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A Dynamite History for Glen Canyon

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

Giant Powder Company, at their Point Pinole site, c1900 [Photo: Contra Costa County Historical Society Collection, via Found SF]

Glen Canyon Park is currently undergoing plans for a renovation, but the now beloved park had a different beginning. In 1868, it was the site of the first commercial manufacturing of dynamite in the United States, licensed by a guy named Alfred Nobel (perhaps you've heard of him?).

Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel took out a patent on what would eventually become dynamite in 1867. After commercial success, he gave exclusive license for US production to Julius Bandmann of San Francisco, who incorporated the Giant Powder Company in August 1867. The company leased land in what was then the sparsely populated area of Glen Canyon, as the nitroglycerin needed to produced dynamite was unstable and storage of it was mandated to be far away from populated areas. Production began in March 1868, and newspaper reports at the time indicate that the factory location was approximately on the site today's Glen Park Recreation Center.

Glen Park clubhouse c1938, approximate location of of Giant Powder Company factory [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

An explosion at the factory on November 26, 1869 killed two and injured nine others, essentially destroying the factory complex. The company was moved to another site near what is now bounded by Kirkham, Ortega, 20th, and 32nd Avenue, but that also exploded. The company again relocated to Berkeley (now the site of Golden Gate Fields), but, you guessed it, that site exploded too. Finally they moved to Point Pinole, where the company remained until it was sold in 1915.


In 1889, the area was sold to the Crocker Real Estate Company, who attracted home owners by constructing an amusement park that included balloon ascents and a tightrope walk across the canyon. Glen Canyon purchased by the Recreation and Parks Department in 1922.
· Giant Powder Company [Found SF]
· San Francisco State Historical Landmarks [CERES]
· Glen Canyon Natural Areas [SF Rec & Park]