Farms, Fire and Forest: Adolph Sutro and Development “West of Twin Peaks”

Historical Essay

by Richard Brandi

originally published in The Argonaut, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2003


View of Twin Peaks looking north standing on Mt. Davidson in 1903. The road running left to right is present day Portola Drive. Tower Market stands near the white farmhouse on the left.

Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco

The Sunset and Richmond districts are known for fog and sand. These features made the land west of Twin Peaks untouchable as the rest of San Francisco boomed in the nineteenth century.

In 1880, Adolph Sutro bought hundreds of acres west of Twin Peaks and planted thousands of trees during the next twenty years. He created a huge forest in the middle of San Francisco. The forest might have been turned into rows of tightly packed houses on rectangular street grids, with little regard for the contours of the land, had it not been for Sutro’s long stewardship – a stewardship marked by farms and fires – and the twenty-year probate after his death.

Today some of San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods cover Sutro’s farms and forest: Forest Hill, St. Francis Wood, Ingleside Terrace, Westwood Park, and adjacent areas. Desirable for their generous lot sizes, detached homes, gently curving streets, and landscaping, these neighborhoods owe their unique design to the City Beautiful movement of the early twentieth century and the mania to rebuild after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The Breasts of the Indian Maiden – Twin Peaks Block Development

Although San Francisco grew rapidly after 1849, development west of Twin Peaks lagged for decades. The land west of the hills was one vast sand dune, swept by wind and fog most of the year. A ridge of tall hills, three times taller than Telegraph Hill, cut off the western part of San Francisco from the Bay side. Starting with Mount Sutro (elevation 918 feet) near Cole Valley, running south to Twin Peaks (called “Los Pechos de la Choca” or “the Breasts of the Indian Maiden” by the Spanish, 919 feet), and ending at Mt. Davidson (936 feet), these hills sheltered the city from the fog and offshore wind. But they also blocked development. This vast area was home to few attractions: the beach, a racecourse, and scattered farming. The Beach and Ocean Race Course, built in 1865 just south of what is now Sigmund Stern Grove, featured horse racing. Large crowds made the journey through the hills to the racecourse on weekends. “Road houses” such as the Ocean House near the beach or the Lake House near Lake Merced(1) offered food and drink.

The only road over Twin Peaks began at present-day 17th Street and Collingwood, ran east along the present-day Market Street, up Corbett, down Portola Drive, and south along Junipero Serra Boulevard to Ocean Avenue. (Today’s Upper Market and Portola streets closely follow the old road, although they are twice as wide.)2

In 1872, the road was paved, christened the Mission and Ocean Beach Macadamized Road, and a tollhouse was erected at the top of 24th Street.3 The rock for paving the road probably came from a quarry just off the road in Edgehill, where the First Church of the Nazarene now stands at Waithman and Portola. It was in operation until 1916. Landslides still occur after heavy rains as a result of the quarry.4

The toll for the 2-3 mile trip was 10 cents for a horse, 25 cents for a one-horse carriage, 40 cents for a two-horse carriage, and 50 cents for a four-horse carriage. In keeping with the agrarian nature of the area, loose cattle, sheep, and hogs could be driven over the road free of charge. The tolls were unpopular and expensive (worth about six dollars in today’s values) for a one-horse carriage. The city bought the road and abolished tolls in 1877.5

At the western base of the hills, at the present intersection of Ocean Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard, travelers could rest their horses and fortify themselves at Farley’s saloon. Bernard Farley established the saloon in 1863, and he and his sons worked and lived there for the next fifty years. Sons John, James (a blacksmith in 1877, then a bartender in 1888), and Bernard, Jr. (a bartender in 1893) sold their own brand of elixir, “B. Farley’s Wonderful Discovery,” in 1899.6

Adolph Sutro Buys a Farm

Adolph Sutro is remembered for building the Cliff House and Sutro Baths, battling the Southern Pacific railroad, and serving as a populist mayor (in 1895-1896). But when he arrived in San Francisco in 1879, he was just another silver millionaire (his $900,000 from the Nevada Comstock silver mine was worth about $22 million in today’s dollars). Sutro went on a spending spree, buying property in downtown San Francisco and the undeveloped land west of Twin Peaks, later to become the Richmond and Sunset districts. He eventually owned about one-twelfth of the city.7

Sutro is quoted as saying, “I took my money and invested in real estate…when everyone was scared and thought the city was going to the dogs. [There was an economic depression at the time.] I bought every acre I could lay my hands on until I had 2,200 acres in this city.”8

His largest single piece of real estate was part of the 1,200-acre Rancho San Miguel, the remnant of a large Mexican land grant originally awarded to Jose Noe in 1845. Noe and his successors did some grazing, but little else.9

Sutro’s parcel ran from present-day UCSF, south along Stanyan Street, up over Twin Peaks in an imaginary line due south (aligning roughly with present-day Genesee Avenue), continuing south in the Ocean View district, then east to Junipero Serra Boulevard, and to the Laguna Honda reservoir (see map 1).10 It contained Mount Sutro (which Sutro named Mount Parnassus), Twin Peaks, and Mt. Davidson (then called “Blue Mountain”). Before Sutro, these hills were called the San Miguel Hills.


A panorama of the West Portal area as surveyed by A.S. Baldwin in 1910. The Twin Peaks tunnel will be dug under this spot in 1914-1917. Dewey Boulevard is the dirt road with telephone poles.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Sutro Plants a Forest

Sutro was a complex man and it is not easy to uncover his motives for buying the rancho, but it does not seem to figure prominently in his scheme of things.11 For example, there is no record of his grazing animals or growing crops. He did not live on the rancho and did not have a house there.12 There are no references to his spending time on the property relaxing or entertaining as he did at his Pt. Lobos home.

Other than leasing about 200 acres to farmers, Sutro seems to have used Rancho San Miguel’s remaining 1,000 acres as a nature preserve. Soon after buying the rancho, he developed a passion for tree planting that eventually transformed the face of the city and caused an ecological dilemma for later generations.

Teaming up with Joaquin Miller, who started a campaign in 1866 to plant trees on the barren hills surrounding San Francisco, Sutro organized the state’s first Arbor Day on November 26, 1886. An elaborate celebration was held on Yerba Buena Island with thousands of children on hand to plant trees that Sutro had donated. He threw himself into the details of tree planting to the point of insisting that the traditional date be moved from spring to November, to take advantage of San Francisco’s rainy season.13

Sutro said on that Arbor Day, “The people of the Pacific Coast…will wander through the majestic groves rising from the trees we are now planting, reverencing the memory of those whose foresight clothed the earth with emerald robes and made nature beautiful to look upon.”14


Logging operations in Sutro Forest in 1934.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Although the trees on Yerba Buena were later destroyed by fire, Sutro practiced what he preached. He planted thousands of trees throughout Rancho San Miguel, from Mount Sutro and the adjacent areas to Mount Davidson and south to Ocean Avenue. The trees became known as Sutro’s Forest and eventually covered what is now Forest Knolls, Midtown Terrace, Forest Hill, St. Francis Wood, Sherwood Forest, Monterey Heights, Westwood Highlands, Westwood Park, Balboa Terrace, and Mount Davidson Manor.

The rancho was Sutro’s arboretum and plantation. He built a nursery behind the Laguna Honda reservoir at 1000 Clarendon Street where he experimented to see which plants would best hold the sands.15 George Merritt (who married Sutro’s daughter, Emma) reported on June 24, 1889 that “the nursery has 250,000 trees, 50,000 for sale this year according to Flanagan.”16 Alonzo Flanagan was superintendent of Rancho San Miguel, having started as a gardener at Sutro’s nursery.

Accounts differ about how he planted the trees. Some say he organized school children to plant them. One author repeats a rumor that Sutro “hired large numbers of the city’s unemployed by the day, and that they planted the trees too close together, being too lazy to take any extra steps, which accounts for the slender trees and exceeding denseness…”17 Sutro’s accounts show that he hired and maintained a staff of nurserymen, gardeners, and laborers to tend the forest.18 He probably used all three methods to plant the trees.

Some claim that Sutro’s motivation for planting was to reduce his property taxes. Typical is a comment by a native of the area, Harold Wollenberg, who as a boy played in the Sutro Forest: “It was all forest around the Relief Home [now called Laguna Honda Hospital], planted by Adolph Sutro. The forests were encouraged by the city by a 50% reduction in taxes.”19

But tax relief cannot be the only explanation. The costs of building a nursery, importing plants, and hiring dozens of caretakers would more than make up for a reduction in taxes. Sutro’s love of nature, his heartfelt philanthropy, and his sense of civic betterment also played a role.20

One present-day rumor can be dismissed. He did not plant eucalyptus as part of a short-lived belief that eucalyptus would become a cash crop. This craze started about 1904, six years after Sutro’s death, and had flopped by 1912.21

Fire Danger and Financial Burden

The forest turned out to be a curse to Sutro and his heirs. Eucalyptus burns readily, and the danger of fire was a constant worry. Trespassers, who might light a fire for camping or cooking, were a recurring problem. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “the [Sutro] woods are overrun with picnickers, hunters and tramps.”22

Fires were commonplace. There was a “great” fire on October 8, 1899 and numerous smaller fires every summer.23 The 1899 fire burned sixty acres and threatened the Affiliated Colleges (today’s UCSF) and the Alms House (today’s Laguna Honda Hospital) before seventy firemen and hundreds of volunteers extinguished the flames. The steep terrain hindered fire fighting, and “…in one instance five horses were required [instead of the customary three] to pull the engine and the animals were white with foam and apparently ready to drop in their tracks.”24

To deter trespassers, John Brickwedel, was hired on June 10, 1901 as a ranger.25 Harold Wollenberg as a young boy used to taut him: “John Brickwedel was the ranger in Sutro Forest. He had a little apple orchard around his house in the forest. He was a gruff, mean guy. We kids used to try and steal apples, and he would come after us with a shotgun. His job was to keep people out of the forest; it was all posted ‘No Trespassing.’”26

In 1909, the estate contracted with the Consolidated Eucalyptus Company to thin out the eucalyptus on Mt. Davidson so that the “remaining trees will do better when they have more air and light.”27 Objections by the Outdoor Art League were dropped when they learned that the forest was not going to be destroyed. In the 1930s, San Francisco boasted its first and only logging plantation in the forest, which employed 435 men. Logging ended in 1934 after a fire burned ten acres and required 400 firemen to extinguish.28

Sutro’s tree planting, so self-evidently a good thing in the popular mind of 1886, is now a subject of heated controversy. To some, Sutro will go down in infamy for planting eucalyptus, a tree that they view as a plague for its harmful effects on native species. He planted eucalyptus only to act as a fast-growing shelter for smaller trees such as pine, ash, and cypress,29 but the eucalyptus grew rapidly and smothered other species.30

While much of the original forest was cut down to make room for houses,31 the remainder, behind UCSF, has reached the end of its natural lifespan. Some want the trees left alone, while others prefer that the forest be thinned and replanted with native species.32

Italians Farm the Rancho

Although Sutro planted trees over most of Rancho San Miguel, he leased the level areas to farmers.33 The sandy soil was ideal for vegetables, particularly potatoes.34 One group of farmers worked near the Alms House well before Sutro arrived on the scene.35

Vegetables were big business in early San Francisco. As early as the 1860s, produce farming was the most profitable business in Northern California.36 Although meat was plentiful, fruits and vegetables were scare and expensive. Many of the first Italian immigrants, who came from farm country around Genoa, realized that they were not going to strike it rich in the gold fields. But they saw an opportunity to provide the boomtown with produce. They usually rented and farmed sandy soils in what were then outlying areas, such as Mission Valley, Noe Valley, Hayes Valley, Ocean Avenue, Bayview, Lake Merced, Visitation Valley, and Rancho San Miguel.37

The tightly knit community of Italians rented most of Sutro’s land, bounded by today’s Portola, Kensington, Taraval, and Wawona streets. Four families farmed the land for decades spanning two centuries: Arata, Bottini, DeMartini, and Lagomarsino.38 Early each morning, they loaded their wagons with produce and made the 3-4 hour one-way trip downtown to the Colombo Market – San Francisco’s produce exchange – on Davis Street.


Vegetable farms in West Portal about 1900. Taken from Ocean Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard looking north. Golden Gate Heights is the hill on the left. The dirt road on the right is the San Miguel Road, now Portola Drive. St Francis Wood was built among the trees to the right of the road.

Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco

Sutro’s tenant farmers were members of the Colombo Market, the “greatest vegetable market in the world.”39 Established in 1876 at Davis and Front streets between Clark (no longer in existence) and Pacific, it thrived for nearly 100 years and launched the careers of the men who built Northern California’s agriculture, industry, and banking.40 They also introduced many herbs and vegetables to California and the nation.

According to Harold Wollenberg, “The whole area, from where West Portal is today to State College, was vegetable farms run by the Lagomarsino family. Louis Lagomarsino used to supply most of the vegetables to the Relief Home [Laguna Honda Hospital]. He would come every day with a horse drawn wagon loaded with vegetables. The Lagomarsino family lived in the Mission, came out every day to work their farm.”41

The above quotation refers to the period around 1910 when the older and more established members of the Lagomarsino family lived in homes elsewhere in San Francisco. However, members of the family lived on or near the farm in earlier times: Louis in 1887, Francesco in 1889, and Giuseppe in 1894.42

By the turn of the twentieth century, farming in San Francisco was becoming less attractive. Water for irrigation was a problem, and the newer generation preferred to work for wages and live in houses with indoor plumbing, electricity, and other modern conveniences.43 As the city’s population grew, reaching 343,000 in 1900, demand for homesites grew and intensified after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Probate – Twenty Years of Sibling Rivalry

Home sites were definitely on the minds of Sutro’s heirs after he died in 1898. His estate was valued at $3 million, but only $473.50 was in cash. The Argonaut newspaper notes the “most striking feature is the small amount of income–bearing property.”44

Most of the heirs wanted to sell the property. But under the terms of Sutro’s will (created without a lawyer), Rancho San Miguel could not be sold until ten years after the death of the last heir, at which point the proceeds would be used to fund a trust for charitable purposes. Seeing that they would get nothing, the heirs sued to break this provision. The battle took twenty years to fully resolve.45

Emma Sutro Merritt, Sutro’s favorite child and executor of the estate, remained faithful to her father’s wishes. Besides the differences of opinion, bad blood developed between Emma and her siblings due to an ugly fight shortly before Sutro’s death. Sutro was made Emma’s legal ward a few months before he died. She took him to live with her on Van Ness Avenue against the wishes of her sister and brother, who thought he would be happier in his Point Lobos home. Emma, one of the first women doctors to graduate from the Affiliated Colleges (today’s UCSF), claimed Sutro would be better off away from the damp ocean air. The siblings tried forcibly to prevent the move. Since Sutro was a former mayor and benefactor of the City, the newspapers made much of this incident.46

Although Emma won that battle, she ultimately lost the probate fight. While the lawyers argued for ten years, Emma struggled to maintain the estate with inadequate cash flow. Although the Sutro Baths was the largest drain, the rancho also lost money. Some of the rancho tenants were delinquent in their rent payments. Emma wrote to the Court of her difficulties:

In the latter part of 1900 we began to have difficulty collecting Mrs. Burfiend’s rent. Her husband had been a tenant for many years and died on October 27, 1897 but Mrs. Burfiend continues to occupy the place. In March 1901, she was behind six months in her rent $171 at $28.50 a month. In April 1901, she claimed that all the houses on the land belonged to her. In October we were informed that she was trying to sell the house she occupied.

Emma filed suit and won a judgment, whereby Mrs. Burfiend would give up any claim to the land or houses but would be allowed to rent “for the remainder of her life and pendancy of the estate for $12.50 month.”47

While another tenant wasn’t trying to sell the property, he wasn’t paying top dollar either:

The note of tenant Lynch for $126 for 18 months rent at $7/mo has never been collected. We have always considered it worthless, as Mr. Lynch is old and feeble. We reduced his rent for the 1st of March 1901 from $5 to 2.50. Lynch was unable to pay $5 and we thought it better to have him occupy the place as if it were vacant, some tramp might set fire to it and the adjoining forest.48

The city was also a threat to the estate’s finances, as Emma reported to the court in the third person:

She (Emma) was put to much expense in constantly watching and preventing encroachment upon said property and particularly by preventing unnecessary contracts for grading, macadamizing or sewering some of said property being pursued by the Board of Supervisors [at this time, property owners paid for the cost of improvements]. Small portions were rented and she found it extremely difficult to collect any rent on account of the depressed condition of business affairs and had to accept less rent.49

Finally, in 1909, a major court decision allowed the sale of most of Rancho San Miguel. The court held that the type of trust Sutro had in mind was illegal, and although final distributions of his estate weren’t made until 1919, the rancho could finally be sold to developers.

City Beautiful for the Phoenix

When Rancho San Miguel was put up for sale, the city was desperate to recover from the 1906 earthquake and fire. City boosters badly wanted to compete with subdivisions being built on the Peninsula and in the East Bay. Transit improvements, including proposed streetcar tunnels to open up the undeveloped area west of Twin Peaks, were given high priority. City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy built the Twin Peaks streetcar tunnel directly under the rancho in 1918, breaking the barrier that had divided San Francisco for so long. The tunnel was the spark that ignited growth west of Twin Peaks. But this time, growth would be planned and housing developments would look very different from the rest of San Francisco.


West Portal showing the tunnel entrance in 1917. The tunnel was rapidly built in the 1920s and it looks very much the same today.

Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco.

Architecture and city planning had evolved since Sutro bought Rancho San Miguel during the Victorian period. New and sometimes conflicting styles in architecture and design were flowering. The Craftsman or Arts and Crafts movement, the Chicago school, the Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Beaux-Arts were all in vogue. One thing these styles had in common was that it was no longer acceptable to pack houses tightly together on narrow lots, or to lay out streets on rectangular grids up steep hills as had been done in Victorian times.

Instead, a new aesthetic – popularized by the Burnham Plan of 1905 – called for respecting the contours of the land; incorporating landscaping and park-like settings into residential developments; and providing for grand boulevards, parks, and neoclassical ornaments.50

When the prominent developer A.S. Baldwin surveyed Sutro’s former rancho in 1910, he recommended that new ideas be used in its development: detached houses, villa size lots, curvilinear streets, landscaping, and exclusively residential uses. With no property owners to deal with and no structures, streets, or facilities to move or condemn, planners had a free reign to implement these ideas.

St. Francis Wood and Forest Hill, the first neighborhoods to be developed on the rancho site,51 show the purest expression of the new ideas. Mason McDuffie developed St. Francis Wood in 1912, with designs by John Galen Howard, Henry Gutterson, Julia Morgan, and Bernard Maybeck. Mark Daniels laid out Forest Hill in 1913, featuring works by Maybeck and others.52 In the mid-1920s, when Westwood Park was being built, the bungalow style was popular, and the area now boasts the finest collection of bungalows in San Francisco.

The cohesive design of these neighborhoods makes them appealing today and unique in San Francisco, where it is has always been difficult to carry out large-scale projects. In later decades, newer housing developments on the former rancho were less influenced by City Beautiful ideas, although they did retain the lower densities and natural street contours favored by the early planners.

Sutro’s Legacy

What would have happened had Sutro sold his land before he died? Without a convenient way to get over (or through) Twin Peaks, the land was not valuable for homes. For example, proposals failed to develop Lakeview, Ingleside, and Lake Merced in the late 1800s.

Nonetheless, farmers undoubtedly would have built houses, barns, dairies, and related structures – and the city would have built roads to reach them – on rancho lands. As the last single owner of a great expanse of property, Sutro prevented piecemeal development. He unwittingly achieved one of the goals that he called for as mayor – beautifying San Francisco through tree planting:

To beautify the City is a duty of every citizen. Tree planting in front of every lot in the residential parks, whether already built upon or not, should receive more attention. Dracaenas, acacias and cypress are fine ornamental trees well adapted to our climate and young plants can be bought for a mere trifle. The former, by its resemblance to the palm tree, will give life the city a tropical appearance... Gardens in front of dwelling homes and the cultivation of flowers elevate the tastes of our inhabitants.53

Sutro’s legacy rests on more than his forest or Baths.55 He provided farmland that helped feed the city during its early days, created a green belt in the center of town, and enabled new ideas in city planning to take root west of Twin Peaks.


1. Jean Kortum, The West Side of Twin Peaks, unpublished manuscript 1994, pp.13-16.
2. This is probably the road built by one of the early owners of the Rancho, Francois Pioche, who built it in 1860 or shortly thereafter. This is a natural route winding its way between the hills and ravines. It had many names over the years: San Miguel Road, Mission Pass Road (Hittell 1888), Mission and Ocean Beach Macadamized Road (1872), Corbett-Portola, and Market-Portola. Market Street was finally extended southwest from 17th and Castro in the early 1920s in conjunction with building the east portal of the Twin Peaks tunnel on a curving line following the course of the earlier road. In the late 1950s Portola Drive, from Woodside to St. Francis Circle, was widened and dozens of homes were moved to vacant lots. Some ended up in Daly City.
3. Hubbard says the Corbett Road was built in 1860 by the Pioche estate and completed by Fitch, who made it a toll road in 1872. (Hubbard, Anita Day, Cities within the City, typescript of San Francisco Bulletin columns at the History Center, San Francisco Main Library. August to November 1924, p 63.) Hubbard interviewed old-time residents for a series of articles. Hansen says the toll road was built ca. 1866. (Gladys Hansen, San Francisco Almanac, 1995, p. 380.)
4. “Mission and Ocean Beach Macadamized Road,” surveyed by Charles T. Healey, C.E., April 4, 1872; Dames and Moore, San Francisco Department of City Planning Environmental Evaluation Application, December 14, 1987; a landslide threatened former Police Chief Fred Lau’s house in 1997, San Francisco Examiner, January 27, 1997, p. A.
5. A second trail is visible on the USGS map starting at about 19th Street and Church which snaked along the northern slopes of Liberty Hill and Dolores Heights and joined at the intersection of about 24th Street, Elizabeth Street, and Grandview and Corbett (below the elevated bridge carrying present-day Market Street). This was also the location of the tollhouse (Kortum, p. 22).
6. Kortum; p. 25, various City Directories.
7. Robert E. Stewart, Jr. and Mary Frances Stewart, Adolph Sutro, a Biography (Berkeley, California: Howell-North, 1962), p.171.
8. Quoted in The Hills of San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1959, p. 52.
9. Before the land was granted to Noe, it was part of the Mission Dolores land holdings. According to Brother Cleary of Mission Dolores, there are no records bearing on what was grown or how the rancho was used in Mission times. It seems reasonable to infer that cattle and other animals may have been grazing on the eastern slopes of Twin Peaks. José Noe was granted the original and much larger Rancho San Miguel by the Mexican government in 1845. Noe’s rancho was four times the size of Sutro’s, running east to San Jose Avenue and south to Daly City (see map 2). Noe ran 2,000 head of cattle (Kortum, p.2) on his rancho and most likely grazed them on the eastern slopes closer to town and near his house at 22nd Street and Alvarado (Hansen, p. 370), where he grew crops near a “sweet spring” nearby. The rancho changed hands many times over the years. The eastern part was developed in the 1860s and 1870s and became Noe Valley, Eureka Valley, Fairmont Heights, Glen Park, and Sunnyside. (See Mae Silver, Rancho San Miguel, Ord Street Press, 2001), pp. 59-76.)
10. Map contained in “Abstract of Title to Part of the Rancho De San Miguel Made August 9, 1880 at the Request of Messrs. Elliot J and Jos. H Moore by E.A. Rouleay,” p. 7, Bancroft Library, Sutro papers, CB 465, box 34.
11. It is easy to see why Sutro did not have time to give much thought to the rancho: he was angling for an appointment as a U.S. Senator for Nevada in 1881, buying 250,000 books and pamphlets on his 1882-84 world tour, building a railroad to the Cliff House in 1884-86, taking another year-long trip abroad in 1889, serving as mayor of San Francisco from 1895-96, etc.
12. Sutro’s grandson built a house in 1930 in the Sutro Forest, but it was demolished in 1974 to make way for the TV tower that bears Sutro’s name. San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 1974, p. 3, “A Gingerbread Palace Crumbling.”
13. California Historical Society Quarterly, vol. XXXII, March 1953, pp. 234-35.
14. CHSQ, ibid.
15. Hills of San Francisco, ibid, p. 52.
16. Bancroft Library, Sutro papers, CB-465, vol. 42, carton 2.
17. Hubbard, ibid, p. 58.
18. Sutro Library, miscellaneous Sutro folders, and Bancroft Library, Sutro papers.
19. Kortum, ibid, p. 74. Quotation is from an interview Kortum had with Harold Wollenberg, on March 21, 1994. Harold Wollenberg was born in June, 1906; his father was Charles Wollenberg, Superintendent of the Alms House (Laguna Honda Hospital) from 1907-43.
20. Bernice Scharlach, “Adolph Sutro”, in San Francisco Magazine, March 1981, photocopy, no page numbers, in Sutro files at History Center, San Francisco Main Library.
21. Gilliam, ibid, p. 84.
22. San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1899, p. 10.
23. Bancroft Library, Sutro papers, C-B 465, box 42, vol. 3, p. 43.
24. San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1899, p 10.
25. Bancroft Library, Sutro papers, C-B 465, box 42, vol. 3, p. 6.
26. Kortum, ibid, p. 77.
27. San Francisco Call, March 19, 1909, p. 5/1.
28. San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 1934, p. 15 and Scharlach, ibid.
29. Hills, ibid, p. 53.
30. Harold Gilliam, The Natural History of San Francisco, 1966, p. 85.
31. “Progress Destroying Sutro Forest,” San Francisco Call Bulletin, January 24, 1958, photocopy in History Center, San Francisco Main Library.
32. “The 58-acre open space reserve on the UCSF campus is gradually being altered as the eucalyptus reach the end of their normal life span and the density of vegetation on the hillside prevents the growth of new trees. Without action to restore the site, the dead and decaying trees increasingly will become a safety hazard to hikers and the site will continue to be overtaken by ivy, blackberry and other invasive species. The campus is studying several options for managing and restoring the site, ranging from maintenance and reforestation with eucalyptus to restoration with native California species…” (October 2002, UCSF website).
33. “The open area north of Corbett Ave and along the line of Dewey Boulevard…now used for farming and vegetable gardens is slightly undulating but much of it is level and could be subdivided...” Estate of Adolph Sutro Deceased, appraised by A.S. Baldwin, May 1910, p. 42. When Baldwin wrote his survey, Dewey Boulevard was a dirt road that ran along its present course and continued in a straight line through the present West Portal School along West Portal Avenue until it intersected with the present-day Portola Drive.
34. Hutchings’ California Magazine, vol. III, June 1855, No. 12, p. 534.
35. Herman Burfiend, age 25, opened a potato ranch opposite the Alms House in 1860, and his family lived there for the next 50 years. Burfiend added a dairy in 1888 and sold milk to the Alms House. His sons George, Henry, and Dietrich worked on the farm and dairy while his daughter Annie worked as a cook at the Alms House in 1895. The Alms House furnished the dairy with water at $15 a month and, in turn, received payment in milk. Kortum, ibid, p. 25; various City Directories; Municipal Reports, 1894-95, p.787. Other farmers were the Jennings brothers, Patrick and Peter, who “had a place on the hill, on the Sutro property.” They first appeared in City Directories in 1870 as farmers living 1/2 mile from the Alms House. Ranching must have grown too hard as they aged. In 1892, at age 55, Peter was hired by Sutro to plant trees at $1.75/day. Kortum, ibid, p. 25. “Pay Roll of the San Miguel Ranch, Tree Planting, March 4, 1892,” Sutro Library, miscellaneous folders.
36. Dino Cinel, From Italy to San Francisco, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1982), p. 214.
37. Deanna Paoli Gumina, The Italians of San Francisco 1850-1930 (The Center for Migration Studies of New York, 1978), p. 99.
38. September 23, 1898 (page 79, C-B 465, box 42, vol.1, Bancroft Library) and Baldwin, ibid.
39. Gumina, p.101.
40. Gumina, pp. 101-7. The market moved after the 1906 earthquake and fire to Washington and Front streets between Davis and Drumm. By the 1950s the produce market and related businesses covered 51 acres of prime real estate. It befell the same fate as the Paris marketplace, Les Halles, about the same time and for the same reason – both markets were thought to be bottlenecks to traffic. The San Francisco produce market was razed in the early 1960s to build the Redevelopment Agency’s Golden Gateway Project. A new produce exchange was built near Islais Creek in 1963. Peter Booth Wiley, National Trust Guide San Francisco (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2000), p. 84.
41. Kortum, ibid, p. 76.
42. Various City Directories.
43. The author’s ancestors were members of the Colombo Market and they owned a vegetable farm in Visitation Valley from 1883-1929. The author’s cousin, Ed Armanino, who was born on the ranch in 1910, related to the author in 1997 the difficulties of ranch life and how his uncles regretted returning to the ranch after serving in the First World War.
44. Argonaut, March 7, 1898, pp. 2-3.
45. “In the Matter of the Estate of Adolph Sutro, Deceased” in Report of the Attorney General, undated, ca. 1904, pp. 10-11, in Sutro folder, History Center, San Francisco Main Library; San Francisco Call, June 25, 1909, p. 1.
46. San Francisco Call, May 6, 1898, p. 14; July 28, 1898, p. 12.
47. “Executrix of Will of Sutro and Report of Management of Estate, Feb. 1, 1900 to Feb. 10, 1904, p. 55, Bancroft Library, G-B box 42, vol. 3.
48. “Executrix of Will of Sutro and Report of Management of Estate, Feb. 1, 1900 to Feb. 10, 1904, p. 55, Bancroft Library, G-B box 42, vol. 3.
49. September 23, 1898 (p. 7, C-B 465, box 42, vol.1, Bancroft Library).
50. Wiley, ibid, p. 381.
51. The city’s first planned neighborhood, South Park (1855), was followed by Presidio Terrace in 1898 (on former vegetable gardens) by Baldwin and Howell, who later developed Westwood Park. Mark Daniels laid out Sea Cliff in 1904. Wiley, ibid, p 279.
52. Mark A. Wilson, “Mason-McDuffie and the Creation of St. Francis Wood,” The Argonaut, Journal of the San Francisco Historical Society, Fall 1997.
53. “Address to the Board of Supervisors, January 17, 1895,” p. 11, Sutro folder, History Center, San Francisco Main Library.
54. Sutro’s name lives on in schools, ruins, mountains, and even a TV tower, but the name of his ranch, “San Miguel,” has all but disappeared. The UCSF student housing complex in Sutro Forest on Clarendon is named after it, and a two-block street in the Ocean View district, on the western edge of the old rancho, also bears the name San Miguel. The street is near the site of the San Miguel Station, a stop on the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (later Southern Pacific) that ran along the present-day Interstate 280 and the BART right-of-way.

About the Author: Richard Brandi is a fourth generation San Franciscan and a City Guide. He and Woody LaBounty, of the Western Neighborhoods Project, created a self-guided tour of West Portal Avenue. Richard’s articles appear on


The author would like to thank Lorri Ungaretti, a fellow City Guide who is writing a history of the Sunset District, for her encouragement and gracious help.

Prev. Document Next Document