Random header image... Refresh for more!

New book “Sutro’s Glass Palace” brings yesterday’s ruins back to life

John Martini, author of a new book entitled “Sutro’s Glass Palace”. Photo by Paul Chinn

One of the things I enjoy most about our neighborhood is its history, especially diving into the stories and photos of former entertainment meccas like Playland and Sutro Baths. In the last several years, we’ve had a trio of documentaries about the Cliff House, Playland and Sutro Baths, along with books about the landmarks.

Recently, I added a new book to my collection – Sutro’s Glass Palace by John Martini. Martini is a retired National Park Service Ranger, author and local historian, highly regarded for his knowledge of western San Francisco, most notably Lands End and Sutro Baths. If you ever go on a tour of those areas, be sure Martini is leading it.

Sutro’s Glass Palace is a well-researched, highly readable look back on the history of Adolph Sutro’s grand vision for the ultimate recreation destination in San Francisco. Built over 2 acres, Sutro Baths was as much of an engineering marvel as it was a place to have fun, and Martini’s book does a good job as both a guide to the how and why behind Sutro Baths, and its place as a cultural and social icon in San Francisco history.

Adolph Sutro’s original idea was to leverage the natural wave action of the Point Lobos cove to open a saltwater aquarium at the base of the cliffs. The aquarium was designed to bring in sea life from the waves that hit the shore, and trap it in a pool area where spectators could look upon it, ala a tide pool. Sutro debuted the aquarium in late 1887 but already in press interviews was hinting towards a grander vision for the shore area that would include baths.

Fast forward to May 1894, when the first visitors were allowed into Sutro’s Glass Palace, which included a museum, restaurants, and 6 swimming pools complete with 517 private changing rooms. In an interview with the Chronicle, Sutro told a reporter “A small place would not satisfy me. I must have it large, pretentious, in keeping with the heights and the grand ocean itself”.

At an estimated cost of half a million dollars and spread out over 2 acres, it’s safe to say Sutro outdid even the grandest of Roman baths. Admission to Sutro Baths was 10 cents, and another 15 cents got you entry into the pools, plus a swimsuit, towel, and private changing room.

One of my favorite aspects of Martini’s book is the “Tour of Sutro Baths” section, which includes rendered drawings that show what Sutro Baths would have looked like in its heyday. You get a clear sense of the grandeur of the multi-level palace and its layout. Combined with the entertaining photos from the turn of the century, you will find yourself quickly wishing the book came with a time machine.

Martini’s book also touches on the many challenges that such a huge enterprise presented. Between the pounding waves that broke glass periodically, maintenance of the concrete pools and a completely separate boiler and laundry house, engineers had their hands full.

If Sutro Baths existed today, it would be a lawyer’s dream. A brief section in the book entitled “Sutro in the News” compiles press clippings that detail accidents involving broken legs, slide collisions and divers hitting bottom, lawsuits brought against Sutro for negligence, and even a couple of deaths.

The baths were even a source of controversy around civil rights, when a young African-American man named John Harris tried twice to go swimming with his white friends in 1897, but was refused entry.

At the time, Sutro Baths Superintendent A.O. Harrison defended their actions to a local paper, saying “It would ruin our baths here because the white people would refuse to use them if the negroes were allowed equal privileges in that way. No one could in equity expect us to make such a sacrifice. I do not think such a case would ever be won against us.” Turns out Harrison was wrong. Harris sued and won his case at trial.

Adolph Sutro died not long after the baths opened, and its management was handed off to his eldest daughter, Dr. Emma Sutro Merritt. She tried in vain to sell the establishment. Revenues were low as the baths struggled to attract patrons; it rarely broke even.

Finally in 1952, George Whitney, owner of Playland, bought Sutro Baths and made some changes including closing the baths for good, adding an ill-conceived Skytram ride, and restocking the museum with his own collection.

Sutro Baths closed for good in 1966, after 72 years in operation and shortly after, went down in a fiery blaze that fire officials attributed to arson. Plans for a condo development never came to fruition, and finally in 1980, the National Park Service bought the land for $5.5 million, ensuring its protection as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Sutro’s Glass Palace is a great read, full of interesting, rarely seen photos and visuals, along with a field guide that will make a great companion during your next trip to the ruins. The book is available at the Western Neighborhoods Project ($22.95), the Cliff House gift shop and at Green Apple Books ($22.95).

Sarah B.

Bookmark and Share
 5:04 am | Posted under Events, History | 5 comments

Police Blotter – March 14, 2014

[Reprinted from The Richmond Police Station Newsletter of March 14, 2014. To be added to the station's mailing list, email sfpd.richmond.station@sfgov.org.]

Richmond Station periodically gets requests for us to install stop signs, signal lights, speed bumps and other traffic control measures. The process of deciding whether and where to install traffic control devices is actually the responsibility of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. So if you would like to request traffic control measures for a specific area, please go to SFMTA.com and click the link for services.

Our next Community meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 6pm. It will be in the Community Room, here at Richmond Station, 461 6th Ave.

On 03/08/14 at 11am, neighbors reported a possible theft from a garage on the 3000 block of Washington St. A garage door was open and the neighbor saw a suspicious male with a cart in front of the garage with property that looked like it had been stolen. The suspect had walked away and was being followed by another party who was on the phone with 911, updating the location. Officers detained the male on Sacramento and Divisadero. The caller told officers that he had observed the male with items in his cart that the suspect began to discard as he was walking away. One was a blue folding camping chair. As the officers continued their investigation they were approached by a woman who lives on the 2100 block of Baker St. She told the officers that she was in her home and heard knocking coming from inside her garage. She opened an interior door that lead to the garage and saw that the garage door was now open. She saw no one inside and shut the door. A short time later she left and saw the commotion and the police officers. She saw that her blue camping chair was out on the sidewalk and informed the officers that the chair should be in her garage. The suspect was also in possession of a tennis racket that had been taken from her as well. Although there was no evidence that the suspect entered the garage on the 3000 block of Washington, he was in possession of numerous items that may have been taken from elsewhere. The 55yr old male was charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools and stolen property.

On 03/09/14 at 4:50pm, officers responded to a call of a road rage incident where the victim was following the suspect’s vehicle. Officers caught up to the suspect and 23rd and Geary and detained him. The victim told the officers that the incident originated on Pine near Scott St and ended up with the suspect throwing an object at the victim’s vehicle. The officers with the suspect’s consent searched his vehicle and found a billy club, BB gun, a crossbow, a taser, pepper spray and an axe. The 54 year old male was charged with weapon violations.

On 03/10/14 at 6:30pm, the victim was on a westbound 38 Geary MUNI bus. When it came to a stop at Geary and Divisadero, the suspect grabbed the victim’s phone from her hand and fled. The victim gave chase, screaming as she ran after the suspect. A passerby called 911 and provided a description and direction of the two. When they got to the area of Broderick and Garden the suspect suddenly stopped and said he had a gun on him and he would hurt her if she caused a scene. The victim begged for her phone and the suspect told her she had to give him money to get her phone back. As she had no cash, they walked to a nearby ATM machine where she withdrew money and gave it to the suspect. Police arrived on scene and the male told the officers that this was a “domestic dispute.” The victim told the officers that in fact she did not know the male and he had robbed her on the bus. The 19yr old was charged with robbery and extortion.

On 03/11/14 at 4:26am, officers conducted a traffic stop at Washington and Divisadero. The driver had a suspended license and was on probation. Officer located in his possession 11 different credit and debit cards belonging to other people. Officers were able to contact some of the victims who had been victims of thefts, auto burglary and a robbery. These dated back to 2012. The 44 year old male was charged with possession of stolen property, an outstanding warrant and a probation violation.

On 03/07/14 at 4:50am, officers were called to the 3100 block of Sacramento St on a report of a burglary in progress. A neighbor called stating he was hearing noises from the house next door which was under construction. The caller also reported that there was a strange white van parked in front of the house. Officers arrived and set up a perimeter and conducted a walkthrough of the home. They located a small flashlight which was illuminate in the backyard however the suspect had fled the scene on foot. The contractor arrived and found that many tools had been taken from a box and placed on the ground. The front door appeared to have been pried open. In the van parked out in front were numerous power tools and copper wiring. The registered owner of the van was contacted and he stated he sold the van six months ago. The van was towed pending further investigation.

On 03/07/14 between 7:30am and 8pm on the 1600 block of Pierce St, a suspect entered an apartment through an unlocked front door. The loss was a suitcase, laptop and stereo speaker.

On 03/07/14 between 12pm and 5pm on the 500 block of 12th Ave, a suspect entered a home by prying open the front door. The suspect took two laptops and an iPod.

On 03/07/14 at 1:40pm, the 88 year old victim was home on the 200 block of 8th Ave when his doorbell rang. He opened the front door and saw a male at the bottom of the steps, behind the locked gate. The male said he was working on the plumbing next door and needed to check the backyard for leaks. The male was insistent and the victim finally let him in. He brought the male to the rear door which leads to the yard and then had to sit as he was feeling winded. The suspect had gone into the yard but quickly came back in, opened the front door and let in the second suspect. The first male said he now needed to go check upstairs for leaks and as the victim tried to stop him; the second male stood in his way and began to distract him by talking about a photo displayed in the victim’s home. The victim became tired and sat down in a chair on the front porch, leaving the suspects alone in the house for about a half hour. When they finally came back down stairs and passed him in the porch, the victim noticed one of the suspects was carrying a pillow case that appeared to be half full. The victim tried to grab the pillow case but was unsuccessful and the suspects fled. They entered a black newer model Toyota mini-van. The victim then called his daughter who came home. They discovered there was a loss of jewelry and cash. The suspects were described as Hispanic or Middle Eastern males, both wearing blue shirts and blue jeans.

On 03/08/14 at 1:15am on the unit block of 6th Ave, a resident of a home heard the garage door open. The residents went downstairs and found the door partially open and the victim’s bike was gone. When they looked outside they saw a silver hatchback driving down the street, but could not see who was driving.

On 03/08/14 at 1:55am, the two victims were walking west on Cabrillo at 35th Ave when they noticed they were being followed by 5-7 Hispanic males. When the suspects approached the two, one of them asked for a dollar. They told the suspects that they had no money. At that point one of the victims was pushed against the wall and a suspect brandished a knife and demanded his property. A second suspect reached in and took his phone from his pocket. The suspect with the knife grabbed the second victim and demanded his property but he had none. The suspects then fled north on 35th Ave. There were all between 18-25yrs and the suspect with the knife was wearing bandana and a dark colored hooded sweatshirt.

Between 03/09/14, 6pm and 03/10/14, 6am on the 200 block of Willard North, a suspect was able to get into a garage through a locked gate. The suspect took a laptop and a bike.

Between 03/09/14, 9pm and 03/10/14, 1am on the 2500 block of Sutter, a suspect entered an apartment and took jewelry, 3 laptops, a desktop computer, 2 TV’s and game consoles. One of the victim’s had lost their keys a few days prior and there was no sign of forced entry.

On 03/10/14 at 1:12pm, a caller reported a male and female in a fight on the 400 block of Clement St. The caller also reported that the male had a gun and shot into the air. The area was searched as well as two addresses on 5th Ave that the suspect may have fled to but no one in those residences matched the description. The suspect was described as an Asian male, 30-35yrs wearing all dark clothing.

On 03/10/14 at 1:37am, the victim was walking south on 11th Ave towards Clement. Prior to reaching Clement the suspect ran up to him with a gun in his hand and said “Where’s your car, give me your keys now.” The victim said the suspect then fired two shots into the air. The victim told the suspect he did not have a car and then ran from the area to get away from the suspect. The suspect fled west on Clement St and was described as an Asian male, 16-25yrs with short hair, wearing a black shirt and dark jeans. This incident is not related to the one from the 400 block of Clement St.

On 03/10/14 between 6:30pm and 9:30pm on the 700 block of 6th Ave, a suspect entered a home by using a spare key that was kept under the mat. The suspect took two laptops, two tablets and a camera.

On 03/11/14, between 1:30pm and 2pm on the 3000 block of California, a suspect entered a residence while the victim was in the shower. The suspect took a wallet containing cash and credit cards. There were no signs of forced entry and when the victim contacted her bank to report the theft, one of her credit cards had already been used at a gas station.

Bookmark and Share
 9:51 am | Posted under Crime | 5 comments

Local links: Spring break options, Alexandria for sale?, RV parking bans & more

Ocean Beach, March 11, 2014

Here are some local links to get you through your Wednesday:

  • The venerable Green Apple Books has been named one of five finalists for Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year Award. We’ll have to wait until May when the winner will be announced at BookExpo America. Good luck Green Apple!
  • The Mountain Lake remediation project is winding down, but landscaping work is still going on including an effort to return part of the park to a wetland thanks to some goats and volunteers. “We’re returning the lake’s arm into the haven it once was for generations of wildlife going back long before the 1800s,” said Terri Thomas, the Presidio’s conservation director. Read the full article on SFGate
  • We’ve heard a rumor that the Alexandria Theater property is once again up for sale (anyone find a lising? We have not). That’s nothing really new but it signals that the current owners are not interested in developing the property as it’s been proposed. They want someone to take it off their hands. We’d be ok with that since they’ve done a piss poor job of managing it in the last 10 years.
  • Additional locations for the ban on overnight RV/oversized vehicle parking were approved by the SFMTA last week. That includes stretches of Clement Street along Lincoln Park and the Park Presidio greenbelt streets including Funston Avenue (west side) and 14th Avenue (east side).
  • Want your kid to skate(board) through Spring Break? Rec & Park is offering Shred N Butter skateboard camp at 25th Avenue’s Rochambeau Playground from March 31 through April 4. Camp runs daily from 9am to 3pm, and is designed for ages 7 – 14. Cost is $257 for residents, $370 for non-residents. Sign up here and enter code 34594 to find the listing.

    Alternatively, Shred N Butter also offers Saturday drop-in classes starting March 22 at the Richmond Rec Center on 18th Avenue for ages 5-13; fee is $32. Sign up here and enter code 34595 to find the listing.
  • In other Spring Break news, the RDNC is offering a free Spring Family Staycation outing of hiking and biking in San Rafael on Saturday, April 5th. Space is limited to 25 and spots will fill up fast so contact sarah@rvbeacon.org or 415-750-8554 to register before March 21st.
  • Remember the creepy guy in the Elmo suit that arrived here from NY and made a noisy appearance at Rossi Park in 2012? This time he’s turned up at Fisherman’s Wharf after finishing a stint in jail. “People are being told lies about me,” said Sandler, who is 50 and homeless. “I’m really sick of it. I’m just trying to make a living.”
Bookmark and Share
 12:17 pm | Posted under Kids, Parks, Traffic | 19 comments

Safeway responds to effect of chain’s sale to Cerberus on La Playa remodel

Rendering of the new Safeway entrance at La Playa and Fulton

In case you haven’t heard the news, grocery chain Safeway is in the process of selling itself to Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, for $9.4 billion. The deal is currently pending.

We’ve had inquiries from some readers about what this might mean for the upcoming remodel of the La Playa Safeway location.

The remodel, which will expand the store’s footprint from its current 40,000 square feet to nearly 59,000, has been in planning for several years. The project is currently in its environmental review phase, and expects to be in front of the Planning Commission for final approval by the end of 2014.

In addition to a completely new store, the remodel will also include 40-45 residential units on the north end of the property along Cabrillo and La Playa.

On Monday, Safeway Real Estate Manager Natalie Mattei sent out an email to project followers about the potential impact that the Cerebrus sale may have on the planned remodel:

Safeway is continuing with its Northern California projects on a business as usual basis. We remain very committed to San Francisco. Before proceeding with any construction, we always check budgets and evaluate return on investment. New investors in Safeway would become involved in this process, but we are confident that they will continue to consider San Francisco an important place for Safeway to invest.

Translation: We don’t really know yet.

The La Playa Safeway location presents an interesting opportunity for Cerebrus when it comes time to evaluate. That’s because Safeway owns the entire square block of land that the store sits on, which in the current San Francisco real estate market, is a very valuable piece of property that is highly attractive to developers.

Of the roughly 1,300 stores that Safeway operates, mostly on the West coast, they own about 48 percent of those locations and lease the rest, according to its annual filings [SFGate].

For a private equity firm like Cerebrus, whose primary goal is to make money for its investors within five years or so, selling a valuable parcel of SF real estate to a developer may make more sense than remodeling the aging store.

However, the La Playa Safeway also occupies a unique position in the outer Richmond and even outer Sunset as one of the largest grocery stores in the area with plenty of parking.

And with the planned remodel to include selling off the north end of the property to a developer for condominium construction, it may prove to still be an attractive investment to Cerebrus. After all, Safeway is already one of the nation’s top performing supermarket chains. Remodel the store to drive long term profits, and in the meantime, see a short term gain by selling off some valuable SF real estate on the north end.

With the Safeway sale to Cerebrus still pending, it’s a little early for the company to definitively say what will happen to the La Playa location. But given all the work and community input that has gone into the project already, here’s hoping it stays on track and brings a much needed revitalization to an important retailer in the outer Richmond.

Sarah B.

More reading: With Cerberus, Safeway may get revitalized, or lose assets [SFGate]

Bookmark and Share
 5:03 am | Posted under Business, Real Estate | 8 comments

Woman and 5-year old hit while crossing Fulton & 37th on Monday

The intersection of Fulton and 37th Avenue, looking west.

Around 5:15om this afternoon, a woman and a 5-year old boy were struck while crossing at the intersection of Fulton Street and 37th Avenue.

The intersection is right in front of the Golden Gate Park Senior Center and features wide striped crosswalks but no stop signs.

Both the woman, who was a babysitter, and child were transported to San Francisco General Hospital for treatment for their injuries. The boy suffered a contusion to his head, and the babysitter suffered a leg injury, according to San Francisco police Officer Gordon Shyy.

It’s unknown whether the driver was driving east or westbound on Fulton. The driver did remain at the scene and was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

This is one of many pedestrian versus car incidents in San Francisco this year, and the second in a little over a month here in the Richmond District. On February 6, an elderly woman was hit and injured while crossing the intersection of California Street and 10th Avenue.

Interesting fact: A 1995 study in Canada found that traffic accidents are 8.6% more common on the first Monday of daylight saving time. “Though it began on Sunday, researchers have found the most acute effects occur on the first Monday after clocks spring forward. That’s when about one-fifth of the world’s population is forced to get up and go to school or work one hour earlier than their bodies are used to.”

Thanks to cub reporter David H. for the tip.

NOTE: Earlier reports indicated that the boy was 4 years old and related to the woman that was hit. But authorities clarified that the boy is 5 years old and the woman with him was his babysitter.

Sarah B.

[via SFAppeal]

Bookmark and Share
 8:17 pm | Posted under Traffic | 27 comments

Upcoming documentary “It Ain’t Pretty” about women surfers of Ocean Beach

A group of women surfers gathered at Kelly’s Cove for shooting on Sunday morning. Photo by Helynn Ospina

A new documentary is in production about the women who surf the waves at Ocean Beach. It’s entitled “It Ain’t Pretty” and filmmakers released their first teaser trailer last week – watch it below (or here if you can’t see the embed).

In addition to footage at Ocean Beach, the film also includes shots of the women surfing Mavericks.

To keep tabs on the film, follow the project on Facebook. It’s slated for a 2015 release.

Sarah B.

[via Stokereport]

Bookmark and Share
 5:10 am | Posted under Movies, Ocean Beach | 1 comment

Residents displeased with new Balboa planters; public meeting March 10

An example of the new Balboa cobblestone planters near 36th Avenue. And don’t get
too excited – those meters will get their tops soon ;)

On February 20th, a meeting was held about the recent Balboa streetscape improvements project. The $3 million project focused on creating a safer corridor for pedestrians, motorists, cyclists and transit riders along outer Balboa Street, via a series of traffic calming measures. Features of the project included wider sidewalks, bulb outs to make street crossings safer, energy efficient light fixtures, and curb ramps.

Outer Balboa residents are happy with those improvements to their street, but there’s another aspect to the project that has them seeing red: the landscaping improvements.

Specifically, the new planters that were installed on several blocks of Balboa. The new raised sidewalk planters feature dark, cobblestone walls and in some cases, very deep wells to accommodate future trees. The project fact sheet states that the “sidewalk planters to be planted with low maintenance, salt spray and drought-tolerant native and adapted plants and trees. Mulched with gravel.”

A rendering of the kind of landscaping the city envisions for some of the Balboa planters

So what’s to complain about? Plenty if RichmondSFBlog readers have anything to say about it. The planters were installed late last year and have yet to be filled with any greenery. As a result, they’ve become collection bins for rainwater, refuse and dog excrement. Not to mention a tripping hazard for pedestrians.

“I trip on the boxes going to Purusha Yoga. I know someone who actually fell. They are full of poop and garbage…,” wrote Jen J. on our Facebook page. And Brian W. wrote, “It’s only a matter of time until someone sues the city for an injury resulting from these planters.”

Others complain about the space the planters take away from the newly widened sidewalks.

“The planting areas are the biggest piece of junk ever!. If you walk down the sidewalk, there is not enough room for more than 2 people maybe to walk down,” Perrin B. wrote.

At the February 20th meeting, discussion got very heated over the planters and despite neighborhood disapproval of the landscaping, city officials told attendees “the decisions were already made” and could not be changed.

To add insult to injury, the city is only committing to planting and maintaining the planters for a period of 3 years. After that, it’s the responsibility of residents and merchants to keep the planters clean and healthy. And we all know how well that DOESN’T work in San Francisco.

Monday night’s meeting will be hosted by the Department of Public Works and Supervisor Eric Mar from 6-7:30pm at the Cabrillo Playground, located at 38th Avenue and Cabrillo (we’re presuming it will be inside the clubhouse at the playground). The goal of the meeting is to discuss the purpose and benefits of the streetscape changes along Balboa Street, and hear community input and answer questions.

What are your thoughts on the new planters along Balboa? Leave a comment to let us know.

Sarah B.

Bookmark and Share
 10:56 am | Posted under Eric Mar, Safety, Traffic | 40 comments

Hi-Five Sports Zone moving into former Walgreens space near 18th & Geary

What was once a former Walgreens at 5411 Geary near 18th Avenue is soon to be a Hi-Five Sports Zone, a 5,000 square foot sports facility designed for private events and athletic development.

According to their website, Hi-Five’s “classes, leagues, and camps are designed from Hi-Five’s proprietary curriculums that have been proven and tested for over 20 years”.

The facility, which includes a large basketball court, can also be used for birthday parties, team practices and other athletic events for $100 per hour.

We spoke to Ryan Tuchman, CEO of Hi-Five Sports which started as a family business in Chicago in 1990. The company also offers its programs, designed for kids age 2-10 years, in Menlo Park, Atherton and Scottsdale, AZ.

The Geary location is the first brick-and-mortar location for Hi-Five Sports, which typically relies on venue rentals from schools, Rec & Park or other indoor venues for their programs.

Ryan says that the new location will feature “kid-sized” equipment. The basketball court will be large enough for adults to play on, but hoops will be a bit lower, and it can be covered in turf to accommodate soccer, flag football and tee-ball games.

Hi-Five chose the Richmond District for their first location because “it’s in a residential part of the city where families live, and there is a lack of indoor sports facilities there. And the space was perfect for what we needed.”

The company has hired General Manager Chris Tabarez, a former San Francisco State Gator and professional basketball player in Mexico, a teacher, coach, and athletic Director to run the new facility.

Ryan says construction is already underway inside the space and they anticipate opening in May or June of this year.

The company’s icon is Mascot Murphy, a French bulldog decked out in athletic gear. Ryan said to look for him around the neighborhood and that a possible “Murphy for Supervisor” campaign may be in the works.

It will be great to finally have that space occupied on Geary. Pressure’s on, Alexandria!

Thanks to cub reporter David H. (and other readers) for the tip.

Sarah B.

Bookmark and Share
 2:08 pm | Posted under Business, Kids, Sports | 14 comments