The New Road to the Cliff - Three 1896 Newspaper Articles
Collected by Joe Thompson

The first article, from The San Francisco Call, Sunday, June 2, 1896, describes the opening of the Sutro Railroad and the new Cliff House .

Sutro RR cars


Formal Opening of the Sutro
Electric Street Railway Yesterday.


Waving Flags by Day and Big
Bonfires by Night at


Handsome Appointments and Furnishings
of the Big Palace That
Overlooks the Sea.

The National colors waved over Sutro Heights and the Richmond district yesterday to celebrate the opening of the Sutro Railroad and the dedication of the new Cliff House.

The opening of the new road was an epoch in the history of San Francisco. It punctuated the time when the domination of the Market-street Railway Company ceased and the rights of the people began. The fare to the Cliff House, at the extreme western side of San Francisco, was originally 10 cents. Mayor Sutro sought to have it reduced. He wanted all the people to enjoy the privilege of traveling from the ferries to the heights for a nickel. The street railroad company objected, and then began the fight, which was continued with ceaseless energy down to this time.

At the outset Mr. Sutro charged an entrance fee to the grounds of the cliff. This act naturally injured the traffic of the railroad. Tne result was that a little more than a year ago the street railroad combined to reduce the fare to the cliff to 5 cents. But this was after the Mayor had decided to build a street railroad independent of what he calls the "octopus."

This road was formally opened to the public yesterday. And there was great rejoicing along the line. The property owners and inhabitants were jubilant over the dawn of a new era. Flags waved from house tops and bunting floated to the breeze. It was indeed a gala day ; a day of rejoicing, a day of deliverance.

The new road is well equipped. It is an electric line and excellent time is made. There was a great contrast yesterday, exemplifying the feeling of the people between the crowded cars on this road and the empty vehicles of the octopus.

Mr. Sutro seemed very much pleased over the opening of the road to which he has given much time and invested a large sum of money. The people along the route lighted bonfires at night as an evidence of the pleasure within them.

The New Cliff House

There were great crowds at the opening of the new Cliff House yesterday. It is a magnificent building, handsomely proportioned and richly furnished. The reception-rooms, parlors, billiard-rooms and dining-room and observatories all overlook the sea.

There was a band concert throughout the day, given by Cassasa's band. A banquet was tendered the guests in the large banquet hall at the new Cliff House. Members of the Board of Supervisors, City officials, men of affairs and other prominent citizens were in attendance.

The table extended tne whole length of the long room, and the menu included everything worth eating. It was a feast for the gods. In addition to the soup, fish and fowl there were long sentences of white wine, and extended paragraphs of red liquor.

Mr. Sutro sat at the head of the table. He looked as contented as Caesar after he had carted his own and other people's fortunes across the turbulent sea. The fact is the Mayor is at home at a luncheon. Having dined with several of the crowned heads and a few of the Presidents, Senators and generals of the United States, he is entirely on speaking terms with the polite requirements and duties of a host.

Of course the Mayor made a speech. He said many nice things about struggling humanity and excoriated the few individuals who are striving to control the destiny, of the great people of California. The Mayor was sarcastic, severe and vicious. He denounced the "octopus" and cried long live the people.

"The building of this little one-horse road," said the Mayor, "is of little importance, yet it involves a principle. The octopus has long dominated this country, and as great things sometimes grow from small circumstances there is no knowing what may be the end."

Mayor Sutro then dwelt at length upon the beginning of the National Government and showed how it was the best kind of a government for the whole people. The constitution had bequeathed liberty to all men.

"To-day," he declared, ."it is no longer an American Government. It is an oligarchy of capitalists upon the American people. Three-quarters of the Senators of the United States are elected by corporations. It was my fortune -- or probably my misfortune -- to spend ten winters in Washington, and during that time I became acquainted with nearly all the great men of the nation."

The Mayor said that C. P. Huntington was at work during much of this time. He declared that after getting the necessary franchises to build the railroad he was interested in he and his associates stole all the money in sight. Then the Mayor told about "the corruption that led up to the downfall of the Roman republic and felt that the same end would follow a corruption of the Government in this country. He compared Huntington to a highwayman who had held up the whole people.

"And now," said the Mayor, "he has the effrontery to go before Congress and ask that his thievery be condoned, that the debt upon the Central Pacific be extended 100 years. What impudence! Here is a man, the greatest criminal outside of the penitentiary -- and every man at this table knows I am telling God's truth -- robbing the people and undermining the Government of our country. And still the people are indifferent. They amuse themselves, go to the theaters and attend the races, without a thought as to their danger and their destiny. Why, the people should ring the fire-bells and arouse the people totheir imminent danger."

Mr. Sutro dwelt at length upon the corruption that permeates the Congress of the United States, and declared that a man might as well go out and speak to the seals upon the rocks us to appeal to the National legislators for justice or sympathy.

"This little one-horse road," said Mayor Sutro in conclusion, "is a thorn in the side of Mr. Huntington, and I tell you to-day that if I live five years longer I will blot out the octopus from the face of the earth."

The Mayor was cheered to the echo.

James H. Barry, editor of the Star, made a ringing speech. He responded to many calls.

"I will never take off my hat," he said, "to a man because of his political or social position, but I am always ready to salute the man who stands for the people. I admire Mayor Sutro for the fight he has made against the greatest conspiracy of the time. The Southern Pacific has bribed the courts and Congress and has debauched the State. Better indeed, that the Nation should lose $80,000,000 than that the funding bill should pass. Let us, however, defeat this monstrous bill and stand in the god-like attitude of men."

J. Taylor Rogers then reviewed the history of the funding bill.

Major J. F. Smith followed in an eloquent speech. He said tbat the "one horse road," of which the Mayor had spoken, was a step in the right direction, as it would eventually bring about the independence of the people.

"The advancement and education of the whole people," he said, "means a higher civilization, and the man who works to that end is a philanthropist."

Supervisor Taylor said that the prosperity of San Francisco depended on such men as Mr. Sutro.

"We are all Interested in the growth of the City." he said, "but the City cannot grow unless the country develops. This development has been retarded by the railroad. No abundant harvest will benefit us unless we have a market. And what will be the use of a market unless we have reasonable freight rates.

"The building or the San Joaquin Valley Railroad," continued Colonel Tavlor, "is a commencement in the right direction. We owe our thanks to the men who have been the promoters of this railroad. When the new read is a success others will follow. I believe in corporations, but I believe in having then subservient to the the law, whether National, State or municipal."

A. Sbarboro spoke in praise of the great work of Mayor Sutro, whose health was drunK with bumpers of wine and glorified in speech and song.

J. M. Wilkins, manager of the Cliff House, made the closing speech. He spoke in complimentary terms of Mayor Sutro and the public spirit that inspired him to carry to a successful termination the many great enterprises with which his name had been associated.

The assembly then dispersed and the guests wandered through the great building and looked out upon the sea.

Go to top of page.


Serious Accident on the Popular Line to the Cliff.


One of the New Cars Jumps the
Track at a Curve Near
Thirty-Third Avenue.


A Woman Badly Hurt and Several
Others Cut and Bruised -- Cause
of the Accident.

Sutro Road Accident

There was a serious accident yesterday on the Sutro Railroad, a car jumping from the track at Thirty-third avenue. Seven men and women were badly hurt and others were more or less bruised.

Miss Emilie Sutter, living at 2718 Pine street, was sitting on the forward end of the car and was violently thrown off, her head striking the rail. Her skull was fractured and her body badly bruised. She was removed to her home in an unconscious condition, and at a late hour last night had not recovered her senses.

Mrs. J. Boucher of 718 Oak street, carrying her baby and accompanied by her husband, was sitting on the after part of the car. She was thrown off. Her left leg was hurt and she was otherwise injured internally. The infant was also bruised on several parts of its body.

I. Koshland of 808 Pine street had his ankle dislocated and fractured, also receiving other injuries.

Miss Horton of 3415 Point Lobos avenue was thrown to the ground and received cuts on the face and foot.

Miss Marie Leonhardt of 1314 Broderick street was slightly hurt by falling on the track.

With great crowds standing at every street crossing waiting for the cars that were already crowded to overflowing, the Sutro road from Central avenue to the Cliff House went through its first Sunday. From morning till night a mass of people surged around and piled in and out of those cars after making it impossible for one crowd to take the place of the other. The coaches would move off with their mass of passengers, slowly because the motorman knew the new machinery and stiff road curves would not stand any sort of speed. The nickel fare and the bright Sunday after weeks of cloud and rain drew the thousands to the warm, bright beach, the new baths and Cliff House.

About 1 o'clock in the afternoon car 40, overcrowded with passengers, went off the rails at the car house on Thirty-third avenue. The coach was bound towards the City and rounding the sharp curve at the corner of the Pythian Cemetery the forward trucks left the track. The car was moving slowly but it was on the downgrade and the great weight of the load of passengers drove it ahead over the ties and into the sand. The people on the open portions and hanging on the outside were shaken off in all directions and in the panic those inside the coach making frantic and needless efforts to escape made the confusion all the greater.

By the force of the collision many of the passengers were thrown off and several were hurt, as already described.

Immediately the superintendent of the road, who was at the carhouse, telegraphed for Dr. Frank B. Fetrie, the physician of the company, and for carriages for the in jured people. Everything possible was done for the disabled passengers by the railroad officials, and upon the arrival of the hacks they were sent to their respective homes. Dr. Petrie by orders of Mayor Sutro visited all the injured passengers last evening.

The car was not badly damaged, and by inquiry among the passengers themselves it was learned that most of the persons hurt received their injuries by wildly jumping off when the car left the rails. They scrambled from the plunging coach in a confused and frightened body, and in the words of a bystander, "They fell every way."

"I exceedingly regret the accident," said Mayor Sutro to a Call reporter, at the baths, "but we have been handicapped all day by the difficulties of a new and untried road, new employes, etc., and also by the terrible crowds of people who all came down upon us at once. They would crowd the cars beyond their capacity, and' the trainmen could hardly handle the coaches. We have been as careful as we could, but you see the thing occurred."


The Unusual Rush to the Home of
the Seals.

At no time within a year has there been such a rush of people to the ocean beach as there was yesterday. As early as 9 o'clock in the morning the cars of the Sutro, the Cliff House and Park and Ocean lines were crowded with people bound for the oceanside. With the advance'of the day there was an increase of travel. The cars of the new line were not only crowded to their capacity, but venturesome men and brjys clambered up the sides and rode on the roof, and so great was the weight on them that roof supports creaked and at times it seemed as if they would be crushed in.

At each terminus, as soon as an outward bound train reached it, there was a struggle between those who wanted to land and those who wanted to get aboard. It was pull, haul and crush and many who wanted to get off were actually forced to fight their way through the crowd wanting to get on. For a time it was apparent that there was a reversal of the railroad rule, "all the traffic will bear," for the cars would not bear the traffic; that is there were not cars enough to accommodate the crowds.

At the Park and Ocean terminus, when the 3:15 train from Stanyan street arrived, there were more people waiting to get on board than could find room. In the efforts of the outs to get in and the ins to get out men struggled to pass each other, women were pushed aside, and many of them had their wraps torn from their shoulders and skirts torn and ruined. Two of these were so much frightened at finding themselves in such an uncontrollable crowd that they fainted and had to be carried away.

Fully 2000 persons were on the five cars that left the depot at half-past 3 o'clock. The little but powerful locomotive snorted and puffed as it pulled out with its heavy load and ran along well enough until it passed the life-saving station, when the dead weight commenced to tell and the train came to a dead halt. It was backed down and a fresh start made, with no better result. It was backed down a second time when more steam was put on, but it was a steady and a hard pull to get around the curve on to the track that lies eastward. From that point to Strawberry Hill station the rise is a gradual one and that station is 2.32 feet higher than the curve.

Once more the train backed, and as it rounded the curve on its backward trip those who were on the rear car and those who were on the side steps were horrified to see another train coming full speed out of the tunnel under the main drive to the great highway. On came the train with unslackened speed and still backward continued the former train. Men, women and children in the last car of the forward train feared a tail-end collision and became almost panic-stricken. Men jumped off the train in the most reckless manner, falling over one another; women screamed and a few took chances and sprang from the moving train. Others who wanted to throw themselves from the car were with difficulty restrained by strong men, while others were so paralyzed with fear as to be unable to move.

Suddenly, while the confusion was at its height, there was a warning whistle from the engine of the rear train, shrill and quick. It startled those in the front part of the forward train who were not aware of what was going on in the rear. Tbe air brakes on the forward train were applied, and the two trains came to a dead halt only about a block apart. None of those who sprang from the train were hurt.

Then the second train followed the first, and the locomotive, drawing its own load, attempted to push the forward one, but hauling and pushing were too much for it. When the forward train was half way up the grade the engine puffed and puffed, and with every revolution of the wheels the advance slackened, then the wheels churned the track, and the train commenced to back slowly, pushing the rear train down the grade until the airbrakes were again applied.

Finally the rear train ran back to the life-saving station, the locomotive cut loose from the train and waited for the former train which was backing down the grade. The rear locomotive was coupled on, and the one pushing and the other hauling tne heavily laden train was taken over the grade, when the rear locomotive returned to its waiting cars and the other train went on and landed its passengers at Stanyan street, all thankful that nothing more serious had occurred than a delay of half an hour. From this point there was another crush to get into tbe street cars.

Go to top of page.

Home/ What/ How/ Where & When/ Who/ Why
Chronology/ Miscellany/ Links/ Map/ Bibliography

Copyright 2013 by Joe Thompson. All rights reserved.

Last updated 01-July-2013