Grove of Memory: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

In processing and scanning images for the OpenSFHistory project, there are views we easily identify (so many shots of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge…). Others have become familiar, such as early city hotels, the first Palace, the Occidental, and the Baldwin. Then there are outliers that stump us from the start and need some detective work. This image of “Native Sons Memorial Grove” is a good example:

Native Sons Memorial Grove, September 26, 1926.
Native Sons Memorial Grove, September 26, 1926. – (Courtesy of a private collector.)

The view is obviously a city street and not a park. There are telephone poles, a traffic median, and streetcar tracks visible on the far left. The grove has two tall flagpoles. Our first guess, with the open spaces, lack of buildings, and trees in the background, was Sloat Boulevard, perhaps Junipero Serra Boulevard. Luckily, the date scratched on the negative, September 26, 1926, gave us a jumping off point for newspaper archive research.

On June 6, 1926, the San Francisco Chronicle had a story about a troop of 300 boy scouts participating in memorial services held by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West at “the Grove of Memory, Ocean Avenue and Junipero Serra boulevard.” The Native Sons and Native Daughters are social organizations formed in 1875 and 1886 with a focus on California heritage. The 1926 ceremony honored 39 members of the Native Sons who had died in service during World War I. Each acacia tree in the grove had a nameplate at its base. A local band played taps while the scouts set small flags beside the name of each serviceman. The participants held another memorial service the following June.

There’s no sign of this grove on Junipero Serra Bouelvard between St. Francis Circle and Ocean Avenue today. The road has been renovated for increased car traffic and the median is now all streetcar tracks. What happened?

In 1927, The Park Commission designated land between 15th and 17th Avenues on the north side of today’s John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park for a new Grove of Memory. The Native Sons and Native Daughters hosted a series of whist parties to raise funds for an appropriate monument at the grove, and in November 1927, the new grove site was dedicated. In addition to a grove of redwood trees, a seven-foot-high boulder was placed and reserved for a plaque of names on the rock face and commemorative statue on top of it.

For the statue, artist M. Earl Cummings shunned the typical war memorial pose. Instead of a heroic man in action, Cummings created a young doughboy holding not a weapon, but a wreath. Both the statue and plaque were dedicated in 1930, and on June 3, 1951, a new plaque, listing additional honored dead from World War II, replaced the original.

Today, the Grove of Memory consists of dozens of mature redwood trees. Thousand of drivers on Crossover Drive curve around it on their daily commute. This year is the centennial of the United States entry into World War I. For Memorial Day, the doughboy should have some flowers placed at his feet.

Doughboy statue at the Grove of Memory
M. Earl Cummings’ doughboy statue and memorial plaque in front of the Grove of Memory in Golden Gate Park, May 27, 1930. (Courtesy of a private collector.).

Golden Gate Bridge at 80: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

“Mayor Rossi will never make good as a welder. There were three links to be burned. William P. Filmer had a gold one. Frank P. Doyle, a copper one and Mayor Rossi’s was silver. He came in a poor third.” – San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 1937.

Mayor Rossi cutting chain at Golden Gate Bridge opening, May 28, 1937.
Mayor Angelo Rossi cutting a silver chain with acetylene welding torch. Timothy Reardon (President, Board of Public Works) wearing an overcoat, stands at the Mayor’s left, and George C. Miller, Vancouver mayor, is in the top hat. – (Courtesy of a private collector.)

This week marks the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. As with every round number anniversary for the span, stories shall be published on the engineering, the design, the perseverance of its creators, and the role the world famous icon plays in popular culture. But in reviewing the many images in our OpenSFHistory collection of the opening week celebrations in 1937, the best story has to be Angelo Rossi, San Francisco’s 31st mayor, using an acetylene torch to cut a chain for the traditional “ribbon cutting.”

In some ways, the two men described by the Chronicle reporter as handier with a blowtorch had stronger connections to the famous span than Mayor Rossi. William P. Filmer served as president of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, the special-purpose governing agency in charge of bridge operations as well as running Golden Gate Transit and Golden Gate Ferry. Frank Pierce Doyle, a Santa Rosa banker, was described as the father of the Golden Gate Bridge for his tireless work rounding up support and funding for its construction. The San Francisco approach to the bridge from the Marina District—recently rebuilt as the Presidio Parkway—was named Doyle Drive in his honor, and his car, driven by a bridge worker on an inspection a few weeks before the official opening of the bridge, was the first private automobile to cross the span.

Being first to cross the bridge was an honor shared by many during the week’s festivities. Harland Swanson, a 16-year-old living at 2116 18th Avenue, “ran under three women and a dog and was first through the turnstile.” Del Jones from 1307 12th Avenue drove the first motorcycle with his friend Ted Cossman being the first motorcycle passenger. The first twins crossed, the first man on stilts, and the Chronicle even noted the first misplaced child: Betty Tandy, nine years old, of 1221 29th Avenue.

Florentine Caleger, on stilts on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Florentine Calegeri, a houseman from the Palace Hotel, has the distinction of being the first to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and back on stilts on May 27, 1937. (Courtesy of a private collector.).

The man in the top hat on Mayor Rossi’s left was George C. Miller, His Worship the Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia (that’s really how they say it up there). He and his Canadian contingent were brave to wear high-topped headwear. Winds were howling at 25 mph during the ceremony. A wise-cracking reporter noted “someone could have done a thriving business reclaiming Mi-lady’s hairpins from the bridge deck,” and that “one hat blew over the railing and the sharks got that for a souvenir.”

The chain-severing ceremony took place at the north tower and the dignitaries proceeded to drive towards San Francisco. At the toll plaza they faced a barrier perhaps more daunting than chains of gold, silver, and bronze. “Queen Empress” Vivian Sorenson and her court of nineteen beauty queens, all in fiesta outfits, met them in a human chain of mantillas and ruffled skirts. FasTrak® accounts were not accepted.

Queen Empress Vivian Sorenson and her court of 19 California beauties blocked the San Francisco side of the bridge until officials arrived from Marin.
“Queen Empress Vivian Sorenson and her court of 19 California beauties blocked the San Francisco side of the bridge until officials arrived from Marin.” (San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 1937).

Mother Minerva: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

Minerva Hartman lived in a residence made of three relief cottages moved from a 1906 earthquake refugee camp to the Daly City/Colma border. The State of California wanted the structure condemned to widen El Camino Real, and “Mother Minerva’s” campaign to defend her home, at times with a Colt pistol in her hand, was big news in 1927. We have three images on OpenSFHistory taken at the time, all courtesy of the Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt collection.

Minerva Hartman, 1927
“Mother Minerva” Hartman telling stories while her home was being moved. (Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection).

Relief cottages or “refugee shacks” were constructed in camps organized in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. When the camps closed the following year, refugees removed thousands of these cottages to private property. Twenty years later, in 1927, the California Division of Highways (predecessor to today’s Caltrans) began widening El Camino Real where Daly City and an unincorporated part of Colma met. The engineers faced an obstructing ramshackle house made of three wooden relief cottages occupied by an elderly woman of unusual character.

Minerva Hartman said she was a 94-year-old nurse that had served in the U.S. Civil War, Spanish-American War, Indian Wars with General Custer, and even the Crimean War, befriending the world’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale. Known to locals as “Mother Minerva,” Hartman usually wore an old Army campaign hat with faded cords of blue, yellow, and red in recognition of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery of the U.S. Armed Forces. She raised an American flag on a pole outside her door every morning, and made her living telling fortunes to travelers.

The Division of Highways wanted to cut into the embankment onto which Minerva’s residence stood. The old lady refused to leave or have her house moved. Brandishing an antique revolver, Hartman vowed to defend her “fort” and made personal pleas to the War Department, the governor’s office, and the media. A compromise was reached and Hartman’s home stayed in place by shoring it up with stilts and building an exterior staircase down to the roadway.

Minerva's Fort, 1927
Hartman raising the flag at “Minerva’s Fort,” 1927. (Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection).

The arrangement certainly wouldn’t comply with any modern building code. Hartman had a thirty-step climb to get to her front door, and her rickety “shacks on stilts” home hung two dozen feet above the roadside. Even if she lost some fortune-telling customers who didn’t want to make the climb, the indefatigable Mother Minerva became a folk hero and her house a local tourist attraction.

The end for Hartman and her home came ten years later. On March 25, 1937, an oil lamp tipped over in the bedroom. One of the responding volunteer firemen later reported the scene to a coroner’s jury: “…we responded to the call and went down to Minerva’s Fort and when we got there the house was a mass of flame. We boys all got together and did the best we could. We went through the remains of the shack and as we went we came across Mrs. Hartman’s body.”

Mother Minerva Hartman, reportedly 103 or 104 years old, had died of smoke inhalation before the flames reached her. Her body was interred at Olivet Memorial Park under the auspices of local veterans groups.

For sharing Minerva history we thank the late Rich Higgins at Caltrans, researcher Russell Brabec, and our friends at the History Guild of Daly City/Colma. Other sources: San Francisco Call-Bulletin, San Francisco News, and San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 1937, and Daly City Record, April 1 and April 8, 1937.

Minerva reading
Mother Minerva Hartman inside her home. (Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection).

The San Franciscans: Gertrude Barnett

by Nicole Meldahl

Researching a local found in an OpenSFHistory image.

Gertrude Barnett, born and raised in San Francisco, was the daughter of a German immigrant named Mary. Just fourteen-years-old in 1906, Gertrude celebrated her graduation from John Swift Grammar School in an unusual fashion. A mere two months after San Francisco was devastated by a massive earthquake, it must have been difficult to find a building safe enough to accommodate a large event. So public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area staged a joint graduation ceremony for 1,700 students in Golden Gate Park. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 attendees heard addresses made by Mayor Eugene Schmitz and representatives from the United School District, and listened to music provided by the Golden Gate Park Band led by Paul Steindorff.

Gertrude Barnett atop Twin Peaks, c. 1920s
A snapshot labeled “Gertrude Barnett,” taken from Twin Peaks, c. 1920s. (Courtesy of a private collector).

In addition to Gertrude, mother Mary looked after three boys—Jess, Mark, and Irving—in the mysterious absence of a husband. The Barnetts were part of the “smart set,” with Gertrude appearing in the society section of the San Francisco Chronicle for receiving guests at a friend’s engagement party in December 1913.

As war broke out in Europe, Gertrude’s brother Jess preempted U.S. involvement by volunteering for the Canadian military. He was assigned to the 72nd Canadian Seaforth Highlanders, and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was the first San Franciscan to serve in France. Injured, he was twice sent to a military hospital in London to recover. Gertrude gave him the name and address of an old friend who had lived on Jersey Street at Vicksburg (just around the corner from the Barnett home on 24th Street and Vicksburg), but now lived in England. Jess dutifully looked up this friend, Yetta Sylvester, during his first convalescence, and, when he found himself injured and recovering a second time, he visited her daily. When Jess visited his mother Mary in the summer of 1918 he must have been smitten with Yetta, if not exhausted from war, because he returned to France on November 2—nine days before the cease of hostilities. A month later, he married Yetta.

Gertrude spent the war in San Francisco, living at 1450 Clay Street with her mother and two brothers, Mark and Irving. In 1923, around when our photograph was taken of Gertrude on top of Twin Peaks, she invented and patented a thoroughly modern teapot that looks quite similar to a handbag. She survived a depressed 1930s but seems to have weathered the 1940s a bit worse for the wear. Around 1944, Gertrude began exhibiting “nervous” symptoms under the care of a Dr. Leeds, and occasionally found herself in the hospital. Yet she pops up in the San Francisco Examiner during the second World War at events hosted by the Western Women’s Club and the Society for Sanity in Art which, hilariously, was an American artist’s society opposed to all forms of modern art.

Barnett's handbag tea pot patent.
Barnett’s handbag tea pot patent.

Gertrude remained unmarried and falls off our historical radar until 1959, when she’s struck by a vehicle while crossing the street. Represented by the law firm of Barnett & Robertson (perhaps of relation?), she sues the driver, William E. Keilig. She wins and Kelig is found at fault, but conflicting eyewitness testimony casts doubt on the severity of her injuries, and her claim that the accident had left her “nervous and emotionally upset” was undermined by medical records proving she had suffered from those symptoms for some time. Gertrude appeals the low award of $1,500, but it is upheld.

Gertrude’s road companion, George Hughes, atop Twin Peaks.
Gertrude’s road companion, George Hughes, atop Twin Peaks. (Courtesy of a private collector).

Nothing more is known about Gertrude or how she knows George Hughes, who surveys San Francisco beside her from atop Twin Peaks. Do you know more of her story? Email or send us a tip using the contact button on the display page of her photo.

• “Society Weddings and Engagements Take Place,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 1913:
• 1920 Census:
• 1930 Census:
• “First S.F. Man To Face Enemy Brings Bride,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 1919:
• San Francisco Directory, 1940:
• Teapot patent:
• Barnett V. Keilig:
• “Public School Graduation in Park Will Be Unusual and Novel Scene,” San Francisco Call, June 1, 1906:
• “Navy Nurse Corps,” American Journal of Nursing, October 1942:
• Fang Family San Francisco Examiner Photo Archive, Finding Aid: