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Woodward's Gardens

Entry Author: Christopher Craig

From the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

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 unsavory characters.

The main entrance to Woodward's Gardens. N.W. cor. 14th & Mission St.
The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley

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 Gardens, 1935

Turrill, Charles B., California Notes, E. Bosqui & Co., 1876


Resort opened in 1865
Opened public aquarium in 1873
Mr. Woodward Died in 1879


> R.B. Woodward


+ From Vignettes of early San Francisco Homes and Gardens
+ Woodward’s Gardens
by Charles Beebe Turrill (1854-1927)



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