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C L I F F H O U S E

Historical Essay

by Chris Carlsson

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The Cliff House in the 1880s.

Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco, CA

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The Cliff House, late 19th century

Far west end of Point Lobos Avenue. As Mark Twain once wrote, the Cliff House is said to offer a majestic view of the sunrise--though Twain himself, perhaps jaded by his travels, supposedly remarked "I don't see it" after dragging himself to the Cliff House at some ungodly hour.

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First Cliff House, c. 1875.

Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco, CA

Built in 1863, the Cliff House became a resort spot favored by the local gangsters who ran the city. It was badly damaged when the schooner Parallel, carrying a huge load of dynamite, smashed against the rocks below the house; the ensuing explosion annihilated one whole wing of the building. Seven years later, the whole place burned to the ground.

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Cliff House and Seal Rocks (Photographed by Keystone View Company)


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At the Cliff House (Photographed by Taber)


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Seal Rocks, Cliff House (Photographed by L. Dowe)


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Cliff House view south, 1880s

Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco, CA

Adolph Sutro rebuilt Cliff House #2 in 1895, but it, too, burned down that same year. Undaunted, Sutro built the third and most magnificent Cliff House (at right) which survived the 1906 earthquake only to burn down in an electrical fire in 1907. The current version (Cliff House #5) has been luckier; it has lasted since 1909, and, barring an exceptionally powerful earthquake or tidal wave, will probably stand for the foreseeable future.

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Seal Rocks 1950s, Camera Obscura at edge of Cliff House grounds

Photo: Kurt Bank

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Two cyclists at Ocean Beach with Cliff House in background, 1955

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Cliff House 1958

Photo: Kurt Bank

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Sather family at Ocean Beach, c. early 1900s.

Photo: courtesy Sather family

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The north end of Ocean Beach, Cliff House in the center, Marin hills in the left background.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

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Seal Rocks from Cliff House, 1996


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