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.
Trocadero Clubhouse in Stern Grove [Photo: Marc Liyanage]
Nestled in Sigmund Stern Grove is the charming and picturesque Trocadero Clubhouse, site of wedding receptions and children’s events. But when it was first built, the Trocadero Inn was a spot for an entirely different type of entertainment, on a site with a history full of standoffs and dynamite.
Before the Sunset became part of the City of San Francisco, much of it was privately owned as large homesteads and estates. In 1847, Albert Greene settled on the land at what is now 19th and Sloat, growing potatoes and barley on an estate that extended all the way to the beach. The house they erected was supposedly shipped around South America from Maine as the first house built west of Twin Peaks. The family planted the Eucalyptus trees in 1871 to protect from the strong winds (and as horticulturalists, they apparently planted much of Eucalyptus in the Presidio and Sutro Forest, as well as the reclamation work in Golden Gate Park). When neighboring landowner David Mahoney tried to take the Greene’s land with a judge’s ruling in 1876, the Greenes refused to leave and built a metal-lined fort and fence lined with dynamite to keep out federal marshals sent to evict them. After a three-month standoff, the Supreme Court granted the land to the Greenes.
Trocadero in the 1930s [Photo: Western Neighborhoods Project]
By 1892, Albert’s son George Greene built the Trocadero Inn roadhouse for the SF elite, featuring dancing, gambling, and fishing. It wasn’t exactly family camping though, as the site had a rowdy reputation (little holes in the door are said to be bullet holes from gun fights). In 1907 corrupt city boss Abe Ruef was hiding out there to avoid arrest, eventually getting apprehended on site by the police. Offers were made to convert the grounds into an athletic club in 1910, but nothing came of it.
George closed the roadhouse down in 1916 fearing that Prohibition would lead to trouble with bootleggers, and converted it into his home. When Rosalie Stern bought the land from Greene in 1931, she hired architect Bernard Maybeck to restore the Trocadero. She named the site Sigmund Stern Grove after her late husband and donated it to the city of San Francisco to be used only for recreation, “music, dramatics, and pageantry.” The first music festival was held there in 1938. The city purchased 50 adjacent acres and expanded the park to include Pine Lake.