News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Cliffhouse.

The Cliffhouse

The first Cliff House was a modest structure built in 1863 by Masters Butler and Buckley. 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 through miles of sand dunes from downtown San Francisco to isolated Ocean Beach for horse racing and recreation. In 1881, the Cliff House was sold to Adolph Sutro, a self-made millionaire, philanthropist and later a mayor of San Francisco. Seven years later, Sutro built a railroad to bring the general public to this seaside attraction. On Christmas Day 1894, the Cliff House was destroyed by fire and a second, more elaborate building (shown below) rose along San Francisco's Pacific cliffs. It, too, was eventually destroyed by fire, and a final, vast, Cliff House covered those cliffs until the mid-1900s, when wind and waves took their toll on this dramatic structure.

April 30, 1871, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, California

The Elite at the Seaside
Some Gossip about the Loungers on the Piazza.

Among the numerous on dits and attractive chit-chat which you offer to your readers, I think you have overlooked one of the fashionable resorts of San Francisco. I speak of the balcony at the Cliff House on a Saturday afternoon; so, as I was among the fortunate ones enjoying the healing breezes there a week ago, I propose to give you a few notes of whom I saw. The date was delicious, old Boreas having softened down his bluster to what, for San Francisco, was a gentle zephyr, and the double attraction of a fine race at the Agricultural Grounds, and the chat on the Cliff balcony brought


And gala attire. Having skimmed along the road behind the best stock the "Fashion" affords, imagine me snugly ensconced in my armchair on the wide balcony overlooking the sea, busy with my inspection. The first objects my eyes rest upon are the bodyguard, so called from their enterprising leader, Mr. Bodie (where are they not?) of course attended by Mr. Belloc, usually called the "Parkison nephre," and his aid, M. Cevasier. Miss Nellie has it all her own way to day, but she should remember that "those who try to catch are sometimes themselves caught." Her auburn-haired rival, the fair Blanche, is nowhere to be seen she don’t "do the Cliff" as regularly as she used to. What can be the matter? Has the "stern patient" become alarmed? To the young banker, I would suggest the proverb, which, translated from his native French, runs thus: "He who runs after a two sometimes catches neither."

L. L. Robinson, generally termed "my uncle," don’t show today, but the niece and Miss Lucy, is using her eyes, as she well shows how to use them, to advantage on Mr. Hamilton Smith, whose blonde hair is waving in the breeze. Where is the "honest miner?" Maybe, I wonder, alas! out of sight, out of mind, I fear.

Mr. Smith arrives as the escort of Miss Cora Lyons who is, gossip says, soon to become Mrs. Floyd. Miss Cora’s pretty figure shows to great advantage in a riding dress.

By Jove, here comes Mr. Janin, who appeared at the opera the other night as "Love among the Roses." "Exploring every place with curious eyes," there he goes to buzz the girls; somebody hand him a clove.

Close by sits young Heggin, attempting to role of Sir Charles Coddtown, for which he is too juvenile. He is calmly surveying the sea, he yawns and declares "There’s nothing in this," and turns to give a "weary smile" to Miss Chamberlain, whom he has just discovered to be his neighbor.

Just opposite sits the stunning little widow, Mrs. Hensley, whose four in hand used to be the turnout on the road, not engaged. She is accompanied by the Gwin family. Mr. Tevis, one of our wealthy capitalists, with his jolly wife and seventeen children, are smiling near. Why, well, they always go round en famile.

How well old Waterworks Mayne looks today. They say he contemplates a trip to Europe soon. Some think it will be a wedding to tour. Truth lies at the bottom of a well. Can it be a rock this time.

Mason approaches, and without the widow. How much would it take to induce her to make up her mind?

The Stick is without his Loop and has to Price today. The Swiss horseman, Borel, is with his Mexican fiance. I wonder where they are; rumor has it he is fixing up a tidyish wigwam for his bride.

Ah, here come the three Graces from Rincon Hill Miss Carney and the Misses Earl, the fair Julia en Amazone. She has changed her base lately from Albany. Wonder are Chinamen as "unsartain" as Patroon’s descendants and o’her sprigs from the Empire State Capital.

Mrs. Colton appears as benign as ever, and Chief Burke, in that wonderful overcoat, is the observed of all observers. All turn as the door clangs to, and out comes handsome Eugene. How the deuce does the fellow manage to always look so fresh?

There’s a gay young navy man gone to the d l, I mean pretty Miss Duval, who looks as wicked as any imp, in riding dress and stylish hat and feathers.

But all things may have an end and the day wanes apace, so up old bay, and off to town again.


Cliffhouse.Sutro Baths.
Interior View of the pools at Sutro Baths.

The story of San Francisco's Cliff House began in 1863 with a modest white clapboard building perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the Pacific. Little more than three decades later, following a devastating fire, visionary millionaire Adolph Sutro oversaw construction of an imposing Victorian edifice on the same site.

His 1896 gingerbread palace drew everyone to its doorstep, from working-class families to the city s social elite to three U.S. presidents. That grand structure withstood the great earthquake of 1906, but burned to the ground a year later. Sutro s oldest daughter, Emma Sutro Merritt, immediately set to work on a new Cliff House, which opened in 1909.

The Annals of San FranciscoTales of Early San Francisco.Cliffhouse.Stories of Early San Francisco.
Frank Soule, John H. Gihon, Jim Nisbet. 1855
Written by three journalists who were witnesses to and participants in the extraordinary events they describe. The Annals of San Francisco is both an essential record for historians and a fascinating narrative for general readers. Over 100 historical engravings are included.
Partial Contents: Expeditions of Viscaino; Conduct of the Fathers towards the natives; Pious Fund of California; Colonel John C. Fremont; Insurrection of the Californians; Description of the Golden Gate; The Mission and Presidio of San Francisco; Removal of the Hudson's Bay Company; Resolutions concerning gambling; General Effects of the Gold Discoveries; Third Great Fire; Immigration diminished; The Chinese in California; Clipper Ships; Increase of population; and Commercial depression.

San Francisco, You're History!
A Chronicle of the Politicians, Proselytizers, Paramours, and Performers Who Helped Create California's Wildest City
San Francisco Artists.San Francisco.California Performers.
J. Kingston Pierce
Seattle-based writer Pierce presents a fascinating view of a variety of colorful people and events that molded the unique environment of San Francisco. He chronicles historical highlights: the Gold Rush, earthquakes, and fires and introduces the lives of politicians, millionaires, criminals, and eccentrics.

Click for a Selection of California History BooksCalifornia History.
including the "Historical Atlas of California," with nearly five hundred historical maps and other illustrations -- from sketches drawn in the field to commercial maps to beautifully rendered works of art. This lavishly illustrated volume tells the story of California's past from a unique visual perspective. It offers an informative look at the transformation of the state prior to European contact through the Gold Rush and up to the present. The maps are accompanied by a concise narrative and by extended captions that elucidate the stories and personalities behind their creation.

Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San FranciscoArtistic Life in Early San Francisco.
Birgitta Hjalmarson
San Francisco.Artists in early California.With a handful of wealthy Gold Rush barons as indulgent patrons, an active community of artists appeared in nineteenth-century San Francisco almost overnight. A subculture of artistic brilliance and social experimentation was the result -- in essence, a decades-long revelry that purportedly ended with the 1906 earthquake. Witness Jules Tavernier, hungry and in debt, accepting a stuffed peacock and two old dueling pistols in payment for a Yosemite landscape; Mark Twain as reluctant art critic.

Publications About San Francisco, including Infinite City
What makes a place? Rebecca Solnit's reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two gorgeous color maps, each of which illuminates the city and its surroundings as experienced by different inhabitants, Solnit offers views that will change the way we think about place. She explores the area thematically -- connecting, for example, Eadweard Muybridge's foundation of motion-picture technology with Alfred Hitchcock's filming of Vertigo. She finds landmarks and treasures -- butterfly habitats, murders, blues clubs, Zen Buddhist centers. She details the cultural geographies of the Mission District, the culture wars of the Fillmore, South of Market and more. This atlas of the imagination invites us to search out the layers of San Francisco that carry meaning for us.

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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