Mt. Davidson, at 938 feet, is the highest geographic point in San Francisco, and home to the Mt. Davidson Cross and the Annual Easter Sunrise Service. Named to honor George Davidson, noted scientist and incorruptible Chief of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey’s Pacific Operations, Mt. Davidson Park provides a peaceful 38-acre oasis of public open space in the middle of the city. At its top, is a time capsule with a transcript of the title signed by the first Mexican Governor of California, Pio Pico, granting over 4000 acres of the city, including its highest hills, to Don Jose de Jesus Noe, the last Mexican Alcalde (mayor) of Yerba Buena. Noe was only the first of many of San Francisco’s mayors who have been drawn to its highest point. Adolph Sutro, the 21st Mayor, purchased 1200 acres of Noe’s Rancho San Miguel in 1881, and proceeded to plant thousands of trees on the western side of Mt. Davidson in order to create a healthy park environment for city dwellers to relax and rejuvenate in nature. After Sutro’s death and the 1906 earthquake, developer A.S. Baldwin managed to get Sutro’s will overturned so he could buy the land for housing in what he called the West of Twin Peaks District. Perhaps to
encourage home buyers out to the foggy windswept outside lands of western San Francisco, he invited the public to hike a trail he built to the top of Mt. Davidson. One of those hikers, YMCA Director George Decatur, was so inspired by the experience that he led an effort to organize an Easter sunrise event on Baldwin’s land in 1923. With 5000 potential homebuyers and voters finding their way there before dawn, it became an annual event led by the local politicians. As hundreds of houses were being built up its slopes, a campaign was started in 1926 to preserve 20 acres of Sutro’s forest at the summit as a city park. A permanent concrete cross was subsequently built in 1934 with fundraising by the area’s homebuilders and first lit by President Franklin Roosevelt before a crowd of 50,000. Despite the continuing obscurity of this quiet and generally unknown part of San Francisco, the Depression-era cross starred in the first Dirty Harry movie, was subject to a second lawsuit before the California Supreme Court over public/private ownership in 1991, and on the local ballot in 1997. Learn what happened after and more in Jacquie Proctor’s presentation on Twin Peaks on January 23rd.