Now And Then: Ocean Beach

Photo of people watching 2nd Cliff House Fire from beach Photo of people watching 2nd Cliff House Fire from beach

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Sutro's "Gingerbread Palace" Burns 1907
Credit: GGNRA Park Archives

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Cliff House Today
Credit: Ted Barone

Despite visits by many dignitaries including Presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, the second Cliff House was criticized for its size and view-blocking proportions. It burned down just before it was to reopen after extensive renovations. A more modest third Cliff House was completed in 1909. It was shut down by the military in 1918 due to an executive order prohibiting alcohol sales within 1/2 mile of military installations. Except for one failed effort to reopen a "dry" Cliff House, it remained closed until it was purchased and reopened in 1938 by George and Leo Whitney, the owners of Playland-at-the-Beach.

 
Photo of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, adn the Cliff House in 1896 Photo of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, adn the Cliff House in 1896

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Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, Cliff House, and Sutro Heights 1896
Credit: GGNRA Park Archives

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Credit: Ted Barone

Adolph Sutro made his fortune in silver mining. He purchased the original Cliff House and surroundings in 1891. Over the next 17 years, he constructed the gardens at Sutro Heights, built Sutro Baths, rebuilt the Cliff House as a chateau-style palace, and instituted inexpensive passenger railroad linking downtown San Francisco with the Pt. Lobos area. With the second industrial revolution, the average American worker had more leisure time. The iron Lurline Pier was built by the Olympic Club members to pump water to a saltwater pool at the club on Post Street between Mason and Taylor. It was demolished in 1967. AT the depth fo the Great Depression, Mayor Angelo Rossi led the restoration of Land's End. The Civil Works Administration planted about 10,000 trees. The O'Shaughnessy Seawall was completed in 1928.

 
Photo of people in front of the Ocean Beach Pavilion 1898 Photo of people in front of the Ocean Beach Pavilion 1898

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Young Woman and Boy with a dog c 1898
Credit: GGNRA Park Archives

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Credit: Ted Barone

The Ocean Beach Pavilion, built in 1884, contained a giant ballroom that could hold 2,000 people at a time. The building had bars, restaurants, and a boxing gym that was once used by the first African-American heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Today, Sutro Heights looms above the old Pavilion and Playland-at-the-Beach sites. A volleyball game is set up in front of the graffiti-covered O-Shaughnessy seawall.

 
Photo of the Great Highway and Ocean Beach Photo of the Great Highway and Ocean Beach

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Great Highway and Ocean Beach c 1922
Credit: GGNRA Park Archives

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Credit: Ted Barone

Playland-at-the-Beach and the old Ocean Beach Pavilion are on the left. Windmills built in 1902 to pump water for irrigation are visible in Golden Gate Park. A close look reveals sand dunes in the Sunset District. Today's view is from Sutro Heights.

Last updated: February 1, 2019

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