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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 18: George Turner Marsh and the Naming of the Richmond

The interesting life of George Turner Marsh, pioneer of the Richmond District and possible namer of the neighborhood.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - May 9, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 18: George Turner Marsh and the Naming of the Richmond Outside Lands Podcast Episode 18: George Turner Marsh and the Naming of the Richmond

(above) George Turner Marsh, 1910s, n.d.

George Turner Marsh, Asian Art importer whose estate provided inspiration for naming the Richmond District.


Podcast Transcription

WNP18 - George Turner Marsh and the Naming of the Richmond

Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: David?

David: Yes, Woody.

Woody: We used to…

David: It starts the same way every time we have a conversation, even the ones we don't record.

Woody: People like this sort of continuity, I think. So, it's okay. David?

David: Yes, Woody.

Woody: Do you remember when we used to have our little meetups at the Cliff House?

David: I do.

Woody: Like once a month.

David: I miss those meetups.

Woody: Yeah. Once a month we'd say, come to the Cliff House and hang out with us. You can have a beer or drink and we can talk about history or just get to know people, right?

David: Yep.

Woody: And I think the shining star of the people I met there…

David: Outside of Paul Rosenberg?

Woody: Yes. You just wanna get him in.

David: We have to mention Paul Rosenberg in every podcast episode.

Woody: I should say that Paul [00:01:00] had no corrections from our last podcast. So that's the good news. But the shining star was meeting a woman named Annabelle Marsh Pearcy. And she was, I think she might have been one of the early graduating classes of Washington High School.

David: Really?

Woody: Yeah. A Richmond district native. And the middle name Marsh was what most excited me because she's related to the gentleman who helped name the Richmond district.

David: Really?

Woody: Yes. You know who this guy is, David. You don't have to act like you don't know. Who helped name the Richmond District?

David: George Turner Marsh.

Woody: And I think he was Annabelle's grandfather. I think that's right.

David: Yeah, I think that's right.

Woody: And so, it was really neat to meet her because she knew a lot about her grandfather and could corroborate a lot of the stories we had heard about George Turner [00:02:00] Marsh. What do we know about George Turner Marsh?

David: Well, we know that he's a native of Australia. He was born in 1857.

Woody: Right.

David: And that, in a nutshell, that's what the Richmond district was named after the area in Australia.

Woody: Yeah. The story is he lived near Richmond, Australia.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And which I think was near Melbourne. Or something like that.

David: Melbourne.

Woody: Melbourne?

David: Melbourne.

Woody: Melbourne. I'm not sure where Richmond is in Australia. Maybe Paul Rosenberg knows. But yeah, the idea was that George Turner Marsh was, him and his family were early pioneers to the Richmond District, to what is today the Richmond District. And that he had a large house. And that, at some point, they decided to name the surrounding area Richmond after his house which reminded him of his upbringing in Australia.

David: Right.

Woody: That's the story. We think it's true.

David: We believe that to be true.

Woody: We know more about George Turner Marsh than just that though. [00:03:00]

David: We do.

Woody: We do. What do we know?

David: Well, we know that when he was 15, so that would be…

Woody: We’ve got to do math again?

David: 1872?

Woody: 1872.

David: His family decided to leave Australia and travel to the United States by way of Japan.

Woody: Right.

David: And when they got to Japan, when they were stopped in Yokohama, George Turner Marsh fell so deeply in love with the Japanese culture that he begged his family, at age 15…

Woody: Right.

David: To leave him in Japan.

Woody: Right. And I think he became a clerk.

David: And they did.

Woody: And like, all right, have fun.

David: Goodbye.

Woody: I think, and he became a clerk at, I think at like an import-export business or something like that.

David: Right.

Woody: And this was an interesting time in Japan. I think it had, the society was changing, was adapting, was modernizing.

David: It was very insular [00:04:00] prior to this time, right?

Woody: Right.

David: I mean, they didn't allow outside…

Woody: A lot of outside contact.

David: Contact at all.

Woody: Trade and that sort of thing. But it was opening up at this period.

David: Right.

Woody: And so, there was a lot of interest in Japanese antiquities and decorative arts.

David: All these things that no one had seen before.

Woody: Right. And so, the West was really interested in this. And it seems that when George Turner Marsh, eventually his father said, hey, hey, hey, time to rejoin the family, come to the United States, and they were in San Francisco, he said, okay. And he came in 1876 to the United States and brought with him some of these items.

David: That he'd collected, right?

Woody: That's right. And that's where he basically made his big business in the Palace Hotel. He had, opened a store down on the ground floor where he sold Japanese antiquities and decorative arts and clothing even.

David: Right.

Woody: And was a pioneer and sort [00:05:00] of an innovative shopkeeper in San Francisco.

David: Yeah. I mean, one of the neat things that I understand about his store was that he was the very first shopkeeper to put the wares out on tables in the middle of the store. Rather than having it behind counters that people had to go and ask for something off the shelf and the shop people would get it. He had all the things decoratively displayed out on tables for people to look at closely and purchase.

Woody: And he also, I think, had a sense of taste and sort of presentation. So, he had like fresh flowers in the window to draw people in, which wasn't a custom at the time and became a big deal.

David: I mean, these are things that became the standard in all stores today.

Woody: Yeah. It used to be going to a store and there'd be a counter and a stool. And the guy would say, well, what are you looking for? And you'd say, oh, I want a vase. And so, he'd bring you a vase and you'd look at it. Nah, that's [00:06:00] not the kind I want. He'd go back in the back room and bring back another vase.

David: You're pretty picky about vases, Woody.

Woody: Yeah, exactly. That's what it would be like though. But now you have all the vases out and often they'd have flowers in, in 'em, or they'd be on top of a nice tablecloth he was also selling. And you could kind of browse like you were in somebody's fancy Japanese living room.

David: So, George Turner Marsh was really the person who brought this sort of merchandising to the United States and brought Asian art to the United States.

Woody: That's right. He was one of the first really to do that. And it became a big fad. I don't wanna say a fad, but a trend. People really took to the idea of Asian art and Asian, like I said, decorative arts, china, or whatever.

David: Right.

Woody: It was just a big thing. Clothing. So, how does he connect to the Richmond district. That's kind of interesting.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Because I've heard some interesting stories about him in the Richmond district.

David: Oh, have you?

Woody: I have. So, he seems to, him and his wife, they seem to move to the Richmond District [00:07:00] probably in the 1870s. But he builds a large house in 1886. And this was on the corner of 12th Avenue and Clement Street. And I think we heard, yeah?

David: So, was there much out there?

Woody: No.

David: I mean, it was the country. There was really only what would become Geary Street, the Point Lobos Road going out to the Cliff House and not much else, right?

Woody: Yeah. There were dairy farmers. And there wasn’t, there weren't a lot of paved roads. It was mostly dirt. Infrastructure wasn't really there. People used windmills to pull up water from wells. Things like that.

David: So, it was out in the country.

Woody: It was in the countryside. In fact, he used to, the story I heard from Annabelle is that he used to take the horse. He'd take a horse, saddle it up and take it downtown to go to work every day. And this is the good story. He was also a, he also had homing pigeons. And he would occasionally send notes. He'd release a pigeon downtown. It would take a note on its leg back to his house to his [00:08:00] wife, to let her know what time he'd be home and if he was bringing guests for dinner.

David: So, he would take, so he trained them. He would take them to work with him on his horse when he went down to the Palace Hotel and then let 'em loose to send a message home.

Woody: Yeah, I'll be home at six. Oh, and I'm bringing two people for dinner. So, you know, prepare extra food.

David: Kill an extra chicken.

Woody: Kill an extra chicken. And it's true, that whole little corner house there. It had a stream and a garden. It was very landscaped. A large gate, which opened to a carriage house, stables, servants’ quarters, pigeon and chicken houses, and orchard and a vegetable garden. It was in an estate.

David: Was there, was there an Asian influence to all the gardens and everything?

Woody: I didn't, you know, that we're moving to that. But it doesn't seem like there was much of that on his estate. But it was a big important looking place. It was the biggest house probably in the Richmond at the time. So, it was…

David: 12th and Clement. What's there now?

Woody: Nothing. Apartment building. It's not very attractive.

David: Wah, wah, wah. [00:09:00] But if you live in that apartment building, we're sorry that we used the sad trombone noise.

Woody: Yeah. It's not your fault. But we should talk about a little landscaping here, because the other thing that George Turner Marsh has his name attached to other than an entire neighborhood district in San Francisco, is people know him as the person who helped bring in the Japanese, what’s today, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

David: Which came out of the exhibit for the Midwinter Fair of 1894, right?

Woody: Right. So, they had a big sort of Midwinter World's Fair type thing around the Music Concourse today in Golden Gate Park.

David: That's why the Music Concourse is there.

Woody: Right, in 1894. And Marsh is really connected to that event, which was, they had little villages, trying to like, give people a sense of different places.

David: Different cultures.

Woody: They had fake igloos with Eskimos, supposed Eskimos standing in front of them.

David: [00:10:00] Inuit people.

Woody: Yeah, Inuit people. I don't even know if they were Inuit people. They might have been guys just wearing Inuit clothes. Because they actually had like an African Village. They had, but they had one of the things, and the most popular really was this Japanese Village. And Marsh got, Hagiwara, I forgot his first name.

David: Makoto.

Woody: Makoto Hagiwara, who really was the guy who designed and put together the Japanese Village and Tea Garden. And, but it was, Marsh was sort of, it was his enterprise. I think he had put the money into it. He had hired Hagiwara. And he was getting the proceeds from the Tea Garden, and that sort of thing.

David: Right. And the Hagiwara family ran the Tea Garden up until the unfortunate time of World War II, I believe.

Woody: Right. So, Marsh seems to get out of it right after that. And McLaren, John McLaren, who was the Superintendent of Parks, [00:11:00] apparently asked Hagiwara to keep the Tea Garden going because it was very popular.

David: Right.

Woody: And Hagiwara continued to tend to the Tea Garden, change it, cultivate it, over all those years, him and his sons.

David: Anyway, we're getting away from the naming of the Richmond District. So…

Woody: Well, I'm just saying Marsh had a big influence on that too.

David: Yeah. Well, so Marsh had his big house out in the country that was kind of a landmark of that, of the area north of the park that we had no name at that time.

Woody: Right.

David: And he named his house and his grounds the Richmond House.

Woody: Right.

David: So, did the district just get the name, the Richmond District, based on popular usage of the…

Woody: It seems. The story I've heard is that there was a kind of a neighborhood booster named George Fletcher. And at one meeting where they had all the people who did have businesses and homes in the area, they were trying to [00:12:00] come up with a name and he said, “well, why don't we call it Richmond?” Because people knew the Richmond House and that it stuck. And there was a newspaper called the Richmond Banner that was started.

David: Right.

Woody: And everybody called the area of the Richmond. It starts showing up on maps in the 1880s, 1890s. But then…

David: Was it official? Was that the official name?

Woody: It was sort of official, but then it had a more official name in the 1910s. And that name was not the Richmond district.

David: Ooh.

Woody: That's right, Scooby.

David: It's not. Well, well, gee, well, what was it called, Woody?

Woody: That's not how Scooby talks.

David: I can't, I'm sorry. If you can do Scooby…

Woody: Scooby Doo.

David: We're looking for you.

Woody: That's right. And that's a copyrighted voice inflection. Okay, no. What happened was there was another city in the East Bay that decided to call itself Richmond, and that's Richmond…

David: Pinole?

Woody: No, not [00:13:00] Pinole. Richmond, California. And that made the people in the Richmond District a little huffy. Because they were like, we're the Richmond. How can you have a whole city named it? It's gonna be confusion.

David: That is confusing. And I know we don't have time to talk about how Richmond got its name.

Woody: No, we're not gonna get into that.

David: But I, but that's curious.

Woody: Yeah. But that's what happened. Richmond, California called itself Richmond. And they're all named after Richmond, England, you know. There's Richmonds all over the place. And the Richmond district got huffy and said, well, we're gonna have to change our name. We don't wanna be confused with the Richmond, California, in the East Bay. So, they came up with a new name and that name was…

David: Well, what would it be? They're right between the Park…

Woody: Golden Gate Park.

David: And the, and the Presidio.

Woody: Yeah. They were. It is right between the Park and the Presidio. So, they came up with the name Park Presidio District. And there was a Park Presidio Improvement Club. Park Presidio Boulevard, of course, had come in there.

David: We have something on our website about the Park [00:14:00] Presidio Improvement Club.

Woody: We do.

David: In fact, there’s this strange building that still exists.

Woody: Yeah. Their clubhouse.

David: Their clubhouse.

Woody: Their clubhouse is still there. It's a Russian church. That's a whole other podcast. But Park Presidio became the official name. The Board of Supervisors certified that that district was gonna be called the Park Presidio District.

David: That ain't right.

Woody: Well, it didn't stick. I mean, it was so funny. Even the Richmond Banner, who was a big proponent of this, said, it's the Park Presidio District. In fact, it said, Richmond Banner serving the Park Presidio District. So they, but they kept their name, the Richmond Banner and most people still called it the Richmond.

David: Yeah. And so, that was 1917.

Woody: Right.

David: That they passed that ordinance.

Woody: Right. That the city said, this is the Park Presidio District.

David: And it's been the Park Presidio District until…

Woody: Very recently.

David: Oh.

Woody: Yeah. Our friend and comrade, John Freeman, who's done a lot of work for us and is on our [00:15:00] website, he asked the Supervisor of District One, which is the Richmond District, Eric Mar, to officially change the name back to the Richmond. Because everybody calls it the Richmond. And it's only on the books that it was the Park Presidio District. And so, Eric Mar, to his credit, introduced that legislation or that law to change it to officially be the Richmond District again.

David: All right. I hope he didn't work too hard on it.

Woody: I think, I think compared to what a lot of things supervisors do, that was probably pretty fun to come up with that.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And I don't think it had a lot of opposition. I don't think anybody was tied to Park Presidio District.

David: So, now we have our official Richmond District back.

Woody: Yes.

David: And we have George Turner Marsh to thank for that name.

Woody: For that name, that's right. And like I said, Anabelle Marsh Pearcy, still very aware of family history, was a great resource for all this. They all know, I mean, George Turner Marsh, we could go on about him [00:16:00] forever. I mean, he had property in Marin. He had stores up and down California. He was a great character.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And he actually, you know, he died in auto accident in the ‘30s. So…

David: But the family kept on his store and kept on the Marsh name and everything.

Woody: Yeah.

David: I think I saw on Antiques Roadshow some jewelry designed by the Marsh Company.

Woody: Yeah. Yeah. No, they were around for a long time. I think their store in Monterey, it might still be there. But if it's not, it closed only recently. But they're a great, interesting family. The Richmond House unfortunately didn't last that long. I think it got torn down in the ‘30s or something like that. So, we don't have the Richmond House there anymore, but we still have the name. And we have George Turner Marsh and Eric Mar, our current supervisor, to thank for that.

David: Well, I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: But wait, do we have any mail?

David: I'm still David Gallagher.

Woody: I know you're David Gallagher.

David: Yes, we did get some mail.

Woody: But you [00:17:00] always say, David, I should say right here, you always say, nobody listens to our podcast. There's four people listening to our podcast. But we're getting mail from people we don't know.

David: We got one message from Mark Van Raam.

Woody: Van Raam.

David: Van Raam.

Woody: He sounds like an action hero. Yeah. Mark Van Raam.

David: It sounds like he had a very exciting time at the zoo growing up, so you know.

Woody: Oh, did he talk about the zoo?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Because we did a zoo podcast.

David: Yeah.

Woody: What does he remember? Pink popcorn, I'm betting.

David: He does remember the aviary. And what he remembers about it was it was kind of a dead end of the park and was super hot and humid. And that's definitely what I remember about it.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Monkey Island and the elephants, which you could, they don't have elephants now.

Woody: Nope. No more elephants at the zoo.

David: Do you remember feeding the elephants? If you could really, if you had a long reach, you could get a peanut to the elephant.

Woody: Really? Across the moat or whatever?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Wow. [00:18:00]

David: Yeah. They could reach all the way.

Woody: I don't remember that.

David: He remembers the circular swings, which I think we mentioned.

Woody: Oh yeah. So, we brought back some memories to Mark.

David: Right. He says it's funny that he ended up, so he was talking about the aviary being hot and humid, and now he lives on the East coast where it's hot and humid all the time.

Woody: And he thinks he's back in the San Francisco Zoo, huh?

David: Yeah.

Woody: I think somebody else wrote in about our Kezar Stadium podcast. And this gentleman who wrote in said that he lived right across from it and he used to watch football games out his back window.

David: Right.

Woody: Which now the 49ers have a new stadium in Santa Clara. I don't think anybody can see games out their window to the new stadium, unfortunately.

David: They're selling condos inside the stadium.

Woody: Maybe they are. I don't know. They're gonna name it after Levi's. I heard that yesterday, which is kind of interesting. I also heard the mayor talk yesterday at an event and he said, our brand-new stadium is going to be called Levi's. And which was news to me, cause I didn't know we had annexed Santa Clara. But apparently [00:19:00] they’re still our 49ers.

David: Right.

Woody: Well, David, I think the only other thing is, we have our event on Tuesday.

David: That's right.

Woody: May 14th.

David: Exactly true. May 14th at the Balboa Theater. Get there at 6:30.

Woody: Maybe a little earlier to get some popcorn.

David: Maybe a little earlier.

Woody: And I saw it's on the marquee right now.

David: Ooh!

Woody: If you go by the Balboa, it says, “Secret SF.”

David: Not the fake marquee that I made for our website.

Woody: No, it's the real marquee. And we're gonna show old films and home movies and all sorts of interesting surprises and clips with the theme of secret San Francisco.

David: Ooh.

Woody: So, we'll share some secrets and we're gonna have a good time. And it's 10 bucks. And we think we might sell out. Now, if you can buy your tickets ahead of time, great. But try to buy your tickets, cause I think it might sell out. Otherwise, show up that night and…

David: Oh, one other thing.

Woody: Take your chances.

David: We know, well, if you're hearing this, you obviously can download the podcast and are able to listen to it. Maybe you subscribe via iTunes. But one feature that [00:20:00] we added on the website was to put the podcast right on the website. And so, you can listen to it there without subscribing.

Woody: Right. I think the most recent one is on the front page of outsidelands.org. You can just click on it, right?

David: Right. That's our website, right?

Woody: Yeah, but I mean, don't we have it in a couple, yeah, you're right. That is our website. Well, I think that's it. We might have to edit some of this, cause I've been babbling on about all sorts of weird things.

David: Yes.

Woody: But until next time, I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: And this is the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast.

David: Goodbyee.

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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