Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed Contributor Alex Bevk highlights a San Francisco 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 SF 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.
Original site of Woodward's Gardens Amusement Park, today site of the Woodward's Garden restaurant [Photo: Noe Hill]
Today at the corner of Duboce and Mission Streets, just beyond the 101 overpass, there is a small restaurant called Woodward's Garden. While the restaurant itself opened in 1992, the name and the site have a long history as one of the first amusement parks in San Francisco. Long since closed, dismantled, and forgotten, the Woodward's Gardens Amusement Park was an attraction that drew thousands to this corner of the Mission.
Woodward's Gardens at Duboce and Mission Streets, c1875 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]
In operation between 1865 and 1891, Woodward's Gardens took up a two square block area now bounded by Mission, Valencia, 13th, and 15th Streets. Originally opened by Robert B. Woodward at his four-acre former country estate, the park combined a zoo, museum and amusement park all within a botanical garden. According to San Francisco Memories, Woodward operated a hotel downtown, and was popular enough that when sailors stayed at the hotel they would bring him trinkets from around the world. His ornate house was converted into the "Museum of Natural Wonders", holding a bizarre mix of everything he collected, from taxidermy and fossils to artwork.
Opened before the San Francisco Zoo, Woodward's Gardens also held the largest and most comprehensive zoo on the West Coast at the time, and operated the first aquarium ever in America’s West, which opened in 1873. The site also featured a conservatory of rare and exotic trees and tropical plants.
Conservatory at Woodward's Gardens, interior view 1866-1874 [Photo: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, New York Public Library]
Woodward died in 1879, and the park began a slow decline. It finally closed in 1891, and an auction was held in 1893 to sell off all of the display items from the buildings (much of which was purchased by Adolf Sutro for his Sutro Baths and home at Sutro Heights). Eventually the land was divided into 39 parcels and sold. Today the site is California State Registered Landmark No. 454
For some amazing historic photos of Woodward's Gardens, check out the online San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection from the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library.