Saturday, November 26, 2011

Family Dog On The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

The Family Dog On The Great Highway opened on June 13, 1969 with the Jefferson Airplane. The site was at the former Edgewater Ballroom, part of the Playland At The Beach complex. This same building apparently dated to the 1880s and lasted through the mid-1970s. In 1969,  Playland ebbed as the San Francisco pop culture was taking hold.

nteresting facts have surfaced surrounding the area of Playland.

Family Dog At The Great Highway
The Family Dog, the rock dance commune centered around original hippie Chet Helms, lost its lease on their Avalon Ballroom headquarters and moved west, out to the beach, out to a rickety wooden building where generations of San Franciscans had come to eat fried chicken, roller skate, play with their slot cars and to the Grateful Dead.

On summer nights, fog hung in writhing sheets around the old building and the muffled roar of the breakers could be heard through the front door, just on the other side of the seawall. Venturing onto the beach for a night time smoke was, in the parlance of the time, really trippy.
Above the dance floor, encircling it were 2 - 3 rows of seats, Chet had put in a bandstand at each end so they'd be no set-up waiting time. In the back was a flagstone patio w/a well and the 'refreshment' stand for mind & body. So great to feel the coolness of the stones as the music came from indoors and the stars were visible w/o the city lights.
No wonder Chet Helms briefly advertised the site as "Magic at the Edge of the Western World."

The Family Dog used this venue regularly for about a year between June 1969 and June 1970.

A timeline of the building’s uses through the years: Mooneysville by the Sea-1883
Ocean Beach Pavilion and Casino-1884-1906 Sahara Club-1918-1921 Bagdad Ballroom-1920-1933
(Jerry’s father may have performed here the week of October 24, 1933. There was also a Bagdad Ballroom on Ellis Street.) Hawai’Land-1924-1929
The south end of the building was known as The Annex.
Topsy’s Roost-late 1928-1945
Barnum’s At the Beach-1952-1953 Surf Club-1953 to 1966
Edgewater Ballroom-1951, it does not appear in the 1953 directory.
Whitney Model Car Raceway-1967-1968
Family Dog on The Great Highway-June 13, 1969-August 18, 1971
Poor Richard’s-early 1970
Friends and Relations Hall-opened March 12, 1971-January 22, 1972 Friends and Relations Theatre- March 31, 1972 
The building was demolished for the current condo development.
Long before the Family Dog showed up! 1880's or so. Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

March 12, 1971,  the building became the "Friends and Relationships Hall", another short-lived concert venue. 

Slot Car Raceways, 1964


Surf Club, Great Highway

In the 20's, I think, prior to Topsy's Roost, the building had a sign reading "Sahara", and another reading "Baghdad". Anyone know anything about this rendition? (Photo courtesy of Mary Courtwright Collins)
This 1920's image has a tea room on the north side of the building. (Photo courtesy of Dennis O'Rourke)

Topsy's Roost was a local SF eatery of the 1920s that specialized in chicken dinners, and whose decor and advertising included racist overtones. (Topsy was portrayed in ads as a stereotypical African American plantation girl with nappy locks, sack dress, etc.) The interior of the Roost featured a barn-like atmosphere with lots of rough wood and overhanging balconies.
Topsy's on the Great Highway, 1920's

The Roost was located in the now-demolished building on Great Highway just north of Balboa Street.

Marilyn Blaisedell's photo history book of Playland has excellent photos of Topsy's Roost. Topsy's Roost was a place where you would eat dinner in "cubby holes" in the wall and then if you wanted to dance.. you would get to the dance floor by sliding down to it on a big slide!!

There is a review of Topsy's Roost in Ruth Thompson's "Eating Around San Francisco" published in 1937. There is a pretty good description of what was apparently an enormous restaurant and night club. It could accomodate 1055 diners and the dance floor could hold 300. She includes their recipe for fried chicken and describes the plantation/Negro theme with average sensitivity for the period. Just down the hill from the Cliff House, and Sutro's, just before you get to Playland. It was an all wood building, and the sound here was real good.
The red roofed building would become Family Dog.
1848 San Francisco
The above picture comes from a National Geographic dated August, 1956. I thought I'd add it because it's something interesting that happened in San Francisco about 37 years before the Ocean Beach Pavilion and Casino/Family Dog building was constructed (not at the same site as the photo).

The area that was Playland began as a 19th Century squatter’s settlement, “Mooneysville-by-the-Sea” at the western edge of San Francisco. Late in the year 1883, a weird collection of shanties, tents and lean-tos appeared on Ocean Beach, below the Cliff House. In those days, of course, there were no sea wall and paved highway, and they would have occupied what is now the boulevard in front of Playland and to the south. The builders and inhabitants of this seaside community were squatters, there, as they put it, for their health.
They regarded it in this light because, as they said, in order to be healthy, a man has to eat. And if he is going to eat he has to have money with which to buy food. And they proposed to settle all three problems by selling liquor to Sunday tourists at the beach.
Members of the Park Commission, which had jurisdiction over the beach from the Golden Gate Park frontage to the high-water mark, took one look at the unseemly hovels and suggested politely that the squatters dismantle them and leave. The squatters, not so politely, thumbed their noses at the authorities and those who did so most defiantly were Dennis Kearney, the militant leader of the Sandlot Riots, and Con Mooney, who 20 years before had been foreman of the Volunteer Fire Department's Manhattan Engine Company No. 2, and proprietor of the Pony Express Saloon, Billiard Parlor and Cock-Fighting Pit at Kearny and Washington streets.
"We're on the beach to stay," they said defiantly. To prove it, they declared themselves residents of an entirely new town, elected Mooney mayor, a squatter named McDavitt recorder and chose, in honor of their chief executive, the community name of Mooneysville-by-the-Sea.
For several months the Park Commissioners appealed in vain for aid. But Police Chief Crowley said he had no authority to eject the squatters by force. When they took their troubles to the superintendent of streets, he replied, "My orders have to come from the supervisors."
At length, on the last Saturday in January 1884, after hearing a desperate plea from Commissioner Frank M. Pixley, pioneer journalist and founder of the Argonaut, the supervisors instructed Chief Crowley to back up the commission in its campaign to clear the beach.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, Pixley declared war on the squatters. He would shortly, he announced, notify them to leave. They would be given ample time to take down their shacks and tents and cart them away. If they failed to do so within the time limit, it would be done for them.
"Next Sunday," he declared, "this beach shall be as clean as if the ocean itself had swept it."
He issued his ultimatum on Tuesday. Branding the squatters "trespassers," he gave them until Wednesday sunset to pull down their shacks and leave.
"The sun will set on Mooneysville for the last time this evening," reported the San Francisco Call. "Tomorrow Gen. Pixley will sit on it."
Wednesday, as a storm raged along the beach, Mooneysville presented a forlorn appearance, looking, to one reporter, "like the tag end of a mining camp Chinatown." Its mayor and leading citizens were in San Francisco in hopes of saving Mooneysville with a last-minute injunction.
But the following day the wreckers materialized, and the injunctions didn't. Police Sgt. Nash, in his official report to Chief Crowley, wrote the final chapter in the brief history of Mooneysville-by-the-Sea:
"The Fall of Mooneysville: We arrived at the beach about 7:15 a.m. About an hour afterward, park Superintendent McKewen arrived with 20 men, armed with crowbars and axes. The shanty farthest south had a notice on it to the effect that the owners would be there at noon to take it down, so that was left standing. Went to the next one, and as there was no one there, down it went; the same with the next three or four. Then came one that the owners were taking down, and they were allowed to go on. So it went on, some being taken down by the gang and some by the owners. Then down came the palace of 'Mayor Con Mooney.'
"Between the site of the late mayor's palace and the rocks stood Dennis Kearney, taking down his shanty, but very slowly. Superintendent McKewen sent some of his men to help him. Kearney withdrew to the road and turned to the gang who were doing work, exclaiming, 'Let the Romans pull it down.' After getting that down, the men worked north, helping those who were pulling down their places. Harry Maynard, the Kearny Street saloon keeper, arrived on the grounds at 5:15 p.m., and, on being asked what he thought of the work, he laughed and said, 'God help the poor.' "
Night fell, and Mooneysville-by-the-Sea was gone forever. {sbox}
This column originally appeared in The Chronicle Sept. 14, 1951.
(Robert O'Brien 2011-07-31,sfchronicle)
The second building, the larger one, would later become The Family Dog.

Cliff House train, 1890
By 1884, a steam railroad was in place to bring people to the first amusement ride at the City’s ocean side -- a “Gravity Railroad” roller coaster, and to the Ocean Beach Pavilion for concerts and dancing. 

...and  then came across this!
...from Loren Coleman on April 29th, 2009 on San Francisco Sea Serpent
The Clark twins of San Francisco contribute the following:
We found this 1885 newspaper article in the New York Times archives. The article was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 28, 1885. We find this article interesting because it establishes that there was a reported multiple eyewitness sighting of a Sea Serpent in SF Bay in 1885.
The “Goat Island” mentioned in the article is now named “Yerba Buena Island.”
From the San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1885.
The existence of the giant sea serpent is no longer in doubt. It has been seen in the waters of San Francisco Bay. According to the statement of J.P. Allen, of the Bank of California, he and several other residents of Alameda were standing on the deck of the ferryboat Garden City yesterday morning, at about 8:00 o’clock, about midway between Alameda and Goat Island (Yerba Buena Island), when a huge black monster suddenly raised its head and neck from the water to a height of about 10 feet, opened its jaws, displaying a mouth two feet wide filled with rows of sharply pointed teeth, and after taking a curious glance at the passing steamer plunged again into the water, at the same time elevating a sixty-foot tail, with which it thrashed the water for some time, after which it made off in the direction of the Alameda baths, near which some fishing boats were anchored. Some incredulous persons to whom the story was told say that the ferryboat struck a floating spar, forcing one end downward in the water and elevating the other as the steamer passed over the submerged end, and that after the steamer had passed the elevated end fell back into the water with a splash.
We may expect soon to hear of the destruction of the Alameda fishing fleet, or more probably the establishment of a hotel for Summer boarders in the vicinity of the Alameda wharf.

Besides the sea serpent, which gave a powerful impetus to the romancing powers of several reputable gentlemen crossing on a ferryboat, the bay yielded a sea monster of such strange appearance that the oldest tar on the seawall has not yet given it a name. The monster was first seen by Carl Sevening and John Peat, who were rowing near the North Heads at about 9 o’clock yesterday morning. The animal exposed a fiercely mustached head of a shape between that of a seal and a sea lion, surveyed the scene, took a dislike to the rowboat, and charged upon it. Just before reaching the boat the monster dived and came up under the boat, lifting it and the occupants, but not capsizing it. The enemy made a second
appearance on the opposite side of the boat, four foot off, and was met with active battle.
Peat dealt a blow on the monster’s head with an oar, knocking it out for a moment, and Sevening followed with another blow which knocked the beast silly. The pair then secured the animal with the boat’s painter and began towing it, when the enemy came to time for a second round. This it began by towing the boat rapidly for a quarter of a mile. It then came to the surface for breath, when Sevening landed it a blow, gaining first blood, and ending the fight with a square knock-out. The enemy turned belly up and was towed to the foot of Larkin street, where it took six men to land it. The animal measured 6 feet in length and weighed about 300 pounds. It had green eyes and a long, white, bristling mustache. It had two flippers of great strength, which measured 1 1/2 feet in length. The capture will be kept at the foot of Larkin street until noon today.
The New York Times
Published April 5, 1885.


The Story of The Cliff House

These two guys are sitting right on the spot of the original Cliff House overlooking Seal Rock House. Photo taken in 1865. Seal Rock House (1858) seen here was the pioneer resort and hotel in the area. It survived into the "teens." The long shed adjacent to Seal Rock House was a wind-sheltered stable for the horses of hotel guests.
The building that would eventually house the Family Dog was constructed just south and next to Seal Rock House.
(Golden Gate Park and Sunset District in the distance)

The Cliff House has had five major incarnations since its beginnings in 1858. That year, Samuel Brannan, a prosperous ex-Mormon elder from Maine, bought for $1,500 the lumber salvaged from a ship that foundered on the basalt cliffs below. With this material he built the first Cliff House.

The second Cliff house was a modest structure built in 1863 by Senator John Buckley and
C. C. Butler. Captain Junius Foster eventually leased the Cliff House Restaurant from
C. C. Butler and under his management wealthy San Franciscans flocked to the coast to enjoy the unique restaurant and wonderful views. The guest register bore the names of three U.S. presidents as well as prominent San Francisco families such as the Hearsts, Stanfords, and Crockers, who would drive their carriages out to Ocean Beach for horse racing and recreation.
This really happened September 27, 1865!

Territorial Enterprise, December 19-21, 1865


Pete Hopkins, the renowned Spectre of the Mountains, will walk a tight rope - the artist himself being tighter than the rope at the time - from the Cliff House to Seal Rock, and will ride back on the Seal known as Ben Butler, or the Seal will ride back on him, as circumstances shall determine. 

Click here for the story of the tight rope walker:

Captain Foster renovated the Cliff House in 1868, adding a promenade and two new wings. It became the meeting place for local politicians as well as less savory citizens from the Barbary Coast. High society locals abandoned the Cliff House although it remained a favorite attraction for tourists and the less wealthy. It became known for scandalous behavior, which greatly disturbed one prominent and well-known San Franciscan. Adoph Sutro, a self-made millionaire, philanthropist, and later, mayor of San Francisco, had built his estate at Sutro Heights overlooking the Cliff House.

With the opening of the Point Lobos toll road a year later, the Cliff House became successful with the Carriage trade for Sunday travel. The builders of the toll road constructed a two mile speedway beside it where well-to-do San Franciscans raced their horses along the way. On weekends, there was little room at the Cliff House hitching racks for tethering the horses for the thousands of rigs. Soon, omnibus railways and streetcar lines made it to near Lone Mountain where passengers transferred to stagecoach lines to the beach. The growth of Golden Gate Park encouraged beach travelers to search for meals and a look at the Sea Lions sunning themselves on Seal Rock, just off the cliffs.
Cliff House, J.R. Key, artist, 1873
In 1877, the toll road, now Geary Boulevard, was purchased by the City for around $25,000.

U. S. Grant Walk, Cliff House, September, 1879
Our 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife Julia returned to the United States from their trip around the world on September 20, 1879 and disembarked at San Francisco. The famous general and ex-President Ulysses S. Grant arrived in San Francisco on his last stretch of a tour of the world amidst great excitement. He paraded the City, including this walk south east from the Cliff House to the future site of the Golden Gate Park.
U.S. Grant walk, 1879

Here's an interesting article on U. S. Grant's son, Jesse Grant:
Stamp issued 1898.

1891 photo courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

Adolf Sutro had solved the problems of ventilating and draining the mines of the Comstock Lode and had become a multimillionaire.
Sutro set off blasts of dynamite, ... leading the way for tunnel diggers. He fought avalanches, mud slides and poisonous gases. He dug air shafts to relieve the danger; the shafts filled with water, one of them to the depth of nine hundred feet. He fought cave-ins and solid rock. Through the grueling months, day after day and month after month, he marched ahead of his men, stripped to the waist, laboring with them, sweating with them, facing death with them, and in the end, winning through with them to victory."
Adolph Sutro became King of the Comstock because his tunnels drained three to 4 million US gallons (15,000 m3) of water a day, rented by mine owners at an average of $10,000 a day, "all moneys accumulated for his stockholders."
Sutro saw that better German pumps were becoming available, that the Comstock was going even deeper than his drainage tunnel and diminishing in metal output, and sold out before conditions worsened further, departing rich for San Francisco.

He, at one time, owned 12,000 acres, about 10% of the city of San Francisco. In 1881, the Cliff House was sold to Mr. Sutro. Its restaurant became a fashionable destination for San Francisco socialites.
By 1890, there were three streetcar lines to Ocean Beach: the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad, the Park & Ocean Railroad and the Sutro Railroad. 

After a few years of quiet management by J.M. Wilkens, the Cliff House was severely damaged by an explosion of the schooner, Parallel, that went aground under the restaurant loaded with forty tons of dynamite. The blast was heard a hundred miles away and demolished the entire north wing of the tavern.
Great Highway was once called Ocean Boulevard.
A patched-up Cliff House continued to operate until 1889 when the exterior of the building was treated to a new paint job, and the interior received modern water closets and a new kitchen closer to the dining room.
Seven years later, on Christmas 1894 the patched and repaired old building burned down from a chimney fire. Wilkens was unable to save the guest register, which included the signature of three Presidents and dozens of illustrious world-famous visitors.

In 1895 Mr. Sutro became the 24th Mayor of San Francisco.
In 1896, Adolph Sutro spent $75,000 to build a new Cliff House, a seven story Victorian Chateau, called by some "the Gingerbread Palace," below his estate on the bluffs of Sutro Heights. This was the same year work began on the famous Sutro Baths, which included six of the largest indoor swimming pools north of the Restaurant that included a museum, skating rink and other pleasure grounds. Great throngs of San Franciscans arrived on steam trains, bicycles, carts and horse wagons on Sunday excursions. Sutro held office until January 3, 1897.Four months later, on August 8, 1898 Adolph Sutro died after a long illness.   

He had owned the finest private library in America. Three, hundred thousand volumes hadbeen collected by agents stationed in the best Continental book marts, and additions were being constantly made. Among the rarest tomes and incunabula, may be mentioned duplicates of the early printer's art, from the famous Munich Library, four thousand in number; folios of the classics from the monastery of Boxheim and the Duke of Dahlberg, the Sunderland Library and the confiscated monasteries of Bavaria.
Photo of flower vases and entrance to Sutro Heights There are Mexican works, relating to the war of independence, from the ancient archives of the Aztec capital; two thousand three hundred Japanese manuscripts were borne from the bright land of the "Morning Calm; " collections of Semitic philology, the chemical literature of the late Secretary Wells, of the English Society of Industrial Chemistry, have furnished about two thousand five hundred volumes.
A complete military, architectural and botanical library contributes its golconda of treasure; antique and priceless scrolls from the Orient are preserved with the parchments of Maimonides, author of "Ram Bam," who was called the Light of Israel, the Star of the West, and the Great Eagle. Classics, poems, plays in all languages of the learned, are in those closely packed cases, book-
lined walls, and heavily-

laden galleries which contain, temporarily, the greatest wonders of the printing press known to the New World.
When completed, as designed, it will be accessible to every disciple of science, that being the special motive of its magnanimous founder.
The structure site chosen for this colossal collection of literary treasure is in Golden Gate Park, near the music stand. It will be fire proof and free to the public. 
Much of the library was destroyed during the fire that followed the Great Earthquake of1906. 

In June of 1907 the Cliff House was leased to John Tait of Tait’s at the Beach, and seven partners. A few months later on September 7, 1907, after extensive remodeling and just prior to reopening, the most resplendent and beloved of all Cliff Houses burned to its foundation. This exquisite building had survived the 1906 earthquake only to succumb to a raging electrical fire that destroyed it in less than two hours.  

Dr. Emma Merritt, Sutro's daughter, commissioned a rebuilding of the restaurant in a neo-classical style that was completed within two years and is the basis of the structure seen today.
Grand Opening July 1, 1909

Closed in 1924 during Prohibition.

In 1937, George and Leo Whitney purchased the Cliff House, complementing their Playland-at-the-Beach attraction nearby and extensively remodeling it into an American roadhouse.
1950's Cliff House

Cliff House from the ocean
Cliff House,  Photo courtesy of National Geographic, August 1956
The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977 and became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Many of Whitney's additions were removed and the building was restored to its 1909 appearance.

In 2003, an extensive further renovation added a new two-story wing overlooking the Sutro Bath ruins.

More than thirty ships have been pounded to pieces on the southern shore of the Golden Gate below the Cliff House.

The area immediately around Cliff House is part of the setting of Jack London's novel The Scarlet Plague (1912).[2]

In the 1960s, upon the closing of Playland, the Musée Mécanique, a museum of 20th-century penny arcade games, moved into the basement of the Cliff House.[3]

This is how it looks today, 2011

The Story of Sutro Baths

Length of baths, 499.5 feet.
Width of baths, 254.1 feet.

Though the Baths were not opened until 1896, Sutro had been developing and marketing the project for years, attempting four separate times to insulate the site from waves using sea walls, the first three of which collapsed into the Pacific.
The Baths were protected from the sea by two enormous breakwaters aggregating 700 feet in length containing 750,000 cu. ft. of rock, every part having been constructed so well that it is now in as good condition as when built.
Rear of Sutro Baths postcard
On March 14, 1896, the Sutro Baths was opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. Built on the sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894-1896), Adolph Sutro, the breathtakingly vast glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete structure was mostly hidden in, and literally filled, a small beach inlet below the Cliff House which was also owned by Adolph Sutro at the time. An enormous glass structure encased the seven pools, which were filled with steam-heated sea water piped in from the Pacific.

Inside the enormous glass structure that encased the Sutro Baths were seven pools, more than 500 private dressing rooms, viewing galleries, restaurants, and natural history exhibits. The pools were filled with steam-heated sea water piped in from the Pacific.
The seven pools, the stage, the seating for thousands to observe were all topped by a glazed roof of 100,000 panes of glass to allow the sunlight. Unheated seawater filled the largest of the tanks. The rest were heated to varying temperatures, as Jerry Flamm relates in his book, "Good Life in Hard Times":

"They ranged, with ten-degree gaps, from ice-cold to a steaming warm eighty degrees. A favorite 'let's see you do this' dare among the hordes of kids scampering around the pools was to dive into the 'hot' pool, climb out, race down to the small ice-cold pool, and dive in there. An almost cutting sensation was experienced as the ice water covered your warm skin. I sometimes wonder how many of our gang died before their time, due to early heart attacks stemming from this mad folly."

And one could enter the pools in a number of ways, thanks to Sutro: trampolines, flying rings, slides, swings, toboggan slides, and diving platforms surrounded the water. All the bathers were required to use the establishment's suits, as Jerry Flamm remembered:

"Most of the suits were floppy looking, and usually gray in color with white stripes around the bottom edges. Women's suits had a skirt, often stretched from innumerable launderings, Men's suits had half skirts in front until about 1925."
The proprietor held numerous events, fairs, competitions, beauty contests, and legitimate championships to keep the public coming to the Baths. In 1913 and 1914 the Pacific Coast Swimming Championships featured Hawaiian swimmer Duke P. Kahanamoku (Olympic gold medalist) setting world records. Less prestigious draws included appearances by trapeze acts, contortionists, dwarf boxing matches, magicians and high-diving canines.

Courtesy of Christine Miller

A visitor to the baths not only had a choice of 7 different swimming pools, one fresh water and 6 salt water baths ranging in temperatures, but could visit a museum displaying Sutro's large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, a concert hall, seating for 8,000, and, at one time, an ice skating rink.
His Egyptian collection eventually grew to about 700 items, including two intact mummies and a number of other mummified body parts, as well as other funerary delights and an anaconda 18 feet long, wound around a tree. And apes and bears and bulls from the taxidermist's. He put them all on display at the Sutro Baths so the people of San Francisco could enjoy them. There they remained until 1966, when academia fortuitously acquired the collection just a few weeks before the Sutro Baths building "mysteriously" burned down.

This site has a video of the Sutro Baths Fire!

Today, the mummies (who are about 3500 years old) and Sutro's other Egyptian treasures belong to San Francisco State University.

During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the 2 million US gallons (7,600 m³) of water in about an hour. During low tides, a powerful turbine water pump, built inside a cave at sea level, could be switched on from a control room and could fill the tanks at a rate of 6,000 US gallons a minute (380 L/s), recycling all the water in five hours.

Before Now – Sutro Baths Segregation

by 2/22/11 Before Now,Columns

Sutro Baths Entrance
It’s important to remember that the struggle for civil rights didn’t begin in the 1950s, however. John Martini, a historian and retired National Park Service ranger, recently discovered more evidence of the long national struggle in 1890s San Francisco.
While leading guided walks or giving presentations about Sutro Baths, Martini was often asked if the baths were segregated.
“My response has always been that they might have been, especially given the racist culture of San Francisco a century ago, but I had no solid proof,” he said.
Recently, Martini says, he found documentation in old newspaper articles that “Adolph Sutro definitely had a policy of restricting admission to the baths based on race.”
“More specifically,” he said, “there was an unwritten but unbendable policy about access to the pools when Sutro’s first opened in the 1890s.”
Newspaper articles from the 1890s describe how Mr. John Harris, “a colored man,” attempted to buy a ticket to go swimming and was rebuffed, and subsequently filed suit against Adolph Sutro and his Baths.
“Mr. Harris’ lawsuit became an early test case for a then-new California civil rights law called the Dibble Bill,” Martini emailed. “The new law, which had gone into effect on April 29, 1897, declared that ‘no railways, hotels, restaurants, barber-shops, bathhouses and other like institutions licensed to serve the public shall discriminate against any well behaved citizen, no matter what his color.’
“The [articles] also reveal with stark clarity the blatant racism of the 1890s that directly and unabashedly opposed the rule of law, along with the twisted logic that supported the Jim Crow policies.”
It started on the Fourth of July in 1897. John Harris came to Sutro Baths with a few white friends and bought a 25-cent ticket, which purported to entitle him to general admission, a bathing suit and admission to the changing rooms. The San Francisco Call of August 1, 1897 reported what followed:
Sutro Baths interior
On receiving the ticket Mr. Harris presented the same at the proper place, and as he says, in a sober, orderly, polite and well-behaved manner demanded the use of a bathing suit and a dressing-room, intending to avail himself of the opportunities of the bathing pools generally offered to patrons of the place, “but the defendant seeing and knowing that the plaintiff was a man of African descent, known as a negro and colored man,” refused him the privileges for which he had paid. This refusal he avers was on account of his race and color, and for no other reason whatever, and plaintiff was then and there for said reason denied full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of said bathing-house and said place of amusement.
When the refusal stated above took place, Mr. Harris says, he was in company with several white, or Caucasian friends, and his sensibilities and feelings were injured by the acts of the defendant in holding him up in the presence of his friends as of an inferior and degraded race.
On the 11th of July Mr. Harris made another effort to enjoy the bathing facilities offered by Mr. Sutro, but he was again similarly rebuffed. He assesses his damages at $5,000 for each refusal, and consequently demands that Mr. Sutro pay him $10,000.
In response to the Call story and the suit, the superintendent of Sutro Baths attempted to clarify the company policy:
“Negroes,” he said, “so long as they are sober and well behaved are allowed to enter the baths as spectators, but are not permitted to go in the water. It is not a matter of personal feeling with us but of business necessity. 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 could ever be won against us. Public sentiment would be too strongly in opposition for any law to force such a commingling of the white and colored races. I do not believe the case will ever come to trial.”
The superintendent further speculated the suit could have been intended as a test case or “prompted in spite by some enemy of Mr. Sutro,” since in the 15 months the Baths had been opened no other “colored person attempted to mingle with the whites in the water.”
Harris did have allies in the fight. The Assembly Club, a social organization comprising (in the Call’s description) “the better class of colored people in this City,” declared itself interested in supporting financially “this case or any other brought by a negro to test the rights of their race in this matter.”
The Blade newspaper in Santa Rosa weighed in on the matter, claiming, “It will be a hard task to secure a jury that will allow damages even though the law allows the black brethren equal rights with other folk. A negro is a negro and his color is his misfortune, not his fault. He only makes the difference more apparent by rushing into the courts with a handicap laid on him by the hand of the almighty, who knew His business as well in the days of Ham as He does now.”
On Feb. 17, 1898, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the suit’s conclusion. With Sutro’s only defense being the objections of white patrons causing business loss, the judge in the case instructed the jury it must rule in favor of Harris by law. The jury awarded the minimum penalty of $50 for each of the two violations set forth in the complaint. It was a small victory, since any verdict under $300 required the plaintiff to pay the costs of the trial. The Chronicle concluded that “after paying his attorneys [Harris] will be little or nothing ahead by the suit.”

As early as 1849 San Franciscans were making Sunday excursions to watch the seals cavorting on the Seal Rocks. When the opening of the Point Lobos Toll Road in 1863 made Land’s End easily accessible by carriage, the newly built Cliff House became a popular Sunday rendezvous spot. After the first tightrope walks over Niagara Falls created a national sensation, the fad soon came to San Francisco. On September 27, 1865, nearly 1500 people gathered to watch circus performer James Cooke make the perilous 150-yard crossing to South Seal Rock. The next year, Miss Rosa Celeste achieved fame by making three round trips. She was soon outshone by Millie Lavelle, who coasted to Seal Rock by gripping in her teeth a bit connected to a trolley on a wire cable. Audiences paid $1 to sit on the Cliff House’s veranda to watch these thrilling performances.

Nearly one hundred years later, similarly thrilling rides became available to the public with the opening of Whitney’s Sky Tram on May 3, 1955. For 25¢, the Sky Tram offered passengers rides from the terrace below the Cliff House out over the water to Point Lobos, San Francisco’s westernmost point. The tram cars hung from twin steel cables suspended 1000 feet above the surf. The cars could accommodate up to twenty passengers plus two crew members for the four-minute, one-way ride. City Guide Helen O’Brien Sheehan remembers the rides as a little frightening.
Cliff House tram (If I stand in this spot I can envision this today)

Cliff House Tram (see man on top!)
A photo of an engineer clambering atop the tram in mid voyage to release a frozen brake line suggest Helen’s fears weren’t unfounded! Apparently the frequent fog at Land’s End made maintenance of the Sky Tram difficult, and it closed in 1961.
Photo courtesy of Tom Wood

Sutro Baths, early 1960'
Sutro Bath Fire September 27, 1966
 Debra Brown, a friend of City Guides, recalls another Land’s End attraction of the 1960s. “I have great memories of ice skating at Sutro’s as a kid, and the creepy exhibits of mummies and other oddities in the “museum” portion of the building. Egyptian artifacts and mummies were part of the decor at Sutro Baths. Adolph Sutro’s Egyptian collection is now held at San Francisco State University.
Stairway leading to the ice rink at Sutro Baths
You used to have to walk down flights and flights of stairs to get from the entrance to the ice rink at the bottom. There were rooms and rooms of oddities. Some had velvet ropes across them, but we used to sneak into them. It was a fun place. I also fondly remember that the opposite wall of the ice rink was made of hundreds of small glass window panes. They were all painted over with orange paint. We used to take pennies and use them to scratch off the paint so we could see the ruins of the old hotel and bath house and pool beyond. The wooden structure was still there, and kind of creepy, like the mummies, because it was so old. The smells I remember are a combination of wet wood (from our skates chipping the wooden floors and stairs), a moldy dust smell from the mummy rooms, and hot chocolate. I’d give anything to be 8 years old again and relive just one afternoon there.”

Jim Smith, author of San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks, alerted Guide Lines to the tale of the bridge’s collapse found on Gary Stark’s Cliff House Project website, www.cliffhouse On the website’s historic timeline, Stark reproduces the vivid description of the accident from the April 7, 1884, San Francisco Bulletin, reprinted in the New York Times of April 20.

About 30 feet above the beach, two wire cables stretched 160 feet from the cliff to one of the Seal Rocks known as Flag Rock. Slats were wired between the cables to form the four-foot-wide bridge. A railing affixed to stanchions on the bridge provided a handhold for those crossing it, a necessity because of the strong side-to-side swaying of the structure. Still, hundreds had crossed the bridge, and it was considered safe. But on April 6, a group of boys decided to amuse themselves by swinging the bridge at both ends to frighten its passengers. They succeeded: those on the bridge panicked and rushed to return to the cliff or reach the rock. As the swaying increased, passengers lunged for the bridge’s higher side, causing the bridge to topple upside down and throw its 35 to 40 occupants to the beach and shallow water below. Some delayed their fall by clinging to the railings, but in seconds those gave way.

Fortunately the tide was out, so no one drowned, but incoming waves drenched the accident victims, several of whom had broken bones. In addition, 40 to 50 people were stranded on the rock and had no choice but to make the frightening return to the cliff on the damaged bridge, now lacking its handrail. They elected to cross one at a time, with some choosing to cross on their hands and knees while others made a dash for it. Eyewitnesses recount with disgust that those safe on shore, who minutes before had been horror-struck by the accident, found it vastly amusing to laugh at the fear of those forced to use the damaged bridge for their return to the cliff.
Historic photo reprinted without permission, SF History Center, SF Public Library.

The damaged bridge to Flag Rock on April 6, 1884

Following is a brief history of the Baths and data regarding the building and its contents:
At the base of the rocks near the Cliff House, the late Mr. Adolph Sutro noticed a small inlet that was protected from the fury of the waves that sweep the beach by the several groups of seal-
rocks. Being an engineer, he knew this to be an ideal place for a swimming pool, so from this beginning the present Sutro Baths were developed.
The Baths’ building stands somewhat north of the Cliff House, and its entrance from Point Lobos Avenue is a small classic temple. From this the museum gallery is reached by broad stairways flanked by shrubs and flowers. Here are placed the archaeological and other collections of Mr. Sutro, mummies and innumerable other curios from ancient Egypt, a goodly number of specimens of Aztec pottery and art, Damascus plate, beautiful fans from various countries, Chinese and Japanese swords, wooden ware used by the North American Indians and totems from Alaska; while in the gallery proper is found a superb collection of birds and animals, scenes from Japanese life, portfolios of photographs, valuable State papers and hundreds of other works of art and curios. From the museum gallery the visitor can reach the Baths, either by stairways or by elevator.
Striking as is the first view, familiarity only makes it more striking. Its size impresses the visitors at once, yet it is not oppressive owing to the lightness and airiness of the structure. Tier upon tier of seats rise to the galleries, while at their base are the swimming tanks. The water for these is supplied by an ingenious use of the ocean waves. A basin scooped out of solid rock receives the water that dashes over the top, thence it is conducted to a settling tank; by numerous small canals it makes its way into the various swimming tanks, of which there are six in all, the largest containing the sea water in its natural state, the others being heated to different temperatures to suit the varying requirements of visitors. As stated, the Baths are filled by the ocean itself. Should, however, the tides be so low as to necessitate pumping, preparations have been made for this, and the water can be forced in at a rate of 6,000 gallons per minute by means of a large turbine pump placed at sea level in a cave-like excavation hollowed out of the solid cliff and heretofore driven by means of a steam-engine which is now about to be replaced by a 35 horse-
power 2-phase motor which can be controlled from the switchboard room and can be operated at any time, day or night, to suit the tides without previous preparation in the way of getting up steam. The service of the supplying company, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, is available at any time, of course, and is therefore a most convenient form of motive power.
The mere emptying of the tanks entails no difficulty, but the emptying of them in such a manner as to prevent the once used water from again entering the tanks requires ingenuity. The refuse water in the main outlet, into which all the tanks ultimately empty, is piped hundreds of feet to the side of the headlands, thence passed into the tidal current away from the Baths. Sight alone will give a comprehensible idea of Sutro Baths. Some approximate idea may be reached by the following numbers.
Length of baths, 499.5 feet.
Width of baths, 254.1 feet.
Amount of glass used, 100,000 superficial ft.
Iron in roof columns, 600 tons.
Lumber, 3,500,000 feet.
Concrete, 270,000 cubic feet.
Seating capacity amphitheater, 3,700.
Seating capacity promenade, 3,700.
Holding capacity, 25,000.
Salt water tanks, 6.
Capacity of tanks, 1,804,962 gallons.
Fresh water, plunge tank, 1.
Toboggan slides in baths, 7.
Swinging rings, 30.
Spring boards, 1.
Private dressing rooms, 517.
Club rooms capacity, 1,110.
Time required to fill tank by waves. 1 hour.
Time required to fill tank by pump, 5 hours.

Sutro Baths 1950
The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs, and eventually closed. A fire destroyed the building in 1966 shortly after, while in the process of being demolished. All that remains of the site are a labyrinth of cement skeletal remains, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a dark tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle. The Sutro Bath ruins are open to the public, but a warning sign advises strict caution, as visitors have been swept off by large waves and drowned at the site. Anton LaVey, self-professed founder of the Church of Satan, claimed shortly after the fire that he had placed a curse on the baths only months prior, saying that it would go out "with a bang." Recently, however, a relative of the owners revealed on an online forum that the Sutro Baths were quickly pushing the owners into bankruptcy and the fire was deliberately started in order to collect on insurance.
Currently, visitors coming to the Sutro Baths from the above parking lot are presented with a sign post that tells essentially nothing of what the site had once been. Inside one of the cement pits, however, someone took the time to scribble out a paragraph apparently describing what Adolph Sutro had hoped to achieve in building the baths, but much of the writing has been covered by more recent graffiti.

The Cliff House and Sutro's Baths survived the 1906 earthquake with little damage but burned to the ground on the evening of September 7, 1907. Rebuilding of the restaurant was completed within two years and, with additions and modern restorations, is the one seen today.

The site overlooks Seal Rock and the former site of the Sutro Baths. More than thirty ships have been pounded to pieces on the southern shore of the Golden Gate below the Cliff House.
San Francisco News, September 10, 1952: "Cleanup Day At Sutro Baths--The Stuffed animals and other curiosities which have decorated the interior of Sutro Baths for lo, these many years, were crated today and hoisted abroad a truck for fast delivery to the dump. Ray Wayne and Joe Herrera are doing the job."

The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977. Both the Cliff House and the former Baths site are now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and operated by the United States National Park Service.

Playland At The Beach
Playland began as a collection of amusement rides and concessions in the late 19th century, and was known as Chutes At The Beach as early as 1913.
Playland At The Beach, early 1900's

Topsy's Roost


Carousel at Playland

Arthur Looff actually commissioned the carousel in 1906 for a little amusement park that was originally on Market and Van Ness in San Francisco, but because of the earthquake in 1906 the carousel was shipped to Luna Park, Seattle, Washington.[4] It was not until 1913, that Arthur Looff leased land for the carousel and its house-—the Looff Hippodrome—that the carousel came to Playland. Looff’s Hippodrome at Chutes-at-the-Beach was the first permanently installed concession in 1914. The carousel was an elegant 68-horse merry-go-round with a $5,000 organ, a staggering amount at that time.[8] It arrived in 1914. The carousel was sold at auction in 1972, and went to Long Beach, California. San Francisco bought the carousel and it is now located off Fourth Street downtown in Yerba Buena Gardens.[3]

What would become Playland-at-the-Beach was essentially built around the carousel. "The stuff that was at the beach was all separately owned by various concessionaires and the Friedle Brothers started buying everything up as people went under and pulled it all together. The Looff Company had a 50% interest for awhile and they built the Big Dipper roller coaster."
Warren thought Playland's downfall began when the Big Dipper was demolished in 1957. He had heard the city inspectors had told the Whitneys quite a bit of work had to be done to keep the roller coaster safe. Rather than put in the money for the work, George and Leo deconstructed it. "I think it was the biggest mistake they ever made. You don't demolish your number one money maker."

The It's-It ice cream sandwichvanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and covered with dark chocolate. was invented in 1928 by George Whitney, and sold only at Playland-at-the-Beach. In fact, for forty years, Playland was the only place you could find It's It. After the demolition of Playland in 1972 the ice cream treat was made and sold elsewhere and is now sold in stores and in fifteen states.[16] Dating to the 1920s at Playland at the Beach, the ice cream predates the Golden Gate Bridge.

Packaging still has Playland Carousel and Roller Coaster.
The Fun House

Skateland on Great Highway (next to Bull Pupp restaurant) was situated right next door to The Family Dog.

1951 (courtesy of Steven Faulkner)
Both buildings have now been demolished.

Jerry performed here on
8/2/69 Grateful Dead
8/3/69 Grateful Dead
8/13/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead (Hoedown)
8/19/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
8/28/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
8/29/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
8/30/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
9/6/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane
9/7/69  and Friends
10/6/69 Grateful Dead
10/22/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
11/1/69 Grateful Dead
11/2/69 Grateful Dead
11/18/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
11/22/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
11/23/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
11/27/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
2/4/70 Grateful Dead
2/27/70 Grateful Dead
2/28/70 Grateful Dead
3/1/70 Grateful Dead
4/17/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
4/18/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
4/19/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead (closing of the Family Dog?)

There was a "Barn Dance" that was held at the Family Dog at Playand. It was a country hoe-down theme, and if I remember correctly, it was all acoustic. There were bales of hay strewn about, "folksy" things like bobbing for apples, and a band composed of Garcia on banjo and David LaFlamme on fiddle, amongst others. (There were also several plastic trash barrels filled with Kool Aid that was pretty heavily laced with psychedelics. Needless to say, things got a little strange in there, as the night wore on.) "(8)

Surely Jerry must have spent time at Playland as a child. I wonder if he ever spent any time in the building prior to The Family Dog incarnation.

1. ^ Amusing America, San Francisco Public Library online exhibit, Sept 2006. Accessed 7 August 2007.

1.)^Crandall, Warren (2002) Warren Crandall Western Neighborhoods Project, San Francisco, CA.  

2.)^Smith, James R. (2005). San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks. Sanger, California: Word Dancer Press. p. 236. 
3.)^Blaisdell, Marilyn (1989) Playland At Ocean Beach
4.)^Smith, James R. (2010). San Francisco's Playland at the Beach: The Early Years. Fresno, California: Craven Street Books, an imprint of Linden Publishing. 
5.)^Moore, Mark (May 2006) Playland At-The-Beach PDX
6.)^ Smith, James R. (2010). San Francisco's Playland at the Beach: The Early Years. Fresno, California: Craven Street Books, an imprint of Linden Publishing.
7.)^Moore, Mark (May 2006) Playland At-The-Beach PDX
8.)^Anonymous, 2011-05-02,
16.) ^Lucianovic, Stephanie V. W. (Aug 2006) Its-It: The San Francisco Treat KQED Food Blog.
17.)^ Mike Breiding's Epic Road Trips: Pilgrimage to San Francisco
18. P.G.&E Magazine September 1912
19.)^Villano, Matt, 2005-6-10, "What's What with It's-It". The San Francisco Chronicle.
20.)^ Guidelines, MacGowan, Gail, Land's End in San Francisco 
21.)^ pdxhistory.comMarilyn Blaisdell

  1. ^ "Cliff House Gone". The San Francisco Chronicle. Wednesday, 26 December 1894.
  2. ^ London, Jack (June 1912). "The Scarlet Plague". London Magazine 28: 513–540. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "Defending a Museum". National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  4. ^ "National Park Service Issues New Contract to Long-Time Cliff House Concessioner". Business Wire. Monday, October 5, 1998. Retrieved 27 September 2010.


  1. Found this site on a Google images search of The Family Dog San Francisco.
    I lived in the area from 1960-1975 and have many memories of all the attractions there.
    Thank you for all the wonderful links and info for this old Dead Head to explore!

    ..."Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world!"

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  3. On one of the nights I was there they showed The Mad Adventures of Mister Frog. After the movie and before the next group someone walked around with a fog machine and filled the hall up with smoke. Acid was given our in the cool aid before Mr Frog was projected on a wall. Dont remember the groups that night.

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  7. Saw a show there around Christmas 69-or70. The band playing was cosmic popcorn. And they played Jingle Bells. Everyone was dancing it was a family atmosphere. I'll never forget the feeling of being with a big family

  8. I saw It's a Beautiful Day there in late August or early September 1969. Unforgettable night.

  9. Fascinating history of that area of San Francisco, thanks for putting this together. I moved there in 1971 and just missed Family Dog being open, also playland. But loved going to the cliff house then and sneaking around the Sutro bath ruins at night. I remember one night hearing conga drums playing in that cave. Spooky. I wish I could go back in time to this place.

  10. My sisters boyfriend had The Temporary Optics light show. Saw many a show there. My birthday parties when I was a kid were always at Playland. And ice skating at Sutro! Great memories.

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  12. Family moved there the 50's. Remember Playland, Cliff House with it's Sky Tram, playing congas at Sutro Baths and all along the beach. Avalon Ballroom, Fillmore, Winterland, Family Dog, and free concerts in Golden Gate Park. Fishing at Muni, Pier, Bocci Ball Courts, playing congas at Aquatic Park. Kezar Stadium and Candlestick Park. Great city to grow up in. Times sure have changed!

  13. I went to the Family Dog as a kid of 12 [1969]. Me and my hippie friend Pat trying to scrounge up ten bucks between us so we could get in AND have enough to buy a couple doobs. I remember there was a room on the mezzanine off the main ballroom that had black lights and trippy fluorescent posters and paint all over the walls; OMG, I'm swooning with nostalgia!

  14. Couple of quickies. First, Friends and Relations, not Relationships. Second, the last show as Family Dog was 8/14/70. When Quicksilver played it on 8/22/70, it had no real name - they put the show there on themselves. Third, the "Poor Richard's" moniker comes in right after that.

    Great stuff. What a place. Jerry definitely spent time there as a kid.

  15. All very interesting. The "Barn Dance" I remember was not all acoustic. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen were involved. The hay bales, yes. The buckets of laced KoolAid, not so much. If any such were there they were either backstage or on the patio, not on or around the dance floor.

    I was the house sound tech for nearly the entire time that Chet and Family Dog operated the venue.

    My late wife was in the production of the Who's "Tommy" that moved to "Friends and Relations Hall" from Lone Mountain College. I saw her in the show but we didn't meet until 1980.