would have bored under Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro. Initially proposed as the Circumferential Expressway (and later renamed the Crosstown Freeway), it would have emerged at the southeastern edge of Golden Gate Park before galumphing its way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Section of block with an embossed floral design. The perimeter of the image is in black and white, in order to highlight the embossing in the center with actual color . Copyright: Evelyn Rose,

While we don’t know for certain, it’s possible our house may have been peripherally connected to a major and important early environmental grassroots movement in San Francisco. Once victory was achieved, the previous owner may have desired refuge from the increasing noise and pollution of an already expanded San Jose Avenue, literally picked up the house and moved it almost a mile. It must have been some sight to see the house crawling up a hill!

Next, we discovered papers at the San Francisco Water Department documenting a request for a water hook-up on our lot about one month after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. This may help explain an old, rusted water pipe sticking out of the masonry wall on the north side of our property. In earlier landscaping activities, we had found a knob from an old gas stove and a small, white porcelain insulator used in early 20th century electrical systems. These all represented to us tangible evidence of our lot’s first tenant.

One month after the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, a carpenter from Canada applied for a water hook-up. This old water pipe coming through the wall may be a evidence. Copyright: Evelyn Rose,

Research of census records found that the gentleman was originally from Canada and worked as a carpenter, a much-needed trade during the years of reconstruction following the Earthquake. I’ve misplaced an additional document but I recall it stated he was living in nothing more than a shack in 1930. His death certificate indicates he was still living on this lot at the time of his passing in 1932, a demise described as traumatic and requiring an inquest. Whether any conclusions were reached by the medical examiner requires additional research.

But, was the carpenter the very first tenant on our lot?  Now that we know our neighborhood was included as part of the lands of the Mission Park and Zoo, I’m viewing the rear retaining wall and the short wall on the north side of our backyard from an entirely new perspective. Are these structural remnants evidence of the carpenter’s shack? Were they outbuildings of one of the Rock Gulch (an early name for Glen Canyon) dairies established in the 1870s? Or, could they be remnants of structures built by Mission Zoo management during the zoo’s heyday in 1898 and 1899?

As I recently prepped the yard for the laying of sod, I turned the soil with a shovel. Holding my leaf rake parallel to the ground, I sifted the dirt and filtered plant material for composting. As a happenstance, other buried objects were revealed. I unearthed a variety of intriguing artifacts, including two types of white porcelain fragments, shards of clear glass (one with scalloping on the edge), brown glass, and a thick (1/4″) piece of translucent glass. In addition, I found a 1960s-era plastic toy soldier, a small, curved piece of a white and green milk glass, two small river-worn rocks, a piece of old brick, a nice piece of greenish-black serpentine (with a silky, obsidian-like feel), and an old and very rusty 5-1/2″ long, 1/2″ thick hex bolt with a 1-1/2″ washer.

While the hex bolt was impressive, the surprise find was along the southern edge of the yard, 5″ down in the rich Glen Park soil. My shovel scraped along what I first thought was a rock but, upon closer inspection, it was something far better. I quickly grabbed my trowel and whisk, got close down in the dirt, and soon unveiled a concrete pedestal measuring 9″ by 9″, with a raised edge 1-1/2″ wide all around. In the center were three small, rusted spikes that had originally pointed upward but that had since been pounded sideways. It seemed very well made with a fine cement and did not appear to be cheaply constructed, as might have been used to

Artifacts located while gardening include pieces of porcelain, glass, stone, a child’s toy, and a large and very rusted hex bolt and washer. Copyright: Evelyn Rose,

construct a shack.

The next weekend I planned to lay sod on the opposite side of the yard. I was anxious to see if another pedestal was positioned exactly opposite from the first. Unfortunately, I had started later in the day than originally planned. The dirt on the north side was much harder to dig into. After some effort, and with a hefty dose of rain predicted within the hour, I hastened to finish the task at hand: the laying of sod. I would have to leave the archaeological dig for another time.

What appears to be a base for a pedestal was uncovered five inches beneath the soil. Measuring 9 inches by 9 inches, it appears to be made of a fine concrete. Copyright: Evelyn Rose,

After 1932, it would be 27 years before our lot would again be occupied. The assortment of items found in the soil, the buttressed retaining wall, an old masonry wall with a keystone, a remnant of wall with floral embossing, and a finely made cement pedestal all represent intermittent use of our lot for over a century. Whether the structures that remain have any historic value remains to be seen.

In September, 2012, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation to simplify and standardize the application process for the Mills Act Program. The Mills Act promotes the preservation of historic landmarks and is considered the greatest economic incentive in California for private property owners of historic buildings. It’s possible these remnants of structures might not qualify for the program, but the carrot that dangles in the form of property tax reduction certainly provides an impetus to continue with our property’s research.

So what’s in your backyard? Become a backyard archaeologist and document your property’s history by:

  1. Familiarizing yourself with the history of your city, with particular attention to the history of your neighborhood. Identify features of your property that may predate your house, and whether similar features can be found elsewhere in your neighborhood;
  2. Examine historic resources at your local library, historical societies, and online, including newspaper archives, municipal reports, and old City phone books and directories;
  3. Review the file of your property’s documents at your local City Hall and utility departments. Learn more about how to research your property from the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (1992, revised 1993 – while the information provided remains pertinent, addresses and telephone numbers may have changed), available at the San Francisco Public Library;
  4. Perform genealogical research about your property’s former residents, if known. If unknown, use genealogical records (such as those maintained by to help identify former residents of your address;
  5. Search the Web using key terms specific to your area, using a variety of combinations. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with;
  6. Multi-task while gardening: refresh the look of your yard and seek historic (and possibly even prehistoric) artifacts;
  7. Get a shovel, leaf rake, trowel, whisk, and even a dental pick, go out to your backyard, and start digging! Laying out a grid is the preferred method of excavation used by archaeologists. This helps establish the context of a particular artifact in relation to other identified artifacts and the grid site at large. While you may not want to lay out a grid over your entire backyard so that you can maintain easy access, you may want to grid a section of your yard as a science project for young and old alike. The Friends of Bonnechere Parks in Ontario, Canada, provide an easy plan to follow;
  8. Use your leaf rake to sift material, or construct a shaker screen (see example on Flickr). Keep a record of the location and description of any artifacts you may find. If you locate something that may seem especially noteworthy, contact an expert for more information;
  9. Several residential areas in San Francisco and other locales were formerly cemeteries. Perhaps some areas where you live were once Native American burial grounds. While such a find may be unlikely on your property, unearthing any evidence of human remains requires you to immediately stop digging and call your local medical examiner or coroner (check the laws of your area for the appropriate action);
  10. Evaluate your findings and determine whether an application to the Mills Act Program (for residents of California; other states may have similar laws) is warranted.


  1. Carlsson C. Revisiting the San Francisco Freeway Revolt. Available at
  2. Issel W. “Land values, human values, and the preservation of the City’s treasured appearance”: environmentalism, politics, and the San Francisco Freeway Revolt. Pacific Historical Review. 1999;68:611-646.
  3. Verplanck CP. Glen Park: The architecture and social history. Available at San Francisco Apartment Association.
  4. Anonymous. Board of Supervisors votes to expand access to Mills Act Property Tax Relief. Available at San Francisco Architectural Heritage.

© 2012. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update December 2, 2012.

The San Francisco Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park (Part VI)


Part VI: Glen Park: Prequel to the San Francisco City Beautiful Movement?

Map of the proposed Mission Park and Zoological Gardens in Glen Park, drawn by Berkeley landscape architect George Hansen for the realty firm Baldwin & Howell in July, 1897. After examining “every acre of tract,” Hansen had located the “… houses, cages, and inclosures [sic] with due regard to the convenience of visitors, topography of the land, and habits and temperaments of the birds and animals.” From the San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 1897. Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library, Articles and Databases. (Click image to enlarge)

Over the last five posts of The San Francisco Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park, we have unearthed a long forgotten history. How many times have we traipsed over the trails running parallel to Islais Creek in Glen Canyon, south of Twin Peaks, oblivious to the historical significance of the area? For nearly a century, residents and visitors appear to have been doing so.

We’ve become more familiar with a man of stature and determination, A.S. Baldwin of the realty firm Baldwin & Howell, hired by the Crocker Estate Company in 1897 to manage and sell home lots in a new residential subdivision soon to be called Glen Park Terrace. And, just how would he attract prospective buyers to the new but remote residential subdivision? Baldwin surmised if the masses were tempted to venture out to visit a new zoo and park in the Outside Lands of San Francisco that, after enjoying the shows, scenery, and fresh air, they would decide they wanted to live there, too.

The idea had the support of the local community improvement associations (ie, Sunnyside, West of Castro Street, Fairmount, Ingleside, Lakeview, Ocean View, Holly Park, Mission Five-mile, and Noe clubs), who wanted a “breathing spot” near them that would not require half a day’s travel to visit Golden Gate Park. Yet, in his effort to sell the Gum Tree Tract to the City and County of San Francisco, Baldwin would be accused of “jobbery” and perpetration of a land scheme due to his offering of the land at up to nine times the value assessed by the City. The debate over the purchase of the property belittled as a “Monkey Ranch” became so inflamed that Baldwin, while defending his personal and professional reputation, would be physically assaulted by a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors just a step outside of the Board’s chambers, causing Mayor James D. Phelan to intercede. Even the founding president of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, became involved by referring to the zoo as “Squirrel Hollow.” After all, the opposition declared, if funds are diverted to a new park and zoo, Golden Gate Park would be “… crippled for lack of funds.”

Then we made the surprising discovery that prominent San Francisco architect Frank S. Van Trees had designed a monumental “Italian renaissance” concept to exhibit some of the animals for the zoo. Van Trees’ concept predates by 16 years the grand, classic design by Lewis P. Hobart for the California Academy of Sciences the City would ultimately build in Golden Gate Park.

When the City rejected the purchase of the Gum Tree Tract in September, 1898, Baldwin was not deterred, and he forged ahead with his plans. Ground was never broken for Van Trees’ building, but other structures for the pleasuring grounds were already being built throughout the area before the supervisors had made their final decision. Once the zoo officially opened in October, 1898, fantastic and spectacular acts drew 4,000 to 8,000 visitors on Sundays. On Dewey Day, May 2, 1899 (honoring Admiral George Dewey on the first anniversary of his defeat of the Spanish Fleet in the Philippines), almost 42,000 people attended the festivities. According to comments of the day, the Mission Park and Zoo had achieved the popularity and success of the City’s previous big draw, Woodward’s Gardens, that had closed seven years earlier.

In addition to Van Trees’ design, a new discovery finds that Baldwin developed his open-space concept with the aid of another prominent designer of the day, Berkeley landscape architect George Hansen (view Hansen’s map of the proposed park in the image above) for land that,

“… by reason of its topography is peculiarly adaptable for a park and zoological garden … It is gratifying to know that the struggle against nature experienced in bringing Golden Gate Park to the perfection it now enjoys will not have to be repeated on this property. No costly outlay for loam and fertilizers will be necessary. The soil … is rich, and, with cultivation, the establishing of windbrakes, groups of shade and avenue trees and palms, and clusters of shrubbery, will be but a matter of a very few years.”

Included among Hansen’s plans is an answer to the origin of the dirt road in Glen Canyon that now runs from Elk Street near the tennis courts northward and parallel to Islais Creek, a road commonly referred to by locals today as “Alms Road.” As described by Hansen,

“One of the most attractive features connected with this property and its proposed system of avenues is the fact that a driveway through the canyon in the westerly part of the tract can be constructed at a very small expense. The grade of this roadway will be very slight from the San Jose road to the northwesterly corner of the proposed park. This avenue will connect at this point with Glen avenue, in the Stanford Heights Addition [Miraloma Park], and will from there on follow the streets and avenues in this addition along easy grades to the Corbett road [Portola Drive] intersecting at this point with the Almshouse road [Woodside Avenue to Laguna Honda Boulevard to 7th Avenue], and thus constituting a most picturesque driveway from the mission district to the park [Golden Gate], over comfortable grades, by a direct and short route. This avenue may, in fact, be termed a branch of the Balboa boulevard, and as soon as it is completed it will be recognized as one of the most enjoyable drives within the city limits …”

“The driveways and paths have been arranged with due regard to the contour of the property, and the roads, with the exception of Diamond street, have so small a percentage of grade that, to the eye, they will appear, when built, almost level. The main avenue, sixty feet in width, as will be seen by referring to the map, extends through the canyon and follows, on almost a perfect grade, the contour of the ground, until it connects with Sussex street, in the Castro-street Addition. It is proposed to construct another driveway from the Berkshire-street entrance [a remnant of Berkshire exists today as Kern Street, across from the Glen Park Branch of the San Francisco Public Library; Berkshire ran westerly to Burnside Avenue], following along the slope of the hills to the south and west [this appears to be describing the Bosworth entrance] and connecting with the main avenue [Glen Avenue] at a point about half way up the canyon. This leaves a space between the two roads clear and makes it particularly desirable for a recreation and playground for children.”

In referring to Hansen’s map above, there is a gradual slope on the northwestern end of the canyon that today emerges near the southwestern corner of the Ruth Osawa San Francisco School of the Arts football field. It seems that the outlet entering the parking lot adjacent to O’Shaughnessy Boulevard near its intersection with Portola Drive from the direction of the canyon is a remnant of the western terminus of Glen Avenue, a diagonally routed road that appears on Crocker’s Guide Map of the City of San Francisco (1902, available at the North Baker Research LibraryCalifornia Historical Society), the Chevalier Map of San Francisco (1915, available at the David Rumsey Map Collection), and the Baldwin & Howell Map of the City and County of San Francisco (1925, available in the Baldwin & Howell Records, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library). Readers may also recall from reading the post about Richard Chenery that the western extension of Chenery Street in Glen Park between today’s Diamond and Elk Streets was also named Glen Avenue until being renamed Chenery Street in 1909.

In viewing all of these maps, the route of the main dirt road in today’s Glen Canyon seems to connect the ends of the two former Glen Avenues quite nicely. Because it was planned to connect with the true Alms Road is likely why it has been incorrectly referred to as Alms Road over the years.

Much of the road on Hansen’s map that appears to begin at today’s Bosworth entry into Glen Canyon seems to have been obliterated by the construction of O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, completed in 1941. Most of the rock and dirt blasted while clearing the new road was pushed into the canyon, creating a new steep but gradual slope. In examination of Hansen’s design, it is remarkable how shear the face of the O’Shaughnessy side of the canyon used to be.

Hansen went on to propose that,

“The approach to the park through the ‘Gum Tree’ grove should be reserved for pedestrians exclusively, as it will be at this point that the San Mateo electric road will take on and deliver passengers bound to and from the Park, and it be be but a short while before the car lines will find themselves taxed in handling the crowds that will visit the ‘zoo.’ This entrance, therefore, will be a busy place, and it should be as far as possible free from danger of passing vehicles.”

What he is referring to is today’s intersection of Diamond and Chenery, where a grove of eucalyptus trees used to stand.* It explains why the main entrance to the Park was always listed as “Diamond and Chenery” in the Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directories into the 1900s. Carriages were being encouraged to enter the park along today’s Bosworth entrance.

Hansen had described the development of Golden Gate Park as a “struggle against nature” because of the need modify a barren landscape comprised of sand and dunes into a fertile topsoil. He believed this would not be the case for the Gum Tree Tract, that the warm, sunny exposure, the vistas available from the top of the hills adjacent to the canyon, the natural plateaus surrounding the canyon that could house the animals and provide resting places for visitors, and with the “natural amphitheater” in the southern end of the canyon protected from wind by the high bluffs, could make the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens the “most unique and picturesque zoological garden in the world.”

The Italian renaissance design for the zoo structure, a call for a “breathing spot” or “breathing place,” the planting of thousands of trees, the accessibility to city-dwellers, construction of roads and boulevards passing through and connecting with other “pleasuring grounds,” the need to promote the intellectual development of young people, a city as beautiful and as well planned as the great cities of Europe. Not only were these concepts integral to the push for the City to accept and develop the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens but also to Daniel Burnham’s City Beautiful Movement in San Francisco almost a decade later. Could there be a relationship?

By the late 1890s, American society had witnessed great upheaval. The products of the Industrial Revolution had helped move a large portion of the population from an agrarian lifestyle to shoulder-to-shoulder urbanism in a relatively short period of time. In San Francisco and other cities, greenery was generally lacking, the air was no longer fresh, and living conditions had become unhealthy. As the United States began to emerge from an economic depression (1893-1897), the middle and upper classes began to seek more suburban living within easy reach of their city’s business and entertainment opportunities. The populace realized it may not be able to turn back the clock of progress, but certainly there must be ways to reclaim the nostalgic past and maintain the moral and civic values of their former way of life.

This desire to return society to its moral and civic roots was the genesis of the City Beautiful movement. According to an article about the movement in Washington, DC, posted by the University of Virginia:

“Generally stated, the City Beautiful advocates sought to improve their city through beautification, which would have a number of effects: 1) social ills would be swept away, as the beauty of the city would inspire civic loyalty and moral rectitude in the impoverished; 2) American cities would be brought to cultural parity with their European competitors through the use of the European Beaux-Arts idiom; and 3) a more inviting city center still would not bring the upper classes back to live, but certainly to work and spend money in the urban areas.”

The Beaux-Arts style of architecture came from L’Ecole de Beaux-Arts at the University of Paris, the leading school of architecture of the day. The basic tenet of the style was to bring broad designs to cities the could lead to more effective and harmonious urban planning, which were intended to promote economy, efficiency, and good citizenship among its residents. The style had achieved a successful outcome in the modernization of Paris and some American architects wanted to bring the style to major cities in the United States, an idea welcomed by civic organizations across the country.

One of these architects was Daniel Burnham, Director of Construction at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. Burnham designed and oversaw the first application of the Beaux-Arts style in the United States, a monumental “White City” that was said to shimmer both day and night. The buildings were of Neo-Classical and Renaissance Revival design, of similar size, and all painted bright white. Water and open spaces balanced the setting, and areas were connected by beautiful walkways and boulevards.

Burnham believed that reformation of the landscape would complement the reform efforts needed in other areas of society. To bring beauty to the city could help improve the lives of the lower classes and help bring virtue and harmony to all classes. In effect, Burnham hoped to establish an urban utopia, an idea embraced by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and supported by the growing Progressive political movement in the United States.

The best modern example of Beaux-Arts in the United States is Washington, D.C., a plan that was developed in 1901 for the capitol’s centennial. In 1903, Cleveland, Ohio also set out to redefine its image, using granite, limestone, and marble to construct a new five-block city government center. In 1905, Burnham was asked to bring his skills to San Francisco.

Former mayor James D. Phelan led The Association for the Improvement and Adornment of San Francisco, formed in January 1905. The issues of schools, sanitation, and transportation so vehemently debated during Baldwin’s push to establish the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens at the Gum Tree Tract in 1897 and 1898 had finally been addressed and the City could now turn to beautification. Phelan’s goal was to beautify San Francisco much like the European cities of Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, an idea he had espoused in a published article in 1897. Local architect Willis Polk built a house for Burnham on Twin Peaks so that he could easily gain a bird’s-eye view of the entire City.

Daniel Burnham’s plan (1905) for transforming San Francisco into “City Beautiful” incorporated a grand boulevard circumnavigating the City, connected by diagonal roads throughout, with Neo-Classical and Renaissance Revival structures, and large areas of parks and greenery among the residential districts. Image from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. (Click image to enlarge)

Burnham published his plan in September 1905. He proposed that his expansive improvement plan be implemented in phases over half a century, based on the rate of community growth and available finances. He also cautioned that the City should not minimize its opportunity because,

“The city looks toward a sure future wherein it will possess in inhabitants and money many times what it has now. It follows that we must not found the scheme on what the city is, so much as on what it is to be … It should be designed not only for the present, but for all time to come.”

His plan would address what he called “the embarrassments” arising from the “… streets of San Francisco being laid out at right angles and with little regard for grades and other physical difficulties.” He felt this “embarrassment” could be overcome by establishing a “broad, dignified, and continuous driveway” that circumnavigated the City, to which all of the proposed diagonal streets within the City would lead, minimizing the congestion of City streets. His plan also included a proposal for a Civic Center as a grouping of public buildings, Mission Boulevard as an extension of El Camino Real, a plan for an underground subway, and the incorporation of extended parks and open space among residential neighborhoods.

Burnham seemed to take a liking to Glen Canyon and included Islais Creek in his plans as part of “Islais Creek Place” that would extend from the area of Visitacion Valley through Bernal Heights and Glen Park over to Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced:

Burnham’s proposal for three arteries through Glen Canyon (near the center of the image) in his City Beautiful plan (1905) would connect the Mission District with Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced. His proposal closely matched the plan proposed by Berkeley landscape architect George Hansen, commissioned by A.S. Baldwin of Baldwin & Howell for the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens eight years earlier (1897). Image from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection(Click image to enlarge)

“West of Mission Boulevard two other roads are shown. One passes through Glen Park, ascends Rock Cañon to join the Corbett Road, runs across the valley of the San Miguel to Laguna Honda and there joins Seventh avenue, which is widened as far as H street [Lincoln Way]. The other crosses Islais Creek. It is the extension of Ocean avenue, which runs through Merced Lake Valley to the Great Ocean Highway …

“… As indicated on the plan, Twin Peaks and the property lying around it, extending as far as the Lake Merced country, should be acquired by the city for park purposes … The park areas planned to include most of the highest points and those areas least adapted to building. The idea is to weave park and residence districts into interesting and economic relations; also to preserve from the encroachment of building the hill-bordered valley on the northwest and southeast running through the Rancho San Miguel land to Lake Merced, in order that the vista from the Peaks to the ocean may be unbroken. It is planned to preserve the beautiful cañon or glen to the south of Twin Peaks and also to maintain, as far as possible, the wooded background formed by the hills looking south from Golden Gate Park.”

Just over six months after Burnham’s report was published, San Francisco was devastated by the great earthquake and fire. Presumably, this would have provided Burnham and Phelan’s Association for the Improvement and Adornment of San Francisco with a blank slate to begin the City’s transformation. Instead, the pressure to rapidly rebuild San Francisco to restore her former greatness took precedence, and only some of Burnham’s concepts actually came to fruition.

Mayor Phelan’s published wish for a new and improved City of San Francisco  in 1897 is timed with Baldwin’s move to establish Glen

Daniel Burnham included this image of Glen Canyon in his City Beautiful plan for San Francisco. The road visible on the center right may be Glen Avenue (the main dirt road in Glen Canyon today); the one viewable to the left of the image may be the Bosworth street entrance, most of which is now buried on rubble blasted during construction of O’Shaughnessy Boulevard in 1941. Structures are presumed to be buildings associated with the Mission Park and Zoo. From Burnham’s Report on a Plan for San Francisco. Available at Google Books(Click image to enlarge)

Park Terrace as a new residence district the same year, one that would be incorporated with 145 acres of parkland. Van Trees’ Italian renaissance design for the proposed structure for the zoo is in alignment with the Neo-Classical and Renaissance Revival themes that were the foundation of City Beautiful look and feel. Landscape architect George Hansen, commissioned by Baldwin to design the layout of the park and zoo, intended to establish a pleasant boulevard – Glen Avenue – through Glen Canyon that would connect the Mission with Golden Gate Park. Eight years later, Daniel Burnham would re-introduce this exact route in his City Beautiful plan for San Francisco, without attribution to Hansen. The politics and social discontent surrounding living conditions in San Francisco – inadequate schools, transportation, and sanitation – were the same issues the proponents of both the City Beautiful movement in 1905 and the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens in 1897-1898 had hoped to overcome, by channeling morale and civic virtue through a planned beautification of a new residence district in San Francisco.

Given these facts, it would appear that Glen Park, under the leadership of A.S. Baldwin and Baldwin & Howell, was the birthplace of the City Beautiful movement in San Francisco, and preceded the movement by eight years. Baldwin, likely frustrated by the powers-at-be stalling his efforts to move forward with his complete plans before the turn of the century, is not listed as a board member in Phelan’s Association for the Improvement and Adornment of San Francisco in 1905. However, Baldwin would evolve his concept of establishing a subdivision adjacent to a park (such as the case with Glen Park Terrace and the Mission Zoo) into one that would make the subdivision itself a park, or “residence park.” Baldwin would be successful in doing so west of Twin Peaks, developing St. Francis Wood, Ingleside Terraces, Westwood Park, and Forest Hill, in addition to residence parks in San Mateo and Redwood City.

Baldwin’s aim was to “… perfect a home community second to none in the county …” And, in this, he succeeded. By Baldwin & Howell’s own admission in their company history, the company “pioneered residential growth in San Francisco.”

Given that the concept of residence parks and the roots of the City Beautiful movement in San Francisco originated in Glen Park, that the Mission Park and Zoo was as resounding a success as Woodward’s Gardens, and that Glen Canyon contains California State Historical Landmark No. 1002 (the first dynamite factory in the United States, personally licensed by Alfred Nobel), these facts alone should qualify Glen Park as a historic district.

* This also provides correction to the statement in Part I of these posts that the Gum Tree tract specifically referred to the eucalyptus stand in Glen Canyon.

View Glen Avenue Through Glen Canyon in a larger map


    1. The San Francisco Call, various issues. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
    2. The Oakland Tribune, various issues. Available at
    3. The San Francisco Examiner, various issues. Available at the San Francisco Public Library.
    4. Anonymous. Baldwin & Howell Company History. In the Baldwin and Howell Records. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. Finding guide available at Online Archive of California.
    5. Anonymous. Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory. H.S. Crocker Co.: San Francisco. 1897. Available at
    6. Pollock, Christopher. Golden Gate Park. Available at Encyclopedia of San Francisco.
    7. Anonymous. The City Beautiful Movement. In City Beautiful, The 1901 Plan for Washington, D.C. Available at the University of Virginia.
    8. Klein R. An overview of the City Beautiful movement as reflected in Daniel Burnham’s vision. Available at Cleveland State University.
    9. Burnham DH and Bennett EH. Report on a Plan for San Francisco. Published by the City of San Francisco: Sunset Press. 1905. Available at Google Books.
    10. Anonymous. Urbane Beast or Urbane Beauty: Planning the City Beautiful. In Environmental Design Archives Exhibitions. Available at the College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley.

© 2012. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update September 15, 2012.


The San Francisco Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park (Part V)


Part V: Start a Zoo, Sell Home Lots: Good Idea?

The logo of real estate agents and auctioneers Baldwin & Howell. From the San Francisco Call, May 25, 1899. Courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. (click image to enlarge)

As we saw in Part IV, the Mission Park and Zoo of Glen Park was wildly successful. Thousands of people chose this destination as their Sunday excursion, venturing to what was known as the Outside Lands to witness spectacular and sensational performances (some of which defied safety and common sense) and to view the exhibits of wild animals distributed about the grounds. At an entry fee of 10 cents for every person over the age of five, by today’s monetary values park managers were making tens upon tens of thousands of dollars every week. The enterprise was so successful that no less than three railroad lines were needed to deposit visitors at Glen Park, then later return them home.

Yet, the whole motive of the zoo venture was to convince the masses to stay, buy lots, and move their homes to the lands soon to become known as Glen Park Terrace. Which begs the question: did A.S. Baldwin’s idea of starting a zoo to promote the sale of home lots work?

Selling property in the Outside Lands of San Francisco in the late 1800s may have been more challenging than selling underwater lots in Yerba Buena Cove 50 years earlier. While the danger of roaming grizzly bears had long been eradicated, the remoteness of the Outside Lands was not at all enticing to the hustling, bustling populace who jingled gold and silver coins in their pockets. Why be a pioneer (again) and settle in the Outside Lands when all the comforts of home could be found only a short distance from their place of employment in the center of their financial and civic universe?

This ad for the Castro street west addition, soon to become known as the new Glen Park Terrace, was lost in a sea of classified ads. A novel promotional campaign was needed to bring the property to the forefront. From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 18, 1897. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Historic Photograph LibrarySan Francisco Public Library. (click image to enlarge)

As noted in Part I, the firm of Baldwin & Howell had been selected by the Crocker Estate Company to manage,  promote, and sell the lands known as the “Castro Street Addtion” formerly owned by Adoph Sutro. The earlier advertisements for the sale of these lots in April of 1897 were barely noticeable in the maze of finely printed classified ads for property throughout the City. Realtor A.S. Baldwin recognized there would be a need for a clever promotional campaign.

Only three months later, plans for the proposed Mission Park and Zoological Gardens, its estimated costs, and the price to the City for the purchase of the land first appeared in local newspapers. In addition to his other real estate activities in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, Baldwin would remain at the forefront of the debate. When the Board of Supervisors finally rejected the purchase of the Gum Tree Tract in September 1898, Baldwin forged ahead to establish the pleasuring park, for he still had lots to sell.

With “fine sunny exposure” and commanding “a good view” of the “new and popular resort, Glen Park,” the new Glen Park Terrace was presented as an opportunity not to be missed. From the San Francisco Call, May 20, 1899.  Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

Once the Mission Park and Zoo had become a huge success, at a time when the number and valuation of real estate sales were on an upswing following a sluggish year, Baldwin went for gold. The first auction for “75  Superb Business and Residence lots in Glen Park Terrace … the gem subdivision of the Mission,” was held on May 25, 1899 at Baldwin & Howell’s offices at 10 Montgomery Street:

“Have you seen them? If not, it will certainly pay you to do so at once. We have done our part and Glen Park Terrace is ready for the builder. Streets and lots all in shape. Everything done but to fix the prices. You are to do that. The terms are only 1/4 cash. Take the San Mateo electric cars (Mission and Valencia transfer at Fourteenth) and ride to the park entrance – there’s where the lots are situated – and they are beauties. Remember, you must see the property and be at 10 Montgomery street at 12 o’clock to-day.”

Whether the auction was a success was never reported in newspapers, nor could reports of individual sales be located in newspapers immediately after the auction. This leads us to believe that, perhaps, it was not an overwhelming success, though it is possible that a smattering of the 75 lots may have exchanged hands. The promotion of the attendance of 42,000 people on Dewey Day (honoring Admiral George Dewey on the one-year anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Fleet in the Philippines) could not have been an attractive selling point. While it would be pleasant to live in the country atmosphere of Glen Park Terrace, having tens of thousands of people marching and meandering across your property one day a week to get to and from the resort could get rather annoying.

The presumed failure of the auction does not imply that the area was barren of property owners. One hundred thirty-five home lots had been purchased between December 1895 and July 1897 in Subdivision 1 of the Castro Street Addition, an area approximately bounded by lots on the north side of Sussex Street, extending eastward to Castro Street, then following a line northwesterly from Castro and Chenery Streets to the intersection of Surrey and Douglass Streets (the latter today’s Van Buren Street – see Google Map below). It was the area closest to the Mission Park and Zoo – west of both Van Buren Street and the intersection of Brompton Avenue and Chenery Street – that still remained largely uninhabited in 1899.

And it would remain so for another seven years. The heyday of the Glen Park resort seemed to pass after the season of 1900. While the entertainment continued to be advertised and visitors continued to congregate on the pleasuring grounds, the “mammoth” and sensational nature of the shows seemed to fade. On July 24, 1900, Baldwin & Howell sold lots 4 to 49 of the Glen Park Tract (the approximate area of the north side of Chenery Street, between Lippard Avenue west to the intersection of Surrey Street and Chenery, and the south side of Surrey Street between Chenery and Lippard – see Google Map below) to J.H. Lyons of the Bank of California for $8500 (average of $190 per lot). Baldwin & Howell later advertised home lots in Glen Park Terrace on November 25, 1900, for $250, $25 down:

“… a splendid opportunity to commence and secure a future home. GLEN PARK TERRACE. One-half block from electric cars; only 25 minutes from City Hall …”

Then, on August 3, 1901, the following transaction was reported in the San Francisco Call:

“Glen Park, the Mission breathing ground, has passed into the hands of the Crocker Estate Company. The park has been leased for five years and will be kept open as a place of amusement. Deeds were passed yesterday from the California Title Insurance and Trust Company, A.S. Baldwin and the Glen Park Company to the Crocker Estate Company, transferring the property comprised in Glen Park, about 100 acres. The deed from the California Title Insurance and Trust Company showed a consideration of $150,000, as indicated by the revenue stamps, and the consideration in the deed from the Glen Park Company to Baldwin and from him to the Crocker Estate Company was $125,000.

“The transfers, according to Baldwin & Howell, agents in the transaction, represent in a settlement on the part of the Castro-street Land Company, the Glen Park Company and the Crocker Estate Company. The transfers also close out the interests of the Glen Park and Castro-street companies, whose holdings, after the payment of the indebtedness to the Crocker Estate Company, were purchased by A.S. Baldwin for about $75,000. The deeds filed yesterday, which include a large amount of land adjacent to the park, include conveyances to Baldwin of the holdings of the two companies mentioned.”

Next, on March 27, 1903 A.S. and Emma Baldwin were reported to have quietly transferred to Baldwin & Howell,

“… lots 4 to 49, block A, Glen Park Terrace; also lots 1, 4, 7 to 17, block 1, subdivision 1, Castro-street Addition; also lots 1, 2, 6, 10 and 11, block 2, same; also lots 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 to 11, 13, 14, 16 to 21, 24, 25, 27, 33, 34 to 39, 42 to 49, 52 to 59. block 3, same; also lots 5, 6, 9, 20, 21, 23, 25 to 35, block 4, same: also lots 2, 5, 7, 9 and 10, block 5, same; also lots 3, 5 to 12, 15 and 16, block 6, same; also lots 4, 6 to 14, block 7, same; lots 1, 3, 6, 8, 11 and 12, block 8, same; also lots 1, 2, 3, 7 to 13, block 9, same; …”

Price of the sale? $10.00. It is interesting to note that lots 4 to 49 previously transferred to J.H. Lyons of the Bank of California appear once again in this transaction two years later.

The front page of a brochure advertising the sale of lots in Glen Park Terrace by the Rivers Brothers Agency (no date, but likely after the Rivers Brothers acquired lots on the property in 1904).  California General Subject Collection, courtesy of the Alice Phelan Sullivan Library, Society of California Pioneers.. (Click image to enlarge)

Finally, on August 28, 1904,

“Baldwin & Howell report the purchase of 125 lots by Rivers Bros. in the Castro-street Addition and Glen Park terrace on private terms. The purchase disposes of all the remaining lots owned by Baldwin & Howell in the two additions. Rivers Bros. will construct cottages and sell them on installments.”

Except for the sale of two lots (42 and 43 – again) for $1000 reported January 21, 1906, Baldwin & Howell would no longer have any association with Glen Park Terrace. By 1905, with the five-year lease issued by the Crocker Estate Company for the continued operation of the Glen Park resort nearing its end, there was talk of moving the remnants of the zoo to a new Mission Park on the property of the Old Jewish Cemetery, today’s Dolores Park.

Yet, perhaps Baldwin let the lands go too soon, for after the Great Earthquake and

G. H. Umbsen & Co., sale of lots in Glen Park Terrace. From the San Francisco Call, April 9, 1907. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

Conflagration of 1906, sales of Glen Park Terrace would take off. The first auction of home lots in San Francisco after the earthquake was by G.H. Umbsen & Co., who announced on September 23, 1906 that, “… the day of the shack is doomed and that henceforth San Francisco is to witness the erection of permanent buildings.” Sixty-three lots “near Glen Park” were sold the previous week “in an incredibly short space of time” for prices ranging from $250 to $1050 per lot. On November 10 of that year, the Call reported, “There has been no cessation in the demand for small residence property and considerable realty has changed hands in the Glen Park Terrace district, Richmond and east of the park [Golden Gate].”

Because the “new” Mission Park at Church and 18th Streets had become Camp 29 for

Camp 29 earthquake refugee camp located at the “new” Mission Zoo in today’s Dolores Park in 1906. Housing refugees here rather than the “old” Mission Zoo in Glen Park would help fuel a rush of home sales in Glen Park Terrace. California General Subject Collection. Courtesy of the Alice Phelan Sullivan Library, Society of California Pioneers.(Click image to enlarge)

earthquake refugees, with hundreds of earthquake shacks erected on the grounds, its official opening would be delayed until 1910. There has been confusion over the years as to whether a refugee camp ever existed in Glen Park. It seems probable that with refugees encamped at the “new” Mission Park (Dolores Park), Glen Park Terrace was left wide open for purchase of home lots and the construction of new housing.

Over the next four to five years, G.H. Umbsen would hold several auctions for lots at Glen Park Terrace until 1910. It appears it may have been Umbsen who gave Glen Park the designation of “the Switzerland of San Francisco,” as seen in the ads shown here. As an aside, Umbsen was indicted in 1907 for bribing members of the Board of Supervisors during the graft scandal that also involved Mayor Eugene Schmitz and his “boss,” Abe Ruef.

G. H. Umbsen & Co., sale of lots in Glen Park Terrace. From the San Francisco Call, February 10, 1907. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

And that is how the Glen Park we know today came to be. We can thank A.S. Baldwin for his foresight and determination in following through with his plans to establish a park and zoo in the Outside Lands of the Gum Tree Tract, the same land the City of San Francisco would eventually purchase and, that still today, remains the City’s largest area of wild and open space outside of the Presidio.

In the next post, we will attempt to place the actions of A.S. Baldwin in context, and review why the village of Glen Park and Glen Canyon may qualify as historically significant areas.

G. H. Umbsen & Co., sale of lots in Glen Park Terrace. From the San Francisco Call, March 6, 1910. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

G. H. Umbsen & Co., sale of lots in Glen Park Terrace. From the San Francisco Call, October 20, 1907. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

View Glen Park Terrace and the Castro Street Addition-Subdivision 1 in a larger map


      1. San Francisco Chronicle, various issues, available at San Francisco Public Library Articles and Databases.
      2. San Francisco Call, various issues, available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.
      3. Baldwin & Howell, Series I, Office Files, Box 1/7, File 4 (History), and Record of Sales. San Francisco History Center, 6th Floor. San Francisco Public Library.



© 2012. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.         Last update September 14, 2012.

The San Francisco Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park (Part IV)

Part IV: Dashing! Daring! Death-Defying! Relaxing at the Mission Zoo

The brightness of its attractions is what has caused Glen Park to become such a popular resort. There is always something startling and novel to be seen there and the sunshine that floods the park adds to the pleasure.

The anniversary of the admission of the State of California to the Union was a celebrated event a century ago. This image is from a free picnic at the proposed Mission Park and Zoo on September 9, 1898, the same day Morro Castle (see upper left) officially opened. The official zoo opening would not occur until five weeks later. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library. (Click image to enlarge)

We are sometimes reminded that the passage of time can erase various chapters of our history. For example, the history of Woodward’s Gardens, the premier amusement venue in San Francisco from 1866-1891, is well preserved in both word and image. However, in the case of the Mission Zoo and Park at the Gum Tree Tract in Glen Park, this did not appear to be the case … at least on the surface. While it was a “mammoth” event that would not have its heyday until near the turn of the 20th century, several years after Woodward’s closed, the complete history of the Mission Zoo and its intended purpose of selling home lots in Glen Park Terrace had been forgotten. It’s legacy was a victim of the passing of a century, the gradual loss of living memories, and the tucking away of rare historic facts and records, some of which were forever lost in the great earthquake and conflagration.

The only general awareness of the Mission Zoo before the publication of this series of posts at Tramps of San Francisco was: a) a zoo had existed at some point in Glen Canyon, and b) it included a high-wire act and a castle. These minimal facts were supported by two readily accessible photographs at the San Francisco Public Library. This research has now shown that both images were taken before the zoo officially opened.

Now with the availability of digitized information on the Internet, obscure resources and facts have become more accessible. Bundle that with a few hobnailed tramps to our local historic libraries, and the history of the Mission Zoo and Park can be brought to light and pieced together so that it can once again be known and appreciated.

Rediscovering the breadth of events that occurred at the Mission Zoo and Park has been a remarkable journey. So, sit back, pour yourself another beverage, and get ready for a wild ride, for Glen Park a century ago was wilder than our wildest imagination.

As the San Francisco Board of Supervisors fought over the proposed purchase of the Gum Tree Tract, the promoters of the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens worked to keep the proposed zoo in the forefront of the public’s attention. Approximately one week before the Board was to make their final decision (see Part I), the management put on a large picnic in Glen Park to celebrate Admission Day (the anniversary of the admission of California as the thirty-first state) on September 9, 1898. From reports, the picnic was attended by a “… large crowd of visitors, all of whom spent the day most pleasantly.”

The official opening of the zoo would not occur for another five weeks, but Admission Day served as the official Opening Day for Morro Castle (see Part III). Noted in the press as one of the great events of the day, children thronged the playgrounds and marched up to the castle in honor of the recent victory in Cuba, led by a,

“… grand marshal, conspicuous for his small size. He proudly wore an immense star as his emblem of authority, and was mounted on a Shetland pony. The procession consisted of a band and a long line of wagons, gayly decorated and filled with happy children, waving flags and cheering. Upon reaching the Morro Castle they enthusiastically saluted the Stars and Stripes which floated over the historic structure in place of the colors of Spain. The demonstration was certainly an evidence of genuine patriotism.

“The children, as well as the older people, were very much interested in the elk, the seal, the cranes, the ducks and the birds that are kept in the park. The swings, the see-saws, spring-boards, flying Dutchman and other amusements kept the children in continual enjoyment. They had their lunch in an attractive pavilion, which had been arranged for them by the Mission Park and Zoo people.”

The Wild Menagerie

Zoo management began populating the zoo with wild and exotic animals before the official Opening Day, likely with the assistance of Anson C. Robison, the commercial dealer who had earlier itemized the proposed cost of the animals (see Part II). A bear pit was noted to exist at the zoo, but how many bear and whether they were black bear, grizzly bear, or both is not known. As noted above, elk, deer, a seal (this lone sea mammal was presumably sequestered in land-locked, man-made Seal Lake), cranes, and ducks were exhibited. While other animals were distributed elsewhere in the park, some appear to have been housed at Morro Castle, “… with its wild animals, the donkeys, Punch and Judy show, swings, etc, …” Another report in the San Francisco Call noted Morro Castle would be “… devoted entirely to a various assortment of the feathery tribe, include a loft for homing pigeons.”

The full list of animals actually acquired for the Mission Zoo has not yet been found, but newspaper reports in 1898 and 1899 hint to the extent of the menagerie:

  • Two emus, arriving on the Moana from Queensland, Australia, were added to the animal “collection” in May 1899
  • A peacock was allowed to wander about the zoo. When it flew the coop one day, he wandered down Glen Avenue and was captured by a young man, who took him to the grocery where he worked on Precita Avenue. He was eventually arrested for theft, and both he and the peacock ended up at the Mission Jail
  • A big baboon, reported to be “the largest in the United States,” and a two-headed calf were both added in August 1899

The Attractions

Death-defying acts were the norm at Glen Park and helped draw thousands of people to the park. Sadly, death would prevail at least twice, forcing visitors to witness horrendous outcomes.

Balloon Ascensions and Parachuting

While the first heavier than air, power-controlled flight would not be achieved until 1903, aeronautics was nothing new in 1898. The first hot air balloon had ascended in France in 1783, and it became an important mode of reconnaissance for both the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War. What was relatively new, however, was parachuting. In fact, the first recorded parachute jump was accomplished by T.S. Baldwin (no known relation to A.S. Baldwin, promoter of the Mission Zoo) in San Francisco in 1887. Balloon ascensions had become a popular attraction after the Civil War but were “losing their novelty.” So, Baldwin, a balloonist who first learned the craft as a young boy, performed as an acrobat with the circus, flew a balloon for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and successfully walked a tightrope from the Cliff House to Seal Rocks, decided to add a little excitement to the act by introducing a sudden descent by parachute.

Piecing together tidbits of various newspaper reports help us understand the procedure. Sand bags suspended by cords held the balloon in place until it was time for lift-off. The balloons were inflated with gas (usually helium) before the cords were released and the ascension began. Ascensionists needed to ensure that the balloon was inflated with enough gas to reach an altitude of 300 feet before they lifted off. After leaving the ground and “… when at sufficient height a signal from below [was] given the aeronauts to cut loose and descend to earth by means of their parachutes.” Balloon ascensions could reportedly go as high as 5000 feet, at which point they either descended in the balloon, or they parachuted down.

Beneath the balloon was a trapeze bar that was attached to a parachute made of canvas. As the parachutist jumped from the basket, the force of the exiting body weight detached the parachute from the balloon. Often, the aeronauts would perform a trapeze act or other acrobatics before parachuting from the balloon and floating back to solid ground. If they were flying solo, it is not yet clear how the balloon returned to Earth and was retrieved without a pilot. (Get a Bird’s-eye view of San Francisco, Cal. in 1902 during an ascension by T.S. Baldwin from today’s South Van Ness Avenue near Market Street, filmed by the Thomas A. Edison Co, 1902, presented by the Library of Congress.)

Professor Charles Conlan, “the daring young aeronaut,” was the first to ascend from Glen Park on Opening Day, though it apparently was a rather bumpy ride. His first balloon ascent was reported to be,

“… a dismal failure – the balloon failing to clear him from the ground and collapsing ignominiously on an adjoining hillside. A second attempt was even more disastrous, the balloon catching fire and being totally destroyed.”

Soon, Conlon would become the reigning Pacific Coast champion by racing at Glen Park against Mademoiselle (Mlle.) Anita of London, a self-proclaimed “sky-climber with no equals.” In what was billed as “a novel affair,” the race occurred on a cold day in December a week before Christmas. In a scene reminiscent of Dorothy and Toto ascending by balloon from the Emerald City of Oz to return to Kansas,

“… as the big swaying air ships left the ground together they were greeted with cheers and good-byes commingled. They cut loose from their balloons and dropped back to earth almost at the same time – Conlon, however, went higher than his fair competitor.”

The decision for Pacific Coast Champion was by popular ballot, each park visitor being allowed one vote. Conlon received 1050 votes versus Mlle. Anita’s 659. It was reported that Conlon won the contest by performing “in midair the difficult and hazardous tricks” on the trapeze. In another ascension, Conlon “… disappeared in the clouds shortly after he left the earth, and it was many minutes before he reappeared coming through the fog in his parachute. He landed not far from where he went up.” In another attempt, Conlan landed in the cold waters of Islais Creek.

An image of a possibly staged event for the “proposed” Mission Zoo, perhaps to promote how successful the zoo could be. The hill appears to be Martha Hill. The dirt road is likely today’s Bosworth Street entrance into Glen Canyon. The round structure in the center is a helium balloon, with the letters “GL” (Glen Park). Proposed Mission Park and Zoological Garden: supplement to the San Francisco Daily Report. Scenes in Glen Park – the Proposed Mission Zoo (no date). Provided by the North Baker Research Library,California Historical Society(Click image to enlarge)

The aeronaut Professor F. P. Hagel was another frequent flyer at Glen Park with a balloon he named Glen Park. Reported to be a more skilled parachutist, Professor Hagel once returned within 200 feet of his point of ascension. Another time at Glen Park, he landed on a rock and broke his arm.

Look closely at the image to the left. The globular object near the center of the picture is a partially inflated balloon. The letters “GL” can be seen on the side. While the image is from 1897 during an earlier promotion for Glen Park Terrace, this may be Professor Hagel’s balloon.

Aspiring aeronauts would sometimes receive training in front of the crowds at Glen Park. On New Year’s Day, 1899, Professor Conlan instructed an unnamed young man, already a trapeze performer, in balloon ascension. They lifted off side by side, with Conlan remaining within speaking distance so he could continue to instruct the novice how to manage his balloon and when to cut loose to parachute back to earth.

Another young man was reported to have “showed his sense” when he came to the conclusion that “discretion was the better part of valor” and decided not to participate at the last minute. According to news reports, he “… was seen climbing the hills in a hurried escape.” But, experienced aeronaut Ed Larsen stepped in, and he and Conlan “went soaring to the clouds, and both safely descended into the deer park at the Mission Zoo.”

Robert Earlston, a young aeronaut who was already lame from a previous fall from a balloon, had another close call at Glen Park:

Young Robert Earlston was lucky to survive a fall of 30 feet,  after “falling like a rocket” at Glen Park. He was taken to San Francisco City and County Hospital, and  was able to walk home later that day. From the San Francisco Call, September 18, 1899. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

“… he had cut loose from a balloon at Glen Park, and went down like a rocket, a distance of thirty feet, striking upon his head on a pile of loose dirt and rocks. A thousand spectators witnessed the thrilling sight.

“Earlston went up a distance of 1000 feet with the balloon. When he left the ground he had hold with his teeth of a rope attached to the bar of the parachute. He at once set to work to give an exhibition of his skill and performed a number of tricks in midair. At the height of about 1000 feet he cut loose. The parachute opened promptly and he began to journey downward, holding on to the parachute bar. As he came down, not any faster than usual, the bar of the parachute struck against one of the new Mission street road’s trolley wires. That threw the aeronaut.”

Fortunately for Earlston, he was able to walk home from the City and County Hospital later that day with only a mild concussion.

At least two aeronauts died after losing control during their descent by parachute at Glen Park. Albert McPherson’s parachute became caught in overhanging wires on the trolley line and he slammed into the trestle bridge. Novice Daniel Maloney, 21 years old and a groundskeeper for the zoo and park, met a similar fate in only his fourth flight in front of 4000 people at Glen Park. “When forty feet in the air the young aeronaut lost his grip on the parachute bar and to the horror of the crowd, punctured by the shrieks of women, fell to the ground within a few feet of the point of departure.” He was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital for care. The previous week, his life had been spared when his balloon had caught fire in midair and, when he cut loose, the parachute had still been able to open despite not having reached an adequate altitude.

High-wire and other Elevated Acts

Wallenda-like performances were another big attraction at the Mission Park and Zoo, advertised as “… hair-raising blood-stirring events.”

On Opening Day in October 1898, it was reported that high-wire athlete Professor J. Williams, known by many as John Williams, the “Intrepid Cliff House Bird Man,” would attempt a “dangerous undertaking” and “cross over the canyon 1000 feet in width on a tight wire 300 feet above the ground. The performance, if successful, will probably eclipse anything of a like character ever before attempted.” This was an act of true daring for a man who was a mainstay at the Cliff House and Ocean Beach with his trained canaries, parakeets, and love birds, having apparently been challenged to make the crossing for a wager of $500. “Several thousand people” were in attendance to witness his “perilous walk.” Beginning at 2 p.m., it took him 20 minutes to make the crossing.

The so-called Bird Man of Ocean Beach and Cliff House fame  (which would imply Professor Williams and not Willis) decided to experience the thrill of flying like a bird at the Mission Zoo in Glen Park. From the San Francisco Call, December 9, 1898. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

A Professor Willis (though the media reported that some recognized him as the “canary bird man of the ocean beach,” so this was likely John Williams) performed a “dashing, daring and thrilling feat” in his attempt to dive 300 feet into a net. The act was described as “a human bomb from a clear sky, personified by the world’s greatest atmospheric performer.” Some doubters measured the wire’s height at just under 84 feet, not including the net stretched out 12 feet above the ground on a frame of stilts.

He preceded his dive in late December 1898 with a walk along the tightrope stretched across what he called the “Rockydike Gulch.”  Then,

” … a blast of trumpets tore holes in the air of the glen and an impresario told the people that the great show was to begin. By a rope running through a pulley fastened to the wire above, “Canary Birds” was hoisted skyward. Sitting on the trapeze he slowly reached his altitudinal limit, the small boys below yelling all the time about frigid nether extremities. The great dropper was pretty high up and there was only one way to come down, so he hung from the trapeze and dropped. With bated breath and stiffened hair the crowd watched his mighty and successful fall, and then a cheer went up which shook the sky a few feet above the wire and the crowd dispersed.”

In a separate feat, Professor Ramous, “champion high diver of the world,” also known as the “Hawaiian human flying fish,” would, “… attempt to dive into a stream in Glen Park from a pedestal 100 feet in height.” Historically, Islais Creek was the largest body of water in San Francisco and was much wider and deeper before being channeled into a culvert near today’s Glen Canyon Recreation Center. No reports were found as to the outcome of the Professor’s attempt, or if he attempted the plunge at all.

Another act performed by H.C. Romaine was advertised as, “A daring cyclist who rides his wheel down a ladder 160 feet long from an elevation of 100 feet …” as a feature of one week’s “open-air entertainment.” His attempt was reported to be successful.

Entertainers and Vaudeville Performers

A large number of performers, many of them nationally and internationally famous, performed before the crowds at the Mission Park and Zoo. What follows is a short list of advertised shows.

The Australian born riders, George (1890-1955) and Elsie St Leon (1884-1976) with their horses, New York ca. 1915 (ringmistress and clown are unidentified). The act, called Bostock’s Riding School, was presented at fairs and in vaudeville programs throughout the United States into the 1920s. Image courtesy of Dr Mark St Leon, Sydney, Australia. (click image to enlarge)


Studio portrait of Elsie St Leon, Australian-born equestrienne and third generation of the Australia’s St Leon circus family, New York, ca. 1908. Elsie was acknowledged as one of America’s finest equestriennes, the only woman capable of turning an “‘unattended’ somersault on the back of a moving horse.” Image courtesy of Dr Mark St Leon, Sydney, Australia. (click image to enlarge)

Elsie St Leon (1884-1976): A third-generation member of Australia’s most prominent circus family, The St Leon’s, Elsie’s training as an acrobat, equestrian, and all-around circus performer began early. She made her first public appearance in a novelty juggling act at the age of 7. By 1896, Elsie, her siblings, and parents had made their way to North America, often performing as The Five St Leons.

Elsie was only 15 years old when her performance at the Mission Zoo was described as an act of “Clever Horsemanship … performing amazing equestrian tricks.” She apparently had previously experienced equine control issues when it was reported in the Call that her, “… equestrian fetes … will be more wonderful than any of her previous performances. She now has her pony ‘Swipes’ perfectly under control and the tricks she is performing on him daily are phenomenal.” She also sometimes performed on the trapeze. On June 11, 1899, she received top billing at Glen Park as “The Celebrated Bareback Circus Rider in New and Daring Equestrian Feats.” Her performances of bareback riding and hurdle-jumping were apparently well received, so much so that she returned again and again to the Mission Zoo in 1899. The Five St Leons also gave an acrobatic performance at least once at Glen Park. (Read more about the St Leons at

“Madame Schell in a cage with two lions.” Circa 1910. Image courtesy of the Elizabeth West Postcard Collection, 1887-1955, Harvard University. (click image to enlarge)

Madame Schell and Her Trained Lions: According to advertisements, “Famous lion tamer Madame Schell, one of the successful lion tamers of modern times and the daring of this little woman and the performance of her three ferocious lions excels anything of a like character ever before exhibited in public.” Unlike Elsie St Leon, Madame Schell was not a frequent performer at Glen Park.

Lillian Smith, the “California huntress” of the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and archrival of Annie Oakley (ca. 1888). Image courtesy of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming. (Click image to enlarge)




Lillian Smith, “The champion rifle-shot of the world”: Lillian Smith was born in 1871 in Coleville, California. She first performed her marksmanship in San Francisco at the age of 10, and by the time she was 15 she was traveling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show performing as the “champion California huntress.” Lillian and Annie Oakley detested each other, causing Oakley to leave Buffalo Bill’s show after performances in London in 1887.

Other entertainers at the Mission Zoo included, but certainly are not limited to:

Dubell – “celebrated aerialist”

The Troy Trio – “world famous fire kings, direct from New York”

Idaline – “the famous Parisian dancer in her initial bow to American audiences, considered to be the ‘terpsichorean premier'”

Lajess – “double contortion performance”

Edward Olcott – “clown contortionist”

Little Rosie Bennet – “the child wonder”

Kecko – “the gymnastic ape”

Waldo and Elliott– “on the double trapeze”

Al Hazard – “the celebrated ventriloquist”

M. Fletcher and Daughter Edith – “the comedians”

Arnaldo– “feats of hand balancing”

Japanese Wire Walking was one of the many feats performed by the Oura’a Royal Japanese Troupe of Gymnasts at Glen Park. From the San Francisco Call, April 29, 1900. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

The Sawyer Sisters – song and dance artists

Morris Brothers – “feats of strength”

Oura’s Royal Japanese Troupe of Gymnasts– “Japanese wire walking” and other acrobatics

The Schaidelles – “stilt tumbling”

Barney Reynolds – comedy

Baby Troy – female impersonations

Other advertised acts by performers who remained anonymous included a: balancing ladder act, a performance by “educated cockatoos,” bareback trick riding, dramatic reading, black-faced comedy, mind reading, triple horizontal bar work, acrobatic tumbling, and “other feats of merit.”

Musical Performances

The Fourth Cavalry Band – The U.S. Army transferred the headquarters of the Fourth Cavalry and its band from Fort Walla Walla, Washington to the Presidio in June 1898. At the time, they were only one of four remaining regiments in the U.S. Army who still performed as a mounted band. The Call reported that,

“With the exception of the cornets, all the brass instruments of the bandsmen

The Fourth Cavalry Band, one of only four remaining mounted bands in the U.S. Army in 1898, had just transferred their headquarters to the Presidio in San Francisco and quickly became popular among the Glen Park pleasure-seekers. From the San Francisco Call, June 1898. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

encircle the shoulders, enabling them to hold them steadily and firmly when walking, trotting, or even galloping. Even the horses were noted to enjoy the music and seemed to march in step.” Led by a Colonel Morris, the Fourth Cavalry Band would perform several times in Glen Park, including on Opening Day in 1898.

The Tivoli Theatre Orchestra was also noted to have “rendered some choice musical selections.” Other concerts by the Glen Park Band and the Warren Lombardero Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra also regularly performed.


A Flag Day parade, and foot races for boys and girls were part of the festivities of May Day, 1900. From the San Francisco Call, May 2, 1900. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

Some weeks at the Mission Zoo, it was the pleasure-seekers themselves who put on the show. As announced one week in the Call,

“The games are to be one of the most interesting features of the afternoon. There are all kinds of races, and races scheduled for all kinds of people. Age or weight will be no bar, nor will sex or social condition. There will be races for girls and for boys; for young women and young men; for married women and married men; for fat women and fat men. Then there will be three-legged races, egg races and bicycle races. There will be an amateur race for the Labor day medal, a cross-country bicycle race for the Glen Park cup, a fine hose coupling contest by members of the Fire Department, a tug-of-war between members of the different unions and a cakewalk.”

Cake-walking, the big fad of the late 1890s, was originally developed by enslaved African Americans in the South to mock the stiff, waltzing dance of their white owners. White Americans eventually developed black-faced minstrel shows to mock this African American dance, not realizing the joke was actually on them. Dances were judged and the winners often received a piece of cake. Cakewalking is considered to be the root of American jazz music (Learn more about cake-walking).

The German-American League held a celebration in Glen Park in 1903, one of many local clubs to rent the grounds of the Gum Tree Tract for picnics and parties. Bowling was a popular game, as was dancing under the stars. It is not clear what activity is being performed on the left side of this image. From the San Francisco Call, October 5, 1903. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

BowlingOften, private clubs would schedule picnics in Glen Park. The German-American League had one such picnic and included bowling as part of festivities that continued well into the night:

“The whole German colony of the city, with their lunch baskets and their flaxen haired children, flocked out to the warm little glade in  the Mission hills before the sun was four hours old, and there on the sun-browned hills and in the shaded glens reveled to their hearts’ content until the moon shone over Twin Peaks.”

Homing pigeon races: Homing pigeons were often released from Glen Park to make their way back to home base in East Oakland. From the number of articles in the news media around the turn of the 20th century, homing pigeon races up and down the Pacific Coast were a big event. Birds were rated for distance and time, and champion birds could cover almost 900 yards per minute and fly nearly 400 miles without stopping.

While most racing homing pigeons were identified by a series of letter and numbers, one bird seemed to fly above the rest. Skyrocket, shown here, could cover 400 miles in a little over 13 hours. It is not known if Skyrocket ever raced at Glen Park. From the San Francisco Call, May 25, 1899. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

Boxing: In June of 1899, a “scientific sparring exhibition” was scheduled between Tom Sharkey, a self-proclaimed “Champion of the World” and Spider Kelly, a former sailor. The match was to be refereed by Joe Kennedy. It was noted that the fight would occur during the daytime so that “variascope” pictures could be taken, and was staged to help promote and attract big professional fights to Glen Park in the future. As reported in the Call,

“… several thousand people swarmed out over the hills to the scene of the promised exhibition. Many of them had never had the honor of gazing at the muscular form of the pugilistic wonder and they were determined not to overlook the present opportunity. The exodus from the city commenced about noon and for the next four hours the electric cars on the San Mateo line were taxed to their utmost capacity. Passengers clung to the sides and rear and even clambered upon the roofs of the cars, and when driven from the latter hung by their hands to the sign that ran along its edge. Others clung to the window frames and to one another until there was nothing left to cling to. Occasionally a passenger lost his grip and went rolling and tumbling along the road, but, although several of the victims received severe shakings up, they invariably refused to give up the trip and retire for repairs …

The big event at Glen Park in the summer of 1899 was the mismatched bout between professional pugilist Tom Sharkey and ex-sailor Spider Kelly. The event was actually a promotion to attract future professional fights to Glen Park, so there was no real victor in this bout. From the San Francisco Call, June 19, 1899. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

“Sharkey looked big enough to swallow his shadowy opponent, but Kelly ducked and sidestepped in the most approved fashion and the blows aimed at his head usually went wide. ‘Dewey’s Destroyer,’ as Sharkey has rechristened his good right arm, was not brought into action to any great extent, and to that fact the Spider probably owes possession of an undamaged anatomy. The sailor was as live as a cricket, however, and although Kelly was suffering from a severe case of indisposition the exhibition was eminently satisfactory and met with the unqualified approval of the audience.”

Wrestling: Crowds also made their way to Glen Park to view Hali Adali, better known as “The Terrible Turk” or “The Sultan’s Lion,” wrestle J. J. Cameron, “a Bonny Scot.” The more hulking Adali was expected to win the contest within a matter of minutes, but,

Hali Adali and J.J. Cameron in a wrestling bout at Glen Park, May 1900. When Adali grabbed the Scot’s so-called “kilts,” Cameron “hooted” so loud that Adali released his grip. From the San Francisco Call, May 7, 1900. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

“The Scotchman wriggled and twisted, dodged and sweated to such good purpose that the Turk was unable to throw him. Whereat the populace was glad and cheered loudly. The ‘Terrible Turk’ put forth his best efforts, but Cameron’s accent was too much for him. When Hali Adali secured his famous ‘jail’ hold the braw Scotchman ejaculated, ‘Dinna ye ken, mon, ye canna doon me,’ and when the Turk caught hold of the Caledonian’s kilts he howled ‘Hoot mon!’ so lustily that the ‘lion’ released his grip.”

Automobile: A modern marvel before the turn of the 20th century, an automobile was advertised to be “in operation” at Glen Park one Sunday in September 1899, and was to “convey passengers around the park.”

Electricity: The power of electric light was still a novelty on July 2, 1899, when Glen Park was reported to be “aglow” with incandescent and arc lights, after the grounds were “extensively wired.”

Military Games

Mounted broad-sword contest:  This exciting event was scheduled more than once and was not onlyperformed  by two of the most “scientific sword fighters in the country,” but also on horseback. One contest featured a mounted sword match between Sergeant G.W. Moffitt of the Fourth Cavalry (U.S. Army, Presidio of San Francisco) and Lieutenant J. L. Waller of the National Guard. Both were noted to be “deft and handy with their weapons” and spectators were promised an exciting exhibition. Even though Sergeant Moffatt “broke his sword during the third attack, he won the contest with the close score of 11 to 9.”

Shooting Range: As noted in Part III, a shooting range had been constructed so that shots could be fired from one side of Glen Canyon to the other. Military batteries from around the Bay Area would venture to Glen Park for a weekend stay. It was often reported that the soldiers had enjoyed the grounds with an elaborate dinner and party the previous evening before competing against each other the next day.

Unbeknownst to modern pleasure-seekers, sham military battles took place in the wilds of Glen Canyon a century ago, helping members of the California National Guard hone their skills in practice battles that included real weapons. This sham battle took place in Glen Canyon 12 days before the Great Earthquake. From the San Francisco Call, April 6, 1906. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection(click image to enlarge)

Sham Battle: Practicing battle tactics and maneuvers with actual weapons was a new requirement for the U.S. Army in 1906, and Glen Canyon was the perfect location for local National Guard units to receive their hands-on experience:

“Company F. N. G. C. held a military field day at Glen Park yesterday. One of the features was a sham battle which was realistically presented by the enthusiastic militiamen. The ‘battle’ was waged with all the picturesque effects of the ‘real thing.’ Captain Stindt led the center in the charge of Company F against an invisible enemy. Lieutenant Hyde led the right and First Sergeant Bush the left.

“Taking advantage of all cover as they would have done had they been charging a real enemy with long range Mausers, the company crept up the slope of a hill until they were within fifty yards of the point to be taken. Then with a yell the company sprang from cover and rushed up the slope with fixed bayonets and charged the imaginary earthworks.

“After the ‘battle’ was over a number of the sports which are part of the day’s work with the regular army men were taken up, including cartridge and bayonet races. Target shooting wound up the day’s outing.”

The Final Measure of Success

Bears, elk, a big baboon, and a lonesome seal. Rocket birds and vagrant ostriches. Human bombs and atmospheric performances. Women with lions, women with guns, acrobatic women on the backs of horses. Pugilistic bouts, sham military battles, military bands on horses marching in step. The variety and inherent danger of many of the acts presented at the Mission Zoo and Park almost 115 years ago appears to have succeeded in bringing the masses to Glen Park.

But did it succeed in selling home lots? After all, that was the plan concocted by Baldwin & Howell: start a zoo to give people a good enough reason to make the journey to the the City’s Outside Lands at Glen Park. The next post of this series, Part V of The San Francisco Mission Zoo: The Wilder Days of Glen Park, will attempt to answer that question.


    1. Lockwood, C and Craig ,C. Woodward’s Gardens, c. 1860. Available at
    2. San Francisco Chronicle, various issues, available at San Francisco Public Library Articles and Databases.
    3. San Francisco Call, various issues, available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.
    4. San Francisco Examiner, various issues, available at the San Francisco Public Library.
    5. Oakland Tribune, various issues, available at
    6. History and Culture, Wright Brothers National Memorial. Available at the National Park Service.
    7. Anonymous. Thomas Scott Baldwin. Parachute Jump, 1887. Available at the Cliff House Project.
    8. Recks, R. Baldwin, Thomas A. Available at Who’s Who of Ballooning.
    9. Freeman, J. Johnnie the Birdman: The Original Birdman of San Francisco. Available at
    10. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. LID Basin Analysis Technical Memorandum Islais Creek Drainage Basin April 2009. Available at the SFPUC.
    11. St Leon, M. Personal communication, August 2012. St Leon family history available at
    12. The American Experience. Lillian Smith-Biography. Available at
    13. Brightwell, E. The roots of jazz – cakewalk – Amoeba’s jazz week. Available at Amoeblog.

© 2012. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update September 3, 2012.

The San Francisco Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park (Part III)

Part III – Glen Park Rocks!

Glen Park is a place of tall trees, benches placed in cool retreats, soda water counters and counters for the serving of other cooling beverages, and all the fixtures to be found at well-regulated pleasure retreats.

An image of a possibly staged event for the “proposed” Mission Zoo, perhaps to promote how successful the zoo could be. The hill appears to be Martha Hill. The dirt road is likely today’s Bosworth Street entrance into Glen Canyon. The round structure in the center is a helium balloon, with the letters “GL” (Glen Park). Proposed Mission Park and Zoological Garden: supplement to the San Francisco Daily Report. Scenes in Glen Park – the Proposed Mission zoo (no date). Image courtesy of the North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society. (Click image to enlarge)

To visit the little village of Glen Park today, located in the heart of the County of San Francisco, one would see no visible clues of its former glory as the City’s epicenter for fun, frolic, and excitement for thousands of adventure-seekers. As we learned in Part I, the whole enterprise was concocted to sell home lots in the new Glen Park Terrace. In Part II, history revealed how a prominent San Francisco architect had designed a grand and elegant structure for a zoo that would be sure to attract many.

The amusement venues for Sunday excursions available to the people of San Francisco in the late 1890s and early 1900s were many and varied. Just to name a few, they included a number of dramatic and comedy theaters, horse racing at Ingleside Park (you can still circle the track on Urbano Drive in Ingleside Terrace), events in the Mechanics Pavilion (Grove and Larkin Streets on the site of the Bill Graham Auditorium), the Chutes water park (first in the Haight, then later at Tenth Avenue and Fulton Street), baseball at Recreation Park (8th and Harrison Streets), and coursing — the pursuit of game by dogs, usually greyhounds, that used their sight instead of their nose — at the Ingleside Coursing Park (located west of the House of Refuge on today’s San Francisco City College campus). Several advertisements promoting weekend events ran in all of the City’s newspapers throughout the week. Usually listed under Amusements, capturing the attention of the greatest number of attendees with the biggest, most death-defying acts was paramount.

Once the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected the purchase of the Gum Tree Tract from the Baldwin & Howell agency in September 1898, plans for the Mission Park and Zoological Gardens seem to have been down-sized. The design by Frank S. Van Trees was never built, and all future reference to the enterprise would be shortened to the Mission Zoo, Mission Park, or just Glen Park. However, the show had to go on, and go on it did on a rocking scale.

Advertisement for a sensational Opening Day, Mission Park Zoo. San Francisco Chronicle, October 16, 1898. Courtesy of San Francisco Public Library, Articles and Databases(Click image to enlarge)

Opening Day

The grand opening of the Mission Zoo on October 16, 1898 was labeled as the “Sensation of the Century.” An over-the-top bill of events was scheduled, including a high-wire act, balloon ascension with a parachute drop, and the Fourth Cavalry Band performing while mounted on horses. This would set a high bar not only for subsequent weeks at the Mission Zoo, but also for the other amusement venues competing for the throngs of excursion-seekers every weekend throughout the City and Bay Area.



Monday reports of Sunday activities nearly always noted that the Mission Zoo was “well attended,” with crowds typically ranging well into the thousands. Opening Day alone garnered 10,000 to 15,000 people. The San Francisco Chronicle reported,

“The success of the first day augurs well for the future popularity of the grounds, and members of the Glen Park Company, which is behind the enterprise, feel satisfied that the attractions they offer will not fail to draw large crowds. As car after car, loaded in some cases to the roof, came to the park gates, the face of Superintendent E.M. Long took on an expansive smile of satisfaction. Even his hopes were exceeded.”

When the park “reopened” for a new season in April 1899, 8,000 people were reported to have attended the festivities.

The entrance fee to the Mission Park and Zoo was ten cents, and children under five were free. Some days were advertised as free admission for all, and all shows and events inside the 145-acre park were provided at no additional charge. Having just victoriously emerged from the Spanish-American War in the Caribbean and Pacific theaters, soldiers in uniform were always admitted free of charge. “Valuable prizes” were sometimes distributed at the gate, at least once noted to be from the San Francisco department store, The Emporium (whose flagship store was located on the site of today’s Westfield Shopping Center on Market Street between 4th and 5th Streets).

Getting There

The San Francisco Call reported just one month after Opening Day that, “Glen Park was fast becoming one of the most popular private resorts in the city, and fills the long-felt want of the Mission residents for a place of amusement in that section of the city.”  The crowds making their way to the Mission Zoo were soon overwhelming the San Francisco and San Mateo Railroad, with local newspapers reporting that the crowds could “hardly be handled by the railway companies.”

As highlighted in Part I, the first route had been established by the Joost Brothers in 1892 to bring residents to the neighboring Sunnyside district. Passengers traveled outbound from the downtown area by trolley, requiring a transfer at 30th and Chenery Streets. For well into the early 1900s, the Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory would list the main entrance to the Mission Zoo and Park as Diamond and Chenery Streets, where the railroad turned to continue its journey to the San Mateo County line.

View along Chenery Street at Lippard Avenue, before 1922. The tracks that carried trolley cars full of fun-seekers to the Mission Zoo are visible. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Historic Photograph Library, San Francisco Public Library.

By April 1899, a second track was added along Chenery, helping improve the frequency of trains now able to simultaneously go outbound and inbound. The following month, a new spur track was established so that riders no longer needed to transfer at Church and 30th but could now ride directly to the end of the zoo line at its Diamond and Chenery entrance. Eventually, the railroad would extend another 800 feet into the Park’s enclosure. Some maps note the terminus as Chenery Street and Lippard Avenue, though others show it extending all the way to Surrey Street.

This Crocker-Langley Guide Map (1902) highlights two of the three railroads that brought the hordes of passengers to Mission Park and Zoo in Glen Canyon. The first railroad established by the Joost Brothers brought passengers along Chenery to the Park’s entrance at Diamond. Later, the Market Street Railway delivered passengers to Berkshire and Burnside. By the early 1900s, the Southern Pacific Railroad had constructed the Bosworth Tunnel, depositing additional zoo-goers at Sunny Side (today’s Monterey Boulevard) and Baden Avenue (route not shown). Image courtesy of the North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society(Click image to enlarge)

At the same time, the Market Street Railway was in the process of completing new tracks along Berkshire Street from Chenery Street. According to the San Francisco Sanborn Insurance Maps from 1905 and earlier maps, Berkshire Street ran parallel to Wilder Street and Glen Avenue (today’s Chenery Street west of Diamond Street) to its intersection with Burnside Avenue. A remnant of Berkshire remains today as the alley named Kern Street, adjacent to and across from the Glen Park Branch of the San Francisco Public Library and running west for one block to Brompton Avenue, then beyond to Burnside via the grassy plots adjacent to Bosworth Street.

By 1905, yet another rail entry to the park was documented on the Guide Map of the City and County of San Francisco, published by J.J. Hoag (available at the North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society). This route made its way from downtown along San Jose Avenue, then advanced westerly on Sunny Side Avenue (today’s Monterey Boulevard) to its intersection with Baden Street. After disembarking, riders could then walk over the hill and approach the Mission Zoo from the south.

The Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) and Market-street Railway were also keen on bringing passengers to Mission Zoo and Park. City Supervisor Dr. Charles Clinton had earlier raised the hackles of real estate promoter A.S. Baldwin by refusing to support the City’s purchase of the Crocker-owned and Baldwin & Howell-managed Gum Tree Tract to establish the park and zoological gardens. Things had become so heated that Mayor James D. Phelan had to pull them apart (see Part I). Just three months later, in late December 1898, Supervisor Clinton was still adamantly opposed to any agreements, or “job” as he put it, for the new independent enterprise. The City had agreed to set aside $24,000 to construct the Bosworth Tunnel for SP and Mayor Phelan had not issued a veto, as Clinton had expected. Believing that SP could certainly pay for the tunnel itself and that Mayor Phelan was showing favoritism to both SP and zoo management, Clinton launched into a tirade,

“Mr. Chairman, I am surprised, I am pained. I was in hopes that this time your vote would be heard against this latest steal, this latest job that is being railroaded through this board for the benefit of the Southern Pacific and the owners of the Mission Zoo. I am surprised, I am shocked, your Honor, that for a single time you should have recognized and become a party to such a bare-faced steal as this Bosworth street tunnel … I understand that last week your Honor drove over the ground with one of the gentlemen who is largely interested in the Zoo Park … I do say that you were probably influenced. I say that this matter is an out and out steal, and the rankest that this board has worked …”

While Mayor Phelan responded his decision was based on a unanimous petition he had received from the residents of the Bosworth area in support of the tunnel. Yet, Clinton went on to call Phelan “… either a fool or a knave …” for not seeing that the better entrance be to extend Bosworth to Sunny Side Avenue to avoid the need for a tunnel. As noted above, Mission Zoo management and pleasure-seekers would eventually have the benefit of all three railroad access points.

Along with railway improvements for the new venture, local streets in Glen Park were requiring improvement as well. In 1899, it was noted that residents of the Glen Park district were “jubilant” over the newly refurbished street surface on Lippard Avenue, as well as the construction of three new foot bridges over Islais Creek. The one over the creek on Clinton Avenue (now Chilton Avenue) was reported to be “… a great convenience to women and children, who no longer will have to wade through mud or trail dust.”


It was noted in the press that the managers of Glen Park had spared no expense to make “… this Mission resort one of the most popular private outdoor places of amusement on the coast.”

In late 1898, a large tent was constructed for the performance of vaudeville and other acts. A “grand scenic road” was to lead visitors into the canyon (whether this is today’s “Alms Road” that leads to Silver Tree School, or the Bosworth Street entrance into Glen Canyon is not clear).  An overhead tramway was planned, but there is no evidence it was ever constructed. A large, rustic pavilion to be used as a café and capable of seating 200 people was also built and ready for business by Thanksgiving, 1898. In January 1899, a new vaudeville theatre was to begin construction to replace the existing “mammoth” amphitheatre, expected to have “the largest seating capacity of any place of amusement on the coast.” In July of 1899, the “big pavilion” was reported open.

Man-made resevoir noted to be at the “South End” of Glen Park. Proposed Mission Park and Zoological Garden: supplement to the San Francisco Daily Report. Scenes in Glen Park – the Proposed Mission Zoo (no date). Image courtesy of the North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society. (Click image to enlarge)

While the Italian renaissance design for the zoo envisioned by Van Trees was not built, some elements of the plan were retained. In August of 1899, the new Seal Lake was reported under construction along “the main driveway” in Glen Park. Additional man-made lakes were also installed.

Man-made lake described as “Upper Lake” in Glen Park. Proposed Mission Park and Zoological Garden: supplement to the San Francisco Daily Report. Scenes in Glen Park – the Proposed Mission Zoo (no date). Image courtesy of the North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society. (Click image to enlarge)

Mayor Phelan called for new bridges in Glen Park in June of 1900, as the existing structures were not strong enough to carry the crowds, based on an inspection by City Chief Engineer Carl Ewald Grunsky. The two bridges described as being the “farthest north, above the bear pit,” were reported to have stringers of insufficient strength. The Glen Park Company agreed to replace them.

Morro Castle

Morro Castle was constructed as part of the new Mission Zoo and Park, opening one month before the official zoo opening in October 1898. It commemorated the recent victories in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. It may have been located somewhere near today’s Sussex Street between Mizpah and Conrad Streets. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Historic Photograph Library, San Francisco Public Library.

A Moorish-style castle was built to resemble the famous structure of the same name in Havana, Cuba, site of the famous battle in which Bianco of the Spanish forces ordered the castle’s cannons to fire on the American Fleet during the Spanish-American War. Reports from Havana dominated the headlines in the months before the park and zoological gardens would open.

The Chronicle reported the location of Glen Park’s Morro Castle as “… on the side hill” in April 1899. In viewing images of Morro Castle from the perspective of Islais Creek, it’s possible the structure was located somewhere around the vicinity of modern-day Sussex Street at Mizpah, Swiss, or Conrad Streets.

Shooting Range

In July of 1899, a 200-yard target range was reported to be under construction in Mission Park “out Ingleside way.” It opened within the month with 10 targets and corresponding shooting stands “across the valley.” The San Francisco Call reported, “A fine shooting shed after the pattern of a Swiss Alpine house has been erected.” The range was upgraded in 1905. According to an article in the Call,

“The new shooting ground in Glen Park had its first trial yesterday, when Companies A, D and F of the First Regiment, National Guard of California, opened fire over the range. The contour of the park is such that the bullets are sent against the targets over the picnic grounds without endangering the safety of persons unless they be in the low lying valley. But this will never be permitted by Chris Stated, the lessee, who will see to it that no person is admitted inside the valley while shooting is in progress.

“The targets are on the east side of the hill, while the marksmen take their places in the west. The view is good, and with the young trees lately planted and growing into timber proportions, fogs such as invariable cloud the gulch when blown in from the ocean will be to a certain extent stopped from blurring the vision of the men at the breastworks.

“The station allotted for the soldiers is constructed in such a manner as standing up when firing is done away with. A breastwork on an incline plane, with rests for the rifles, is comfortably made, so that the men lie on their stomachs when firing.”

Management Challenges

As with any opening day, no matter the venue, the unanticipated is likely to happen. The size of the crowds was unexpected, and in the middle of San Francisco’s “Indian Summer,” the sun on Opening Day in 1898 was reported to be “beating down.” The Chronicle complained, “There was a noticeable lack of places of refreshment. Only one small stand had the privilege on the grounds. The proprietor ran out of drinkables early in the day, and appeased the clamorous thirst of his customers with ice water at 5 cents a glass. A public drinking fountain in the center of the grounds had a crushing patronage …”

The zoo was also not without controversy or crime. Just a couple of weeks after the Mission Zoo opened, the Call reported that,

“A horde of hoodlums made Rome howl at Glen Park yesterday. As a result several of them are registered at the Central Station, and they are not likely to repeat their actions. The racket started by the refusal of a couple of fellows to pay for drinks they had ordered, whereupon the bartender called a special policeman and he placed them under arrest. A gang of their pals interfered, and the fracas soon spread to many parts of the grounds. A message was sent to the Central Station and several officers were immediately dispatched to the scene, but everything had quieted down before they arrived.”

Finally, after much ado, the stage had been set, and the necessary transportation and structures were in place. The masses were coming to Glen Park for pleasure, excitement, and entertainment. So what about those death-defying, stupendous, world-famous, jaw-dropping attractions? We’ll learn more in the next post, Part IV of The Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park.

View San Francisco Mission Zoo: Wilder Days in Glen Park (Part III) in a larger map


    1. San Francisco Chronicle, various issues, available at the San Francisco Public Library, Articles and Databases.
    2. San Francisco Call, various issues, available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.
    3. San Francisco Examiner, various issues, available at the San Francisco Public Library.
    4. Oakland Tribune, various issues, available at
    5. Anonymous. Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory. H.S. Crocker Co.: San Francisco. 1897. Available at

© 2012. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco.      Last update August 26, 2012.