San Francisco and Thereabout
by Charles Keeler
The California Promotion Committee of San Francisco, Publisher, 1902
Dreary sand dunes, blown about by the fog-laden wind fresh from the ocean, and barren hills that seems to give no promise of fertility, lay between San Francisco and the sea when in 1870 work was commenced on the Golden Gate Park. The seemingly impossible has been accomplished, and today the park is a great pleasure ground full of beauty and surprise at every turn. Broad avenues wind about throught the miles of shrubbery and trees, with footpaths branching in all directions. Spirited horses and elegant carriages speed along the way. Crowds of people enjoy the outing on foot while many bicycles flash by. Exclusive of the Panhandle which is to be extended into the very heart of the city, as far as Van Ness Avenue, there are over a thousand acres in the park with seventeen miles of carriage drives winding through its beautifully diversified groves, lawns and gardens.
In the midst rises Strawberry Hill, commanding a superb view of the surrounding country. Oceanwards the surf is breaking on the sandy beach and a ship looms out of the mist into the golden light of the setting sun. Northwestward lied Tamalpais set in masses of nearer hills, with the whole sweep of the Golden Gate at the foot of it. To the northeast, just over the cross on Lone Mountain, the crest of the Berkeley Hills may be discerned. Due eastward, over the noble dome of the City Hall and way back of the hills on the far shore of the bay, Mount Diablo lifts its two great mounds above the mist. The slopes of Strawberry Hill are clothed in pine and cypress, with glimpses of ponds and lakelets below. The stone cross in commemoration of Sir Francis Drake stands on an eminence near at hand and the park with its forests and broad winding driveways is all about. Flanking this are great smooth windswept piles of sand, softly ribbed and wrinkled here and there as the setting sun falls on its creamy folds. Beyond, on the hills, are the outskirts of the city, with masses of houses huddled in blocks and patches on the heights. Thrushes and white-crovned sparrows are happily singing in the shurbbery, to the accompaniment of the ocean breeze which signs through the pine trees.
Encircling Strawberry Hill is Stowe Lake, an artificial waterway with islets and bridges to diversity it. No spot in the park is more fascinating to me than the quaint Japanese garden and tea house, where dwarf trees and evergreen carpets cling amid the rocks bordering pools spanned by rustic bridges, where cosy nooks invite you to linger for the refreshing bowl of tea and crisp crinkly little rice cakes.
The Park Museum, an imitation of an Egyptian temple, is especially rich in archaeology and ethnology, although it contains a museum of natural history as well. It has a fine collection of Indian baskets and its Colonial exhibit comprises much of interest and beauty. In the large Crocker conservatory are rare varieties of begonias, orchids and other frail exotics, while the splendid Victoria regia, the giant Guiana water-lily with a pale pink night-opening blossom a foot in diameter, spreads its broad tray-like leaf pads in the central pool. There is a massive stone music stand in the park, the gift of Claus Spreckels, where bank concerts may be heard once a week. The children have merry times in their play-ground, and boys play baseball on an expansive green lawn. There is an aviary where many bright-plumaged birds disport, a bison paddock and deer park. The trees and shrubs of the park have been brought from all over the world--from various parts of North and South America, Siberia, China, Japan, Australia and Africa. It is claimed that no other park has so great a variety of trees, the temperate climate of San Francisco supporting the plant forms of all but torrid countries.
To the energy, taste, and enthusiasm of Mr. John McLaren, for many years park superintendent, is largely due the miracle of making the wind-swept sands into a garden of rare beauty.
Beyond the park is the long line of ocean beach with its fine shore drive, and the Cliff House perched defiantly upon the rocks where the breakers thunder. Off shore but a stone's throw are the Seal Rocks where herds of sea lions lie about in the spray, roaring above the dashing surf. The Sutro Baths are situated near the shore here, with their immense salt-water swimming tanks surrounded by seats to accomodate over seven thousand people.
I like best to leave the works of man which for the most part mar rather than beautify the coast, and, slipping off into some retreat along the rocky shore at the foot of Point Lobos, watch the great Pacific surf come riding in to spend its might against the weather-worn rocks at the entrance to the Golden Gate. Ships under full sail sweep proudly in with a fair wind. Gulls poise and flutter overhead.
The cry of the surf on the rock-bound strand, stern and lonely, the salt spray and the driving foam, the clanging bell on the buoy that rides on the rim of the channel, the mist overhead hastening in through the Gate, all bear token of that great mother of us all, who calls men forth to alien shores, all speak the Titan language of the Ocean, the mighty mistress whence cometh the strength of nations.