George Davidson – Pioneer West Coast Scientist

When I say live on Mt. Davidson, many of my fellow San Franciscans respond by saying “where is that?”

View west: Mt. Davidson seen left of Bay Bridge.

View west: Mt. Davidson seen left of Bay Bridge.

View east: forested Mt. Davidson from above Sloat Blvd.

View east: forested Mt. Davidson from above Sloat Blvd.


George Davidson


Despite it being the city’s highest hill, even more obscure to most, is who was George Davidson? Oscar Lewis wrote the first detailed biography of our neighborhood mountain’s namesake in 1954 and lauded the pioneer scholar as having a dominant role in the beginning of scientific activity on the Pacific Coast for more than half a century, 1850-1911.

As head of a U.S. Coast Survey party in 1850, he prepared charts and other navigational aids for the sudden surge of Gold Rush ships coming to West Coast. For forty-five years he charted virtually every mile of the coastline from the Mexican border to northernmost Alaska. His navigational data was known by West Coast mariners as “Davidson’s Bible.” Davidson’s Quadrilaterals, the base lines he measured in the Sacramento Valley and in southern California, upon which the primary triangulation of the Pacific Coast states is based, is considered one of his greatest achievements.

Elected President of the California Academy of Sciences in 1872, many consider him the “father of western science.” One of the few in the Academy with formal scientific training, he began work to move it to a larger space, open exhibits, hold public meetings, host noted scientists from around the globe, and collect funds to build a brand new museum. Under his leadership, the Academy would become a major force in the development of astronomy on the West Coast and California becoming home to some of the finest astronomical instruments in existence.


George Davidson outside his Lafayette Park observatory in San Francisco

Davidson established the first astronomical observatory on the Pacific Coast in what is now Lafayette Park in San Francisco. Millionaire Gold Rush landowner, James Lick, was persuaded by Davidson to use his fortune to build the world’s first permanent mountain top observatory on Mt. Hamilton, as a gift to the University of California. This observatory set the standard for nearly every major astronomical facility built since and gained fame by bouncing lasers off mirrors placed on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Oakland’s Chabot Observatory, one of the best available for public use, was built by Anthony Chabot at the urging of Davidson.

Expeditions to Japan and Corro Roblero to study the path of the planet, Venus, were led by Davidson and his geographical exploration of Alaska in 1867 resulted in his recommendation that the U.S. purchase the territory from Russia. He studied irrigation and reclamation methods in China, India, and Egypt. The route for the Panama Canal was mapped by Davidson. He held professorships and served on the Board of Regents for the University of CA during his tenure there from 1870 to his death in 1911.

Davidson wrote in 1900 that he had traveled 401,888 miles during his lifetime – roughly sixteen times the circumference of the world. An incredible accomplishment given the modes of transportation available at the time. The result of his many explorations and discoveries is that many geographical features are named for him, including our Mt. Davidson here in San Francisco. As a longtime member of the Sierra Club, the group successfully petitioned the Board of Supervisors to name San Francisco’s highest hill for Davidson when he died in 1911. John Muir was to lead the dedication on Feb. 22nd. Drizzly weather caused Muir to cancel and the ceremony was led by the club’s vice-president, Prof. Alexander McAdie.


Two other mountains have been named for Davidson: above Virginia City, Nevada, and on Nagai Island in Alaska. Also in Alaska is the Davidson Glacier, Davidson Inlet, Davidson Bank, and the Davidson Range. Many more geographical locations bear his name, including the Davidson Seamount is southwest of Monterey and there is a NOAA ship named Davidson. As part of his coast survey work, Davidson named many geographical features and locations along the Pacific Coast, but he never named anything after himself. He went to great lengths to research if a name already existed from previous explorations and to sort out multiple names and spellings given to a place by native Americans, the early explorers, Spanish settlers, and subsequently, Americans. His preference was to use the earliest name and standardize its use and spelling, commenting once, “I found for Sausalito ten or twelve spellings and for Bonita four or five, to say nothing of different names applied for the same locality.”

Our little mountain named to honor George Davidson’s high number of achievements, serves as an inspiration to all of us who enjoy the City park at its peak.

Sources: George Davidson, Pioneer West Coast Scientist, by Oscar Lewis; California Wild Spring 2003

Historic View of San Francisco’s Bus Route 36

Before the Miraloma Park Improvement Club had a completed clubhouse in 1940, residents were busy fostering the neighborhood activism that is still in place today. One of the first projects was to get a bus line to the new neighborhood. To celebrate their success, the Club distributed a flyer entitled “Hooray for the Buses” in advance of the first bus arrival on Sunday, July 23rd, 1939, at 2PM:

“Let everyone in the district be on deck to welcome the first one. … The Honorable Mayor Rossi will pilot the first bus from Forest Hill Station to the corner of Evelyn Way and Portola Drive where he will be met by other City officials — the Municipal Band — several units of the American Legion — the Parkside Post No. 505 of the American Legion and their Junior Auxiliary Drum Corps — Boy Scout Troop 85 Drum and Bugle Corps and bicycle parade. The Municipal Band will lead the parade over the new bus route and return to Evelyn Way and Portola Drive, at which time he will address the group. Please join in and show the Mayor how we appreciate this long awaited service.”

A newspaper article following the event, “Many Dignitaries at Miraloma Fete,” noted that the celebration set a “new high in enthusiasm.” In addition to the Mayor, other dignitaries included Lewis Byington, President of the Public Utilities Commission, Commissioners John Murphy and John McCallum, City Attorney John J. O’Toole, and Supervisor James B. McSheehy, were greeted by club president Lloyd H. Berendsen:

“In the plaza at Miraloma Park, Mr. Berendsen told of the projects being fostered by the Miraloma Park Improvement Club for the benefit of the district and the city, especially school and playground and enlargement of Mt. Davidson Park to include the wonderful wildflower fields. Mayor Rossi promised his assistance when funds were available. [Seven acres on the east slope were added to the park in 1941]. Mr. Byington expressed the gratification of the Public Utilities Commission in being able to install the new service. The MPIC committee in charge consisted of Alexander Ratray, Boyd Oliver, Charles Dechent, Hoyt Colgate, James J. Yates, Frank Fickett, and William C. Ward.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency has put together a wonderful photo archive of the system’s history online. Katy Guyon of SFMTA found a blueprint of the original route dated for its 1939 inauguration. (Copyrighted Image Courtesy of the SFMTA Photo Archive,


As you can see, the 36 Teresita was originally “7 Miraloma.” Katy found some more information in the book entitled “Inside Muni,” published in 1982 by John McKane and Anthony Perles:

“7 MIRALOMA – Service commenced from Forest Hill Station, serving Twin Peaks Tunnel on July 23, 1939 via Laguna Honda Blvd., Portola Drive, Evelyn Way, and Teresita Blvd. to Rio Court. Line extended to Melrose Avenue on June 8, 1941. Coaches moved from Arguello Garage to 24th and Utah [Garage] on January 8, 1945. Line again extended to Foerster and Monterey, on October 6, 1945. Extended to Brighton and Grafton (K [street] car line terminal) on February 16, 1946, via Judson, Phelan, Ocean and Brighton to Grafton. Further extended on June 5, 1947, via Grafton, Garfield, Beverly, and Worcester to Junipero Serra Blvd., returning via Worcester, Junipero Serra Blvd., Garfield and reverse of route. Line moved from Utah Division [Garage] to the new Ocean Division [Garage] on August 1, 1948. Line renumbered 36 MIRALOMA on February 1, 1949. … 6-17-56 Terminal rerouted to Sickles & Mission. 9-10-80 Renamed 36 TERESITA.”


She also noted that “the 7 Miraloma/36 Teresita started as a Muni line with ‘motor coaches’ (early Muni buses—the first kind Muni had instead of streetcars, seen above at Rio Court). Then, in 1944, Muni merged with its main competitor, the private, for-profit transit company Market Street Railway. In the mid and late 40s, Muni started the process of physically merging all of Muni’s routes with Market Street Railway’s routes, which was very complicated—in particular because the two systems had been designed to compete with each other so there was a lot of redundancy in the routes. As part of this process, the 7/36 route was changed a bit and the line eventually got a new number in 1949.”

The original route, which turned around at Rio Court, was extended with the building of Miraloma Park south to Forester St. and once went all the way to the K streetcar terminal and Junipero Serra Blvd. Additional changes included a turnaround up to the top of Mt. Davidson and at the Balboa Park BART station. When BART was completed, it funded the “Miraloma Ranger” shuttle service for commuters to get a quicker ride to and from the Glen Park station. The shuttle was discontinued and now the 36-Teresita route ends at Mission and Cesar Chavez Streets via Glen Park BART station. Its connection to the Forest Hill Station has continued. Now if we could just get it to run more frequently and on time!

Adolph Sutro: The Father of Tree Planting in California

My appreciation of the unique forest Adolph Sutro created near my San Francisco home on Mt. Davidson (below) over a century ago, has peaked my curiosity into why he planted it. It lead to my seeking his personal papers and researching other sources. Except for his papers, almost every other source referenced the Adolph Sutro: A Biography by Robert E. Stewart, Jr. and Mary Francis Stewart. Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, I recently read their 243-page out-of-print book published in 1962.



The most comprehensive researchers of Adolph Sutro to date, note that his interest in nature started with his childhood in Aachen Germany, “He spent much time in the forests near his natal city and was often accompanied by a botany teacher on his walks. The teacher used to say, ‘My son, live ever near to Nature’s heart, for to depart from Nature is to depart from happiness. choose companions among such as love trees and little children. the man who loves these can never commit a crime.’ ”

Once he came to America and began building his famous four-mile long tunnel into the silver-laden Comstock Lode in Nevada , he decided to create the model town of Sutro at the entrance in 1872. It included plans (below) for broad sidewalks, two tree-lined boulevards, and four parks. According to the Stewarts:

“Sutro started developing an interest in trees which would stay with him all the rest of his life. He owned a few trees before, but now saw in them a way to benefit mankind. He would have trees planted along Florence and Tunnel Avenues at company expense and the sale of the lots would be contingent upon the purchaser’s planting and caring for a tree in front of his house. Trees were good for people. They improved the appearance of a town, they furnished shade and brought other benefits, so trees the people must have. … each eleven-acre park was planted with trees and alfalfa. There were 2,000 Lombardy poplars in North Square and cottonwoods in South Square. On the Moore ranch a tree nursery had been established and 1,000 honey locust, 500 spruce, 1,000 elms, 500 sugar maples and 4,000 Lombardy poplars were being cared for.”


After finishing the tunnel project and selling his stock in it, he purchased the Sutro Heights property overlooking the Pacific Ocean for his home in San Francisco in 1881. The Stewarts astutely observed:

“If Sutro had elected to tear down the Tetlow cottage and erect a massive monument in its place he would have been behaving in a manner typical of many of his contemporary millionaires. As real estate prices rose he could have had his share of ghastly turrets, solid gold bathrooms, or vaulted ceilings. Nob Hill was studded with enormous homes, many of which owed their existence to Comstock fortunes. … What another man might have spent on a dwelling, he spent on the gardens around his home. While Flood, Fair, Crocker, and even Mark Hopkins built costly homes, Sutro made do with the old Tetlow cottage … With the forester growing trees by the thousands, Sutro also began considering ways of getting them planted and growing all over the city.”

As many other sources have noted, the Stewarts confirm the pivotal event where Sutro was honored as the Father of Tree Planting in California:

“One person to whom Sutro talked about trees was Joaquin Miller, the poet. … Together they planned California’s first Arbor Day, November 27, 1886, and with a large group of state officials they went by government boat to barren Yerba Buena Island and planted 30,000 trees. Simultaneously the school children of San Francisco were holding similar exercises and planting trees given by Sutro at the Presidio and at Ft. Mason. Eventually Mt. Parnassus (now known as Mt. Sutro) was planted. Sutro continued to provide trees for the children each year, and is estimated to have given away millions of seedlings of cypress and of Pinus maritama which he imported from the coast of the Black Sea.”

Instead of using his Comstock Lode fortune to enrich himself, the Stewarts’s research revealed that Adolph Sutro spent his “large sums of money for his favorite objects — trees, shrubs, and books,” to enrich the lives of his fellow San Franciscans, leaving us a beautiful forested landscape (1948 view of Mt. Davidson forest below) and the finest private library in America!



Welcome to the Harold G. Stoner blog for news about one of the Bay Area’s most artistic architects. Since my book, Bay Area Beauty: The Artistry of Harold G. Stoner, was completed earlier this year, I continue to discover more about this amazing man. This blog has been created to share what I have found.

Stoner’s Innovative Community-Oriented Site Plan

The on-going effort by Google Books to scan historic journals has recently revealed what may be the earliest magazine article published about Harold G. Stoner. “A Well-Designed Group of Small Houses,” in the December 1922 issue of The Building Review, notes that “a group of three houses [designed by Harold G. Stoner] at Ingleside Terraces in San Francisco, planned to face a common lawn, but with entirely separate rear gardens, has aroused no small amount of interest among builders and home-owners of this region.”

The cottages still located at 160, 170, and 180 Urbano Drive, which follows the original one-mile long course of the historic Ingleside Racetrack, are seen below as they looked in 1922 – before they were surrounded by many more homes.

Urbano Drive 1922

Ingleside Terraces was one of the first residence parks built in what was considered the outsidelands of San Francisco – the area west of the Twin Peaks which city dwellers initially considered to be suburbs as revealed in this article. “A mere house, after all, is not in itself a home – there must be a yard or garden for the children to play in – some trees, shrubs and flowers and a bit of lawn or terrace, else why bother to go out of town! … when one has decided to build, sacrificing apartment-house conveniences and the three-minute walk to business to a thirty-minute trip night and morning, he feels he that he is entitled to a few feet of earth to play upon, and decidedly objects to being crowded on a narrow lot with the next door neighbor within handshaking distance.”

Here Stoner may have first utilized a community-oriented site plan that he would later replicate in nearby Monterey Heights, as seen here along Monterey Boulevard.

“The three lots comprising this plot [on Urbano Drive] are fifty by one hundred feet each and terraced to the street level. The central house is set back about one hundred feet from the street, while the others facing each other present an interesting side-view with southwestern exposure … The plan as here described, of a group of detached houses is especially appealing to friends, acquaintances or members of a family who want to live near, but not with each other, and is an expression of the ‘community’ idea with modifications which is becoming more and more popular in planning suburban dwellings.”

In Balboa Terrace, Stoner reduced the threesome plan to pairs of homes that face each other as seen in this example on San Leandro Way. Stoner not only emphasized community in his site plans, but also in his home designs which he highlighted in one of his advertisements, “Here the feeling of a real home is found and one awaits with an anticipation of pleasure, the invitation of the host to enter.”