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Diana Statue in Sutro Heights Park

by Susan Saperstein with Carla White

Diana the Huntress…Artemis. If you have been on our Lands End: Sutro Highs and Lows tour, you have seen this statue at Sutro Heights, the park located in the northwest corner of San Francisco near Ocean Beach. It was once the home of Adolph Sutro, Comstock Silver Baron, San Francisco mayor, land developer, and builder of Sutro Baths and the second, most grandiose Cliff House. Sutro loved statues, and at one time had 200 surrounding the grounds and niches on the cliffs above Ocean Beach. Only two original statues remain--the Stag and Diana the Huntress. In addition, gracing the entrance gates are copies of the original Lions that were replaced after they deteriorated.

Sutro collected these statues after traveling to Europe. He did not buy and ship home works of art from other countries, like many other wealthy people such as William Randolph Hearst. When he saw something he liked, he would have a statue maker in Antwerp, Belgium make copies. The Lions are copies of those in London’s Trafalgar Square—making the two currently at the gate copies of copies. The original of Diana at the Louvre in Paris is also a copy—the Louvre’s huntress is believed to be a Roman copy of a Greek statue created circa 330 BC.

As you can see from the photo here, Sutro surrounded his grounds at Lands End with the statuary. He employed a team of gardeners to maintain the beautifully landscaped grounds and invited the public to use his home as a park while he was still living there.

The Diana statue often has little gifts left at her base and around her head and neck. These include little statuettes, flowers, candles, bows and ribbons, incense bottles, and notes placed in the cracks of the stone.

Everyone who has given this tour has heard stories of people gathering for the Full Moon, Solstice, or May Day in front of the Diana statue. These stories told of such events taking place at night. However, Carla once saw women dancing and singing during the day. A friend of mine who is a follower of Wiccan traditions told me she has been here on May Day with a maypole, and says that various goddess worship groups celebrate Diana at different holidays.

When Sutro died in 1898, his daughter Emma Sutro Merritt moved into the house at the park. As she aged she could not maintain the grounds, and the house became seriously deteriorated. After Emma died the house stood vacant. Throughout the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, people took away many of the rose garden plantings and vandalized the statues. In 1939 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews demolished what was left of Sutro's house.

Sutro Heights is not a city park, but is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. It is maintained by a neighborhood group, Friends of the GGNRA, many of whom live on the surrounding streets.

And if it’s been awhile since you wandered Lands End, why not join a City Guides tour? They start from the Lion statue, 48th Avenue and Point Lobos, every Saturday at 2 pm.

Postscript

As noted in this article, Diana often has little gifts left at her base and around her head and neck. These include statuettes, flowers, candles, bows and ribbons, incense bottles, and notes placed in the cracks of the stone.

One of the sources for this story related that she was invited to help perform a Moving Out ritual for the last tenants of the Albion Castle, a group of artists. A pagan ritual is a spiritual ceremony with a specific purpose – in this case creating positive energy for the people moving from the castle.

Because of the interest expressed in that article about the holiday gatherings at the statue of Diana the Huntress, GuideLines received photos of a May Day celebration held this year at Diana. The revelers are a group of morris dancers practicing a form of English traditional dance with roots going back to the 1400s in Europe. Cotswold morris (as seen in these photos) developed in the Cotswold hills of England during the 1700s into the 1800s. It is typically danced in the springtime around Whit Week, the period after Easter. The dancers wear bells and use sticks and handkerchiefs in their dances.

Information from: Adolf Sutro, A Biography by Robert Stewart Jr. & Mary Frances Stewart

Photo of Goat Hill Morris dances courtesy of Jocelyn Reynolds. Historic photos reprinted with permission, SF History Center, SF Public Library

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Today the statues are no longer at the top of the ocean lookout, in the niches on the cliffs, or lining the entrance drive. However, you can still walk this path around the grounds.

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The group in this photo collage, Goat Hill Morris, has been dancing in and around San Francisco since 1998.

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