We’d like to wish all our readers a Happy New Year in 2016 and celebrate it with this tribute to Adolf Sutro, the philanthropist who gave so much to San Francisco including the forest we all love. It was written over 100 years ago and published in the San Francisco Call.
In this day of the “city beautiful,” one thinks of the man who first planted trees and flowers to beautify San Francisco, Adolph Sutro.
Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro was born at Aix-la-Chappel, Prussia, on April 29, 1830. At the age of 16 he left school to work in his father’s cloth factory. At the death of Mr. Sutro senior, the management of the factory was left to Adolph and his brother. The revolution in Europe affected their business, so the Sutro family migrated to America and settled at Baltimore. In 1850, during the gold excitement, young Sutro went to California on one of the first vessels bound for San Francisco. On the voyage Sutro wrote accounts of the journey and sent them to his mother.
November 21, 1851 marks the date when Mr. Sutro arrived in San Francisco. He had little money but much ambition, and soon went into the business of selling cigars on the water front. In 1856 he married. Of this union were born six children, one of whom is Mrs. Merrit, who spoke to us when our new school was first occupied. Formerly our school was called Point Lobos school, but during the time of John Swett was renamed in honor of Mr. Sutro.
In 1859 Mr. Sutro visited the Comstock lode in Nevada. The mines there needed to be drained of water and to be provided with better ventilation, so Mr. Sutro thought he could drain and ventilate the mines by building a tunnel. After interesting capitalists in his plan, and receiving permission from the state and national government, he began his work. It took 14 years to finish the tunnel and when it was finished Mr. Sutro became a millionaire many times over.
He now returned to San Francisco, his favorite city. He became interested in the sand dunes and purchased acres of sand hills, upon which he planted young trees, which one may see from many parts of San Francisco. Sutro Heights, a show place of San Francisco, overlooking the Farallones, Tamalpais and the Golden gate, is also one of his many public works. Mr. Sutro built Sutro baths and gave to San Francisco a fine library and art gallery. He also presented to the University of California 26 acres of land where the Affiliated Colleges now stand.
He reduced the car fare to the beach from ten cents to five cents for the sake of the people by building the Clement street car line. He was always kind and courteous to everybody, and as a result was very popular. This was shown in his election for mayor, when he received more votes than all his four opponents together.
Adolph Sutro was the first man to start a real Arbor Day in San Francisco county by having trees planted in Sutro forest and in other parts of our city, and by giving all the school children in San Francisco a tree to plant in the bare places of the city and one to plant in their own gardens at home. Many of these trees still stand, a fitting monument to Adolph Sutro, the originator of the city beautiful.
(First published in San Francisco Call, Volume 112, Number 1, 1 June 1912. Note: The pictures were not original to the article.)