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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Nov-19-2013

History minute video: The back story on the 9th Avenue parking lot

Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

10:44 am | Posted under History, Video | 3 comments
Oct-29-2013

Halloween photo special: What (or whom) lies beneath the Legion of Honor?


Photo by Richard Barnes

A share from the Western Neighborhoods Project today prompted us to re-post bits of past articles in honor of Halloween.

Many of you may know that the Richmond District was once THE place to be buried in San Francisco – there were several cemeteries in the neighborhood as far east as Laurel Heights and as far west as Lincoln Park. Beginning in the early 1900s and until the 1940’s, the cemeteries were decommissioned and the remains were moved out to Colma.

Well, most of them anyway.

In 1993, while the Legion of Honor Museum underwent renovations, construction workers came across remains of an estimated 700 bodies that had been buried in City Cemetery, a burial ground for ethnic and religious minorities, indigents and members of various benevolent associations.

More from the San Francisco History website:

In the summer of 1993, during renovation and expansion of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, “about 300 corpses from the Gold Rush era—two of them still clutching rosaries, others were wearing dentures and Levis—were unearthed from what appears to be an old pauper’s graveyard. Some experts say another 11,000 bodies might lie underneath the museum grounds” according to a Los Angeles Times article (12 November 1993, A-23). The City Planner’s office has copies of the excavation activities. According to the archeaologist, there were over 700 individual coffin burials. All the remains and artifacts were turned over to the Coroner’s office (Medical Examiner).

The Medical Examiner’s office had the remains reburied at the Skylawn Cemetery in San Mateo, and the artifacts were given to the City Museum. Most of the finds were centered around the Legion of Honor’s courtyard. The archeaological firm proposed a more extensive dig, but the Museum felt it was out-of-scope of their activities, so they said no. Another interesting item was that an early resident, recalling the construction of the museum, mentioned that remains were found and put into a pit in one of the corners of the building, although she couldn’t recall which corner. So, it appears that remains are still there, somewhere.

Photographer Richard Barnes captured the eerie site and put on an exhibition “Still Rooms and Excavations” in 1997, telling SFWeekly, “It brought together all my interests: Here is the museum, archaeology, architecture, collecting…” See more photos from the exhibit on his website.

Local archaeologist Paula Frazer, who worked on the excavation, called the experience chilling and said it “was one of the spookiest archaeologist jobs I have worked on”. When the Legion was built from 1920 to 1924, the original contractors just plowed through burial sites, and plumbers laid pipes right through bodies and skeletons.


Photo by Richard Barnes

So if you feel a cold chill the next time you pass through the Legion of Honor galleries, don’t just chalk it up to the marble surround…

For more history on the cemeteries (and the neighborhood), we highly recommend the book San Francisco’s Richmond District by Lorri Ungaretti. You may also want to watch A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco’s Lost Cemeteries, a documentary by Trina Lopez which is available for rent at the SF Public Library Main Branch History Center.


Photo by Richard Barnes

Below are some interesting historical photos of the cemeteries from Lorri Ungaretti’s book. Happy Halloween everyone!

Sarah B.


An 1891 map showing the five cemeteries in the northwestern part of San Francisco.
Note the City Cemetery in the upper left corner, and the the other four on the right side
(Laurel Hill Cemetery, Odd Fellows Cemetery, Masonic Cemetery, Calvary Cemetery).
Courtesy of Richard Brandi.


A crew works to remove the bodies from Odd Fellows Cemetery, December 26, 1933.
This is now the site of Rossi Playground.


A panoramic view of Odd Fellows Cemetery. Note the Columbarium on the far right. On the very
far left edge, you can see the top of the crematorium. 1865.


The Odd Fellows Crematorium building can be seen in the background. Remains were then inurned
in the Columbarium nearby. Courtesy of Glenn Koch.


In the early years of San Francisco, there was little greenery or trees, so it was not unusual for residents
to flock to the cemeteries for recreation. This photo shows a Memorial Day celebration at
Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1909.

12:17 pm | Posted under History, Museums | 11 comments
Sep-26-2013

“Great Highway” local surfing documentary at the Balboa, Saturday

“In those days, nobody went in the ocean…”

Often, we drive out along the Great Highway and don’t think much of seeing surfers riding the waves, or sitting on their boards waiting for the next set.

On Saturday, the Balboa Theater will premiere a new documentary called “The Great Highway” which documents the history of surfing at Ocean Beach.

Despite posted signs warning of dangerous undertow, cold water, large waves, and often foggy conditions, the early surfers of Kelly’s Cove on Ocean Beach braved the elements – sometimes even breaking the law – to pursue their passion.

People have surfed the Bay Area for more than sixty years in the quiet backdrop of the popular surf culture. Much like the city of San Francisco, the surf culture of Northern California is full of character and offers unique perspectives on the history and the future of surfing.

“Great Highway” traces the roots of Bay Area surfing from past to present and explores the changes that time reveals. The history of the beach in San Francisco is explored from the mid 1800’s on and provides a fascinating look at this overlooked segment of the City’s history.

The film also covers some of the history of Fleishhacker Pool, a 1,000 foot long, ocean water swimming pool that sat across the highway from Ocean Beach near what is now the zoo. It operated from 1925 until 1971.

This film has been in the making since 2003 premieres at the Balboa this Saturday night at 9pm as part of a Kelly’s Cove Reunion event. Tickets are available online in advance ($7.50 – $10) or at the Balboa box office.

Sarah B.

3:33 pm | Posted under History, Movies, Ocean Beach | 1 comment
Sep-16-2013

Singer Linda Ronstadt, Mountain Lake Park history profiled in the Chronicle


Linda Ronstadt, at home in the Richmond District. Photo: Russell Yip, The Chronicle

Last week might have been a record-setting day for the number of mentions of the Richmond District in the Chronicle. That would be two for those of you counting…

On Sunday, there was a great profile of legendary singer Linda Ronstadt who unbeknownst to most of us, is a Richmond District resident. The voice behind classic songs like “Blue Bayou” and “Heart Like a Wheel” lives near the Legion of Honor.

In fact she loves the current “Impressionists on the Water” exhibit so much that she’s seen it seven times. Her new book “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir” comes out tomorrow, and covers the long and winding career of the 11-time Grammy winner. What a cool celeb to have in the neighborhood! We wonder what her other favorite neighborhood spots are…

And last Friday, Gary Kamiya wrote a great “Portal of the Past” historical piece on Mountain Lake Park, considered the birthplace of San Francisco. In addition to the it being the site of one of only three natural lakes in the city, it is also where the Spanish explorers who were responsible for settling San Francisco spent their first night in the future city – March 27, 1776. A great read!

Sarah B.

1:21 pm | Posted under Art, History, Parks | 2 comments
Jun-18-2013

Video: Home movies of Ocean Beach & Cliff House in 1930

The Western Neighborhoods Project turned us onto this fun clip from 1930 that features footage from Ocean Beach and the Cliff House. It’s very San Francisco – you see a woman in a full length heavy coat walking along the roadway, and it then cuts to children in swimsuits on the beach. Microclimates, people!

In the footage you’ll also notice a pier that runs out from Ocean Beach. It was known as both the Olympic Pier and the Lurline Pier, because it served as the intake for two downtown saltwater pools: the Olympic Club and the Lurline Baths. Yes, you read that right – a pipe carried seawater from Ocean Beach all the way to downtown.

The Lurline Baths were public salt water baths built in 1894 at the corner of Bush and Larkin streets, and closed in 1936. The pier remained on Ocean Beach until about 1966. [Wikipedia]

The clip also has footage of Market Street and the ferry that used to carry people to Marin and back, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.

Sarah B.

[Via Cliffhouseproject.com]

5:12 am | Posted under History, Video | 2 comments
Apr-4-2013

New documentary “The Cliff House” premieres at the Balboa, April 12

From the same director who brought us documentaries on Playland and the Sutro Baths comes the next installment on Richmond District history: The Cliff House.

On April 12, the Balboa Theater will premiere Tom Wyrsch’s latest documentary, The Cliff House. It’s a full length documentary about the historic Cliff House and Sutro Heights, both legacies of Adolph Sutro. The film features hundreds of rare archival photographs, motion picture footage, and interviews with historians and current Cliff House personnel.

The historic Cliff House stands perched on a headland atop the cliffs on the northwestern edge of San Francisco, California. Originally built in 1863, it is now a key part of the Sutro Historic District. That district included the lavish gardens and structures of Sutro Heights, the home of Adolph Sutro, entrepreneur, real estate developer and populist mayor of San Francisco, now a park. The ruins just north of the Cliff house housed the world-class swimming pool and museum complex called Sutro Baths. A major amusement park, San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach once spilled over more than five city blocks south, across from Ocean Beach. The Cliff House has been rebuilt or remodeled many times through its century and a half of operation. It remains a favorite for both locals and tourist alike.

The premiere party for the film is on Friday, April 12 at 7pm. Tickets are available through the Balboa Theater website (select April 12 from the dropdown).

If you can’t make the premiere, The Cliff House will continue playing at the Balboa through April 18th, with 5 shows per day: 12:00p, 2:30p, 4:45p, 7:00p and 9:20p.

Sarah B.

11:15 am | Posted under History, Movies | Comments Off
Mar-21-2013

Local links: de Young dirty laundry, Sir Paul in GGP?, hats, Beard honors & more


Photo by stefanie.johnstone

Happy Thursday – here are some local links to get you to the weekend finish line!

  • Nothing like having a national newspaper air your very local museum’s dirty laundry… The New York Times’ Turmoil at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco article about the Fine Arts Museums (the de Young and Legion of Honor) details the low staff morale (including firings), the lack of Director since John Buchanan passed away, and the very mixed reviews of Board President Diane “Dede” Wilsey. Some think has held too much influence over the institution, while others think she is responsible for bringing it back to life. The Chronicle caught up with their own article this morning about the pending appointment of a new Director, rumored to be Colin Bailey, the deputy director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in New York. There should be an announcement next week.
  • Paul’s Hat Works took NPR on a tour and shared some secrets with them in a piece called The Making of a Hat. The owners also did some spring cleaning recently and now have for sale dozens of vintage hat boxes for between $5 and $60.
  • Congratulations to Pastry Chef Melissa Chou of Aziza. She was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award – “the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America” – which will be given out at a ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York on May 6.
  • Here’s your local history for the week… The SFPL Archives published Part 2 of their profile on Adolph Sutro, this time looking at some letters, architectural drawings and great old photographs of Sutro’s land holdings throughout the city. CurbedSF had a story earlier this month on a man who lived in a cottage on the cliffs of Lands End. His name was Charles Harris and he operated the waiting room and concession stand at the train stop near Sutro Baths. “The Harris’ moved to Lands End after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire destroyed their home downtown, and built up a little cottage around the framework of their cable car home.”
  • Local artist Jay Mercado, known for his donut paintings, will be hosting a show of his pillow sketches at his studio at 10th and California Street this Saturday.
  • Could Sir Paul McCartney be the headliner for the Outside Lands Music Festival this summer in Golden Gate Park? Last.fm is listing him as such but there’s been no confirmation from the show promoters. Something tells me nearby neighbors would much rather hear strains of Paul singing “Hey Jude” than the musings of Metallica…
11:19 am | Posted under Art, Food, History, Museums | Comments Off
Mar-1-2013

Local links: Birthdays for Balboa & Lou’s, beach yoga, Sutro history & more


A payroll receipt to Mr. Williams for his tightrope performances at the Baths in April 1896. Courtesy of the Adolph Sutro Collection

Happy Friday to everyone! Hope you’re out enjoying this beautiful day. Here are some local links to take you into the weekend:

  • The Balboa Theater turns 87 years old this weekend and they’re celebrating with a bash on Sunday that includes a screening of the 1924 silent fantasy “Peter Pan”. It will be accompanied by an original score by pianist Frederick Hodges and preceded by a series of short subject films. Oh and there’s a live vaudeville show too! Showings at 4pm and 7pm, tickets are $10.
  • Another business Birthday: Popular Lou’s Cafe on Geary is turning 3 on March 19th and they’re celebrating with 4 weeks of featured sandwiches at a discount, including the LLB Special (3 meats and 2 cheeses), and the Ami-Cado (take the ‘ami in pastrami and add it to the ‘cado in avocado). The discounts are through the Gopago mobile app though when we downloaded it, we couldn’t find anything. But perhaps it will become available on Mar 19?
  • Yoga’s up, dude! Purusha Yoga Studio is offering a “yoga for surfers” class on Ocean Beach every Tuesday at 3:15pm (free or give a donation at the class). No surfing experience required – just bring water, a towel, and “your positive energy”. Meet near the Judah Street entrance at Ocean Beach.
  • The 6th Floor Archive at the SF Public Library has posted part 1 of a series on Adolph Sutro, who you could easily call the godfather of the Richmond District. Check it out to learn more about the man behind Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights Park – even his receipts and records are interesting!

    Speaking of Adolph Sutro, watch this week’s History Minute below from the Western Neighborhoods Project, providing some insight on the tunnels you can see near the ruins of Sutro Baths.

  • Cassava Bakery’s Japanese breakfast got mention as a good way to shake up your brunch routine. “For $10, you’ll get an array of plates: an “onsen tamago” poached egg cooked sous vide; simmered black soy beans; cucumber wakame salad; top-of-the-line koshihikari rice; a housemade natto with Meyer lemon and jalapeño kosho; and dashi miso soup.”
  • The de Young Museum has a new photo exhibition on Iraq entitled “Eye Level in Iraq”, which 7×7 describes the collection of photographs documenting the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, as “one of the most compelling exhibitions the De Young Museum’s young photography department has shown.”

10:52 am | Posted under Art, Business, Food, History | 2 comments
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