SS Coos Bay Shipwreck: A Closer Look

by Arnold Woods

Saturday October 22, 1927 was a typical foggy evening. Fog horns sounded through the murky mist. The lumber ship, the SS Coos Bay, had left earlier from Bay Point to return to its namesake port, Coos Bay, Oregon with a stop at Angel Island for supplies. As it passed through the Golden Gate in the heavy fog, the Coos Bay’s captain and crew became confused by the various fog horns and ship whistles. Accordingly, the captain ordered a slow bell and had lookouts posted. Despite the precautions, a strong ebb tide and northwesterly swell pushed the Coos Bay far out of the main channel and it came crashing into the rocks along Lands End, north of Lincoln Park. The Golden Gate’s gloom had claimed another victim.

Wreck of the Coos Bay at Lands End, October 25, 1927.Wreck of the Coos Bay at Lands End, October 25, 1927. (wnp66.054; Wallace photo – Laurie Hollings Photo Album / James R. Smith Collection)

The Coos Bay had started its life at sea as a Navy collier called Vulcan. Built in 1909, it had special coal-handling gear so that it could support the Navy’s coal-powered warships. It served the Navy through World War I before it was purchased by the Pacific States Lumber Company in 1924. Thereafter, she was rechristened as the Coos Bay and made regular trips between her home port of San Pedro in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay, and Coos Bay, Oregon with loads of lumber.

Coos Bay shipwreck at Lands End, circa 1927.Coos Bay shipwreck at Lands End, circa 1927. (wnp27.1309; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

After the Coos Bay struck the rocks at Lands End, the heavy surf repeatedly lifted it and dropped it on the rocks. The rocks tore open the hull and caused the engine room to flood. The ship’s engineer described being close to the bottom of the ship as “[m]uch worse than an earthquake1.” As the ship rocked back and forth, the radioman tried to reach rescue tugs to no avail. In an interview the following day, the radioman stated that he felt like he had “lived a million years last night”2. Despite fears that there might be an explosion or the ship would break in two, the crew waited out the night on deck, keeping their morale up with coffee and songs.

The Coos Bay shipwreck at Lands End, 1927.The Coos Bay shipwreck at Lands End, 1927. (wnp14.0816; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

As dawn broke on Sunday, August 23rd, the heavy fog had lifted. News of the Coos Bay had spread rapidly around town and people began showing up to see the shipwreck. Thousands of people came to the cliffs at Lands End to see the spectacle. At 8:00 a.m., the Captain, B.W. Olsen, decided there was no point in keeping the crew aboard and ordered his men to shoot a breeches buoy line ashore with a Lyle gun. The first shot went high and far, causing spectators on the cliff above to duck and eventually hitting the side of a home on Clement Street before coming to a stop in an alley. Men from the Coast Guard Lifesaving station then fired a buoy line to the ship and 14 crewmembers and the ship’s mascot dog named Spark were brought to shore. Lifeboats from the Fort Point Coast Guard station rescued 19 more men. Captain Olsen was the last to leave, only doing so upon orders of his employers.

Coos Bay shipwreck at Lands End broken up, circa 1930s.Coos Bay shipwreck at Lands End broken up, circa 1930s. (wnp27.2249; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

The ship’s cargo was mostly recovered thereafter, but efforts to free the Coos Bay from the rocks failed. As the Coos Bay itself was too badly damaged to be salvaged, it was abandoned. For several years, the Coos Bay remained mostly intact, but the waves continued to pound it against the rocks until it broke in pieces. Sightseers continued to journey to Lands End to see the wreck for a few years after it happened. The San Francisco Junior Chamber of Commerce led a campaign that led to the Coos Bay’s remains being scrapped in April 1930, but some pieces still get exposed at low tide.


1. “Engine Room Horror After Wreck Bared By Engineer,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 24, 1927, page 2.

2. “Crew Feared Explosion As Water Rose About Engine,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 24, 1927, page 2.

The Portola Festival: A Closer Look

by Arnold Woods

Any San Franciscan will recognize the name Portola. The City features the Portola district, Portola Drive that extends west from Market Street, and many businesses that incorporate the Portola name. Hopefully, most San Franciscans know that the Portola name honors Spanish explorer and Military Governor of the Californias Don Gaspar de Portola, who is credited with the “discovery,” European discovery that is, of the San Francisco Bay on November 4, 1769, when his expedition spotted it while crossing Sweeney Ridge, which separates San Bruno and Pacifica.

In 1909, three years after the devastating earthquake, San Francisco was looking for a way to celebrate the rebirth of the City and show that it was ready for large events and tourists again. They hit upon a festival to honor Portola as a way of demonstrating this.

Portola Festival parade at Market and 7th Streets, circa 1909.Parade at Market and 7th Streets, circa 1909. (wnp37.01867; C. Lind Photo, Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

The first Portola Festival occurred October 19-23, 1909. The first day featured “Portola” entering the Golden Gate and “landing” at Pier 2. A parade proceeded down Market Street from there featuring military members from several countries and the Portola “dragoons.” While we don’t have a date for the image above, it is likely from the Portola Festival military parade given the men dressed like Portola’s dragoons on horses. They estimated crowd size was nearly a million people.

Italian float in front of Old Mission Dolores during Portola Festival parade, October 21, 1909.Italian float in front of Old Mission Dolores during Portola Festival parade, October 21, 1909. (wnp37.01958; Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

On October 21, 1909, there was another parade that started at the Ferry Building, went down Market Street and ended by wandering through many streets in the Mission District. 25,000 people marched in the parade which featured many floats. A million people came out to see this parade according to newspaper reports. A Chronicle headline announced it to be the “Greatest Parade In History Of The City”1.

Ferry Building and Market Street decorated for Portola Festival, October 1909.Ferry Building and Market Street decorated for Portola Festival, October 1909. (wnp4.1361.jpg; Martin Behrman image, Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

Day 4 of the 1909 Portola Festival featured an auto parade. The festival was then capped on October 23, 1909 by Carnival Day, including yet another parade, this time at night with lighted floats, fireworks, and “Portola” departing at midnight. The consensus was that the Festival proved San Francisco had rebounded from the 1906 earthquake.

Portola Festival Princess, October 1913.Portola Festival Princess, October 1913. (wnp30.0039; Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection / Courtesy of Emiliano Echeverria.)

The Portola Festival was supposed to be an annual event, but other civic events took precedence over the next few years. In October 1913, another major Portola festival was held. Although still called the Portola Festival, this time it honored the 400th anniversary of Vasco Nunez de Balboa becoming the first European to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1513. The 1913 Portola Festival was shortened by a day and only drew a half-million people to its big parade. The festival then disappeared for 35 years.

WACS marching in Portoal Festival at Market and Kearny, October 17, 1948.WACS marching in Portoal Festival at Market and Kearny, October 17, 1948. (wnp14.3709; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

Spurred by a local civic club, the Golden Gate Aerie of Eagles, San Francisco revived the Portola Festival in 1948, which the City intended it to be a Mardi Gras-like celebration. The week-long Festival took place October 17-24, 1948. The night before the festival, four different “Portolas” arrived, three of them from San Diego–one by horseback, one by sea, and one by air–each a representation of Don Gaspar de Portola’s expedition from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay. The Festival began on October 17, 1948 with a parade down Market Street from the Ferry Building to the Civic Center. The San Francisco Chronicle estimated that 750,000 people watched the parade, which it stated was the longest and most viewed parade in San Francisco history2. Apparently the Chronicle either forgot about the viewing size and length of the 1909 Portola Festival parades or their 1909 estimates were overstated.

Glittery, lighted float in Portola Festival parade, October 23, 1948.Glittery, lighted float in Portola Festival parade, October 23, 1948. (wnp100.00230; Lumir Cerny, Morton-Waters Co, photographer – SCRAP Negative Collection / Courtesy of SCRAP.)

Over the next week, the Portola Festival moved to the neighborhoods with small local parades, pony rides, band concerts, and street festivals. The Festival returned to Market Street on Saturday night, October 23, 1948 as it mimicked the 1909 festival with a night-time electrical parade featuring lighted floats. Feeling the hyperbole, the San Francisco Chronicle once again called a Portola Festival parade “the greatest in the history of San Francisco, a city noted for its parades3.

After the festival was done, Cyril Magnin, the president of the festival, declared that it had exceeded all expectations and that he hoped it would become an annual event4. The following year though, San Francisco decided to instead focus on its upcoming 1950 centennial as a California city. Once again, the Portola Festival faded into memory, never to occur again.


1. San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 1909, page 1.

2. “750,000 Turn Out For the Mighty Portola Parade,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 1948, page 1.

3. “Portola Spectacle: City’s Greatest Parade Brings Greatest Crowd In History to Downtown Area,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 24, 1948, page 1.

4. “The City Has A Time,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1948, pages 1, 12.

The Changing Landscape: The North Side of the Music Concourse

by Arnold Woods

On the north side of the Music Concourse today is the de Young Museum. In fact, de Young and fine art has always been connected with that side of the Music Concourse. However, the look of the north side has changed over the years.

While Golden Gate Park was officially established in April 1870, it was quite some time before it began to take the shape that we know and love today. Grass and trees had to be planted, roads had to be added, and structures had to be built. A little over 20 years later, San Francisco was prepared to show off its big new park to the world. Michael H. de Young had been a commissioner at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and saw the opportunity to do a similar fair in San Francisco, where the weather would allow it to be held in the winter. Over park superintendent John McLaren’s objection, plans to hold the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park were approved.

Fine Arts Building under construction, 1893.Fine Arts Building under construction, 1893. (wnp37.03338; Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

The 1894 Midwinter Fair was held in today’s Music Concourse area. A number of buildings were constructed around a midway, which featured Bonet’s Light Tower at the center. One of the buildings erected on the north side of the midway was the Fine Arts Building, which was to feature art by numerous artists, including 28 women. The Fine Arts Building was spearheaded by de Young and was a 50-foot brick structure designed in a pseudo-Egyptian Revival style. Iron trusses supported a sky-lit roof. In the image above, you see little other than dirt in the area leading up to where the Fine Arts Building is being constructed.

Fine Arts Building during Midwinter Fair, 1894.Fine Arts Building during Midwinter Fair, 1894. (wnp37.03168; Isaiah West Taber – Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

The Midwinter Fair lasted from January to July 1894. The Fine Arts Building, seen above during the Fair, was a major attraction. Afterwards McLaren made sure to get rid of most remnants of the Fair, even having Bonet’s Light Tower torn down and sold for scraps. The midway underwent a major redesign into what we know now as the Music Concourse, so that area could be used as a public gathering place and for musical performances. One building that was not torn down was the Fine Arts Building, which de Young had plans for. Following the Fair, the Fine Arts Museum was designated as a museum for the people of San Francisco.

Memorial Museum on Music Concourse, circa 1905.Memorial Museum on Music Concourse, circa 1905. (wnp26.804; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

The newly christened Memorial Museum opened on March 25, 1895. It was free to the public and mostly featured the artwork of the artists whose works were displayed during the Fair. They had been convinced by de Young to donate their art to the museum. You can see new landscaping and the addition of various trees around the museum in the image above.

Earthquake damage to Memorial Museum, 1906.Earthquake damage to Memorial Museum, 1906. (wnp37.00177; Miles Bros. – Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

11 years after it opened, the Memorial Museum was damaged in the April 18, 1906 earthquake. As seen above, part of the East wall of the building fell down. The west wall was similarly damaged and cracks appeared in many places. The museum had to be closed for a year and a half to effect repairs. After it reopened, it continued to grow and ever larger crowds visited it. Soon, de Young realized that the old Fine Arts Building was not sufficient for the Memorial Museum.

De Young Museum and Memorial Museum, 1927.De Young Museum and Memorial Museum, 1927. (wnp27.5646; Lawton – Courtesy of a Private Collector)

After the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, de Young hired the PPIE’s architecture coordinator, Louis Christian Mulgardt to design a new museum. Mulgardt’s Spanish-Plateresque-style building was constructed immediately to the west of the Memorial Museum. It was completed in 1919 and de Young gave it to the City. In 1921, a central section with a tower was added and a west wing completed it in 1925. Because of all of his support, San Francisco renamed the museum as the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. In the image above, you can see the new and old museums side by side in 1927.

The de Young Museum, circa 1950s.The de Young Museum, circa 1950s. (wnp14.2065; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

Michael H. de Young passed away in 1925. Four years later, the original Egyptian-style structure from the 1894 Midwinter Fair was declared unsafe and torn down. In the 1940s, the rest of the Memorial Museum was found to be rusting and was taken down as well. Thereafter, the front edifice of the new museum was remodeled to remove the Spanish-Plateresque elements for a “cleaner” look as this 1950s image shows.

M.H. de Young Museum through the Music Concourse trees, 2015. (Courtesy Arnold Woods)

As in the 1906 earthquake, the de Young Museum again suffered serious damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It was temporarily repaired, but eventually plans were adopted to raze the museum and build a new one. The de Young Museum closed at the end of the year 2000 for this purpose. On October 15, 2005, the brand new de Young Museum was opened. The new museum retained certain elements of the prior museum, but the structure was entirely new. There was a tower like the old museum as the above image shows, but the design is supposed to invoke the natural elements of the park. Today, the de Young Museum continues to be one of the most popular attractions in the park.

The view north from the Music Concourse has always looked at an art museum, but that view has changed quite a bit over the years.