Fledgling Red-tailed Hawks Extend Our Enjoyment of Nesting Activities in Glen Canyon
By Evelyn Rose
June 2, 2019
In March of this year we had the opportunity to enjoy originally three, then only two Great Horned Owls in the "Owl Tree" in Glen Canyon. While the canyon itself is considered a birding hotspot, there always seems to be some feelings of loss when the owlets grow up and leave the nest. For the last couple of weeks however, the thrill is back as two, possibly three Red-tailed Hawk fledgling have been nesting in a tall eucalyptus tree on the west side of Glen Canyon.
According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, Red-tailed Hawk are widespread and common across the United States, with a large increase in the population since the 1960s. While they usually can nest in nearly any type of terrain, they have recently also adapted to nesting in cities. Throughout the year, we can view Red-tailed Hawks soaring above Glen Canyon as they hunt for prey in the rugged landscape below. Typical prey include voles, field mice, rats, squirrels, birds up to the size of a pheasant, and snakes, nearly all of which reside in the canyon.
Nests are constructed by both parents using sticks to shape a large bowl lined with grasses and leafy materials. Both parents also incubate the eggs. Eggs typically hatch about one month after being laid, and the female remains with the young most of the time, while the male continues hunting. When the male returns the catch to the nest, the female will tear it into small pieces for easy ingestion. The youngsters will leave the nest 6 to 7 weeks after hatching, but will remain close by for another few weeks as they gain strength and confidence in their new independence.
Recently, both parents were observed bringing capture prey to the nest and tore it to pieces. Unfortunately, no adequate camera was in hand. The following day, it seemed at times three baby hawks were in the nest but foliage made this difficult to see, even with a magnified view. Both parents were seen soaring overhead but did not seem to have much luck catching prey.
The images below are a bit fuzzy but detail can still be seen. The nest can best be viewed from the top of the stairs along Coyote Crags Trail just north of Sussex stairs or from Berkeley Way, and from both locations looking west directly across the canyon. These youngsters are spreading and flapping their wings frequently, so their departure may be soon.
Dolores Huerta Inspires Young and Old at Fairmount School Renaming Event
By Evelyn Rose
May 17, 2019
Friday, May 17, 2019, was a spectacularly warm, sun-filled Spring day that was sandwiched between the arrival of two rainy, late-season, Arctic cold fronts. It was also a day of special celebration as Ms. Dolores Huerta delivered motivational words of self-empowerment that further brightened the day for students, teachers, and special guests at a ceremony to rename Fairmount Elementary School to Dolores Huerta Elementary School.
As cofounder of the United Farm Workers Union with César Chávez, Dolores Huerta to this day continues to be a tireless advocate for immigrants, workers, children, gender equality, and the environment. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work by President Barack Obama in 2012. She is also the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and was the first Latina inductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame, in addition to many other honors.
To meet Ms. Huerta personally, she is a petite, warm-hearted, soft-spoken woman who could be anyone's grandmother. However, after giving the 89-year-old cultural icon a microphone and a podium, her voice becomes loud, strong, and clear. Speaking without written notes, Ms. Huerta spoke several sentences in English, translated those words to Spanish, then continued in English with Spanish translation repeatedly, and did so for over 15 minutes. She encouraged the students to recognize and respect the differences among all of us. Yet despite those differences, we as a people are one and that oneness gives we, the people, power. She encouraged students to speak loud enough so that, "the haters can hear you!" "We are the people!" "Yes, we can!" "¡Sí, se puede!" Those words of strength and empowerment will likely be carried by both children and adults for the rest of their lives. A KTVU news report of the event helps portray the spirit of the day.
The impetus for the name change is that for at least 20 years, Fairmount Elementary School has been serving as a pre-kindergarten through 5th grade Spanish dual immersion program for an ethnically diverse student body of 400 children from across San Francisco. Under the increasingly unsettling partisanship being experienced in our nation, many of these students are facing hate and discrimination daily, with some also being fearful of the possibility of deportation and family separation, and despite San Francisco being a Sanctuary City. That is why in August 2018, the San Francisco Unified School District approved the recommendation put forward by Fairmount school principle Luis Rodriguez and many of the students' parents to change the name of Fairmount Elementary to one that could help provide strength and inspiration to the young members of the student body.
However, the approval for the name change had not been met with unanimous agreement among local residents. Fairmount School was first established in 1864 during the American Civil War and has served as a neighborhood icon at the corner of Chenery and Randall Streets for over 150 years. Yet in recent years, the name recognition of the Fairmount District has been in decline as neighborhood associations and realtors have begun referring to the oldest neighborhood in our district as part of its neighbor, Glen Park, as demonstrated in the KTVU news report.
Other than the street name of Fairmount in the district, Fairmount School was the last highly visible, tangible connection to the neighborhoods' legacy. Yet, while Ms. Huerta has had no physical connection to Fairmount Heights, both she and the neighborhood have several important shared legacies, including in agriculture, immigration, civil rights, union activities, housing and resettlement, and environmentalism, perhaps making the name change for some more palatable. GPNHP Project Director Evelyn Rose spoke about these histories at the event, and a plaque will soon be placed near the front entrance of the school to commemorate the rich histories of the Fairmount School and the Fairmount district.
The celebration was attended by all of the student body, their parents, and teachers of Dolores Huerta Elementary, as well as SFUSD Superintendant Dr. Vincent Matthews, SFUSD Board of Education Vice President and former Supervisor Mark Sanchez, State Senator and former District 8 Supervisor Scott Weiner, and former President of the Board of Supervisors and California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, among other notables. Certainly, a memorable day for everyone.
GPNHP Featured by SF Chronicle Two Times in One Week
By Evelyn Rose
May 12, 2019
Having the name of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project appear in the news is exciting enough - the GPNHP was last featured in 2018 in the Chronicle's SF Gate website for a profile of Glen Park in the Neighborhood Then and Now. Now in just one week the GPNHP has been highlighted twice, which appears to be bringing new attention to our organization.
On Wednesday May 1st, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu held a media event to announce the release to the public of 95,000 images of houses, shops, and other structures dating back to the 1940s and are now available through the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library. Reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, KCBS, KGO Channel 7, and other media outlets were present to hear from Assessor Chu, City Librarian Michael Lambert, City Archivist Susan Goldstein, and others involved with the huge project. Representing Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, Director Evelyn Rose and Assistant Director Amy O'Hair were invited to participate in the media event, as were Woody LaBounty and David Gallagher from the Western Neighborhoods Project.
Both Evelyn and Amy spoke briefly, highlighting the opportunities these images offer for documenting many of the blocks in our area, bringing to light the original appearance of houses, perhaps providing clues to the origins of relocated buildings (as the city records documenting these moves no longer exist) and capturing some of the life on the street in both residential and commercial areas. The San Francisco Chronicle not only posted the article on the Datebook page at SF Gate, but also placed the article on the front page of the Chronicle on Friday, May 3.
Then, on Friday, May 11, the Chronicle posted an article in SF Gate about dirt roads still in existence in this City of 825,000. According to DataSF, San Francisco has nearly 1,300 miles of streets (including Treasure Island, Yerba Buena Island, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and streets maintained by CalTrans). Of those, a mere 12 miles are privately maintained, and many of these roadways are carriageways, remnants of a time long past when much of the city was more rural than urbanized. Very few of these carriageways remain, and Glen Park is fortunate to have three. The article links to our GPNHP website article The Bucolic Byways of Glen Park posted three years ago, and that also appeared in the Glen Park News. These articles are important milestones for the GPNHP, particularly as we work to bring attention to the important histories of our district.
New Brood of Glen Canyon's Great Horned Owls Fly the Coop.
By Evelyn Rose
April 21, 2019
What better day than Earth Day to report the palpable excitement that started rippling through Glen Canyon in the middle of March: The Great Horned Owls Were Back! Birdwatchers of all ages could be seen on the canyon floor gathered around the "Owl Tree" - a favored nesting spot situated in a eucalyptus of significant stature - or lined up with cameras and spotting scopes higher up on Coyote Crags Trail. It had been three years since these magnificent birds of prey had last been seen in Glen Canyon. Since 2016, following the second tragic death in four years of an adult owl due to ingestion of prey poisoned with rodenticide, the nest had remained vacant. These losses highlight the critical importance of managing rodents with non-poison control methods.
In this year's brood, three fuzzy fledglings could be seen with an adult watching over them. As the weeks went by, one fledgling seemed to be growing less vigorously than the other two, and would often sit apart from the others on the opposite side of the nest. By early April, only two fledglings were viewable. As time went by, the owlets gradually lost their fuzz, developed more feathers, and the adult was rarely seen.
The two owlets were still nesting on Saturday, April 6 but by the following day, only one owlet remained. The image below, taken on April 7 at 10:30 am, may be one of the last taken of this brood while still nesting. Upon our return to the Owl Tree only 45 minutes later, the nest was empty. According to reports, the owlets are residing in the eucalyptus grove on the west side of the canyon to continue their predatory education. The Great Horned Owls are just one example of the important natural histories that remain just steps away within our urban setting.
GPNHP Enjoys the Perfect Ending to a Successful Year!
By Evelyn Rose
December 28, 2018
On a day of perfect early Winter weather for San Francisco, members and supporters of the GPNHP gathered at the Sunnyside Conservatory for the Third Annual Holiday Meeting & Social. The setting could not have been more delightful. The octagonal City Landmark was constructed entirely of redwood in 1898 by William Augustus Merralls (read more about inventor and entrepreneur W. A. Merralls at the Sunnyside History Project). Encased by glass as much as wood and surrounded by a century-old botanical garden, the scene added its own aura of the Holiday spirit. It was just the right place to celebrate the close of a very successful year for the GPNHP, and the perfect opportunity to thank our members and supporters for helping make it happen!
Attendees enjoyed two presentations, the first by Project Director Evelyn Rose entitled, "Fireworks, May Days, Balls, & Tableaux: Past Festivals of Glen Park," highlighting some of the festivities enjoyed by Glen Park residents over a century ago. This was a time when City-sponsored firework displays were not uncommon at the public resort known as Glen Park and the Mission Zoo between 1898 and 1901, the site of today's Glen Canyon Park Recreation Area. After 1901, the Crocker Estate made the grounds a private, reservation-only resort called Crocker Gardens, and after 1910, renamed the site again as Glen Park. During the private Crocker years, many fraternal clubs and social organizations, including those clubs comprised of first-generation Americans (predominantly Irish and German, but also Hispanic, Danish, and others) working to retain and promote their cultural heritage, would reserve the grounds for the day. These major outings included vaudeville entertainment, sporting events, dancing, and promenades about the grounds. Other types of festivals frequently held at Glen Park were called May Days. Originally a pagan festival that celebrated the end of Winter, it had been reinvented as a more socially appropriate children's event with singing and dancing during the Victorian years. The Maypole Dance was a highlight of May Days. According to a survey map of Glen Park and the Mission Zoo from September 1898, a maypole was located on the northeastern slope of Martha Hill (since then removed by quarry work) near the children's playground. In addition, balls and dances were frequently held in the Glen Park Pavilion, otherwise known as the Barn, or the Red Barn, near the location of today's Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center. Some were described in vintage newspapers as rather lavish affairs. Lastly, tableaux were a favorite event of the women's clubs in Glen Park and elsewhereacross the United States. These portrayals of "living art" had been popular from just after the Civil War through the 1920s. Participants went through much effort to stage a tableau production and design the costumes, with the end result of "striking a pose" depicting a famous event from history, literature, or religion for only about 30 seconds.
The next presentation was by Amy O'Hair: "The Quest for a Sunnyside Hall: 125 Years of Community Gathering and Activism." In an extremely informative work, Amy described the generations of community halls that have been available in Sunnyside since its founding in 1891. Surprisingly, though many are heavily remodeled, nearly all of the structures described still exist today. It all began with the Sunnyside Improvement Club, founded by local residents in 1896. Their meeting place was Dasse's Hall, originally on Sunnyside Avenue that was later renamed Monterey Blvd. Next came William's Hall with a saloon on Monterey. Towards the end of the 1890s, the number of Sunnyside improvement clubs continued to grow. One of the meeting places to choose from was Haack's Hall (also a saloon), today the site of Glen Park Cleaners at Chenery and Diamond Streets. In the days before the earthquake of 1906 when the village we know today as Glen Park consisted of a smattering of buildings, the area was sometimes referred to as part of Sunnyside. In 1899, the first hall dedicated to an improvement club, Sunnyside Hall, was built on a lot owned by Lizzie Merralls, the wife of W. A. Merralls (read more about their relationship at the Sunnyside History Project). Then in the post-earthquake years, the Sunnyside Improvement Club met at various locations. By the mid-1920s, activist Sunnyside moms succeeded in getting a Sunnyside School constructed, and that was soon followed by a Sunnyside Community Hall. By the mid- to late-20th century, improvement associations, including the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association that was founded in 1974, have been meeting at Sunnyside School, St. Finn Barr Catholic Church, and the Ingleside Police Station Community Room. Each surviving structure represents a robust legacy of community involvement in Sunnyside for the past 130 years!
Next, the GPNHP hosted the first History Show & Tell event. Guests could bring a favorite item that had a special meaning for them, whether related to regional history or personal family story. Several presentations were given, ranging from vintage hats to a Great Northern Railway conductor's leather billy club, a vintage map of San Francisco (a bargain purchase reproduced as a sheet of wrapping paper!) to a collection of stereoview images of early San Francisco, to a favorite picture of a member's father from the early 20th century along with his personal story, and other engaging stories. It was a unique and enlightening segment of the program, one the GPNHP will likely repeat at a future meeting.
We were next delighted to welcome Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, otherwise known as Lola Montez to our gathering! A native of Ireland who became a Spanish dancer, Countess Montez was quite the sensation as a performer in the early days of San Francisco. Later while living in Grass Valley, she became a mentor and teacher of the performing arts to no less than the famous Lotta Crabtree, for whom a fountain is named on Market at Kearny and 3rd Streets. Especially reincarnated for this event, the Countess sang a beautiful Christmas song and told some wonderful stories of her early days! The Countess (aka Rick Shelton of San Francisco) leads tours through some of her old hauntings in the City by the Bay. You can learn more at Drag Me Along Tours.
We were also entertained by members of the Last Minute Quartet, led by Glen Park resident Valerie Fachman and including Kelly Fitzgerald, Ida Fox, and Madeleine Muzio. You'll remember Val from our first 2 Holiday gatherings: two years ago, she performed a dramatic monologue of Lizzie "Temperance" Merralls, and last year she starred as Hannah Pinther, co-leader of the first march for suffrage in the United States. The Quartet sang both holiday and popular tunes, and everyone enjoyed their performance!
And what would a party be without some delectable dishes! Glen Park's Pebble's Cafe at Diamond and Kern Streets was happily welcomed by guests, who provided some absolutely delicious savory and sweet treats featuring a touch of Brazil. We thank the Waqued Family - Marcello, Claudio, Heloisa, and Sergio - for the wonderful spread! And, for the third year in a row, we have been excited to receive some of the best cheeses the State of California has to offer, provided by the California Artisan Cheese Guild. We thank Anthea Stolz, Executive Director of the Guild, for gathering up yet another round of the most exquisite cheeses!
The GPNHP Third Holiday Meeting & Social was a very special event and we thank everyone who both attended, and those who supported the GPNHP throughout the year. It was a great way to kick off the Holiday Season as we look forward to another successful year for the GPNHP in 2019!
GPNHP Board Member and Architectural Historian Hannah Simonson Featured in the CA Modernist!
By Evelyn Rose
October 2, 2018
Ever wonder why the streets of of Diamond Heights have names like Torquoise, Amber, and Topaz? GPNHP's Board Member Hannah Simonson, an architectural historian who specializes in mid-century projects, has all of the answers. She's literally "written the book" for the history of Diamond Heights as her thesis in the Master of Sciences Program at the University of Texas at Austin while she was an intern with the San Francisco Planning Department.
Hannah's most recent tour has now been featured in the CA Modernist blog by Dave Weinstein of the Eichler Network, which is "... dedicated to supporting the lifestyle of the thousands of homeowners in Northern and Southern California who own an 'Eichler' home" since 1993. As noted by the Network, "Eichlers are architect-designed mid-century modern homes built by merchant builder Joe Eichler between 1949 and 1974. In recent years, the Eichler Network expanded the scope of its homeowner base to include thousands of additional mid-century homeowners in Sacramento and southern California who live in Streng Bros., Palmer & Krisel, Cliff May, and other Eichler-like mid-century modern classics." The Eichler Network'also publishes CA-Modern, a quarterly full-color hard-copy magazine which contains a mix of features on California's rich legacy of mid-century modern homes and the people that live in them, home maintenance solutions, and other features that focus on the modern home and its lifestyle.
Congratulations to Hannah! She will be offering her next Diamond Heights tour on Sunday, December 2. It's never too early to sign up!
Fairmount Elementary School is Now Dolores Huerta Elementary School!
By Evelyn Rose
September 3, 2018
When I first heard of the proposed name change of Fairmount Elementary School to Dolores Huerta Elementary, I felt trepidation over the potential loss of its significance to a neighborhood that has been slowly losing its name recognition, in part because of shifting neighborhood boundaries in a city that has been undergoing rapid change [see Glen Park News, Summer 2018, pg 7]. I was concerned that loss of the school name might help accelerate the process. Fairmount Elementary, first established during the Civil War more than a century and a half ago, has been located at Chenery and Randall Streets for nearly all that time. It is an institution known to generations of Fairmount Heights residents, many of whom as children attended the school themselves.
Yet, while attending a community meeting about the proposal organized by the principal of Fairmount School, Luis Rodriguez, I learned that the school has been serving as a pre-kindergarten through 5th grade Spanish dual immersion program for an ethnically diverse student body of 400 children from across San Francisco for nearly 20 years. As I learned more about the hardships many of the students face during these rather unsettling political times and saw the compassion for both the students and the program displayed by Mr. Rodriguez and his teaching staff, it became apparent that changing the school’s name to Dolores Huerta Elementary may be the right thing to do.
As a nation of immigrants, America has traditionally offered promise and hope to citizens of the world. It is now becoming increasingly partisan, turning away an increasing number of new asylum-seekers, and deporting others to a country they barely, or never, knew. According to Mr. Rodriguez, many students are living under an ongoing fear of reprisal and family separation, even under the umbrella of a sanctuary city.
The name change to Dolores Huerta Elementary School is intended to offer inspiration to these students, and give them a hero they can look up to. As cofounder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta to this day continues to be a tireless advocate for immigrants, workers, children, gender equality, and the environment. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work by President Barack Obama in 2012. She is also the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and is an inductee in the National Women's Hall of Fame, in addition to many other honors.
During the community meeting, I shared a brief overview of the district's important histories. Fairmount Heights was originally surveyed as the Pacific Railroad Homestead Association in 1862 by Richard Chenery, James Laidley, Charles C. Bemis, and others at a time when construction of the San Francisco-San Jose Railroad (that later became the Central Pacific, and soon after the Southern Pacific) had begun. The Civil War likely delayed the project, and it re-emerged as the Fairmount Homestead Association in 1864. The tract was bounded by Grove Street (today’s 30th Street) on the north, Bemis Street to the west, and the railroad running through the Bernal Cut as it bends southeasterly from 30th around to the line of Castro Street along today’s San Jose Avenue.
Home lots were platted along Chenery and Arlington Streets, both of which emerged from what the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project (GPNHP) has determined to be the route of the Old Mission Road and likely the original El Camino Real. Some of the historic figures associated with the district include Mary Ellen Pleasant, the mother of California civil rights; aviation pioneer Daniel J. Maloney, the first to soar in a heavier-than-air, fixed-wing aircraft at high altitude; and the father of a former Fairmount School student (the latter who became a beloved 1960s television star) who had served as an agent in the early days of the U.S. immigration service under the federal Chinese Exclusion Act. In addition, the challenges of neighborhood displacement as a result of plans for redevelopment of Fairmount Hill (as well as Red Rock and Gold Mine Hills), and how grassroots activism helped save Billy Goat Hill as open space.
Mr. Rodriquez, teachers, and residents in attendance were generally surprised by the number and importance of the neighborhoods' histories. They became excited about pursuing a collaboration to help conserve and carry the histories forward to future generations of students and neighbors. While there is no direct link between Fairmount Heights and Ms. Huerta, the histories of the Fairmount can help teach about the importance of her life’s work. The motto that Ms. Huerta coined for the United Farm Workers of American union, "Sí se puede," is also the perfect motto for students of all ethnicities and gender identity: "Yes, we can!"
During the meeting of the Board of the San Francisco Unified School District on August 28, 2018, the Chinese Education Center, a one-year transitional program for recently arrived Chinese-speaking residents, was renamed in honor of two Glen Park residents, the Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School. The School Board voted unanimously for this name change, as well as for Dolores Huerta Elementary. Board of Education president Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell noted that the renaming of these schools for such influential leaders was "a historic moment for the San Francisco Unified School District and for the city."
Over 20 years ago, Douglass Elementary in Eureka Valley, at that time about 120 years old, was renamed the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. Few give second thought to the school’s name now, but in 1996 it resulted in some very divided opinions. Thirty years before that, how many public schools across the nation changed their names to honor the memory of the late president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy? Therefore, it seems that changing the names of public schools may be a generational response to changing times. As one generation replaces the next, proposals to change the names of public schools for historic figures who they deem as pertinent and relevant in their time, and can help inspire and motivate students will likely continue.
Mr. Rodriguez has invited me to participate in a renaming transition committee. Part of the transition work will be to document and share the histories of the Fairmount District with faculty, students, and the community at large. The school will also design a plaque that commemorates the legacy and significance of the name Fairmount and its history for the community. The teaching of the important histories of Fairmount, along with the legacy of Dolores Huerta, will continue for generations to come.
History can be described as a recounting of how things used to be. When change happens during our own lifetime, it may go either largely unnoticed or it may affect us personally, making us feel uncomfortable, sad, frustrated, and even angry. As a result, change can be difficult to accept. It goes without saying that the loss of the Fairmount name from the district’s most visible icon hurts.
Unfortunately, we alone cannot stop all the forces for change currently in play in modern San Francisco. But, what we can do to help prepare for change is to find common ground, collaborate, and contribute ideas and support to help make the transition successful for the students and the neighboring community. The plan by Mr. Rodriquez to remember and carry forward the significant histories of the Fairmount among students, faculty, and neighbors, and to commemorate those histories in a tangible way as a key element of the transition is certainly one way to honor historic Fairmount Heights and Fairmount Elementary School. We hope in the end, the community-at-large will not only be able to gain a better understanding of the significant histories of Fairmount Heights and Fairmount Elementary School, but also become better able to understand the reasons for the change and with time, accept the new name of Dolores Huerta Elementary School.
Members of the Board, San Francisco Unified School District, Principal Luis Rodriguez and teaching staff of the newly named Dolores Huerta Elementary School, and Evelyn Rose of the GPNHP gather following the decision on August 28, 2018. Image by Evelyn Rose.
Our GPNHP June 2018 Update!
Glen Park Neighborhooods History Project
June 30, 2018
Don't miss our July 1 meeting at the Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center to learn more about a district resident who made aviation history in 1905, and new research on the history of Sunnyside Elementary! Learn more at our Events page!
Plus, the Glen Park connection to Koko the Gorilla, an update on a recent change to a district street name, the GPNHP commitment to rediscover and share our histories of diversity in the communities we cover, information about GPNHP House History service, GPNHP in the news, and more!
Thank you for your ongoing interest and support of our neighborhoods' histories!
Dynamite! Suffragists! Earthquake Shacks! Balboa Reservoir!
Glen Park Neighborhooods History Project
April 11, 2018
The GPNHP continues to make mind-blowing rediscoveries as we continue to search for the forgotten histories of our region in the Old Rancho San Miguel!
And, don't miss the Grand Dedication Ceremony for the plaque commemorating the first dynamite factory in the United States, personally licensed by Alfred Nobel.
Thank you for your ongoing interest and support of our neighborhoods' histories!
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The Plaque for California Historical Landmark No. 1002 in Glen Canyon Park is Officially Dedicated!
Glen Park Neighborhooods History Project
April 27, 2018
Saturday, April 21, 2018 was a spectacular warm and sunny day at San Francisco's Glen Canyon Park Recreation Area. In the recently refurbished Recreation Center, now the oldest in San Francisco, 150 history enthusiasts gathered for the Grand Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony for the plaque for California Historical Landmark No. 1002, commemorating the first dynamite factory in America personally licensed by Alfred Nobel. Read more about Giant Powder Company. Continued below ...
Click on image to see full view of images and text.
The importance of this event cannot be overstated. Over a quarter of a century ago in 1991, Ms. Jean Kortum had recognized the historic significance of this site. Having worked much of her life as a civic activist and historian, she was well versed in the navigation of local and statewide government offices. The GPNHP couldn't be more proud to have successfully completed her efforts these many years later!
Jean Kortum and the Designation of California Historical Landmark No. 1002
Ms. Kortum began her career with an application to become a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1950s. According to her son, John Kortum, she was told by the editor, "We don't hire women." Because he had a contact there, he then suggested she go to the San Francisco Maritime Museum to volunteer. When she met the editor's connection, it turned out true love would result. She and the museum founder, Karl Kortum, would soon marry and remained so until his death in 1996. Today, the San Francisco Maritime Museum is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service. Read more about the history of the park.
Like our own Glen Park Gum Tree Girls (Zoanne Nordstrom, Joan Seiwald, and the late Geri Arkush), Ms. Kortum became an activist and community organizer in the San Francisco Freeway Revolt in the mid- to late-1960s, defeating the plan to run a freeway through the North Beach and Marina Districts. Before that, she had taken on and defeated Pacific Gas and Electric in their plans to construct a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head on the Sonoma County coast. She also helped put an end to plans for development of a new artificial island (like Treasure Island) in San Francisco Bay near the San Francisco Ferry Building. As a result of her environmentalism, Ms. Kortum founded San Francisco Tomorrow in 1970, an organization "dedicated to promoting environmental quality, neighborhood livability and good government in San Francisco." She also served for many years on the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (today, the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission), having been appointed by Mayors George Moscone, Diane Feinstein, and Art Agnos.
According to the late activist and City and County Supervisor Sue Bierman, Ms. Kortum was enamored with our local histories. So, it's no surprise that she would single-handedly tackle the task of documenting and submitting her findings about Nobel's first dynamite factory in America to establish a landmark. She achieved the necessary approvals for state historic designation from the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation, as well as from the San Francisco Landmarks Commission. By May 3, 1991, California State Historical Landmark No. 1002 had been established.
Unfortunately, there were no community funds at that time for purchase of the plaque to place at the site in Glen Canyon Park Recreation Area. It's also not clear if any notification had been made to local residents that a landmark had been established. There appears to have been no mention of the site in surviving vintage issues of the Glen Park News in 1991. In review of the application for placement of the plaque in 2017, one of the current board members of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission stated he had grown up in Diamond Heights, played nearly every day in Glen Canyon, and had never heard there had been a dynamite factory there until he'd received the current application for approval! So, with little to no fanfare, this historic site was soon forgotten.
Much like Nobel's accidental discovery of the silica-based clay that completely stabilized the volatile blasting oil, nitroglycerin, the rediscovery of the site was also by happenstance. Eleven years ago in 2007, Evelyn Rose, GPNHP Project Director and also a pharmacist by trade, was researching the history of medicinal nitroglycerin while working at a biopharmaceutical company in Palo Alto that was bringing to market a new type of drug for chest pain related to heart disease. Medicinal nitrogylcerin had been used for this condition since the 1860s. The explosive history of nitroglycerin became an interesting aside and while following that tangential history, happened upon a book published in 1927 entitled, "History of the Explosives Industry in America," by A.P. Van Gelder and H. Schlatter. In the book, she found a very grainy image with a caption stating that the first dynamite factory in America was located in Glen Canyon Park, then called Rock Canyon or Rock Gulch. Stunned that the location was only a block from her home, the path to rediscovery of this important event began. A short time later, Evelyn rediscovered that the site had been designated a historic site in 1991 but that a plaque had never been placed. She attempted to contact Jean Kortum, only to learn she was very ill and unable to speak on the phone. Sadly, Ms. Kortum passed away a short time later (her obituary).
The Journey to Plaque Placement
Evelyn first wrote about her rediscovery in the Winter 2007/2008 edition of the Glen Park News (pg 12), in which she first suggests the placement of a plaque to commemorate the site. About 5 years later in 2012, plans were announced for the complete renovation of the historic Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center. Once renovation was well on its way in 2015, Evelyn began conversations with the San Francisco Recreations and Parks Department onsite project managers, believing the renovation was a perfect opportunity to present the possibility of adding a historic landmark into the plans. After discussions with onsite project managers (initially Karen Mauney-Brodek and later Brett Desmaris) over the next 2 years and once renovation was well on its way, Evelyn was then connected with Abigail Maher, Deputy Director of San Francisco Recreation and Park Partnerships, in early 2017. With the aide of Abigail's dedicated guidance through the necessary pathways toward final approval, the placement of the plaque began to become more of a reality.
As one of the speakers at last Saturday's event noted, "It takes a village." How true that statement is! After founding the GPNHP in 2014, the organization has had the good fortune of building a Project Advisory Council of dedicated local historians and supporters, including Sunnyside historian and Assistant Project Director Amy O'Hair, Account Manager Sharon Nadeau, Board Members-at-Large Adrienne Lacau, Alexandra Willson (who recently moved to the East Bay), and in her place, Diamond Heights architectural historian Hannah Simonson, as well as Andrew Sherman, who provides technology support. For the past 3 years, this group has been avidly supporting placement of the plaque, in addition to their own historic research and other responsibilities!
Then began the effort to raise $3,000 to purchase the plaque. Enter local residents Gail and Kevin McCollom, who graciously supported the idea. As a recently indoctrinated member of Twin Peaks Parlor No. 214 of the Native Sons of the Golden West (NSGW), Kevin introduced the GPNHP to his organization. Unlike the Society of California Pioneers whose members are descendants of emigrants who arrived in California during the years of the Gold Rush, members of the NSGW are native-born Californians (there is also a separate Native Daughters of the Golden West, in which at least one of our district's former residents, Johanna Claussenius Pinther, a co-leader of the first march for suffrage in the United States, was a member of Marguerite Parlor No. 12 in Placerville). In addition to their tireless efforts to raise funds to support the operations of cleft palate clinics throughout the state, "the primary mission of the Native Sons of the Golden West is to preserve the spirit of the 'Days of 49' and the history of California." The historic preservation work performed by the NSGW has saved significant historic sites, including Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, the Customs House in Monterey, and Vallejo's Petaluma Adobe. Read more about the history of the NSGW.
Evelyn was then introduced to David Allen of Auburn Parlor No. 59, Chairman of the NSGW Historical Preservation Foundation and his local representative, Tony Colonnese of NSGW Dolores Parlor No. 1 (San Francisco). In Tony, the GPNHP was able to absorb the knowledge of his 30+ year experience in city and county government services as a former staff member of the San Francisco Zoo. Concurrent to Abigail Maher's work as the GPNHP's personal navigator through the various government processes, the GPNHP began sharing information about the project locally in the San Francisco neighborhoods of Glen Park, Sunnyside, Fairmount Heights, and Diamond Heights. Several residents in those districts would also provide financial support over the next 3 years. During the process, Evelyn also presented the history of the site to both the NSGW Twin Peaks Parlor, and more recently, San Francisco's Guadalupe Parlor No. 231.
Concurrently, the GPNHP was in contact with State Historian II, Mr. William Burg, of the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation, the state office responsible for approving California State Landmarks. The GPNHP was interested in updating Ms. Kortum's description, in particular, to establish a link not only to Alfred Nobel but also to the prestigious Nobel Prizes that arose from the his enormous accumulation of wealth because of dynamite. The GPNHP also wanted to mention the Chinese workers who had been on the site. However, these facts had not been included in Ms. Kortum's original application and if new facts were to be added, the landmark designation approval process would need to start all over again. Not wanting to dismiss Ms. Kortum's work, a decision was made to make revisions to the 27-year-old description of the site using her submission. These revisions were approved by the Office of Historic Preservation in late spring of 2017.
In July 2017, the NSGW Historical Preservation Foundation notified the GPNHP that they had been approved for a grant to support placement of the plaque, with half of the funds granted by the Foundation, and the other half by Twin Peaks Parlor No. 214! Up to that point, there had been two onsite meetings to find a location for the plaque, with representatives of San Francisco Recreation and Parks including Abigail Maher, Park Services Manager Carol Sionkiowski, Martin Hickey of Maintenance, plus Bill Flores, Gus Vallejo, and Jeff Schaadt of NSGW Twin Peaks Parlor No. 214, Tony Colonnese of NSGW Dolores Parlor No. 1 and also representing the NSGW Historical Preservation Foundation, and the Advisory Council of the GPNHP. The site selected could not have been more perfect: at the newly refurbished Elk Street entrance to Glen Canyon Park just opposite of the Glen Park Cow Sign, with a direct view of the former site of Nobel's Giant Powder Company along the western side of the recreation area.
Next came the final step for placement approval with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission. Local residents around Glen Canyon had been graciously supporting placement of the plaque both financially and vocally for the previous 2 years. Through neighborhood canvassing, polling at a meeting of the Glen Park Association, and and an Internet survey, the GPNHP was able to document an overwhelming 98.2% support for the plaque (with only 2 neutral votes and none against). Letters of support were received from California State Senator Scott Wiener, San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, the San Francisco Parks Alliance, and the presidents of local neighborhood associations, including Scott Stawicki of the Glen Park Association, Betsy Eddy of the Diamond Heights Community Association, and Stephen Martinpinto of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. With all documentation submitted, the Commission reviewed the proposal and approved placement on August 17, 2017! (To view documentation visit the Full Commission Documents page, click on the 2017 folder, then the Commission Meeting, Thursday, August 17, 2017 folder, then Item 5D, Final Staff Report Folder and Attachment A through E folders.)
The California Bell Foundry and Installation of the Plaque
The California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation lists several foundries for the forging of approved state landmark plaques. However, the NSGW prefers to use only one of those listed - the California Bell Company of Saratoga, California. Currently owned and operated by John Kolstad, this legacy company is the origin of all of the California Mission Bells along the approximate route of the El Camino Real, extending from San Diego to Sonoma. When motoring and touring the state were becoming new leisure activities, Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes in 1906 not only conceived the plan to commemorate the El Camino Real with castes of brass mission bells hanging on a missionary's staff, but she started the California Bell Company and forged the bells herself! While the GPNHP was in communication with Mr. Kolstad for months in planning for the plaque, by the time the final order was placed, it was forged, shipped, and received in just over one week! The beautiful, high quality bronze composite plaque is in the traditional design of a California State Landmark, graced with a grizzly bear and 2 gold stars at the top. The GPNHP looks forward to collaborating with Mr. Kolstad and the California Bell Company on future projects! Read more about the history of the California Bell Company, and view historic photos.
The Maintenance Department of San Francisco Recreation and Parks, located in Golden Gate Park, received the plaque in mid-December 2017. Given the rainy season had arrived, it was decided that the grand unveiling and dedication ceremony would be held in Spring 2018. In the meantime, Martin Hickey and his maintenance staff began planning the design of the plaque's concrete pedestal. A mock-up was discussed at the site in January 2018 to gain agreement on size, shape, and angle. On April 11, 2018, construction began at the site and by Thursday, April 19, it was complete. The massive pedestal is constructed of concrete and uses the same design elements as the adjacent retaining wall along the borders of the baseball fields. It was then covered under a wood encasement until the day of the grand unveiling.
The Dedication Day Arrives!
And what a grand day it was! One of those infrequent Spring days with warm temperatures and a brilliant blue sky. The event began in the auditorium of the Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center where Project Director Evelyn Rose provided an overview of the historic site, then introduced and acknowledged the work of those mentioned above who had contributed their various skills and interests to the successful completion of the project. Invited speakers included David Allen of the NSGW Historical Preservation Foundation, Kevin McCollum of Twin Peaks Parlor No. 214, and Denny Kern, Director of Operations of San Francisco Recreation and Parks. Evelyn presented a certificate of appreciation from the GPNHP to each for their invaluable contributions to the project, as well as to Abigail Maher, Deputy Director of Partnerships for SF Recreation and Parks.
Also speaking were Senator Scott Wiener and Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, the latter who also presented Evelyn with a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Next, special guest John Kortum said a few words about his mother, Ms. Jean Kortum. He noted he is currently organizing his mother's files for archiving at the San Francisco History Center of the San Francisco Public Library, where Ms. Kortum is also well known for her authorship of the invaluable research aid, How to Research Your San Francisco Building. In all of her papers, he had not yet come across documentation about her work to designate California Historical Landmark No. 1002, and emphasized how she liked to keep her work behind the scenes. Mr. Kortum expressed his appreciation for honoring his mother for her work.
The indoor program ended with moments of remembrance for both the Giant Powder Company workers who were killed and injured in the 1869 explosion, as well as for the late San Francisco mayor, Edwin Lee, who lived only a few blocks from the historic site. Having heard of the early history of the location, he had expressed his excitement at the re-opening of the refurbished Recreation Center a year earlier by exclaiming, "Dynamite!"
The Grand Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony
Next, the attendees moved out to the site of the plaque at the Elk Street entrance to the park near Chenery Street. Here, John Kortum's daughter, and granddaughter of Jean Kortum, Arianna Tatiana Kortum, unveiled the plaque. Following some time for group photos, the Native Sons of the Golden West then began their solemn, time-honored ceremony to dedicate the plaque, a tradition carried out in preservation of California history for over 120 years and for over 1100 plaques throughout California. Those in attendance were about to witness a historic ceremony that many may never have an opportunity to see!
The ceremony began with words by David Allen, Chairman of the NSGW Historical Preservation Foundation, Auburn Parlor No. 59. The NSGW dedication team included Grand President Jerry Stinson, Georgetown Parlor No. 91, El Dorado; James King, Grand First Vice President, San Miguel Parlor No. 150, San Miguel; Joe Castillo, Grand Second Vice President, Rio Honda Parlor No. 294, Los Angeles; Ron Brocco, Grand Third Vice President, Sonoma Parlor No. 111; and Erik Christeson, Grand Junior Past President, Excelsior Parlor No. 31, Jackson ("Grand" refers to a statewide office). The 3 Vice Presidents provided descriptions as to what part of the state the sand and gravel originated ("... from all the counties of California, from her mountains, her rivers, and her valleys ... [that] ... typifies the natural greatness and resources of California ..."); the cement ("... from all the mills in California; ... from all places within our State were the skill of man transforms the natural rock into a needful element of construction ... to bind together the elements of society that a perfect state may exist"); and the water ("from all the California missions, from San Diego founded in 1769, to Sonoma founded in 1823 ... it calls to memory all the beauties of the traditions of the past. It is symbolic of the spirit that made and preserved us a nation"). These 3 elements are then mixed together, followed by the Grand President applying the mortar to one corner of the plaque to “seal” it. Truly, a moving ceremony.
Afterwards, attendees returned to the lawn behind the Recreation Center to enjoy cake, and to hear the New Orleans-inspired music of a one-man band, Brian Belknap - a popular fixture on some Friday afternoons at the Glen Park BART Station Plaza. The day could not have been more satisfying for all!.
Evelyn had reached out to the Nobel Foundation 11 years ago and was told at that time they had no information about Giant Powder Company in San Francisco. She again reached out again several weeks before the event to ask that Giant Powder Company history be added to the historic timeline at NobelPrize.org, and to request if a letter from the Nobel Foundation could be forwarded for reading at the dedication event. On the Monday after the event, a response was received from Jona Petterson, Public Relations Officer for the Foundation. The GPNHP looks forward to ongoing communications with the Nobel Foundation.
The GPNHP also believes providing context to California Historical Landmark No. 1002 is another important step. Context will allow the sharing of a more inclusive history of the site, including the history of the Chinese workers, as well as the important link of the site as a part of the foundation for Nobel's accumulation of wealth that resulted in today's prestigious Nobel Prizes. The GPNHP is proposing a Glen Canyon Park History Promenade that would include the placement of plaques with historic information embedded in the sidewalk to help provide this context, and to highlight the many other important and surprising histories of Glen Canyon Park! In addition, there has been preliminary conversation about honoring Chinese workers from 19th Century who worked in California's powder companies and railroads. The GPNHP looks forward to participating in this future event!
The GPNHP is deeply grateful to the support of local residents and neighborhood associations for their ongoing support of the Place-the-Plaque project, to the Native Sons of the Golden West, San Francisco Recreation and Parks, and, of course, Ms. Jean Kortum for her resolve in the designation of this California Historical Landmark. Thank you!