Vestiges of Lincoln Park

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historic postcard of golfers playing on green with Golden Gate Bridge in background
Golfers at Lincoln Park Golf Course tee off with a magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Courtesy of Lincoln Park Golf Club

 

In 1868, the area now known as Lincoln Park, was reserved by the City of San Francisco for a city cemetery, also known as Potter’s Field or Golden Gate Cemetery. In 1901, the Board of Supervisors banned all burials in the City of San Francisco and by 1909, the city ordered Golden Gate Cemetery to move.

The Board of Supervisors turned approximately 150 acres of the former cemetery over to the Parks Commission who then created Lincoln Park in honor of President Abraham Lincoln. The city also gave part of the land to the U.S. Army for an expansion of Fort Miley.

The city officially dedicated the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway as Lincoln Park in 1915. The city added Palace of the Legion of Honor to the Park nine years later. Today the park is a much loved and widely used municipal asset that provides a beautiful setting for the Lincoln Park Golf Course and the Legion of Honor.

 

To learn more about the history of Lincoln Park, please explore the following narratives:

 
Top: Gun emplacement foundation of Battery Chester and picnic area, 2012; Bottom: Foundations and doors of Battery Chester, 2012.
Top: Gun emplacement foundation of Battery Chester and picnic area, 2012; Middle: Foundations and doors of Battery Chester, 2012.

Battery Chester

One of several batteries at Fort Miley, Battery Chester was built in 1901 and housed two 12-inch rifles. A third 12-inch gun was added on the south flank of the first two in 1903. The three-gun emplacements were named Battery James Chester in 1904 to honor Major James Chester of the 3rd US Artillery, a Civil War veteran who had died the year before.

During WWI many coastal defense gun tubes were modified and then sent overseas to help the war effort in Europe. In 1918 the gun tubes in emplacements #1 and #2 were removed and shipped to New York for modifications. The war ended before they could be deployed. The gun tubes at Battery Chester were replaced by tubes from Battery Spencer at Fort Baker and Battery Lancaster at Fort Winfield Scott.

The guns at Fort Miley and Battery Chester were obsolete by 1937 and decommissioned. However, they were briefly reactivated prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Battery Chester played an important role in coastal defense until the guns were eventually scrapped in 1943. The battery foundations remain intact and are used for a more peaceful function as a picnic area in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
 
Left: Stone gate with Chinese writing. Right: Newspaper clipping showing people digging and boat in ocean.
Left: Chinese gate marking the Chinese section of Golden Gate Cemetery, still standing on Lincoln Park Golf Course, 2012; Right: A San Francisco Call newspaper article, “Chinese Defraud City of Thousands in Fees”, 29 April 1900.

Chinese Burials

The Chinese living in San Francisco at the turn of the century believed that the remains of the dead should rest in Chinese soil. The bones of Chinese immigrants that died in San Francisco were temporarily buried in Golden Gate Cemetery (today’s Lincoln Park). Their bones were later disinterred, cleaned, and shipped home at a charge of $10 per set, payable to the city.

After burials were outlawed in the City of San Francisco and all burials were to be moved from Golden Gate Cemetery to Colma, the Chinese may have been disguising bones of the deceased as fish bones when they shipped them back to China in order to avoid the exorbitant fees.
 
Upper left: Long road near cliff. Upper right: road with arrow highlighting damage from landslide Bottom: Cars driving on curvy road.
Upper left: El Camino del Mar just after completion in 1925. Upper right: Landslide damage in 1941. Bottom: Reopened in 1951.

El Camino del MarIn

In the early 1910s the Superintendent of City Parks envisioned a scenic boulevard that would connect the Harbor View District (today’s Marina District) with Ocean Beach. Construction began on this boulevard, named El Camino Del Mar, in 1915. By the end of the year the first stretch from the Presidio to Lincoln Park was completed. The road was extended through the Park to Sutro Heights in 1924.

The first of many damaging landslides to plague the road occurred in 1928. Repairs and stabilization efforts continued for decades with varying success.

The road was closed to preserve military safety at the onset of WWII, and after repairs, was reopened to the public in 1951.

Landslides in 1955 and again in 1956 finally prompted the city to stop repairs until a more permanent solution could be found. Engineering studies and reports over the years tried to find ways to combat the erosion but most efforts have failed. Today, only small portions of the former road survives as a hiking trail that offers spectacular views and a fairly easy walk from Lincoln Park to Lands End.
 
Top: Elegant stone gate with Chinese writing set among trees. Bottom: Traditional stone monument with anchor motif.
Top: Chinese gateway in Lincoln Park Golf Course, 2012; Bottom: Seaman’s Memorial in Lincoln Park Golf Course, 2012.

Golden Gate Cemetery

In 1868 the land where the Legion of Honor and Lincoln Park Golf Course sit today was reserved by the city for Golden Gate Cemetery. The first interment was recorded in July 1870.

The cemetery was divided into sections including Chinese Six Companies, French, German, Italian, French, Russian, Jewish, Orthodox Easter Greek Church, Ladies’ Seaman Society, Knights of Pythias, Grand Army of the Republic, Colored I.O.O.F., Old Friend’s Society, Slavonic Illyric, St. Andrews, Japanese, and Chinese Christian. A Potter’s Field was set aside for the indigent.

By 1887, there were over 11,000 interments including more than 4,000 Chinese. By 1893, the total number of interments had grown to 18,000 which included over 11,000 poor and indigent burials in Potter’s Field.

By the 1890s Adolph Sutro and other prominent citizens were in favor of condemning the cemetery, which they considered an eye-sore and menace. This would allow the federal Government to acquire the land for defense fortifications. But the city asked too much for the 200 acres and the government only purchased 54 acres for fortifications that eventually became Fort Miley.

The SF Board of Supervisors banned all burials within city limits in 1901. By 1909 Golden Gate Cemetery was ordered to move. From this land the Park Commission created Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Park Golf Course. The graves of Golden Gate Cemetery were exhumed and moved to cemeteries in Colma.

Today, Seaman’s Memorial and a Chinese style tomb/gateway in Lincoln Park are the only visible reminders of Golden Gate Cemetery.
 
Top: Colored postcard showing open pavilion with water and bridge in background. Bottom: Elegant front entrance of classical building with long rows of columns.
Top: Aerial view of the Palace of the Legion of Honor; Bottom: Fountain and parking lot at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1930s color postcard.

Palace of the Legion of Honor


This dramatic complex of buildings is a three-quarter scale replica of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris. It was commissioned as a gift to the city by sugar magnates Adolph and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels in 1924 to beautify the city, honor those who fought in World War I, and provide a home for art and historical treasures that promote education and culture.

The Legion of Honor is located in Lincoln Park, an area of the city that was once part of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Cemetery. In 1909, the cemetery board was ordered to exhume the burials and reinter them in cemeteries in Colma. The land was given to the Park Commission that used the land to create Lincoln Park. Hundreds of burials were unearthed during construction of the Legion of Honor in 1921 and again during expansion activities in 1993. It is clear that many remains were not exhumed as the city ordered, and more are likely still buried beneath the museum.

In 1915, the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway was dedicated in Lincoln Park at what is now the plaza and fountain in front of the Palace. Today, a replica of a Lincoln Highway marker now designates the old highway’s western terminus. The Palace of the Legion of Honor is one of the premier fine arts museums in San Francisco with works covering nearly 6,000 years of human history from ancient Egyptian sculpture to the illustrations of cartoonist Robert Crumb.
 
Left: A marker in the foreground marking the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway with a large building in the background. Right: A group of people dedicating a marker with an American flag flying in the center.
Left: Lincoln Highway Western Terminus marker at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, ca. 1928, replaced with a replica in the early 21st Century; Right: Dedication of Lincoln Highway Western Terminus Marker, ca. 1915.

Lincoln Highway Terminus


Lincoln Highway TerminusThe Lincoln Highway was conceived in 1913 by Carl Fisher as America’s first transcontinental highway created specifically for automobiles. It was planned, funded and constructed by the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA), a group made up of automobile, tire, and cement industry representatives. The route covered nearly 3,400 miles from New York to San Francisco. The western terminus was dedicated in 1915 in Lincoln Park where the plaza and fountain of the Palace of the Legion of Honor now stand.

Many highways were built in the next 10 years, each with its own name, crisscrossing the country in a confusing and disorganized system. In 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials began ordering the country’s highways into the numbered federal highway system that still exists today. After this reorganization the Lincoln Highway was broken up into five separate highways: 1, 30, 530, 40, and 50. A standard set of shield shaped road signs was also developed and all markers from the formerly named highways were to be removed. As one of its last major activities the LHA permanently marked the Lincoln Highway with approximately 2,440 cement markers, erected by the Boy Scouts on September 1, 1928. Placed at important intersections and turns, the markers were embedded with round bronze medallions bearing the bust of Lincoln and the inscription, “This highway dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.”

A replica Lincoln Highway marker now stands at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and an original marker can be found at 32nd Ave. and El Camino del Mar. The replica marker was erected by a new Lincoln Highway Association, re-formed in 1992 to preserve, interpret and improve access to the Lincoln Highway and its associated sites. You can learn more about the Lincoln Highway Association at: http://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org
 
Top: Colored postcard showing large Art Deco building near golf course. Bottom: Colored postcard showing the large hospital.
Top: VA Medical Center viewed from Lincoln Park Golf Course, color postcard; Bottom: Aerial view of VA Medical Center complex, color postcard, ca. 1932-1966.

VA Medical Center

In 1932, the US Army deeded 29 acres of Fort Miley to the Veterans Administration for the new San Francisco VA Medical Center. Construction on the $1.25 million project began in February 1933 and took almost two years to complete. Barracks, storage buildings, stables, the Officer’s Club, and a mess hall of Fort Miley were demolished to make room for the VA’s new 21 building complex. The VA Center was built in the Mayan Deco style popular in the 1930s that visually conveyed a message of strength, permanence, and efficiency. The Center was dedicated on 11 November 1934.

During WWII, all medical patients were evacuated from the building because of the Center’s proximity to Fort Miley. The Center was reopened in 1946 and has been operational ever since. The Center has greatly expanded over the years. A three phase building modernization program began in 1963 and was completed in the 1990s. A $35 million seismic upgrade was completed in 2008. Additional new buildings are proposed for completion between 2011 and 2023.

The VA Center also greatly expanded its services over the years. It now serves as the site of several treatment centers and clinics including the Epilepsy Center of Excellence, the Center for the Surgical Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Integrated Care Clinic, and the 3D Imaging Laboratory.
 
Top: Postcard of a group of buildings with a water tower in the middle. Middle: A large rotating cannon. Bottom: Aerial of historic army post. Center
Top: Fort Miley postcard, 1915; Middle: 12 inch disappearing rifle at Fort Miley, ca. 1941-1943; Bottom: Aerial view of Fort Miley and El Camino del Mar, ca. 1924-1955.

Fort Miley

In 1893, the US Army bought 54 acres of Golden Gate Cemetery to be used as the site of coastal defense fortifications. Construction could not begin on the Point Lobos Military Reservation, as it was originally named, until 1897, after the graves were exhumed and the remains reinterred elsewhere.

The fortification would eventually include wood frame barracks, storage buildings, an officers’ club, administrative buildings, and four batteries-- Chester, LaRhett, Livingston, and Anton Springer. The reservation was renamed Fort Miley in 1900 to honor Lieutenant Colonel John D. Miley, who had been recently killed in the Philippines. Fort Miley was completed by 1902 and garrisoned as a subpost of Fort Winfield Scott at the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Veterans Administration acquired 29 acres of the Fort in 1932 for the new veterans‘ medical center, which is still in operation today. To build the medical center, ten barracks, a mess hall, officers’ club, stables, and storage facilities were demolished in 1934. The rest of Fort Miley operated as a battery until 1937, when it was decommissioned.

The deactivated gun batteries were briefly put back into commission in 1941 on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Fort Miley played an important role in coastal defense until 1950 when its last guns were removed.
 
Top: Colored postcard of golf course with bay and headlands in background. Lower left: Historic photo of men playing on course. Bottom right: Blue gold flag on course.
Top: Golfer teeing off with Golden Gate Bridge in background, color postcard, ca. post-1937; Bottom left: Golfer putting with view of Golden Gate Bridge in background, ca. post-1937; Bottom right: Lincoln Park Golf Course, 2011.

Lincoln Park Golf Course

At the turn of the 20th century golf was growing in popularity in San Francisco and private golf and country clubs were quickly being established. There was no municipal golf course in the city for use by those who could not afford the private clubs.

The City of San Francisco banned burials within city limits in 1901 and ordered the Golden Gate Cemetery to move. This allowed the first municipal golf course to be constructed in 1902: a three-hole course created on the site of the former Potter’s Field. These original three holes are now the first, twelfth, and thirteenth holes of the present day course. The City golf course remained a popular three-hole course for 6 years.

In 1909, the SF Board of Supervisors turned approximately 150 acres of former cemetery land over to the Parks Commission. This became Lincoln Park, named by the Board of Supervisors in honor of President Lincoln. City Cemetery relocation and golf course construction began that year.

The links were open to the public in 1912 and by 1914 the course had expanded to 10 holes. The course had a full 18 holes by 1917, when it hosted the first City golf tournament. The Lincoln Park Golf Course was San Francisco’s only municipal golf course for 23 years. It is still an active course and boasts some of the most scenic views of any urban golf course.

Last updated: May 13, 2022

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Building 201, Fort Mason

San Francisco , CA 94123-0022

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415 561-4700

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