SF's 6 Best Disregarded Monuments

Mar 13 at 9am

When I first moved to San Francisco I noticed that there were a great number of statues and monuments all over the city. Most of them had descriptive plaques commemorating achievements in history or important public figures. A few of them, though, held the same sort of stature but lacked any helpful description. With a little assistance from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection archives and the Western Neighborhoods Project, I learned a bit more about San Francisco's B-side monuments, or the city's disregarded mementos.

Ingleside Sundial (see photo above)

Located on the site of the former Ingleside Racetrack, the 28’ sundial was meant to be the iconic center of the new upscale neighborhood in 1913. At the time, it was advertised as the world’s largest gnomon, and I’ve read more recent claims of it being the second largest, though it definitely is not. The dedication ceremony was held at night with 1,500 people in attendance before any houses were even built in the area.

Cliff House Totem Pole

The pole was installed in 1949 with a grievously insensitive mention in the paper: “Chief Mathias Joe Capilano of the Squamish Indians of Western Canada, he carve ‘um 58-foot totem pole for George K. Whitney to plant in front of Cliff House.” The carving was broken in half during a storm sometime in the '50s and later moved to its current location. The figures on the pole were loosely representative of the immediate family of George K. Whitney, owner of the former Playland amusement park.

Portals of the Past

On the far side of Lloyd Lake in Golden Gate Park, the portico of Alban Nelson Towne’s former Nob Hill mansion now serves primarily as a resting place for ducks. The Portals once stood at 1101 California St. and were donated to the park in 1909 after the mansion was destroyed in the earthquake. Sightings of ghosts and other mysterious happenings around The Portals have caused trepidation among some spiritualists. 

Triumph of Light pedestal

The Triumph of Light was a dramatic statue commissioned by Adolph Sutro and built by Antoine Wiertz in 1887. It stood at the peak of Mt. Olympus – which, before the extensive landfill projects of the 20th century, was considered the geographic center of San Francisco. A 12-foot Lady Liberty towered over a conquered figure representing despotism. Despite renovations in the late 1920s, the statue eventually fell into disrepair and was generally forgotten about. In 1938 the Chronicle ran a story calling it, “the mystery monument.” Sometime in the 1950s the remaining broken hulk of the statue disappeared, leaving only the 30’ pedestal in its place.

Mile Rocks Lighthouse

Five years prior to the building of the lighthouse on this rock in 1906, the SS City of Rio de Janeiro wrecked against the rock, going down with 128 of its 209 passengers. The first crew hired for the lighthouse project promptly quit upon seeing the planned location, deeming it impossible to build in such violent waters. Despite the charming nickname, “The Steel Wedding Cake” was a hard lighthouse to work. Tenders were given one week off for every two worked because of the isolation and stress of living with the incessant fog horn blaring. Amid protests from historical societies, the superstructure was removed in 1966 and replaced with an automated horn and light.

Colombo Market Archway

In the late 1800s, the southern neighborhoods from Lake Merced to Bayview were largely populated by produce farmers. Families would load their horse-drawn wagons with produce and make the hours long trek to the Colombo Produce Market at what is now Sydney G. Walton Square. The market was called “the greatest vegetable market in the world” and was a vital point of commerce in San Francisco for almost 100 years. The archway was the former entrance to the marketplace and is the only remaining structure.

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