Entry Author: Christopher
From the Virtual Museum of the City of San
Woodward Gardens was a popular public amusement resort in
operation between 1865 and 1891. It was formerly located within
a two square block area bounded by Mission and Valencia, and
13th and 15th Streets. Wealthy hotel proprietor Robert B.
Woodward bought the property in 1861, and moved his family
into the former house of General Fremont that occupied the
corner of Mission and 14th Streets. Over the next five years,
he invested in beautifying the residence and grounds. A new
main house was completed in 1862, and ornate fountains, lakes,
and manicured gardens adorned the property.
Local interest in the private estate prompted Woodward to
open the grounds commercially to the general public in 1865.
Locals dubbed the grounds the "Central Park of the West,"
and the site became very popular for picnics and events. Woodward
introduced a system of horse-drawn "bob-tail cars"
that brought city residents to his resort from the downtown
area, utilizing the wooden plank road, which stretched along
Mission Street. After relocating his family to Napa, California,
the main house was converted into a museum and was filled
with stuffed animals, coins, stamps, and collectables given
to him by sailors and world travelers that had stayed at his
well-known hotel, the What Cheer House. Later structural expansions
allowed Woodward to exhibit his large collection of fine art,
oil paintings, statuary, and ceramics, which he accumulated
from his trips to Europe.
A conservatory was added which housed rare and exotic trees
and tropical plants, and in 1873, he opened the first public
aquarium on the West Coast, which featured marine specimens
from around the globe. Other additions included an amusement
pavilion with pipe organ music, a lunchroom, a restaurant,
and a roller rink. On weekends, live entertainment was provided,
including stage plays, bands, dancers, comedians, and circus-types
performing all manner of feats and spectacles. One of the
main draws to the park was the zoo. Ostriches, flamingos,
deer, and domestic animals were allowed to roam the gardens
unhindered, while wolves, bears, lions, camels, and monkeys
were kept in larger pens and cages. As with Woodward's successful
hotel, alcohol was not allowed on the premises, ensuring an
environment that was relatively free of rabble-rousers and
The main entrance to Woodward's Gardens.
N.W. cor. 14th & Mission St.
The Bancroft Library. University of California,
When Mr. Woodward died in 1879, the caretakers
of his estate attempted to keep the park running, but as other
city attractions opened, and the resort deteriorated in appearance
and popularity, the park officially closed to the public in
1891. In 1893, the land was broken up into 39 separate lots
and sold. An auction was held for Woodward's extensive collections
of art and curios, 75,000 articles in all were sold. Nothing
remains of the once spectacular amusement resort except for
photographs, ephemera, and the written reminiscences from
those who saw it firsthand. A plaque commemorating the 19th
century attraction hangs outside of a modern restaurant, named
appropriately, "Woodward's Garden", located at 1700
Mission St. (at Duboce St.)
Palmer, Mrs. Silas H, Vignettes of Early San Francisco
Homes and Gardens: Program of the SF Garden Club, Woodward's
Turrill, Charles B., California Notes, E. Bosqui &