Sutro Heights Conservatory building, 1886 [Photo: National Park Service]
The park at Sutro Heights near the Cliff House was once the site of Adolf Sutro's family home, and a group of students from Ida B. Wells Continuation High School recently uncovered tiles that were part of the estate's conservatory greenhouse building. The students were working on a 3-day archaeological dig with the National Park Service that uncovered a portion of the original floor, which sounds way cooler than any other high school history class.
Sutro Heights once contained Sutro's large residence, as well as "gallery' (that operated more like an old-timey photo booth, allowing visitors to get their photo taken with a panoramic view of the ocean), a well house, a tank house and observation tower, two gatekeepers houses, and the conservatory. The whole estate was open to the public as a recreation site - pretty remarkable when you think about one of the richest men in the city opening up his property for people to come hang out. Sutro died in 1898, leaving the debt-burdened site to his daughter, who struggled to maintain it. The estate was transferred to the City in 1920 under the condition that it always remain a public park, and they commissioned WPA work to rehab the grounds in 1937. When Sutro's daughter died in 1938, the WPA demolished the structures in the park, including the Conservatory. The area was transferred to the National Park Service in 1976.
Once the students' Conservatory excavation was complete, the Park Service led them in a discussion about whether the tiles should be left exposed for the public to see or covered up again to be preserved. The students eventually decided to leave 30% of the tiles exposed. SF Gate has photos of the dig.
· Tiles uncovered from 19th century Sutro Heights Conservatory Greenhouse [Richmond Blog]
· Sutro Historic District Cultural Landscape Report [NPS]
· High schoolers dig into S.F. history [SF Gate]