|Introduction Purpose: to tell the audience what the subject matter is, where it is, and what to expect in the next 12 – 15 minutes. Stress that Mt. Davidson is large, is natural (if you don’t count the Eucalyptus trees), and is a great place for hikers and people who enjoy beautiful views of the City and the Bay Area. Also, get the audience ready for the transition to the idea that we will be telling the related story of the Cross, and the story of how the Cross came to be owned and maintained by the Armenian Americans.Most Northern Californians know the names of San Francisco’s famous seven hills. But the least known is also the City’s tallest and least developed: Mt. Davidson, which stands 938 feet above sea level near the very center of the City.|
|In the next several minutes we will introduce you to this beautiful 38 acre City Park and open space nature preserve.Mt. Davidson is a great place to hike, and get away from the pressures of City life And, from the summit, Mt. Davidson affords dramatic and unparalleled 360 degree views of the entire Bay Area.|
|Mt. Davidson is known for its 103 foot Cross, the world’s largest as of its construction in the 1930s. Generations of San Franciscans have visited that Cross for ecumenical Easter Sunday Sunrise Services. But that tradition almost came to an end in 199_, when several groups sued the City to end its ownership and maintenance of the Cross, demanding that it be torn down.|
|This is also the story of how, and why, the Cross was saved by a coalition of Armenian Americans, who banded together to preserve the Cross for all San Franciscans to enjoy forever.|
San Francisco historian and cofounder of the Friends of Mt Davidson conservancy Jacquie Proctor has studied Mt. Davidson’s earliest recorded history: Jacquie Proctor: ” The last mayor, or alcalde, of San Francisco, Don Jose de Jesus Noe, after whom San Francisco’s Noe Street and Noe Valley are named, was the first recorded owner of what would later be called Mt. Davidson. He acquired it as part of a 4443-acre land grant called Rancho San Miguel, granted by the Mexican Governor Pio Pico in 1846.| |||
|After California became a state in 1850, a French naval captain, Jose Yves Limantour, claimed that he was the rightful owner of Blue Mountain and the rest of the Rancho.In 1852, a United States Geodetic Coast Surveyor named George Davidson proved that Limantour‘s claim was a fraud. Davidson would go on to become a founder of the Sierra Club and a President of the California Academy of Sciences. In his honor, Blue Mountain was officially named after him in 1911. “|
|Blue Mountain came to be owned by a succession of California’s most colorful and accomplished men, including Gold Rush entrepreneur Frenchman Francois Pioche, who arrived in California in 1848. Pioche built the first California railroad, and purchased the San Miguel Rancho, and several more to boot with his vast fortune. Among other things, Pioche deserves credit today for being the first to bring fine food and good wine to the City, twin passions for which San Francisco is world famous today.|
|But the man who had the greatest impact on the physical development of Mt. Davidson as we know it today was Adolph Sutro, a German Jewish immigrant who made his fortune in the silver mines of Nevada, and became Mayor of the City in 1895.|
|In 1880, Sutro purchased 1200 acres of the original San Miguel Rancho, including Blue Mountain. Sutro is responsible for the lush vegetation that covers Mt. Davidson’s 38 acres today: he hired the unemployed and school children to plant pine and eucalyptus trees on Mt. Davidson’s barren slopes in celebration of the First Arbor Day in 1886 .|
|Following a court battle among Adolph Sutro’s heirs, Mt. Davidson was sold to another prominent San Franciscan, A.S. Baldwin. Baldwin constructed public hiking trails which are still in daily use today by harried urbanites needing a natural sanctuary. One of those people seeking temporary refuge from the stresses of City life at the time was George Decatur, a Western Union officer and Director of the YMCA.|
|In 1932 Decatur described the beauty and solitude Mt. Davidson still provides today:Jacquie Proctor: “George Decatur wrote of the experiences his hiking group had almost 100 years ago at Mt. Davidson:’as the group found themselves deeper in the wood… peace and quiet were so profound that it seemed almost unbelievable that the noise and roar of a great city was only a few minutes behind them… the solitude of the forest… conveyed a sense of vastness quite as real as one would experience among the age- old monarchs of the High Sierras…The undergrowth and flowers looked as if they might have been there for centuries…’ “|
Decatur raised $1100 in donations for a newly formed Easter Sunrise Committee. The funds were used to purchase a 40 foot high wooden Cross for the first Easter Sunrise Service to be held on Mt. Davidson, on April 1, 1923. Despite a driving rain, 5000 people attended the first of what has now become a cherished annual tradition of Easter Sunrise Services. For the 1923 Service, searchlights illuminated the 40 foot wooden Cross. Boy Scouts and Boy Pioneers faithfully lit the path to the Cross with bonfires before dawn. The dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, J. Wilmer Gresham, led the first Easter Sunrise service.|
|The yearly Easter gatherings on Mt. Davidson became a permanent San Francisco tradition, but arsonists burned down each of two temporary wooden Crosses. At the same time, developers sought to build homes on Mt. Davidson, which would have deprived the City of the hilltop refuge so many had come to love. The need for a permanent Cross atop an equally permanent Mt. Davidson City park energized Madie Brown and Margaret Mary Morgan, two San Francisco women whom we can thank for Mt. Davidson as we know it today.|
|In 1917, the Twin Peaks Tunnel was completed, opening up broad areas of western San Francisco for development, including the slopes of Mt. Davidson. Mrs. Edmund N. “Madie” Brown was an ardent nature lover and State Park Commissioner who organized a grass roots campaign to preserve Mt. Davidson as a City park. Madie enlisted the help of the Commodore Sloat School PTA, whose mothers and eager children sent wildflowers to members of the community, and who arranged exhibits at countless flower shows, schools and neighborhood get-togethers.|
|The 15,000 member City and County Federation of Women’s Clubs got behind Madie’s campaign, as did Mayor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph and the first woman member of the Board of Supervisors, Margaret Mary Morgan. Press and newsreels were produced in support. By 1929, the first 20 acres of what ultimately became the 40 acre Mt. Davidson Park was dedicated.|
|Meanwhile, George Decatur built a third and more permanent 76 feet tall Cross, with a concrete base covered in stucco and 300 lights. But, it too was burned to the ground in 1931.|
|Although a fourth wooden Cross was built, George Decatur saw the need for a permanent 103 foot Concrete Cross that could not be burned down. The cornerstone of that Cross, which still stands today, was dedicated by Mayor Rolph on Easter Sunday, 1933.|
|The Cross was designed by world famous architect George W. Kelham and engineer Henry J. Brunnier, who together had designed some of the most recognized and beautiful of San Francisco’s buildings, including the Shell Oil Building, the Russ Building, and the old Main Library.|
|While the beauty of the Cross designed by Kelham and Brunnier was never in doubt, the funding for the project was. But, once again, a grassroots campaign of everyday San Franciscans led the way; although 1932 marked the bottom of the Great Depression, a small army of San Francisco schoolchildren, union members, homemakers, unemployed and everyday men and women came together to raise the funds necessary to fulfill the vision of a towering and beautiful Cross.|
|In 1934, Madie Brown, who had led the successful campaign to make Mt. Davidson a City Park, asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to dedicate the Cross by pushing a button in the White House that would turn on floodlights at the Cross. The President agreed, and on March 24, 1934, at 7:30 pm., President Roosevelt pressed a golden telegraph switch that illuminated the Cross for a delighted crowd of 50,000 people.|
|The Easter Sunrise Services have become a beloved San Francisco tradition which continues to this day. Beginning in the 1930’s, the Services were broadcast nationwide by radio. During World War II, 75,000 people attended them.Native San Franciscans Tillie Dondero Mahoney, and her sister, Anna Dondero _, describe how their family made the long hike up the trail each year from their home in the Mission District:|
|In 1955, a new tradition started at the Cross. , a Korea bound soldier, wrote of the Cross as his last sight of home. Funds were raised to light the Cross year round. When lit, the Cross was visible from 75 miles away. However, the 1976 energy crisis compelled the City to turn the lights off except for Easter and Christmas weeks.|
|Today, Mt. Davidson Park gives hikers and visitors the same natural scenery and refuge that George Decatur described a century ago. From the peaceful summit, visitors can enjoy beautiful vistas of the entire Bay Area from an undisturbed and undeveloped urban paradise.|
|But, the Cross lovingly planned by Decatur and the Native Sons and Daughters, meticulously designed by Kelham and Brunnier, and generously paid for by everyday San Franciscans would face one last and nearly fatal series of challenges commencing in 1991. To understand that challenge, and how the Cross was saved, we must leave San Francisco for Armenia, a destination some 12,000 miles away.|
|In 1990, several organizations sued the City, and demanded that the Cross be destroyed under the principle of “separation of Church and State”. The City agreed instead to divest itself of the Cross by auctioning it and the property on which it sits to the highest bidder.|
|A group of Armenian Americans living in San Francisco quickly came together to bid. The Cross had special meaning to them, as children and grandchildren of survivors of the first Genocide of the Twentieth Century against their people.|
The Armenian survivors of the Genocide were scattered throughout the world in diaspora, with large numbers of survivors settling in Massachusetts, and in the Central Valley of California. Other waves of refugees settled in Egypt, Greece, France, Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
The first Armenian Orthodox Church Parish was established in San Francisco in 1924. Today, there are Armenian Americans in the Bay Area, many of whom attend several Armenian Churches.|
|When they learned of the auction, leaders of the Armenian American community jumped into action, hoping to purchase and preserve the Cross in thanks to San Francisco, and the United States, and to have a place to pray for their families and to gather each year to commemorate the Genocide. Archbishop Aris Shirvanian brought the community together, and rercalls its first efforts to get the Cross property:|
On _July 21, 1997, the Cross was auctioned to the highest bidder, the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California for $$26,000_. |But there was a hitch: to become official, the auction would need to be approved by the voters. Once again, a grassroots campaign took shape in favor of the auction sale. But, victory was not a sure thing. A coalition of groups opposed the sale, some on political grounds, and others, who argued that the Armenians should have no place to mourn their dead, denying that a Genocide had taken place. This latter group was composed primarily of well funded Turkish groups who tried to belittle the Armenians, and who claimed that saving the Cross was somehow an act of hatred.
The Armenian community lobbied its friends and neighbors in San Francisco so that the Cross might be kept in place for all the people of San Francisco to enjoy:
|Today, the Council of Armenian American organizations raises funds from the community at large and its own members to maintain and improve the Cross and the area of the summit it owns for all San Franciscans to enjoy.
Council Chair Charles Paskerian explains that Armenian American organizations and their members preserve the Cross in thanks to this country, in memory of the victims of this Century’s First Genocide, and to stand against such cruelty and oppression, wherever it takes place:|
|“My parents were immigrants to the United States in _, and every member of my family, like every other Armenian-American family I know, is deeply grateful to this country for taking us in. I am also very lucky to live in this most beautiful of cities. We on the Council feel that we can repay a little of what we owe this Country and this City by preserving that magnificent Cross, which is a treasured part of City and even national history. I remember as a boy hearing those broadcasts of Mt Davidson Sunrise Services in our Boston home.
But we have two other purposes as well: we are the children and grandchildren of Genocide survivors. It is our duty not only to mourn our dead, and to pray for the souls of those who were murdered, but we also must stand like a beacon in our community. Every time there is a similar threat to any people anywhere on the globe we want Mount Davidson to be a place for the entire community, Armenians and non Armenians alike, to come together to stand against injustice and to stand against Genocide and other crimes against humanity.
At the base of the Cross we have placed a plaque bearing the words of an honored Armenian poet, Avetis Aharonian, who said what is in the heart of all people whose families and members have survived Genocide, namely that we have a special duty to remember:
‘If evil of this magnitude can be ignored, if our own children forget then we deserve oblivion and earn the world’s scorn.’
Aharonian was right, while it is easy to forget, we can not. One Genocide forgotten leads to the next: every Armenian knows, for example, that before he unleashed aggression on Poland and the Holocaust, Hitler said to his Generals, “Who, today, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” The world by 1941 had forgotten the Armenian Genocide, then only 16 years old, making it that much easier for the Holocaust of the Jews to take place.
The Cross is where we must come together, so that such evil and such suffering, including that of our ancestors, will never be forgotten or ignored.”
The Cross was to endure another trial in September, 2007. The very plaque bearing Aharonioan’s words, and paying tribute to the memory of all victims of Genocide, was stolen by unknown persons. As this video is being prepared, the San Francisco community is responding with generosity to replace the plaque so that another one may stand firmly in place, along with the Cross, in memory of the victims of all Genocide and injustice.