Sigmund Stern Grove: The Jewel of the Sunset
by Lorri Ungaretti
Without the foresight of civic leader Rosalie Stern, Stern Grove might have been filled in and developed with houses, much like the rest of the Sunset.
In 1866, the “Outside Lands,” the areas west of Twin Peaks that now include the Richmond, Golden Gate Park, and the Sunset, became part of the City and County of San Francisco. Although a few pieces of land were set aside as city parks, what we now call Stern Grove, running from 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard west to the end of Pine Lake, was privately owned and had no such designation.
The Greene Family
In 1847, Alfred Greene came to San Francisco and settled on the land at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. The family began farming and at one point was growing potatoes and barley on land extending all the way to the beach.
The Greene homestead had a checkered history. In 1876, landowner David Mahoney tried to take the land from the Greenes. He had obtained a land grant for the Rancho Laguna de la Merced, which ran southward from what is now Daly City. Mahoney sought to extend his property north to include the Greenes’ homestead. When a judge ruled in Mahoney’s favor, federal marshals arrived to evict the Greenes, who refused to leave. Instead, they built a metal-lined fort and a fence laced with dynamite to keep out the authorities. The standoff lasted for three months. Eventually, a Supreme Court decision awarded to the Greene family the land from 19th Avenue to west of Pine Lake.
In 1892, George Greene built the Trocadero Inn, a roadhouse that attracted the Bay Area “elite.” It was a hopping place. Greene later said that visitors enjoyed “a deer park, and a boating pavilion, and a beer garden, and the finest trout farm in California” (San Francisco Chronicle, June 5, 1932). Entertainment also included dancing and staying in weekend cabins. According to an article in the San Francisco Performing Arts publication Encore (Spring 1987), “the Trocadero was innocent, the Trocadero was rowdy.” Small holes in the front door are said to be bullet holes from various violent encounters.
In 1916, after George Greene closed the Trocadero roadhouse, the building became his home for many years. Today, the two-story Victorian Trocadero Inn has been restored and can be rented for receptions and parties.
Creating a New City Park
In 1931, Rosalie Stern purchased from Greene 12 acres that included the Trocadero. She named the spot Sigmund Stern Grove after her late husband and donated it to the city of San Francisco as a park that would be used only for recreation, “music, dramatics, and pageantry.” Over the ensuing years, the city purchased 50 more acres and expanded the park to include Pine Lake (aka Laguna de la Puerca [Pig Lake] and Mud Lake) at the western end.
Stern Grove is perhaps best known for its free Sunday music concerts, which have been held every summer since 1938. The ten-part summer music series now attracts more than 175,000 visitors annually. Recently, work was completed on a redesigned outdoor concert area, new and restored buildings, and other infrastructure improvements.
Thanks to Rosalie Stern, the park’s trees, walkways, Pine Lake, and summer concerts have provided a lovely escape from the noise and traffic of the city for almost 70 years.
A Few Facts
• The eucalyptus trees in Stern Grove were planted by George Greene, beginning in 1871.
• When Rosalie Stern purchased the land, she hired architect Bernard Maybeck to oversee the restoration of the Trocadero Inn.
• Some stories claim that the holes in the Trocadero front door are bullet holes from the day in 1907 when the police apprehended corrupt city boss Abe Ruef, who was hiding out there to avoid arrest. However, no shots were fired, as Ruef went peacefully with the police.
• The stone walls leading down to the grove from 19th Avenue were part of a 1930s federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.
• A tragedy during the music series occurred in August 1953, when Gaetano Merola, director of the SF Opera, had a heart attack and died while conducting the orchestra.
NOTE: An expanded version of this article appeared in the Summer 2006 Lincoln Log (Lincoln High School alumni newsletter).
Photo of Stern Grove after a snowfall courtesy of Charleen Bernauer Maghzi.
Stern Grove concert photo reprinted with permission, SF History Center, SF Public Library.
People have enjoyed concerts at the Grove since 1938.
Children playing in Stern Grove after an unusual snow storm in 1962.
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