Part VI: Glen Park: Prequel to the San Francisco City Beautiful Movement?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 Library, California 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.
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:
“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
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
- The San Francisco Call, various issues. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
- The Oakland Tribune, various issues. Available at NewspaperArchve.com.
- The San Francisco Examiner, various issues. Available at the San Francisco Public Library.
- 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.
- Anonymous. Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory. H.S. Crocker Co.: San Francisco. 1897. Available at Archive.org.
- Pollock, Christopher. Golden Gate Park. Available at Encyclopedia of San Francisco.
- Anonymous. The City Beautiful Movement. In City Beautiful, The 1901 Plan for Washington, D.C. Available at the University of Virginia.
- Klein R. An overview of the City Beautiful movement as reflected in Daniel Burnham’s vision. Available at Cleveland State University.
- 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.
- 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.