The Cliff House Today

Soon after the 1909 Cliff House opened a writer predicted:

"In years to come I can see the grand water front by the Cliff House, built up with fine stores, and beautiful villas erected on the surrounding hills, so that the famous Bay of Naples will be eclipsed by beautiful San Francisco."

A number of changes did arrive, as the Reid Brothers building received additions in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The fine stores and beautiful villas never really came, but the Cliff House continued as a tourist attraction.

Cliff House in the 1950s

Under the ownership of George and Leo Whitney, who bought it in 1937, the Cliff House gained a more carnival personality. At one time the largest curio shop in the world resided inside. Neon signs and bright red paint appeared, and a Camera Obscura was installed in a small building that looked like a Giant Camera itself on the outside terrace.

This is the Cliff House many people remember today. The Cliff House out-of-town relatives were brought to for brunch. The Cliff House fighting men and women of World War Two had their last toast at before shipping out.

From 1969 to 1973, the old landmark sat closed and neglected. When it reopened, murals of psychedelic ocean waves adorned the roofline. After the amusement park down the road, Playland-at-the-Beach, closed in 1972, many old-time amusements found their way to the Cliff House site. "Laughing Sal" now welcomes folks to the Musée Mécanique with all its marvels from the past.

In 1977, the entire area was added to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. After close to twenty years of environmental reviews, design assessments, and resource management guidelines, the National Park Service has made some major decisions on the future of the Cliff House.

The site and the various edifices that have carried the name Cliff House have seen many changes, and it would be wildly optimistic to suppose we have seen the last of them. All one can depend upon, the only constant, is the natural beauty of this site. Whatever the changes in design or fashion, this spot where cliffs meet surf will always carry a certain romance.

The Cliff House Story, Part One

The Cliff House Story, Part Two

Read Christine Miller's article about Lands End disasters, including the Cliff House fires.

Image: Cliff House postcard from the 1950s. Courtesy of SWL Collection.

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