Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President of the United States on March 4, 1932, promising Americans a “new deal.” Fifteen major legislative innovations were approved within 100 days of his taking office. Social Security, a guaranteed minimum wage, insured bank deposits, the right to join a labor union – these legacies of the New Deal endure. His motivation to light San Francisco’s Mt. Davidson Cross two years later may have been in response to the Bay Area’s preference for his opponent and Palo Alto resident, President Herbert Hoover, in the 1932 presidential race. Re-election of President Hoover had also been supported by the former Mayor of San Francisco, Governor James Rolph, and the current San Francisco Mayor, Angelo Rossi.
Founder of Mt. Davidson Park and Chairwoman of the Mt. Davidson Cross Lighting Committee, Madie Brown , wrote a letter to Hon. Justus Wardell, a personal friend of President Roosevelt, requesting that he ask the President to light the Mt. Davidson Cross on February 28, 1934: “As chairman of arrangements, I have dared to dream that our President would press the button in Washington, D.C., which in turn would light for the first time this giant cross in San Francisco. It seems most appropriate that the President, who has 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, should take part in this cross-lighting ceremony.”
It was a tumultuous time in San Francisco. Just a week after Madie sent her letter, the International Longshoremen Union voted to shut down the shipping industry along the entire Pacific Seaboard on March 23, 1934 – the day before the Mount Davidson Cross would be lit by President Roosevelt. The President intervened, appointing a fact finding commission and convincing the union to postpone their walkout, just two days before the ceremony. The maritime strike ultimately occurred on May 9, 1934, continued through June, and escalated with over a hundred workers wounded and two killed on Bloody Thursday, July 5, 1934.
During his convalescence after contracting polio in 1921, Franklin Roosevelt lived for months at a time on a houseboat in Florida with his personal secretary, Missy Lehand, here to his left, while Mrs. Roosevelt remained in New York. (Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.)
Note to Missy Lehand from his press secretary, Stephen Early, with FDR’s OK to press the button to light the cross. (Author’s Collection.)
Telegram to Franklin Roosevelt after he lights the cross on March 24, 1934 at 7:30 P.M. Pacific Standard Time from Mayor Rossi. Over 50,000 people came to see the Mt. Davidson Cross be lit for the first time.
Rossi is credited for successfully shepherding the city through the Depression and making San Francisco among the first cities to receive Works Progress Administration funding, as well as, getting employment for all residents eligible for the program.
Article in the 1935 Municipal Record about the gold telegraph key used by the President that sent electricity over telegraph wires to turn on the twelve 1000 watt floodlights surrounding the Mount Davidson Cross for the first time from the White House. (Author’s Collection.)
Franklin Roosevelt would also press a telegraph key from the White House to officially open the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 (but his presidential opponent, Herbert Hoover, would open the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, a year earlier.) (Courtesy Ron Davis.)