Walking around the Golden Gate Park, one can see a waterfall, gardens with a diverse set of flowers and a variety of plants. Some San Francisco residents are astonished to learn that this green landscape has not always existed and were in fact cultivated to such an extent that the creation of this park is quite unsustainable. Gray Brechin’s chapter “Water Mains and Bloodlines” in his book Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthley Ruin describes exactly how the Golden Gate Park became San Francisco’s Sussex.
William Ralston was a significant figure in San Francisco working as a financier and businessman during the 1860s. Many of his projects were intended to increase land values in San Francisco. One of his projects was to create a park that could “attract desirable, immigrants and investors”’ to the ocean and to help “legalize squatter land claims and quiet contested land titles” (Brechin 1999). Ralston first asked Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York’s Central Park, to design a park that could surpass New York’s park. Olmstead advised against such a feat because the lands adjacent to the ocean were tremendously windy. He instead suggested that the plan be moved to just west of the city center, but his advice was ignored and another engineer was hired for the job (Brechin 1999).
William Hammond Hall was the engineer that would make the Golden Gate Park possible. His experiments with dune anchoring barley and lupine were a success in raising more than just dust in the wind-swept sand dunes that made Land’s End. However, in order for the park to be realized a lot of water was needed to support plant growth. The Spring Valley Water Works had to find more water to “keep the illusion of Sussex in the Sahara alive” (Brechin 1999).
Before San Francisco had its Golden Gate Park, there was no natural recreational area, let alone any kind of public grounds for the city’s residents to enjoy and use to escape from the city. In the 1850s Charles C. Butler purchased 160 acres of land around Point Lobos (Delgado et al 2000). He used this land to develop a fashionable and exclusive resort that included the Cliff House. Many of the city’s residents could not afford to visit this resort. To get there, people had to travel to the site by carriage, paying tolls along the way (Delgado et al 2000), and then there was also a fee to stay a night at the inn. During the 1870s the Cliff House declined in popularity and eventually in 1881, a man named Adolph Sutro bought the house and surrounding land.
|"You have not seen San Francisco if you have not been to Sutro Baths and Museum." (Image from the Cliff House Project)|
From 1881 to 1898, Adolph Sutro began to build the Sutro Heights recreational complex. Sutro obtained much of his wealth through the Comstock Lode. He designed a tunnel to attempt to improve ventilation, drainage and safety problems for the miners (Western Neighborhood Project, 2004). In 1885, Sutro’s recreational complex opened to the public. In 1896, the Sutro Baths were completed. The trip on the Park and Ocean Railroad from downtown San Francisco to the seaside cost 20 cents round trip. It was very important to Sutro that everyone in the city, not just the affluent, gets to enjoy his development at Land’s End.
|(Image from the Cliff House Project)|
Sutro showed just how much he meant that his recreational complex remain affordable when he began to conflict with Southern Pacific railroad. In 1893, the Cliff House and Ferries Railway were purchased by Market Street Railway Company, which was a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Even though Sutro demanded that the fare not be increased, Souther Pacific Railroad did just that and increased the fare to 10 cents. Infuriated, Sutro fenced the property surrounding the recreational area and began to charge a fee to anyone who took the rail line managed by Southern Pacific. To rival Southern Pacific, Sutro then had another railroad built on Presidion Ave. just above Clement St, the street in which the Southern Pacific railroad operated, and charged half what Southern Pacific charged. Sutro’s tactics worked and profits for the Southern Pacific fell by 75%.
|Image from the Cliff House Project|
|Image from The Cliff House Project|
Brechin, Gray. Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin. University of California Press, Berkeley: 1999.
Delgado, James P., Bradley, Denise, Scolari, Paul M. and Stephen A. Haller, 2000. “The History and Significance of the Adolph Sutro Historic District: excerpts from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form prepared in 2000.” National Park Service: Sutro Baths History.
Rosen, Chrsitine Meiser and Arthur Tarr. “The Importance of an Urban Perspective in Environmental History.” Journal of Urban History, 20: 299, 1994.
Western Neighborhood Project "Adolph Sutro."2004 http://www.outsidelands.org/sutro.php