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San Francisco's West of Twin Peaks

by Gail MacGowan

Congratulations to City Guide Jacquie Proctor on the publication of her book, San Francisco’s West of Twin Peaks, by Arcadia Press. This neighbor-hood, home to the city’s highest hill, Mount Davidson, and the 103-foot-high cross at its summit, also has links to the creation of San Francisco’s first railway and water systems, its tallest buildings and longest bridges, and a number of men who held the City’s highest office. First owned in 1846 by the last Mexican alcalde, Jose Noe, it was later purchased by the City’s fourth mayor, Cornelius Garrison, as well as its 21st, Adolph Sutro. Sutro had made his fortune digging a seven-mile long tunnel to mine the Comstock Lode beneath another Mount Davidson, above Virginia City, Nevada. A.S. Baldwin, the developer of Sutro’s property, found riches in another tunnel. Bored through the Twin Peaks, it brought transit to the neighborhoods he built here which have since been home to Mayors Willie Brown, Jerry Brown, George Moscone, and Art Agnos. This intriguing art deco statue greets visitors at the entrance to a house on Mount Davidson designed by Timothy Pflueger in 1936 for one of the doctors at another of his Art Deco buildings, 450 Sutter.

While many famous men have ties to the area’s history, it was women, living during the City Beautiful and Suffrage movements, who in 1929 saved the City’s highest point from development. Led by Madie D. Brown and the 15,000-member strong City and County Federation of Women’s Clubs, their efforts led to the preservation of 38 acres of open space in the middle of one of America’s densest cities. Madie Brown was also active in the effort to build the permanent concrete cross in 1934, and it was she who convinced President Franklin Roosevelt, during the depths of the Great Depression, to press a button in Washington, D.C., to light the cross for its dedication, because “you…have brought light to many a darkened American home.”

When in the 1990s this monument atop Mount Davidson became the subject of a lawsuit regarding separation of church and state, Jacquie Proctor organized a non-profit organization, The Friends of Mount Davidson Conservancy, that ultimately saved the monument and ensured the park property that was sold will remain public open space in perpetuity. Her work collecting documents for this project laid the groundwork for her research for the Arcadia book.

The historic residence park neighborhoods of the West of Twin Peaks district were inspired by Daniel Burnham’s 1905 City Beautiful Plan for San Francisco and included “suburb in the city” amenities to stem the tide of residents leaving San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake devastation. The book features vintage photographs of homes designed by San Francisco architects Timothy and Milton Pflueger, Ida McCain, Charles Strothoff, and Harold Stoner in the Sunnyside, Miraloma Park, Balboa Terrace, Ingleside Terraces, Westwood Park, Westwood Highlands, Sherwood Forest, Mount Davidson Manor, and Monterey Heights neighborhoods captioned with quotes from the point of view of those who lived the City’s history in the making. A preview of the book can be seen at www.MtDavidson.org.

Photos courtesy of Jacquie Proctor.

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Two women in their fancy postwar convertible enjoying a rare sunny day atop Mount Davidson.

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