CAAONC – Protectors of our Mt. Davidson Cross

Picture by Bryan Agbabian

We can still see Great Horned owls like this one in the middle of San Francisco when we walk through the lovely forest created by Adolph Sutro on Mt. Davidson. When the controversy over the Mt. Davidson Cross occurred in 1996, I worked with neighbors to ensure that the resolution of the controversy did not result in the City selling off 6 acres of our forested park for private development. Luckily, the generous Armenian community came forward and formed the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California to purchase and protect this historic landmark.

They have been working hard since that time to raise funds to maintain the site and welcome visitors. One of their board members, Bryan Agbabian, and his family, joined my seasonal Mt. Davidson walking tour for City Guides last November and wrote this nice article about it for the CAAONC newsletter.

Ralph E. Hurlburt – Master Designer

I have had a lifelong interest in art and architecture. I wrote a biography of Harold G. Stoner, an architect of Period Revival style homes where I live in San Francisco. I have always had an attraction to these romantic and art-filled Spanish Revival and Storybook designs from the 1920s. I was surprised to learn a few years ago from Alexandra Wallace, an excellent researcher at Legacy106, that the nephew of my great grandfather, Ralph Everett Hurlburt (1888-1942), had been creating the same style of homes in the same time period in San Diego – where I visited my grandparents, great grandparents, and went to college.

In 2001 I started a research project into my father’s family of origin and wrote it all out on a website my son, Aaron, designed for me. I included information about the Hurlburts, who migrated to San Diego from Nebraska at the same time as my great grandparents, and a picture I had been given by a family member of Ralph Hurlburt. Relatives said he was involved in real estate, but never mentioned he designed houses. When Ms. Wallace contacted me about using the picture for a residential landmark designation report, I was very surprised. Later I went to San Diego to check out some of houses and was given access to more pictures of him. One of the historic preservation volunteers I met on the trip, Katherine Hon, has kindly written an article about my research of Ralph E. Hurlburt:  Enduring Legacy.

Sutro’s Tropic Beach Coloring Contest

Original color scheme by Architect Harold Stoner.

Keeping Architect Harold Stoner’s Tropic Beach brilliant color scheme looking its best was a challenge according to a 1950 article in the San Francisco Chronicle recently shared with me by John Martini, the author of Sutro’s Glass Palace. The article describes the “modernistic towers” outside the entrance to the Sutro Baths with “their facets brightly colored in canary yellow, electric blue, apple green, and vermillion … as one of the most undiluted to be found outside a children’s crayon set. Anywhere else the pure colors might be said to look garish; but somehow out in front of the Tropic Beach, it is becoming.” Manager Robert A. Bratton explained to the reporter how difficult it was to keep the colors bright despite the fog and corrosive salt air. Because of the frequency of repainting needed, it was decided to hold a coloring contest for future color scheme ideas.


Mimeographed line drawings of the front of the building were handed out to children who were visiting and an astounding 540 variations were submitted.  The winner was a girl named Arlene Morris who trimmed her entry with lace and red silk ribbon. “Now,” Bratton beamed, “we have color schemes to last us indefinitely!” 1950 Sutro’s Ancient Attic, SF Chron, 8-13-1950

San Francisco Chronicle Aug. 13, 1950


NOAA Coast Survey Archive about George Davidson

San Francisco Presidio Tide Station – Courtesy NOAA

In response to my blogpost about George Davidson , Albert “Skip” Theberge kindly shared some interesting information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Archives. He has written a detailed history about San Francisco having the longest tidal record in the western hemisphere – over 150 years of data – and George Davidson’s role in the first Coast Survey work on the West Coast:

George Davidson Courtesy Wikipedia

“Because of immigration to the Oregon country, the Coast Survey had been making plans to survey the coast of Oregon Territory as early as 1846. In 1848, Congress authorized this work and the Coast Survey sent its first crews to the West Coast in 1849. Unfortunately, the gold rush was on; labor, transportation, and costs of supplies skyrocketed with an accompanying stoppage of field operations. One crew, under Assistant James Williams, was sent for the land operations and another, under Lieutenant William P. McArthur, USN, for the offshore hydrographic surveying operations. The Coast Survey Schooner EWING arrived in San Francisco after fighting its way around Cape Horn after a seven-month trip on August 1, 1849. The EWING was a topsail schooner 91 feet in length. For a variety of reasons including desertions and a mutiny, the EWING also was stymied in 1849 and retired with the land crew to the Hawaiian Islands for the winter of 1849-50 to obtain new crew members and to resupply at cheaper rates. Because of the above frustrations, Alexander Dallas Bache, Superintendent of the Coast Survey, decided that a crew of young energetic men with “reputation to make” and a desire to overcome all hardships should be sent to the West Coast in 1850. This group of four men was led by George Davidson, who would become the leader of the West Coast scientific community over the next half century. James Lawson, A. M. Harrison, and John Rockwell comprised the remainder. Davidson, Lawson, and Rockwell sailed from the East Coast on May 5 on the steamer PHILADELPHIA for Panama. They landed at Chagres, hired native Indians for traveling by canoe to the head of the Chagres River, and then joined a mule train to go the rest of the way to the city of Panama.

…  Of the four young men who came west in 1850, George Davidson (1825-1911) and James Lawson (1828 – 1893) would remain on the West Coast for most of the remainder of their lives. Davidson made his home in San Francisco and was by far the most well-known of the group as he was considered California’s most prominent scientist for many years and had many geographic features named after him including Mount Davidson in San Francisco and Davidson Seamount to the southwest of Monterey.”

Jame S. Lawson – Courtesy

James Lawson’s autobiographical detailed memoir  is also archived at NOAA and provides an amazing account of what it was like to attempt to map the west coast with George Davidson from 1850 onward. “We first held forth at the “St. Francis” Hotel, where Mr. Davidson has secured rooms; this was then the “nobby” hotel of the town. Just before turning the corner from Dupont St. into Clay St. I suddenly came face to face with my old friend O.P. Sutton, and never shall I forget the look of astonishment with which he greeted me. Such surprises became so common in those days, however, that the effect was but momentary. A couple of days’ experience at the St. Francis amply demonstrated the fact that such grand prices of living ($7.00 per diem) were not in keeping with our own pay, or with the purse and projects of Venerable Master (U.S.). We took a room in a small wooden building on the opposite corner from the St. Francis, and got our meals where we chose.” …  

“On July 12th we started on the Active, and in about 5 or 6 days arrived at Nee-ah Bay, 6 miles East of Cape Flattery, in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The cape was really Mr. Davidson’s objective point, but the Bay presented the best location for camping, and from there all operations could be conducted. The tribe of Indians–Mah-Kah (See how Mr. J.G. Swan spells this name, and adopt his orthography) was not then particularly friendly towards the whites, and before going into camp it was deemed best to have an understanding with them. For this purpose a hy-as wah-wah (big talk) was appointed to take place with the Chief Clis-seet and his tribe at the Warm House (summer village) between Nee-ah Bay and Cape F., the next day.”


A Davidson Seamount map was produced by NOAA as a special edition for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Located southwest of Monterey, it is nearly 8000 feet high – much taller than Mt. Davidson in San Francisco – yet remains submerged over 4000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. According to information posted by the Monterey Aquarium, “seamounts—remnants of former volcanoes—are interesting not only for their geology but also for their biology. The water above seamounts are productive feeding grounds for a wide variety of fishes, marine mammals, and seabirds. The rocky surfaces of seamounts serve as habitat islands for deep-sea animals.” They have posted a video of the Davidson Seamount.

From Hanover, Germany to San Francisco, CA

Behrend Joost had high hopes in 1891 for his “creme de la creme” of subdivisions, naming the streets in the Sunnyside neighborhood he created in San Francisco after millionaires: Flood, Spreckels, Mangels, and Joost himself. Behrend Joost, Claus Spreckels, Claus Mangels, and his sister Anna Christina, were all from Hanover, Germany. Anna Mangels and Claus Spreckels were childhood sweethearts in Hanover and married in 1852. Anna’s brother, Claus Mangels, married Emma Zwieg.

Mangels house at 2518 Howard, taken about 1890. The partially visible house to the right belonged to J.D. Spreckels. Courtesy Tillmann Family Archives / Mark Reed.

Mark Reed, a descendant of Claus Mangels’  daughter, Emma,  recently shared more family history with me. “Claus Mangels arrived in San Francisco about 1860 (Spreckels arrived earlier, about 1856) and during his last years Claus Mangels lived at 2518 Howard near 20th (Howard was renamed S. Van Ness after 1906). Next door to Claus Mangels on Howard lived J.D. Spreckels, son of Claus Spreckels. Before 1896 Claus Spreckels also lived on Howard near 16th, and the Zwieg family also lived nearby. In 1896 Claus Spreckels moved to a new mansion on Van Ness. The Howard street houses are all long gone.”

Claus Mangels Home in Aptos

Mark Reed adds, “Claus Spreckels purchased the Aptos Rancho (about 5000 acres), and sold his brother-in-law Claus Mangels about 550 acres, now most absorbed by the adjacent state park. This is the Claus Mangels home in Aptos (left).  Claus Spreckels built a near identical house in Aptos too. Claus Mangels was closely associated with his brother-in-law in brewing, sugar refining, and shipping enterprises, and was a director of Spreckels’ Hakalau sugar plantation in Hawaii. However, Mangels also owned significant commercial property downtown (SF) in his own right, including a major hotel. I’m not aware of the exact relationship between Mangels and Joost, could be either social or business. However, I do remember reading somewhere that Joost held Mangels in high esteem. Claus Mangels died in 1891, and Claus Spreckels died in 1908.”

“The grandsons of Claus Mangels were Ernest & Oscar Hueter, and in the 1920s the Hueter brothers purchased and developed the area in Balboa Terrace surrounding the Aptos school. Boxton-Zwieg built the homes designed by Architect Harold Stoner in this neighborhood further west along Monterey Blvd. which includes a street named Aptos. Learn more about the Spreckels, Mangels, and Zwieg connections at

Original Sunnyside Neighborhood Map

Spreckels Avenue was later changed to Staples. Another millionaire was added to Sunnyside when Moulton was changed to Hearst. Weiland was changed to Judson, Milton became Marston, and Sunnyside became Monterey Boulevard.

Adolph Sutro’s Urban Forests: Influences and Lasting Benefits


I am pleased to announce that my research essay “Adolph Sutro’s Urban Forests: Influences and Lasting Benefits,”  has been published in the Summer 2016 issue of The Argonaut, Journal of the San Francisco Museum and Historical SocietyTheArgonautVolume27 No.1!

Wonderful New Trail Map for Mt. Davidson Park

Nancy Milholland has generously created the first-ever comprehensive trail map for Mt. Davidson Park! While the summit of San Francisco’s highest hill has been a city park since 1929, the trails are not marked and there has never been a official trail map published.

The new Mt. Davidson map is available as a web map that can be viewed through a browser on desktop or mobile device. There are two different maps available – one is strictly a trail map, and the second is a map based photo gallery. With the trail map application, one can click on a map feature and it will bring up a popup with information about the item.  There is also a Mount Davidson Photo Gallery Web Map, that combines the web trail map with geocoded photo locations. The user can browse through photos in the carousel on the bottom of the web page, or click on points in the map to see the associated picture. The map was created using ESRI’s ArcGIS Online Story Map template.

MtDavidsonTrails copy

Ruth Rowe, Miraloma Park Home Designer


“The Raleigh” by Ruth Rowe

While notable architects such as Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck designed homes in nearby San Francisco neighborhoods, St. Francis Woods and Forest Hill, who were the designers of Miraloma Park homes? Since most pre-WWII homes in Miraloma Park were built in groups by the Meyer Brothers as “spec” houses rather than individual commissions, their designers are likely less well known and may be lost to history. It was unusual for a designer’s name to be publicized like the Meyer Brothers did in their advertisement for this home. Like nearby Balboa Terrace “spec” houses designed by architect Harold G. Stoner, however, many Miraloma Park homes feature unique details that seems to reflect the work of professional designers, as I recently discovered about 201 Juanita Way. The home’s Storybook style details of hand-hewn half-timbering, multiple gables, dovecotes, dormer and bay windows – some featuring unique mullions dotted with wood circles, are the work of Ruth Rowe, a designer for the Meyer Brothers. Read what Inge Horton, the author of Early Woman Architects in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently shared with me about: Ruth Rowe.

Sutro’s Forest Used to Build Twin Peaks Tunnel

TwinPeaksTunnel This rare film brings the history described in my book, San Francisco’s West of Twin Peaks, to life.  “Shot in the years after the great earthquake and fire which leveled The City, Twin Peaks Tunnel was intended to promote the development of Western portions of San Francisco. Twin Peaks Tunnel was shot by the Pathescope film company for a local real estate firm. It documents construction of what was then claimed to be the longest municipal tunnel in the world. The film includes footage of the construction of the tunnel and the clearing of Sutro Forest, as well as development of the West Portal, St. Francis Wood, and Westwood Park neighborhoods. City officials, engineers, workers and ordinary citizens are also seen in the film. According to historian David Kiehn, the film was produced for the Baldwin and Howell Real Estate Company, located on Kearny Street in San Francisco. Newspaper advertisements also indicate that the film was first shown on October 13, 1917 – most likely in a San Francisco storefront. It was popular enough to be continuously screened for weeks thereafter.”

The summary above excerpted from Thomas Gladyz’s article “Short Film with a Long History Plays at Niles,”, January 19, 2012 (

Funds to restore and preserve Twin Peaks Tunnel were provided through a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The original 28mm copy of Twin Peaks Tunnel is in the collection of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. The museum also holds the 35mm preservation negative and two 35mm positive prints. Watch it here: Twin Peaks Tunnel . Learn more about Twin Peaks West at:

Historic Photos of Mt. Davidson Cross in 1928

Mt.DCross1928JamesWilliamstop-209x300The historic cross on Mt. Davidson will be lit on Easter Eve this year, as it has been every year since 1926. The 103-foot high cross presently sitting atop San Francisco’s highest hill was dedicated in 1934. It was built to last with 750 cubic yards of concrete placed around 30 tons of reinforced steel that is anchored in a concrete block foundation that goes down 16 feet into the bedrock below. Many may not know that the massive solidity of this structure may due to it being the 5th cross built on Mt. Davidson for the annual Easter sunrise event.

The first cross was erected on Mount Davidson in 1923 for an Easter Sunrise Service organized by James Decatur and led by Dean J. Wilmer Gresham of Grace Cathedral. With over 5000 hiking before dawn to attend, the event organizers decided to continue it every year thereafter. Built in what was once a remote area of San Francisco, the 40-foot high wooden cross lasted for two more sunrise services, before it was burned down by  “young boys building campfires too close to it,” in Dec. 1925. A 2nd and much more elaborate replacement cross was built in 1926. It was described as being nearly 100-feet high. Wired with electrical lamps, it was the first to be illuminated every night during the week before Easter.

Few pictures of the older crosses exist and thanks to John T. Williams, I am able to share, with his permission, newly discovered and copyrighted images of what may be the only ones existing of the 1926 Mt.Davidson Cross being painted on March 3, 1928. In the picture above, see John’s father, James Williams, on top of the cross, with two other crew members just below.

The early crosses were located on the eastern downtown viewpoint atop Mt. Davidson, at the edge of the old property between Leland Stanford and Adolph Sutro. The cross pictured above didn’t make it through the winter, being destroyed by flames in December 1928. By March 1929, the San Francisco Examiner reported a 3rd cross being constructed: “big cross on Mt. Davidson lighted with wands of electrical lights.” It was also described as being more permanent, 76-feet high, and decorated with 300 lights. Purchase of the summit by the City for a public park was also completed in 1929.

One more temporary cross would be built on the hill before the fireproof one was constructed in 1934 at a new location further west. Surviving earthquakes and a trip to the California Supreme Court, it was once lit year round. Lighting is now restricted to two days a year and the permanent lights were removed to settle the lawsuit. The new owners, the Council of Armenian Organizations of No. California, now cover the cost of a portable generator to continue the tradition of illuminating America’s largest cross on Easter Eve with spotlights totaling 48,000 watts. See more historic pictures from John Williams at