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Missing Features in Golden Gate Park: Why is this Mound Here?

by Susan Saperstein

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In its 140-year history, Golden Gate Park has contained many features that have moved, been reconstructed, or disappeared.

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The tennis courts today.

For the 25 years he has walked in the park near his home, Eric Bennion had always wondered why there was a man-made earthen mound around the tennis courts. It is filled in with trees and shrubs with a path on top. There does not seem to be a particular architectural reason to enclose tennis courts with this landscape feature.

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In 1888, this clamshell was the New Music Stand in Golden Gate Park. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

I joined Eric in exploring this mystery, and we discovered that the tennis courts site was once the location for the park’s second bandstand, the New Music Stand, located where the clubhouse is now.

The mound was created as an acoustic basin; the walkway on top was for strolling and viewing concerts. The mound also served as an anchor for a pedestrian bridge across Middle Drive.

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Built in 1881, the first Music Stand was in the area just west of the Conservatory.

The first music stand in the park was located near the Conservatory. The structure was something similar to what you would see in a town square like Healdsburg or Sonoma.

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Steps like these, not visible in the photo but located on the other side of the music stand, are the only remaining feature from this music configuration.

Located in what is known as Conservatory Valley, this music site was used for six years. It fulfilled its purpose by attracting visitors to the park---so much so that the Second or New Music Stand was built to handle the crowds.

With the crowds came congestion.

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The bridge was painted with two shades of green, red and carmine squares, and yellow bolts.

In 1891 a suspension bridge was built for pedestrians moving to and from Conservatory Valley and the New Music Stand. The builders, John A. Roebling and Sons Company, also built the Brooklyn Bridge and supplied cable for the Golden Gate Bridge. The suspension bridge lasted until 1928, when it was dismantled due to deterioration by rust.

One anchor for the bridge was the mound around the New Music Stand; the other anchor was a small hill on the other side of the road. This hillock was first called Chicken Point because it was occupied by a squatter raising chickens when the land was surveyed in 1870. Later maps refer to the area as Lawn Point, and then Favorite Point.

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This photo shows the need to separate pedestrians from horse traffic. The Francis Scott Key Memorial is shown here in at its first location near the Second or New Music Stand. The memorial was later moved twice, and is now in the Music Concourse.

The Francis Scott Key statue is a memorial for the author of the Star-Spangled Banner. Key was inspired by an event during the War of 1812, when the city of Baltimore was shelled. The statue was funded by James Lick, who was also in Baltimore at the time. James Lick—a gold rush immigrant and wealthy donor who was known as a miser in later life—also bought the materials for the Conservatory for his property in San Jose, California. After his death, donors purchased the material for the park. Lick actually purchased material to make two conservatories, but only one ended up in Golden Gate Park.

picture7right400 In 1916, August Rodin’s statue The Thinker was placed on Favorite Point facing the Conservatory. Alma de Bretteville Speckels had bought it in Paris and displayed it at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. When the fair ended, it was reported that she wanted to move it to the new Civic Center, but that never happened. Golden Gate Park historian Raymond Clary said that after the PPIE closed, there was a “scramble to dump monuments and buildings on Golden Gate Park.” Park Superintendent John McLaren hated statuary and was known to create dense plantings to hide them. The Park Commissioners refused many of the offers, but The Thinker was accepted. Alma’s husband Adolph, not coincidentally, was one of the commissioners. In 1924 the statue found its permanent home in Alma’s new museum—the Legion of Honor.

Because of the popularity of the concerts, the location of the music stand was moved to the site of the Midwinter Fair of 1894. The third music stand, the Spreckels Temple of Music funded by Claus Spreckels, was dedicated in 1900.

The game of tennis originated around the time Golden Gate Park was created in the 1870s. The park’s courts were built after the Spreckels Temple of Music replaced the Second Music Stand.