Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A pyromaniac ghost pirate has some specific thoughts on architecture.

Thanks to the internet my sometimes-obsessive nature gets fed with strange and weird things that prohibit me from going to bed at a reasonable hour.  Recently I came across a picture that I left open in a tab for about twelve days because apparently I don't believe in EVER shutting my computer down.  

Meet the Cliff House.  IT'S ON FIRE!

Oddly enough, after 12 days open I still didn't document the source...
Imagine having 3000 tabs open on your computer then stumbling across that every few hours.  It was rather jarring.  I became obsessed.  Thank gawd it was at least labeled.

The Cliff House was/is in San Francisco (anybody ever been there?) and should probably have its story made into a horror movie.  

The first version of the Cliff House was built in 1858 (according to Wikipedia so, you know...) by an ex-Mormon who used the lumber of a ship that "foundered on the basalt cliffs below."  So what Wikipedia very poetically said was that that a pirate ship (because I'm assuming it totally was) crashed on the evil rocks of the California coast so they decided to build a house using the cursed pirate ship leftovers on TOP of the cursed cliff.  

Seems like nothing could ever go wrong with this plan.  
Here's the very first rendition of the Cliff House.  Do you sense the impending doom? 

The second version in 1870 here
Well version #2 (I think just version #1 but with wings so version 1.1) was built in 1863 and became a super fancy hotel and restaurant.  They built a road and shit up from the city and even a track nearby where people could race their horses.

It sounds like a regular Dave & Busters up there.  Can you imagine walking up a damn mountain to get there?  

Can you imagine doing it in a skirt and corset?  Or walking in the sand?  UGH I'm so lazy.  If my yoga pants bunch up in the wrong spot I punch the closest person next to me in the groin and go home immediately.

Mark Twain seemed to like it although I can't read text on a black background so maybe he hated it but I'll never really know because I'll have a seizure long before I finish the anecdote.

But in 1887 another ship ran aground and caused a gigantic dynamite explosion destroying a large section of the house.  Hhhmm...  another ship?  How... 


Adolph Sutro - future Mayor of San Francisco - was the owner at the time and made his fortune working in the mines.  Although he seems like somewhat of a hero, a dynamite explosion?  Really?  This movie is writing itself, y'all.

But the house survived the explosion only to be burned down by a chimney fire in 1894.  Doh.

Well Sutro said "Nice try, pirates and mining ghosts.  You can't stop a man and his glorious beard!" and rebuilt the Cliff House for the third time like a boss.

I love a good 'under construction' shot although something about this terrifies me.  Building an eight story wooden house in 1895 on top of a dangerous cliff just doesn't seem very sturdy.  I mean, just look at the supports over the rocks...  

The architects were Emil Lemme and Charles Colley but I don't know who they were so just absorb that factoid into your grey matter.

So here's the third version of the Cliff House called "Gingerbread Palace."  If you'll notice those wooden supports over the rocks are still there...

It's the cutest thing ever and I love to see those hussies and their legs playing on the beach.
My favorite shot.  So wonky.

For all I can tell this is a real photo although it looks like something out of a movie.  A HORROR MOVIE?!?!?!??!

Well it wasn't all beachy keen because in 1907 the entire house burned to the ground.  AGAIN.  This was the tragedy that initially captured my attention up top.

Maybe it's the fact that events like this rarely seem to be documented WHILE it's happening that make this one so fascinating to me.  

Fire photos from here
The ruin porn also seems quite poignant.  This is some Jane Eyre shit right here.

It was rebuilt again by the Sutro family similar to the original structure but was once again remodeled (thankfully not necessitated by fire) in 1937 into an American roudhouse.

Honestly, I love the retro fabulosity of this version almost as much as I love the haunted ghost pirate version bursting with hell flames.

The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977 and in 2003 was remodeled to its current appearance (which was modeled after its 1909 appearance).  Are you confused yet?  Don't worry, I'm not even putting a picture of the current structure on this post because it's so disappointing compared to everything above this that it makes me sad.  You can see it here if you dare...

There's no word on whether or not the new building is haunted so perhaps during one of the numerous fires the evil spirits were finally exorcised.  

I bet if you live in San Francisco you think all this is super boring but I'm totally excited about visiting there one day!  And to bring a team of ghost hunters with me.

I did a lot of reading all over the interwebz but I spent a lot of time at the Cliff House Project, the National Park Service and San Francisco Memories so go there for more info a lots more pictures of old timey people.

And that's your architectural history lesson for today!


  1. You do need to visit, especially if the current Cliff House is NOT haunted. Then you can make sure to imbue hauntedness back INTO the place. Bring Charlemagne.

    1. Oooh I'll leave my trail of glitternaise/ectoplasm for a haunting with a little something extra.

      Get your couch ready.

  2. I've been there! The view is amazing, the historical pictures are awesome, the architecture is "meh" and the food is a BAZILLION DOLLARS, so there's that.

    You can walk near the Sutro baths which you should also read about. They are on the other side of the mountain and we giant fuck-all ocean fed pools which hosted water shows and shit. They are fucking amazing...well, they're ruins now but still pretty damn cool.

    1. Awesome!! That's about how I imagined everything. I'm cheap so I'll just roll around on the beach for awhile.

      I found a bunch of stuff on the Sutro Baths (I love ruins, obvi) but figured I didn't want to bore everyone with TOO much history in one post. I can't wait to see everything one day.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. History lesson for the day: check.

  4. oh, hey! i was antique shopping the other day in socal, and i found an actual vintage postcard from cliff house. it was 25¢ so i got it to send to you if you want it. =) if you add me to your g+ circle you can pm me your address, or i can pm you my phone # first so you can hear my voice & see that i'm a lady with no creepy motives before you tell me your address. hahaha. the version of cliff house on this postcard is the modern version, with lots of cool old 50s/60s cars parked out front. it's a photo, but a bit garishly hand colored. never written on. in surprisingly good shape. =)

    1. actually it might be the same photo as the last one in this blog entry. but with the garish coloring.

    2. Omigawd how sweet! Yes, I would LOVE to have it AND that it came from a blog friend person is even better! I can paypayl you the quarter... ; )

      I'm G+ dumb so I'll try to add you but if I mess up my email is madamesunday at the gmail.

      Thanks so much for thinking of me! That's really cool! I love garish coloring... ; )

    3. Ok I couldn't find you on G+ - your Blogger profile doesn't have much info either...? Maybe just email me (or tweet at me) - we have 4000 ways of communication now so surely we can make it work! ; )