Daniel Burnham Brings the “City Beautiful” to San Francisco

Map of St. Francis Wood

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365. [MAP]. [SAN FRANCISCO: ST. FRANCIS WOOD]. MASON-McDUFFIE COMPANY. St Francis Wood San Francisco’s Residence Park [above neat line, lower center] Most beautiful of all residential districts. Homes and home-sites at reasonable prices and terms.| Send for large map or for descriptive literature [inset map at lower left] Map of San Francisco Showing Location of St Francis Wood. San Francisco: Mason McDuffie Company, n.d. (ca. 1918). Cerograph tract map with green toning printed on calendar paper, showing residential development; border to border: 29.2 x 27.5 cm; overall sheet size: 32 x 30.2 cm. Creased where formerly folded. Very fine, fresh copy. A few neat contemporary pencil notations on map regarding prices. UC Berkeley has a larger version, apparently one of the detail maps offered on the present map. No copies of the present map are located on OCLC.

     First edition. St. Francis Wood, in southwestern San Francisco, opened in October 1912. The development was (and is) justifiably lauded as one of the nation’s finest examples of a residence park. The 175-acre tract was from the estate of Adolph Sutro, and before then, Rancho San Miguel. The property was developed by the Mason-McDuffie Company and designed by famous architect Daniel Burnham. Mark A. Wilson, “Mason-McDuffie and the Creation of St. Francis Wood,” originally published in The Argonaut, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 1994:

To design and build an ideal community with complete aesthetic harmony has been the dream of every great architect and city planner. In the United States, this desire crystallized into a concept known as the “City Beautiful” at the turn of the century. First displayed in the design of the Beaux-Arts buildings and classically-ordered fairgrounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, this movement was brought to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. The monumental Civic Center complex, with its centerpiece of City Hall and the broad plaza and fountain in front of it, was the first public manifestation of the City Beautiful movement in the Bay Area. But it was in the private development of the community of St. Francis Wood, at the eastern edge of San Francisco’s Sunset District, that the City Beautiful concept was first successfully applied to residential planning.

In the early years of this century, the area of San Francisco west of Twin Peaks remained largely undeveloped, awaiting an engineering breakthrough to allow easy access from the heavily populated sections to the north. That breakthrough came with the construction of the Twin Peaks trolley car tunnel. The planning for this tunnel began several years before its completion in 1917, and developers could foresee the potential it presented for residential subdivisions. Mason-McDuffie was the first real estate company to take advantage of this opportunity when it began planning a new residential park in 1912 along the western slope of Mt. Davidson. This new community was named St. Francis Wood, to emphasize the neighborhood’s planned harmony with its natural setting.

In order to insure that the street plan for St. Francis Wood would strike a perfect balance with the preservation of large areas of open parkland, Duncan McDuffie hired the nationally renowned landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers from Brookline, Massachusetts. The patriarch of this illustrious family, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., had been the creative force behind the landscape design of such famous public sites as Central Park in New York and Yosemite National Park. The younger Olmsted Brothers were employed by Mason-McDuffie for several of their earlier developments, and now they put their energies into making St. Francis Wood one of the finest residential parks in the nation. In accordance with Duncan’s stipulations, all electric and telephone wires were placed underground, and St. Francis Park was created at the eastern end of St. Francis Boulevard. All the streets were laid out to conform to the tract’s natural topography. These plans were carefully integrated with the work of supervising architect John Galen Howard, who designed the graceful Beaux-Arts style entrance portals at the mouth of St. Francis Boulevard and the monumental fountain and terraced plaza at its terminus. From the upper steps of this plaza, residents and visitors can still observe a sweeping vista down the broad tree-lined boulevard to the Farallones on the Pacific horizon.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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