Old Trocadero Rancho Made Playground
Historic Bar Preserved for Sodas; Once Was Battle Ground.
By George and Emilia Hodel.
Yesterday they turned the old Tracadero over to the children. Little girls
in costume, danced folk dances on the lawn; in the old days there was dancing,
too, but of another sort. The click of the roulette wheel has given way to
the shouts of ring-around-the-rosie. The historic Trocadero bar has beenpreserved
intact, but you will be served with soda-pop instead of rum-and-gumand Pisco
The story of the Trocadero rancho is a richly colored one, full of melodrama,
bloodshed and thrills. It was here that the celebrated Greene feud was fought—fought
not with bullets alone, but with dynamite and scalding water. Here, withthe
urbane Hiram Cook as host and proprietor, came the sporting bloods ofSan
Francisco to dine, to dance, to play gentlemanly poker—hundreddollar
change-in, table-stakes games.
RUEF'S HIDING PLACE
It was at the Trocadero that Abe Ruef was found hiding after his indictment
in the famous municipal graft trails of 1907. Even then the roadhouse had
begun to lose some of its old-time glory, and when prohibition came it fell
An old man, octogenarian, but firm of step, walked into the Chronicle the
other day. It was George Greene, the man who built the Trocadero, in '92.
George is a fiery old fellow, the last survivor of the fighting Greenes,who
in 1867 defied the Vigilantes and held the Trocadero rancho against allcomers.
“Yes, they called us squatters,” the old man said, “and
they sent the red-shirts out to get us off the land. But we weren't getting
off—no, not till they carted us off in the morgue wagon.” Greene
spoke in a ringing voice that rose above the troubled noises of the cityroom
and made a dozen heads turn around.
MADE HOME A FORT.
“No—we chose to stay. My father came here in '47, staked offthe
land, and worked it. The house he put up was shipped around the Hornfrom
Maine. It was the first house built in San Francisco west of Twin Peaks.
“We meant to stay—and we stayed. We built a fort, just east of
where the Trocadero Inn is now, and we lined it with metal. We stood watch
day and night, and Dad hired the best Indian fighter in the West. Then we
planted the fence around the land with sticks of dynamite—and let 'em
come, we said.”
“Did they ever come?” we asked.
The old man stroked his drooping white mustache. “Just once,”
he said. He seemed reluctant to elaborate, and we did not press him.
STOOD OFF POSSE
Greene told us of the time when a Federal Marshal descended on the property
with a posse of twenty-two men, bringing an order to evict the family. Greene's
father was away, but his mother barricaded the house and threatened to spill
a vat of scalding water on the men if they ventured near. The Marshal's posse
took counsel, analyzed the situation, and resolved to return again some other
The Trocadero rancho remained in a state of siege for three months, whentitle
to the land was finally awarded the Greene's by the United States Supreme
“The first man to live in the Trocadero was C. A. Hooper,” Greene
told us. Hooper was a millionaire lumberman and donor of the Hooper Institute
to the University of California. “Then Adolph Spreckels took it over
for a short time, and when he gave it up I leased it to Hiram Cook.”
THRIVED UNDER COOK
It was under Hiram Cook, prize fight referee and man-about-town that theTrocadero
reached the zenith of its glory. It was fashionable to drive outto the Trocadero
for Sunday breakfast and to spend the day among the grove'smultiple attractions.
“Oh, the place was in great order then,” Green sighed. “We
had a deer park, and a boating pavilion, and a beer garden, and the finest
trout farm in California.” The old man stared away into space withwatery
eyes: he was seeing a vision of the Trocadero in its vanished glory.
“George,” we said, to break his trance, “the old Trocadero
was nothing to what it's going to be. They may have had fun there in theold
days, but the boys and girls who have it now will get twice as much funout
WOULD NEVER SELL
“Yes, that's right,” Greene said. “I had a dozen offers
for the place. But I never sold—I knew they'd cut down the trees and
tear down the inn, and I didn't want to see the work of sixty years go by
the board. I planted the grove myself, you know, in '72—no, '73. But
now the place is in good hands, and I guess that all the shooting and the
fighting was worth while.”
Anyway, Greene is getting tired of San Francisco, after eighty-odd years.
He wants to get away from here. He'd rather like to go to Africa, he says,
and try his luck at potting lions. “I'm not afraid of any living creature,
man or beast,” says he. And he's not.
But we doubt whether George Greene will ever get to Africa. His neighbors
had tried to raise a little fund to send him, and there has been talk ofa
benefit of some sort for the old man. But George won't hear of it, “Benefit?”
he says. “That sounds like charity. Please put the lid on that benefit
talk for me.”
After all, George Greene belongs in San Francisco, we think. It’s his
milieu. It was he, you know, who wooded the Presidio. Greene and his father
were horticulturists and it was the Greenes who planted much of Sutro Forest.
They did the first reclamation work in Golden Gate Park, in the early seventies.
Greene was the man who introduced the eucalyptus on a large scale in SanFrancisco,
after the first seeds had been sent here from Australia by BishopWilliam
Taylor. It was Greene, moreover, who reclaimed the waste lands ofthe Sunset
by planting “Holland grass” on the sand dunes to preventtheir
shifting with the wind. Greene is an integral part of the San Franciscoscene,
just as much so as the eucalypti he planted. He belongs in the picture,and
we for one don’t want to see him go shooting lions in Africa.
He is as hardy as the eucalyptus too. In the past year he had had doublepneumonia,
he’s been hit by a tree, and he’s had enough elsebefall him to
kill seven ordinary men. Greene lives on a diet of oatmealand molasses, milk
and sugar—not for economy’s sake alone, butchiefly, he says,
because its healthful.
MADE INTO PLAYGROUND
A few days before the dedication of the Trocadero grove we went down there
to look around. It was our first visit. We went there with Bernard Maybeck,
the renowned architect, creator of the Palace of Fine Arts at the Panama-Pacific
Exposition. It was Maybeck who had supervised the conversion of the Trocadero
rancho into a playground.; he had been called in by Mrs. Sigmund Stern, donor
of the grove, at the time when she first resolved to buy the tract for the
We walked down the winding road into the dell, and as we went we felt ourselves
carried back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. In such a grove, framed
in a circle of trees, one might expect to catch a glimpse of Druidic rites,
or perhaps even a wood nymph racing for cover. We spoke to Maybeck of this,
and he said that he had experienced the same feeling of penetrating hereinto
INN BEING REPAIRED
The spell was broken only when we came to the old Trocadero itself, on which
a small army or carpenters and painters are at work. For a moment we were
apprehensive of what the workmen might be doing to the inn, but Maybeck was
quick to assure us that everything is being kept as it was, and that allof
the work is in the nature of repairs and construction.
We walked over the grounds, and we became increasingly impressed with the
policy which Maybeck and Mrs. Stern had followed in developing the project.
We admired what was being done, but we admired still more what was not being
done. The old clambering rose bushes had not been trimmed, and the myriads
of surprising little paths were left just as they were.
WILL NOT SPOIL PICTURE
“You see,” Maybe said, talking softly through his full whitebear,
“we have simply had to be careful not to spoil the picture. Itwas nearly
perfect as we found it.”
San Francisco will long remember with gratitude the gift of Sigmund Stern
Grove, undoubtedly the most beautiful of the city's playgrounds. Thanks are
due principally, of course, to Mrs. Stern, who in looking for a memorialfor
her husband had the generosity and taste to choose this fit. Thanks aredue,
too, to Bernard Maybeck, a wise and delightful old man. But we hopethat San
Francisco will allow some measure of gratitude to old George Greene,who is
neither wise nor delightful, but a bit bleary-eyed, but at the elbows,and
fond of strong language. It was he, remember, whose hand seeded the valley
and who preserved it with rifle, lawsuit and dynamite for its present date.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle. 5 June 1932. 7.
‘Trocadero’ Made History
When S. F. Was a Baby.
By George W. Kemper.
Somebody has said, “A microbe standing on a billiard ball thinks he
surveys the universe.”
In writing this column about the West of Twin Peaks section, I found so much
colorful history attached to the district that it seems almost a universe
of itself, and I the microbe.
The history of the “The Trocadero” is a vivid one. In 1847, George
Greene and his wife came across the plains from Maine and took up a homestead
on land near what is now Nineteenth avenue and Sloat boulevard. A brother,
Alfred, took adjoining land, west to the Pacific ocean. It was on this property
that the first residential development west of Twin Peaks took place. Itwas
a portable home sent across the continent from the New England States,and
was in fact the first home in San Francisco.
The country at that time was in a virgin state. It was covered with underbrush
where wild cattle, rabbits and coyotes roamed, and the large springfed lake
(Pine lake) was a duck hunter’s paradise.
RENDEZVOUS OF ELITE
In the home of Alfred Greene was born the son of the original pioneer, George
M. Greene, and from his story related in 1931 these facts have been taken.
The son George, being a nature lover, started planting timber on his father’s
land in 1871. In 1892 he conceived the idea of building a public hotel which
was known as “The Trocadero,” and which operated continuously
until the advent of prohibition when it was closed to prevent it from being
used as a bootleg establishment.
It was the “spot” of its time, the rendezvous of the elite. Many
an old Spanish barbecue and fiesta was held here. Many a spark of jealousy
over a beautiful senorita was fanned into flames and the bullet holes ofone
such may still be seen in the front door and hall stairs.
In the early 70’s a land grant was made to one David Mahoney and was
known as “Rancho Laguna de la Merced.” A land dispute arose between
Mahoney and the Greenes and a bitter feud was carried on which resulted in
Greene building a fort on a portion of the land now owned by Mrs. Mable Hawkins.
To use Greene’s own words, “We were advised to shoot low, inthe
stomach, for it would take two men to carry them away.”
Such was the courage of the pioneers. The Greenes finally won their rights
when a special Act of Congress granted them the land in 1887.
This site has been preserved for posterity through the generosity of Mrs.
Sigmund Stern, who in 1931 presented it to the city in memory of her husband,
and it is today known as “Stern Grove.”
Under the supervision of the Recreation Commission, of which Mrs. Stern is
the president, it has been developed for purposes of recreation, music, drama,
pageantry and education, and stands as a monument to the fine work beingcarried
on by that commission in developing children with healthy bodiesand clean
In 1917, the Twin Peaks tunnel was completed and with transportation facilities
provided, the district was to see great development.
Rapidly there grew Forest Hills, St. Francis Wood and in succession the many
other districts so well-known to us today. Last year the Lakeside district
alone more than a million dollars of residential property was put on thetax
PURPOSE OF COUNCIL
Separately each district organized its own property owner’s or home
owner’s association, but with the expanding complexities of our modern
life greater co-operation between the groups became a necessity. In 1937the
West of Twin Peaks Central Council was organized; it is now comprisedof 10
One of the fundamental principles of the council is to maintain the strictly
residential character of the section, to prevent the inroads of commercial
business except in those areas set aside for purely commercial purposes,to
maintain our boulevards as residential property so that there may be atleast
one city and one place in this city wher ingress and egress may bemade without
passing through a double line of hot dog stands and gasolinestations. To
this principle the council has strictly adhered and to its credit—assisted
by fine co-operation from our City Planning Commission—it can be proudly
said that this is a truly residential area.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle. 15 July 1940. 24.
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