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In 1867, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors drafted Order 800, an outline for the purchase and development of the westernmost expanse of land dismissed as “the outside lands” or “the great sand dunes” on early maps. Their plan included a grand public park similar to those in New York, London, and Paris. Landscape architect and engineer William Hammond Hall was hired to create Golden Gate Park from one thousand and seventeen of these acres of unpromising sandy soil and windswept dunes.
Gardens, lakes, athletic fields, monuments, and music venues, as well as walking paths and roadways providing access to both the park and Ocean Beach, were established during Hall’s twenty-year tenure. The second park superintendent, horticulturist John McLaren, dictated every aspect of its design and operation for the next fifty-three years, realizing the original vision: a beautiful, well-appointed park to elevate the quality of life for residents, promote tourism, and transform San Francisco into a truly cosmopolitan city.
Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach played a significant role in the lives of San Franciscans during the Gilded Age. The dedication of every monument or new attraction became a citywide celebration. Working-class immigrants crossed paths with nouveau-riche social climbers while the city’s leisure class paraded by in horse-drawn carriages and early automobiles. A walk in the park or a day at the beach could revitalize one’s social status as well as one’s health. Victorians arrived dressed to impress and to pose for photographs, creating a legacy of beautiful images that recall this bygone era. This exhibition of rarely-seen examples, gleaned from family albums and nineteenth-century studio catalogues, is our contribution to the celebration of Golden Gate Park’s sesquicentennial.
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