The Sutro Conservatory Greenhouse building above the Cliff House, 1886
Last Friday, a group of students from Ida B. Wells Continuation High School completed a 3-day archaeological dig that uncovered a portion of the original floor from Adolph Sutro’s Conservatory Greenhouse building [full story on sfgate.com].
The Conservatory building was torn down in 1939, along with Sutro’s family home, after they fell into disrepair. A little history about the building, courtesy of the National Park Service:
The conservatory was an elaborate greenhouse structure built to house Sutro’s collection of climate-sensitive tropical plants. Centrally located on an elevated mound east of the terminus of Palm Avenue, the structure was cruciform in plan, with a central ventilation tower. Built entirely of small glass panels mounted in wood frames, this ornate garden structure was supported by internal wood framing. The interior, which held a lush variety of palms, ferns, tropical flowers, and statuary, provided visitors with an impressive botanical display.
After last week’s excavation, the students found that the blue and white tiles that made up the Conservatory floor were still in pretty good condition, though some were cracked or upended by tree roots.
The activity was a service learning project for the students, and ended with a debate about what to do with the patch of land now that the tiles had been uncovered. Should they remain exposed to the elements so everyone could see them? Or covered back up to preserve them? The students settled on leaving about 30% of the tiled area uncovered.
Thanks to the Ida B. Wells students for bringing back a piece of Sutro Heights’ history! Makes you wonder what else is buried just under the surface of Sutro Heights Park…
The uncovered tiles from the Sutro Conservatory Greenhouse building. Photo by Beck Diefenbach, The Chronicle
Students clear the ground over the tiles. Photo by Beck Diefenbach, The Chronicle
A close-up of the tiles. Photo by Beck Diefenbach, The Chronicle