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Archive for the ‘History’ Category


Remediation complete at Mountain Lake; Planting day February 8

Since last spring, Mountain Lake has looked a lot like a construction site as dredging equipment has sat on the surface, methodically removing sediment contaminated with lead and motor oil from the bottom of the lake.

In late 2011, a $13.5 million settlement was reached between the Presidio Trust and CALTRANS for cleanup of contaminated sediments that have run into Mountain Lake off of the Park Presidio roadway. The runoff has been occurring since the roadway opened 70 years ago.

The first phase of the project involved making adjustments to the roadway to avoid future runoff, including the installation of 400 stone columns into the ground along the northbound shoulder of the roadway west of Mountain Lake. Treatment devices were also installed in storm drains along the highway to prevent contaminants from entering the lake in the future.

Another part of the project involved removing all non-native species from the lake, including fish and turtles. All of the captured wildlife, including 42 red-eared slider turtles (photos), were taken to Sonoma County Reptile Rescue where they were relocated with breeders, pet stores, herpetological societies and local citizens.

One of the red-eared slider turtles that was removed from the lake and relocated

Dredging then got underway in Spring 2013. The dredged sediment from the bottom of the lake was transported via pipeline to a staging area north of the lake where it was dewatered and then pumped back into the lake. The dried, contaminated sediment was transported offsite and disposed of in a permitted, offsite landfill.

The last truckload of sediment left Mountain Lake in December, and all of the dredging equipment was removed from the lake. The remediation equipment in the staging area will also be removed soon, officially completing the remediation portion of the Mountain Lake project.

Crews plant new trees along the Park Presidio roadway in May 2013.
In the background, dredging barges can be seen on the lake. Photo: Presidio Trust

Up next is the beginning of the restoration phase, which is expected to last nearly three years. During that time, Biological Science Technician Jason Lisenby says they “will plant thousands and thousands of local plants into the newly cleaned-up areas.”

Planting will also take place in the lake itself, to ready it for the return of fish and act as a food source for wildlife:

Planting into Mountain Lake is expected to begin in March, and the first priority, Laskowski said, will be to introduce three of the lake’s most important plants: sago pondweed (Stuckenia pectinata), coontails (Ceratophyllum demersum) and water nymphs (Najas guadalupensis).

Those plants will play many roles, Young and Laskowski said. They will form a leafy canopy to shield microorganisms on the bottom from sunlight and provide a source of food for the lake’s dabbling ducks, as well as for the rare Western pond turtles that are being raised at the two zoos until they can be moved to the lake.

Once the plants are thriving, Young’s team will introduce hundreds of fish called three-spined sticklebacks, (Gasterosteus aculeates), a 2-inch species with a crucial role in the lake’s ecology. [SFGate]

Next Saturday, the Presidio Trust will host a celebration of the end of the remediation phase that includes a volunteer planting day. Volunteer opportunities will run from 9am to 12noon, followed by guided walks and a talk about future plans for Mountain Lake by Michael Boland, Chief Planning, Projects & Programs Officer for the Presidio Trust.

This is an auspicious rebirth for Mountain Lake, which scientists estimate is 1,700 years old, and one of the few remaining natural lakes in San Francisco (the others are Lake Merced, Pine Lake west of Stern Grove and the semi-natural Chain of Lakes in Golden Gate Park).

The lake was also a valuable source of drinking water for the Ohlone Indians and for early European settlers like Juan Bautista de Anza, who camped along its shores in 1776.

For more information on the Mountain Lake remediation and enhancement project, visit the project website.

Sarah B.

A view of Mountain Lake from 1899, looking west from the south shore (the side where Mountain Lake Park is today). The buildings in the background are the historic Marine Hospital, where the Presidio Landmark apartments are today. Photo: Presidio Trust

9:35 am | Posted under History, Parks | 13 comments

Photos: Travel back to the Richmond District in 1951

215 6th Avenue, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

The history-minded folks at the Western Neighborhoods Project recently acquired a photo collection from a local historian; he had saved them from being discarded in the early 1980s.

The photos are from the San Francisco Assessor’s Office and were all taken in 1951. WNP explains:

The Assessor’s Office periodically photographed buildings around the city for property tax purposes. The photos are documentary in nature and were taken without regard to the scenes on the street. As a result, in addition to showing the buildings, other things were recorded too, such as parked cars and people going about their daily lives. We think these make for an excellent view into what life was like on our streets over 60 years ago.

The WNP team has created a new website just for the photo collection at 1951.outsidelands.org, that includes a handy Google Map that allows you to see where the photos are across the city.

There are many in the Richmond District, a few of which we’ve included here. As is the case with San Francisco, some things have changed a lot, while others not so much. Check out the map – you may see a slice of life from your very own block in 1951.

Thanks to the Western Neighborhoods Project for digitizing and sharing the 4×5 inch negatives, which will also be donated to the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library, adding to its large collection of Assessor’s negatives.

Into local history? The WNP is a non-profit and always welcomes donations and new members (they have an awesome quarterly newsletter).

Sarah B.

522 35th Avenue, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

594 18th Avenue, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

5717 California, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

Still a BofA! 3701 Balboa, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

673 26th Avenue, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

35 27th Avenue, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

120 Clement Street, 1951. Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project

5:14 am | Posted under History, Real Estate | 10 comments

Benefit screening of newest “Lost Landscapes” at Internet Archive, December 18

A bit from the screening of Lost Landscapes 4. Don’t miss the footage at 3:30!

For eight years running, archivist Rick Prelinger has presented his annual collection of old San Francisco film and home movie clips as part of “Lost Landscapes”, “bringing together both familiar and unseen archival film clips showing San Francisco as it was and is no more.” This year’s show at the Castro has already sold out.

But on December 18, the Internet Archive at Clement Street near Funston will host an additional screening, with proceeds benefiting the Archive whose scanning center burned in a fire last month.

Many of Prelinger’s archival films were scanned and converted to digital at the Internet Archive for previous Lost Landscapes, and funds raised at the Dec. 18 screening will help replace the specialized equipment that was lost.

This year’s Lost Landscapes includes newly-discovered images of Playland and Sutro Baths; the waterfront; families living and playing in their neighborhoods; detail-rich streetscapes of the late 1960s; the 1968 San Francisco State strike; Army and family life in the Presidio; buses, planes, trolleys and trains; a selected reprise of greatest hits from years 1-7; and much, much more.

Prelinger’s screenings never include a soundtrack – he relies on the audience for that. “As usual, the viewers make the soundtrack — audience members are asked to identify places and events, ask questions, share their thoughts, and create an unruly interactive symphony of speculation about the city we’ve lost and the city we’d like to live in.”

The screening takes place on December 18 at the Internet Archive (300 Funston Avenue) with a reception at 6pm, followed by the film at 7:30pm. Tickets are available online and start at $25.

If you love San Francisco history and have a penchant for time travel, you don’t want to miss it.

Sarah B.

5:10 am | Posted under Events, History | 1 comment

It’s time for the Stanford v. Cal Big Game, played at 7th & Lake in 1902, 1903

Tomorrow is the 116th Big Game between Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”), one of the greatest and longest running rivalries in college football. This year’s game will be at Stanford and every year, the venue alternates between campuses.

But 111 years ago, things were a little different. The Big Game venue had hopped around the Bay Area since the rivalry first started in 1892. Neither school had a field that could accommodate the thousands of students, alumni and football fans that came to watch, so the first thirteen Big Games were played in San Francisco.

The last two to be played in San Francisco, in 1902 and 1903, took place right here in the Richmond District.

In October 1902, the athletic directors from each school announced they had decided upon a site for that year’s game. It was to be at a site described as “sandy” which is exactly what the neighborhood sits on – tons and tons of sand. Back in 1902, the Richmond District was not richly populated and a lot, bound by Lake Street, 7th Avenue, California Street, and 8th Avenue, was chosen to be the home of the new Richmond Grounds stadium.

Preparations were rushed and carpenters built fences, bleacher seats and grandstand coverings, and horse-drawn wagons brought in load after of clay and loam to put on the sandy surface of the field.

Things were going swimmingly until Richmond District residents living near the new stadium started to panic, fearing that the new venue would attract the wrong element to their quiet neighborhood. Two weeks before the game, residents went before the Streets Committee of the Board of Supervisors to make their objections known.

After a rowdy hearing, probably much like the recent Beach Chalet hearings, a compromise was reached. The schools would only be allowed to play three additional games at Richmond Grounds, and the stadium would have to be removed by January 1904. With that settled, the 1902 Big Game could proceed.

Three days before the game, the Daily Californian described the new field:

    The new football grounds near the Marine Hospital at San Francisco are the most picturesquely situated that were ever selected for the big Varsity game. They are at Seventh Avenue and California Street, about midway between the Presidio Golf Club house and the Marine Hospital, and are very close to the Maria Kip Orphanage.

    There are splendid great grand stands for seating 13,500 people. The whole east side of the field is one great towering gently sloping hillside of substantial benches under cover, and the entire west side of the field will have similar seats without cover for the college rooters.

A story in the Chronicle mentioned the ticket prices – $2.50, $2.00, $1.50, or $1.00 – but said anyone without the means would be able to sit up on the hillside abutting the Presidio Golf Course and get an excellent view. Perhaps a forefather to Cal’s now infamous Tightwad Hill?

Keep in mind this stadium went up quickly and would not have rivaled what we’re used to seeing college football played on today.

    The fans would not have seen a grass field, but a mixture of clay, sand and loam. The field sloped slightly downhill toward the north goal. Coupled with the day’s prevailing wind from the south, the team defending the south goal had an offensive and a defensive advantage. [Outsidelands.org]

The 1902 game kicked off at 3pm and ended in a shutout, with Cal defeating Stanford 16-0. The game included a field goal (only the second in Big Game history), and a 90 yard punt return for a touchdown.

Revenue from the game totaled $23,000, covering the land lease and the cost of construction of the facility, and netting each team almost $9,000. Local newspaper The Call later estimated that 2,000 people watched the game from outside the field.

The seating chart for the 1902 Big Game at Richmond Grounds. Courtesy of outsidelands.org

Though the schools had permission to play three more games in the Richmond Grounds, it would only be used twice more. First for the freshmen teams to square off in October, 1903 where Stanford emerged with a 12-0 victory before 5,000 spectators.

The final use for the Richmond Grounds was for the 1903 Big Game that November. Demand for tickets was high as it was shaping up to be the last time that the game would take place in San Francisco.

Residents anticipated big crowds, and requested more police presence, claiming some tightwads from the year before had damaged their houses and trees while trying to see the game.

Kickoff was at 3pm, but fans began filling the Richmond Grounds as early as 10am. With 15 minutes to go in the game, the score was tied 6-6. Stanford attempted a field goal from Cal’s 36-yard line, but it fell short. Final score: 6-6

Traditionally, the winning team’s supporters rush the field after a Big Game, but the crowd in 1903 didn’t know what to do with a tie. Eventually, BOTH team’s fans rushed the field and each school’s brass bands burst into life.

    Out of their seats, over the rails and onto the field poured a bell-ringing, pennant-waving, horn-blowing, cheering mob. As the shadows lengthened across the Richmond Grounds, two separate bodies of celebrants gathered behind the respective bands. Forming themselves into enormous lines, they serpentined over the field, leaving the final footprints on the field of the Richmond Grounds. [outsidelands.org]

No more games were ever played on the Richmond Grounds and its dismantling began shortly after the 1903 Big Game, since it was due to be removed by January 1904. And so ended the collegiate football history of the Richmond District.

Good luck to both teams tomorrow!

Sarah B.

The content for this post came from a well-researched article entitled The Richmond Grounds and the Big Games of 1902 & 1903 by Angus Macfarlane, who was a Sunset District resident and Cal alum.

Where the Richmond Grounds was built in 1902, bound by Lake Street, 7th Avenue, California Street and 8th Avenue.

Courtesy of “San Francisco’s Richmond District” by Lorri Ungaretti

8:24 pm | Posted under History, Sports | 7 comments

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

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

“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

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