I have loved San Francisco since the first time I saw the gigantic fresh Christmas tree inside the City of Paris Department store on Union Square. Growing up in Southern California, I dared to dream that I might live here some day. In 1980 my husband and I moved to Miraloma Park in the West of Twin Peaks District of San Francisco. We have flourished ever since with wonderful neighbors who became our son’s “local” grandparents and enjoyed the fact that we lived on San Francisco’s highest hill, Mount Davidson, with a view of its historic depression-era cross, one of the world’s largest. When a court order resulted in part of the public park atop that hill being auctioned to the highest bidder, I gathered leaders from the neighborhoods in this book to create the Friends of Mount Davidson Conservancy.
Our research to landmark the site revealed the efforts of Madie Brown. In the decade following approval of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, she and the 15,000-member strong City and County Federation of Women’s Clubs, successfully campaigned to preserve the first 26 acres of this park in the middle of one of the densest cities in the United States. I also learned that the first woman elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Margaret Mary Morgan, served on the committee of arrangements, along with the builders of the surrounding neighborhoods, for the 1934 Sunrise Easter Service – the first at the base of the 103-foot high Mount Davidson Cross. A San Francisco Bay Area-wide civic event held without interruption every year since 1923, crowds reaching 75,000 have hiked up the hill in the predawn chill to participate in the event.
To save Madie Brown’s legacy, the Friends of Mount Davidson obtained a 5.62-acre reduction in the amount of parkland the city auctioned to settle the court order to remove the religious monument or sell the land it stands on. We also negotiated an open-space conservation easement for the park property to be sold ensuring it will remain public open space in perpetuity. Sixty-eight percent of the voters approved the sale of .38 acres of the park in order to save the monument in 1997. Living through the second time a dispute over this property went all the way to the California Supreme Court, I appreciated that the unique character of this part of San Francisco was not to be taken for granted. The experience inspired me to document the area’s history in collaboration with longtime residents and homeowner associations in the West of Twin Peaks district neighborhoods featured in the book.
My research for the book started with collecting documents for the land marking of the Mount Davidson Cross, which revealed a much more complex and interesting history than I expected. Built in 1934 by the architect and engineer of San Francisco’s tallest buildings, George Kelham and Henry J. Brunnier, it was famous for being lit by President Franklin Roosevelt. The more I found out, the more questions came to mind. For example, I wondered why the President Roosevelt lit the cross and historian Kevin Starr suggested I write to the Roosevelt Library. It turned out that Madie Brown “dared to dream” of inviting the President, because he “brought light to many a darkened American home and who through his new deal has instilled the principles of the Golden Rule into American business.” As a long time member of local historical associations and neighborhood groups, I have been collecting historical information about this area of San Francisco for many years. For the images, I reached out to neighborhood residents, homeowner associations, and www.outsidelands.org who were most generous and helpful in sharing their archives for this history project.
Organizing the fact-filled book chronologically, the area’s development is described in the context of historic figures and events affecting San Francisco, California, and the world around it, from the Gold Rush to the 1906 Earthquake; the opening of the Panama Canal and the 1915 Pan American International Exposition; the Great Depression and 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition; World War II and the Summer of Love. The creation of San Francisco’s first railway and water systems, its tallest buildings and longest bridges, gourmet Tower Market, are just a few of the interesting aspects of the city’s history that have links to the West of Twin Peaks district. Home to the city’s highest hill, Mount Davidson, called “the most beautiful spot in the scenic Bay Area,” by San Francisco Chronicle writer, Craig Marine, was named after scientist and surveyor, George Davidson, at the request of the Sierra Club in 1911. One of the most remarkable of California’s pioneers, Davidson was President of the California Academy of Sciences from 1871-1887. He built the first astronomical observatory on the West Coast and is credited for initiating California’s impressive astronomical tradition.
It is also interesting how many of those holding San Francisco’s highest elected office have ties to its highest hill. First owned in 1846 by the last Mexican alcalde, Jose Noe, the City’s fourth mayor, Cornelius Garrison, later purchased it, as well as its 21st, Adolph Sutro. A brilliant mining engineer, Sutro made a fortune digging a seven-mile long tunnel to mine silver from the Comstock Lode through another Mount Davidson, above Virginia City, Nevada. After a two-mile long transit tunnel was built through the Twin Peaks, the neighborhoods built on the slopes of the Mount Davidson in San Francisco have most recently been home to Mayors George Moscone and Art Agnos, as well as, many others whose imagination and creativity make San Francisco – San Francisco.
Award winning San Francisco architect, Patrick McGrew, describes the neighborhoods found in this book as some of the city’s most attractive. “These homes will never be found in the tourist brochures…for none are located in the tourist zones…These are the homes where San Franciscans live – a ‘Home City – a good place to live,’” This is the first book ever published exclusively devoted to the West of Twin Peaks district, home to 69,000 residents. These historic “residence park” neighborhoods inspired by Daniel Burnham’s 1905 City Beautiful Plan for San Francisco, were built with innovative open space amenities to stem the tide of residents leaving San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake devastation. The neighborhood builders and business owners lived alongside their customers in these family-friendly communities. Active neighborhood associations have since maintained their longtime livability. Miraloma Park, for example, was rated one of the 26 best places to live in the San Francisco Bay Area by San Francisco Magazine in 2004 for its “city without the gritty.” Vintage photographs, including many from the famous Gabriel Moulin Studio, of the Sunnyside, Miraloma Park, Balboa Terrace, Ingleside Terraces, Westwood Park, Westwood Highlands, Sherwood Forest, Mount Davidson Manor, and Monterey Heights neighborhoods captioned with quotes from historical documents and family stories illustrate San Francisco’s history from the view of those who came here in pursuit of the American dream. The book also includes rare photographs of unique homes nestled along the winding streets and historic forest planted in the 1800s by the Comstock Lode millionaire, Adolph Sutro. Among them are homes designed by renown San Francisco architect, Timothy Pflueger and his brother, Milton Pflueger; Arts and Crafts bungalows by one of the earliest female architects, Ida McCain, as well as, beautiful homes by Charles Strothoff and Harold Stoner.
Write about what inspires you and pursue answers to your questions. History is happening every day and before we know it, the chance to learn from the past can be missed. Arcadia Publishing provides a unique opportunity for aspiring authors and historians to get their work published and widely distributed.
I dedicated the book to Madie Brown with the words from a plaque that once honored her atop Mount Davidson, as a tribute to her efforts and those of other San Franciscans who not only dared to dream, but also worked to make them come true from the city’s heart, West of Twin Peaks. I hope the book’s lasting impact is for current and future generations of San Franciscans to appreciate why these historic urban communities continue to be so beautiful and family-friendly.