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City Should Buy Sutro Heights and Cliffs

Beautiful Locality, Now Disfigured by Hold-over Attractions
and Unsightly Remnants of the Midwinter Fair, Ought to be a Public Park

Written for the REVIEW by Charles Bundschu,
Director of the Merchants’ Association

Tradition and location unparalleled, beautiful surroundings, the splendid beaches of the Pacific Ocean, and the famous marine wonder of Seal Rocks, on which hundreds of sea lions have found a congenial roosting place, make the northwestern point of our peninsula, near the southern head of the Golden Gate, one of the most popular, attractive, and interesting points in the immediate vicinity of San Francisco.

The locality commonly known as the Cliff House site is in direct rapid transit connection with the heart of our city; one steam and two electric lines supply easy facilities for thousands of excursionists at the nominal fare of five cents from the bay line to ocean shore, and no other point has grown with such rapidity into local pride and public favor.

We now eulogize and admire the prophetic inspiration of that far-seeing pioneer, Adolph Sutro, who pronounced many years ago the then somewhat isolated Cliff House Point, one of the most wonderful, remarkable, and picturesque maritime locations of the world. He backed up his conviction by purchasing the ground and all the points of vantage in the immediate neighborhood. He immortalized his name in our local history, not alone by planting of miles of forests near the ocean line, by the building of the monumental bathing establishment bearing his name, by the inauguration of a competitive electric [streetcar] line introducing the five-cent fare, but he showed his admiration of nature’s greatest gifts in the creation of Sutro Heights, a beautiful park elevation, overlooking the Cliff House point, affording an unbounded view of the vast expanse of the great Pacific Ocean.

The park proper covers about 18 acres of ground, the narrow strip on which the Cliff House stands includes 1 1/2 acres, while the tract of land on the north side of Cliff avenue, where the Baths and the Depot are located, embraces about 39 acres. Of this, the right of way and depot of the Sutro R.R. Co. have absorbed about one and one-eighth acres.

I allude to these special facts, because I hold the opinion that our city shown own and control these wonderful properties, and should convert them into beautiful public grounds for the benefit of our state.

The generosity of Mr. Sutro has turned over the Heights to limited public use, and his heirs have so far extended the same liberality. Still, this may be discontinued at any time. It was known and publicly announced that the owner intended to bequeath Sutro Heights to the city of San Francisco. Our citizens deplore that this hope has been disappointed. The property forms a part of his large estate, and must be disposed of sooner or later.

A strong effort should be made, and a movement should be advanced to include the purchase of Sutro Heights, and the property on the opposite side of Cliff Avenue (exclusive of Baths and Cliff House), in the contemplated purchases by bond issue. When we speak of Boulevards, Panhandle Extension, Mission Park, Twin Peaks purchases, etc., how much more forcibly appeals to the heart of every citizen this wonderful location, this popular region with its hitherto unknown and undiscussed possibilities in the direction of true artistic improvements?

We all know that the first proud, inquisitive interrogation addressed to us by every stranger after the first formalities of welcome have been bestowed, embraces the oft-repeated words: “Have you been to the Cliff House?” We know that every Sunday and holiday, in moonlight, in sunshine, and in storm, thousands of citizens seek and find recreation and amusement near the ocean, and many generations, for years to come, will seek this objective point for their local pilgrimages.

Let the city secure the place if it can be accomplished. Let us then exercise as speedily as possible the proud privilege of removing the awful monstrosities and eyesores that today disfigure and disgrace one of the natural beauty spots near our glorious Golden Gate. Let us clear the surroundings of the unsightly collection of Midwinter Fair eccentricities and rookeries, that provoke so much charitable criticism and ridicule on the part of every American tourist or visitor from abroad.

Let us put our shoulders to the wheel, so the question may be placed before the people why under reasonable conditions the ownership of the lands should not be secured by our city for park purposes.

Merchants’ Association Review
April 1902

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