Library of Congress

Early Motion Pictures

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Panorama of beach and Cliff House

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United States : American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1903.


H36355 U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright: American Mutoscope and Biograph Company; 30Sep1903; H36355.

Duration: 1:35 at 15 fps.

Camera, H.J. Miles.

Photographed: September 23, 1903. Location: San Francisco, California.

This film is an afternoon panorama of weekend crowds at the north end of Ocean Beach, the western shore of San Francisco near the famed Cliff House. The film postdates the nearby Dutch Windmill (1902) and predates the burning of this Cliff House (1907). Until the 1920s much of western San Francisco was open sand dunes blown inland from Ocean Beach, the five-mile-long untamed western shore of the city. As the western edge of America's principal western city, the beach was an unarticulated symbol of America's growth "from sea to shining sea." The rocky bluff north of the beach, adjacent to Point Lobos, affords spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, and the Marin coast. Ocean Beach began to attract visitors in the 1850s and the adjacent Seal Rock House was built in 1858. The completion of the Point Lobos toll road (now Geary Boulevard) in 1864 greatly improved access for weekend crowds. A steam railway to the area was completed in 1883, connecting the trains to the downtown cable car system. Ocean Beach Pavilion, a large concert/dance hall, was built just south of Seal Rock House in 1884. A roller coaster next to the pavilion was the predecessor of the Playland-at- the-Beach amusement park, which eventually filled much of the local beach frontage before closing in 1972. Part of the future Playland area and the sand dunes adjacent to the south was the site of Mooneysville (1883-84), a ramshackle village erected by disenfranchised labor agitator Con Mooney and his followers. Mooney was angry at the land-grabbing tactics of the Big Four railroad barons who had built the local steam railway. The settlement was quickly removed to allow local development and improvements in the west end of Golden Gate Park, founded in 1870. The superb views from the bluff north of Ocean Beach led to the construction of the first Cliff House in 1863, linked to the beach by a road blasted out of the cliff. The Cliff House was a popular road house that soon became one of the sights of San Francisco. Future city mayor Adolph Sutro (1830- 1898) bought the property in 1879, occupying a house on the heights above, which he surrounded with landscaped grounds. The first Cliff House burned in 1894 and Sutro built his fantastic "castle" version seen in this film on the site in 1896. The popularity and fame of the Cliff House continued, but after the turn of the century it became somewhat disreputable and run down. The building survived the 1906 earthquake, but burned in a dramatic fire in 1907. A more modest Cliff House was subsequently built on the site by Sutro's son, but it closed in 1924 during Prohibition. In 1937, George and Leo Whitney, developers of Playland, reopened the building, which is still in use. Sutro's former hilltop estate is now Sutro Heights Park. To the north of the Cliff House (not seen in the film) are ruins of Sutro Baths (1896-1952, burned 1966) once a popular swimming resort. Offshore are the well-known Seal Rocks, a gathering place for California Sea Lions. Nearby Point Lobos (Spanish for "sea wolves") is named for them. An 1877 Act of Congress granted the rocks to San Francisco, to be held "in trust for the people of the United States," creating what was probably the nation's first wildlife refuge. At the time of this film, the Cliff House and Ocean Beach were two of San Francisco's most popular attractions. Every sunny weekend, picnicking families, young couples, and tourists crowded the beach and nearby resorts as children played in the surf. Although sea-bathing was becoming popular, the cold local Pacific Ocean waters (averaging 54 degrees F) and a strong undertow discouraged swimmers. Ocean Beach and the Cliff House remain popular today but only wet-suited surfers brave the waters to ride the offshore waves.

The following is a scene-by-scene description of the film, concentrating on background buildings: [37100] At left is the Lurline Pier (1894-1967) which protected the intake pipe for the downtown Lurline Baths (Larkin and Bush streets, 1894-1936). In the background at right is the first Beach Chalet (1900, moved in 1925), a small resort opposite the west end of Golden Gate Park (hidden behind the beach ridge and not yet grown tall). The adjacent tower is part of the closer pier. [37172] At left center is the Dutch Windmill (1902), sails turning, marking the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park. Together with a later mill (1906) at the southwest corner, it pumped fresh water from an artesian well into the park lakes. The Dutch Windmill was restored in the 1980s, but its sails now turn by electrical power. At right center is a road house (no longer standing) called Cycler's Rest for the bicyclers who rode to the beach. [37336] The tank, roof, and chimney are all part of the Olympic Salt Water Company pumping station which pumped ocean water from the Lurline Pier to the downtown baths. On the beach in the foreground is a concession with a banner reading "Ice Cream 10 c." [37390] A group of American flags fly over the roller coaster, hidden behind the beach ridge. [37539] The Ocean Beach Pavilion (1894), evolved from a concert/dance hall into Topsy's Roost, a restaurant and night club. It was then absorbed into Playland to become Skateland, and later the Slotcar Raceway. [37604] Seal Rock House (1858) seen here was the pioneer resort and hotel in the area. It survived into the "teens." Note the dense beach crowd in the foreground. [37650] The long shed adjacent to Seal Rock House was a wind-sheltered stable for the horses of hotel guests. [37835] Adolph Sutro's fantastic Cliff House combined architectural elements of the French chateau and the German castle. [38156] A cut is made here as the camera is trained on children playing in the water. Seal Rocks are visible just offshore from the Cliff House, at left. Sutro gave the rocks names. Arch and Hermit Rocks are out of the frame; the visible rocks are (left to right) Cone, Repose, and the more distant North Seal.

Received: 9/30/03; paper pos; copyright deposit Paper Print Collection.

Beaches-- California--San Francisco.
Hotels, taverns, etc.--California--San Francisco.
Children-- California--San Francisco.
San Francisco (Calif.)
San Francisco Bay (Calif.)

Miles, H.J., camera.
Ameri can Mutoscope and Biograph Company.
Paper Print Collection (Library of Congress) DLC
Panoram ic view of beach and Cliff House.

1 roll (108 ft) : si., b&w ; 35 mm. paper pos.

LC 1762 (paper pos)