Historic Contents of Mt. Davidson Cross Time Capsule

A year ago, on April 1, 2023, the granite cornerstone engraved with Easter Sunrise 1923, was unearthed to reveal a crypt with a copper record box inside made by the Revere Company started by the father of our revolutionary hero. Typically these time capsule openings occur on the centennial of the installation, which was 1934. But since 2023 was the 100 year anniversary of the first Easter Sunrise event in 1923, the decision was made to open the box on its 89th anniversary. Inside were the items listed in the 1934 articles about the installation: a copy of the deed to Mt. Davidson dated 1845, daily papers, a current telephone directory, an 1847 bible, and a twenty-page sermon especially written by Roger Babson for the occasion.

The contents were not only in pristine condition, but included more than 200 items, with many rarely seen documents representing the history of Mt. Davidson’s summit prior to 1934.

The deed was a 1934 title report recording the donation by Lang Realty Co of a 6-acre addition to the City’s Mt. Davidson Park in 1932 for the location of a permanent Easter cross on the summit. The four page report chronicles the Spanish, Mexican and American history of land ownership in San Francisco.

The list of 24 owners starts with the summit being part of the 4443 acre land grant to Jose de Jesus Noe by the Governor of Mexico Pio Pico. After CA becomes part of the US, Noe sells his property to John M. Horner, “CA’s First Farmer,” for $200,000. Two years later, it is sold two more times, until purchased by Francois L.A.Pioche. in 1860. He proceeds to transfer ownership of the summit back and forth ten times with his partners and others, including with C.K. Garrison, the founder of the Bank of CA, and the fourth mayor of San Francisco, until his death in 1876. His will donates the still undeveloped property to a French benevolent society. In 1880, the society sells the City’s highest geographic point to the 21st Mayor of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro, who plants thousands of trees on the hill and invites the public to hike through his forest. Upon Sutro’s death, his heirs sell to the Residential Development Co. in 1912, who hosts the first Easter Sunrise services on the summit beginning in 1923. Six years later ownership of the Easter site is transfered to August J. Lang, Jr.

As Lang starts building homes up the slopes of Mt. Davidson, Madie Brown leads starts a campaign in 1926 to save Adolph Sutro’s forest on the summit and make it a city park. It appears she wanted to document that effort with items she likely added to the record box:

A copy of the program for the 1929 City park dedication picturing Madie Brown with John McLaren and George Davidson’s daughter, Elinor. Madie’s handwriting adds the date, corrects her husband’s middle initial, and the spelling of Elinor’s name.

A beautiful and creative poetic tribute to Mount Davidson by Madie Brown may have been written for the park dedication, but is undated.

A signed map of California’s newly created State Park system. Madie was one of the first to serve on the State Park Commission which was established in 1927.

Other items that caught my eye:

And finally, inside that record box was a fascinating connection to Riverside, CA, which is the city I grew up in: The Story of Mt. Rubidoux, to where I live now. The booklet was published in 1926 by the Mission Inn Hotel. I bought a copy of it a decade or so ago at the Riverside Historical Society, but there was an original copy of the booklet in the time capsule. It tells the story of the first mountain top Easter sunrise service in the U.S. and it seems, inspired the creation of a similar event in San Francisco on Mt. Davidson in 1923. The museum describes that first event as Cultural Showmanship:

“Mt. Rubidoux, a rocky hill downtown, became an outpost of the Mission Inn mystique. Frank A. Miller and his business partners, including Henry E. Huntington, developed a park atop the mountain to promote a housing subdivision at its base. The winding road up Mt. Rubidoux was an engineering marvel. At the summit, a cross was dedicated to Junipero Serra, though the padre never came to the area. The lots failed to sell, but the park caught the public’s imagination. In 1909, encouraged by social reformer Jacob Riis, Miller and the community began an Easter Service at the mountaintop cross. The was the first event of its kind and the idea quickly spread.”

Posted March 27, 2024