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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
- San Francisco Chronicle, various issues, available at the San Francisco Public Library, Articles and Databases.
- San Francisco Call, various issues, available at California Digital Newspaper Collection.
- San Francisco Examiner, various issues, available at the San Francisco Public Library.
- Oakland Tribune, various issues, available at NewspaperArchive.org.
- Anonymous. Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory. H.S. Crocker Co.: San Francisco. 1897. Available at Archive.org.
© 2012. Evelyn Rose, Tramps of San Francisco. Last update August 26, 2012.