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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 479: 46 Cook Street

Buckle up as Nicole and Arnold unpack the fascinating history of 46 Cook Street and the lives of the people who called it home.
by Nicole Meldahl - Oct 28, 2022

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 479: 46 Cook Street Outside Lands Podcast Episode 479: 46 Cook Street

(above) Geary near Masonic, 1870s

View east. Calvary Cemetery (Roman Catholic) gravestones, crosses. Fence and gate for the Point Lobos toll road.

Podcast Transcription

WNP 479 Cook Street
Nicole: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, Podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Nicole Meldahl.
Arnold: And I'm Arnold Woods.
Nicole: Hey Arnold.
Arnold: Hey Nicole. How are things going?
Nicole: Better? I don't have quite the same level of sultry voice that I did in the last podcast. And thank you to all of our podcast listeners who wrote me concerned about my health. I am alive.
Arnold: Yeah. You've been pretty much Queen Covid through the Pandemic.
Nicole: I am. I'm the most Covid-y person I know. But you know what? That's okay. That's all right. I love being, I love helping science break new ground with my body physically. [00:01:00] But anyways, that's not what you're here for listeners. You're here for a West Side History podcast and I'm not dead yet, so I am not history yet.
Arnold: Let's do it then.
Nicole: Yeah. A few weeks back, I was fortunate to get inside a 19th century carriage house on Cook Street near Geary, over by USF and it was recently purchased by an artist that John Lindsay of the Great Highway Gallery has worked with in the past. And I have to say, Wow. Like places like this are so incredibly rare in San Francisco these days. It still has the original blacksmithing fireplace. The floorboards are original. The entire space still smelled like faintly, like horses and hay. The hayloft upstairs is still intact. I became totally obsessed with this property, came home and immediately began researching. So this podcast is the result of that ongoing research. [00:02:00]
Arnold: And we start this research by going all the way back to before this part of San Francisco was even actually a part of San Francisco. Back when it was homesteaded by a revolving cast of men who purchased this land around Lone Mountain in what was then the city's Wild West. Maps in the David Rumsey Archive show the land belonging to quote, “Barstow Galloway or others in 1860.” And then belonging to Boyce, Oswald, and Toland in 1865 with what will become Cook Street on the cusp between the Boyce and Oswald tracts. If you want to hear more about Barstow, you can listen to our episode 449 on the case of Ephraim Merida.
Nicole: Yeah, which we're probably still not pronouncing correctly. But it's definitely the same kind of land space, you know, like it's the same time period and era that we're talking about. So a few years later, in 1868, that's two years after [00:03:00] the Outside Lands Act that brought this city within, or this part of the city within city limits, the area is marked, and I quote "Point Lobos Avenue Homestead Association." And Cook Street is labeled, flanked by blocks number 641 and 642, which were bounded by Laurel Hill Cemetery and Calvary Cemetery, across Point Lobos Avenue. And at this point, the Point Lobos Toll Gate was located just west of the street at Masonic Avenue, which made Cook Street pretty centrally located, even though it was incredibly far away from City Center.
Arnold: That Point Lobos Homestead Association filed a certificate of incorporation in 1868 to quote, "purchase and improve land situated on the Cliff House Road." More accurately, the association intended to purchase the land, homestead it, and then divide the property among members of the association, which began with a capital stock of [00:04:00] $50.375 or 155 shares worth $325 each. We would certainly take that price for a piece of land in San Francisco any day.
Nicole: Man, the, the entire time we were researching this, I was like, I really just wanna go get a rye whiskey at the bar that's called Homestead in the Mission, which is one of my favorite bars. To continue to take you Arnold, on a personal tour of my 1920s drinking past. Not 1920s. My twenties drinking past. You know what? Maybe I'm not fully recovered everybody. Please bear with us for the rest of the podcast. Okay. So one of the earliest trustees of the association was also the secretary, a man named P.H. Blake, whose name is still connected to a small street in the neighborhood that is pretty comparable to Cook Street. Through the 1870s and 1880s, property transfers in this homestead [00:05:00] were frequent as they were on much of the west side, to be honest, but there were a few key pioneer residents here that we'll get into in this podcast.
Arnold: And the first pioneer residence we're gonna get to is the namesake of Cook Street. And that's Michael Stinson Cook. He was born in Ireland in 1819. He came to the US around 1850 and briefly landed in New York before doing what everybody should do and that's come West. He and his wife Ann Smith Cook, settled on property known as Cook's Milk Ranch, which is bounded by what we now know today as Masonic, Fulton and Arguello.
Nicole: Can't wait to see a bakery named Cook's Milk Ranch pop up after this podcast goes viral. So this is where their daughter, Mary Ann, was born in 1855 and allegedly she was the first white child born west of Larkin Street according to descendants. So I found this [00:06:00] amazing blog by descendants of the Cook family that has photographs of them standing outside their home in the area. Really, really cool. A lot of claims that I haven't been able to substantiate, but you know, we'll get there. Genealogy is a revolving door of, of new information. So. Mary Ann and I quote from this blog, "often related how the shack in which she was born was built with lumber that painstakingly was transported a couple pieces at a time on the back of a mule." End quote. On a trail that began at Bush Street and Grant Avenue and quote again, "wound its way over the sand dunes out to the Odd Fellows Cemetery.” End quote.
Arnold: True to that family's claim, the 1862 San Francisco City directory lists a milk ranch in Lone Mountain Valley near the cemetery as belonging to Michael S. Cook. 1862, again, that's before this part of the city was [00:07:00] part of the city.
Nicole: Yeah.
Arnold: After clearing legal title to the land in 1870, which was part of the post-Outside Lands Act process, whereby owners in the Outside Lands had to establish their title to get a deed, he ran his business as a dealer of hay, grain, feed, wood and coal from this plot of land. And an advertisement from 1879 noted that he delivered to all parts of the city and suburbs, free of charge.
Nicole: I'm wondering what the suburbs were considered in those days. Like Berkeley?
Arnold: Maybe South San Francisco.
Nicole: Maybe. I'm curious. so...
Arnold: Certainly can't get those kinds of delivery free fees today.
Nicole: No. Nobody will bring me anything for free anymore. They used to. Liquor stores used to do that all the time. They would like deliver stuff like party supplies and stuff to you for free. Like let's bring that back. That sounds amazing. [00:08:00] So references to Michael in local papers through the 1880s pertain mostly to the transfer of property within the vicinity of Cook and Point Lobos Avenue. In January 1884, the city surveyor was instructed to change the line of Cook Street by moving a fence further into Michael's land, and Michael was having none of this BS. He wrote a letter and I quote, “protesting against appropriating a strip from his lot to be thrown into Cook Street.” End quote. But his claim was denied with the city justifying its actions by saying the strip was actually part of an area known as the Pueblo lands, to which he had no right. Which is a really good example of how kind of wooly the borders were out here. There were overlapping claims and home set associations and like different titles always vying against each other.
Arnold: So we move on to another part of the family. His daughter Mary Ann, married a newspaper man named James [00:09:00] G. Piratsky in 1876. Piratsky's father George was a Polish sailor, but his mother Mary, maiden name Murphy, was a native of Ireland. So he and Mary Ann shared an Irish lineage. The family eventually settled in Virginia City, Nevada and James came to San Francisco after his father died in a mining accident. Here he learned the printing trade as an apprentice and sent wages home to his widowed mother and sisters. Ultimately, he got a job working at Alta California, the premier California newspaper of its day.
Nicole: He and Mary Ann moved around California--to Calusa, then Hollister, and also Eureka--before returning to San Francisco in August 1887. James worked as a foreman for the A.L. Bancroft company and joined the International Typographical Union. All the while living either close to or possibly with his in-laws. We couldn't really track down if they had their own property or if they were [00:10:00] on Geary with, with the Cook Family.
Arnold: Then tragedy strikes. On October 20th, 1897, Michael died at home. This is listed either as 3110 Geary Street or 530 Point Lobos Avenue, depending on what source you read. This is where the funeral was held with services at Holy Cross Church on Eddy and Scott, Followed by internment at nearby Calvary Cemetery. He was thought of highly enough for the San Francisco Chronicle to publish an article on the fate of his favorite horse. This is obviously something that Nicole really gets into.
Nicole: Yes.
Arnold: So we've learned in the article that the horse didn't exactly have a good fate, so we're not gonna go into it what was discussed in that article because we don't like what happened.
>Nicole: Please know that when I read the headline, I was like, oh my gosh, they're gonna, this is gonna be a cute story about his horse. And I was like, oh, [00:11:00] this is not a cute story about his horse. I'm upset about this. Let me know, listeners, if you just are dying to know, but it's, it's not good. Pun, pun. Anyways, the Cook property was formally transferred from Michael to his wife Ann, although according to an advertisement in July 1897, it seems like the Cooks had been planning on selling the property before Michael's death. Perhaps, and that's an indication that Michael was not in the best of health. So, and then James Peratsky was fired from the notoriously anti-labor Bancroft Company after his election as president to the International Typographical Union. And in 1902, he and Mary Ann moved to Watsonville, California, where Anne Cook eventually joined them.
Arnold: So, one of the other substantial neighbors in the neighborhood was a man named George J. Smith, who built an Italianate home at [00:12:00] 46 Cook Street in 1870. That is technically still there, although it's a glorified shell of an Italianate at this point.
Nicole: Oh, gross.
Arnold: Smith was a successful sign painter, contractor, and interior decorator whose life was shaped by a series of unfortunate events.
Nicole: I, full disclosure of bias, I fell in love with this man. So, this is the wonderful story of George J. Smith, who Nicole's in love with. This is not unbiased reporting. So, at the age of 24, in 1861, George Smith enlisted from New York City to serve a term of three years in the Civil War with the 82nd Infantry Regiment, also known as the 2nd militia. He was wounded in action on September 17th, 1862 at Antietam and subsequently promoted to corporal. So, Antietam was one of the bloodiest battles in the entire Civil War and I read one report that said that [00:13:00] he fought in like over 30 skirmishes during the war, which is truly insane for the short amount of time he engaged in fighting actions. So he mustered out in June 1864 in New York City and came to San Francisco, founding his firm in 1865. And he staked his claim at the western edge of San Francisco not long after the Outside Lands came into city proper.
Arnold: By 1873, his firm was located at 809 Market Street, which is at Stockton, where he was also granted permission to install a hitching post that same year. An advertisement read, “house, and sign painting that was neatly done. Orders through the post office, promptly attended to. Estimates given.” He was the man San Francisco's creme de la creme preferred, with contemporary newspapers, reporting that he quote, “catered to the best class of trade and had among his patrons.” [00:14:00] End quote.
Nicole: Among others, clients included names that are still very familiar to visitors of Golden Gate Park today. You have M.H. de Young of the de Young Museum, and Ruben H. Lloyd, namesake of Lloyd Lake. So, remember this, because one of these names factors into our story later.
Arnold: However, his bad luck continued.
Nicole: Yeah.
Arnold: On November 19th, 1878, he was injured after being thrown from a buggy when his horse was spooked. Then just over a month later, he was involved in a crippling elevator accident at the Whittier Fuller and Company building on Pine and Front Streets. His injuries were so severe that he was unable to travel far from home in July 1879, when officers and 20 members of Yerba Buena Lodge Number 15, which is part of the International Order of Odd Fellows, they ended up traveling out to Cook Street where they installed him as Treasurer of the Lodge, because he could not come to [00:15:00] them.
Nicole: Yeah, he and John Treadwell, who was also injured in this elevator incident, took the wholesale dealers in paint, oils, et cetera to court. But interestingly, Smith would sell nearby property in lots 12, 13, 33, and 34 of the Point Lobos Homestead Association’s 641 block to W.F. Whittier in May 1880. Which is wild to me that the man who crippled you, you would be like, here, here, buy some land near me. But you know, that wouldn't be the last time Smith made Whittier pay up.
Arnold: In fact, William Franklin Whittier and his partner, William Parmer Fuller, formed their business in 1862, which quote, “weathering panics business, competition, and legal problems, the firm emerged as the major West Coast paint and white lead manufacturer with extremely profitable [00:16:00] sidelines and imported glass mirrors, oils, et cetera. They operated a fleet of sailing vessels and railway tank cars.” End quote. And we tell you this so that you know that this is a business that could afford to pay out a large sum in liability.
Nicole: Yeah, so John Treadwell's case was heard first. He sued the firm to recover $50,000 in damages for the fracture of his left leg and other injuries when the elevator fell from the third floor to street level. That is my worst nightmare, aside from getting eaten by sharks and being in a plane crash and also spiders. I don't like spiders. So the case was heard over a week and I quote, “and a most stubborn and scientific defense was made with a view of showing that the accident was all together unforeseen and was the result of a flaw in the original casting of the steel piston rods of the engine connected to the elevator.” End quote. [00:17:00]
Arnold: That would seem to make a case for product liability, but he's suing the Company that had the elevator.
Nicole: Oh, you've been lawyered.
Arnold: Today you would probably sue both.
Nicole: Oh boy. Yeah, that sounds right.
Arnold: This was all to no avail, however. Treadwell was awarded $9,000 in damages in April 1883, and this portended similar success for Smith. However, George Smith versus Whittier Fuller & Company would not be decided until September 1889. Perhaps that's because the man had other things to do besides running his successful business. George Smith worked to professionalize and improve his trade.
Nicole: Yeah, this is one of the reasons why I just respect this man so much. As early as June 1867, he was a founding member of the House Painter's Association that abided by an eight hour work day, a point he would reaffirm as an employer in April [00:18:00] 1890. And the firm also weighed in in some labor strikes that happened in the field. So like he was really cutting edge in terms of worker's rights. In May 1884, he helped to form the Master Painter's Association, which admittedly this put it into, and I quote, “direct antagonism,” end quote, with the painter's union. But he created this association so members could learn from each other and also so they could set professional standards and have a way to mediate contractual disputes. So, Smith really wanted this association to elevate his entire field.
Arnold: He was also a leading member of the Point Lobos Improvement Club, which in the 1880s was advocating for the grading of streets, the extension of water mains, the addition of fire hydrants, and the installation of electric lights. In 1884, he's routinely mentioned in local papers for his advocacy and specifically quoted on the dangers he observed in the neighborhood on account of its darkness.
Nicole: Yeah, this might be a [00:19:00] good time for us to remind folks, cause like there's not much going on out here. There's, there is a big main road that takes you from downtown out to the Cliff House essentially. But there's, you know, no major utilities and neighborhoods aren't built up. It's scattered homesteaded properties with these like large farms or like, you know, clumping of new homes that are getting built. So, it really took neighborhood community advocates like this to sort of force the Spring Valley Water Company to like, bring modernity to the west. So, he was also invested in upgrading transit on Point Lobos Avenue. The Geary Steam, the Geary Street steam motors were really dangerous. There's reports all the time of people getting hit by them and like mangled, if not killed. And residents really wanted a modern cable car line in the neighborhood. In 1885, the fight to improve the neighborhood actually heated up with the Improvement Club alleging that San [00:20:00] Francisco's supervisors were in the pocket of big business interests. Arnold, have we heard something like that before?
Arnold: Imagine that. We had a dastardly villain in last week's podcast who was like that.
Nicole: Agh, Pixley.
Arnold: By this year, George Smith was president of the Improvement Club. In addition to his duties as an Odd Fellows Cemetery Association board member. He takes on Supervisor Valleau, who made promises to the club in order to get elected that went unfulfilled.
Nicole: Shocking.
Arnold: Fired up with righteous indignation in October 1885. George said the petitions they were told to compile were quote, “placed in his hands, and we felt that our interests were safe, but we were mistaken in our man.” End quote.
Nicole: They trusted Valleau to fast track the installation of lights and the removal of dangerous trains. But instead, the supervisor, like, passed the buck [00:21:00] to committees that dragged their feet. And all these projects that they worked so hard on were postponed. So as a result, Smith said, and I quote, “Point Lobos is, at this time, in a deplorable condition.”
Arnold: And all through this, he continues to work.
Nicole: Good Lord.
Arnold: From his offices at 329 Sutter Street, he's hired to paint the Alcazar Theater in 1885. He started 1887 with a contract to work on the Oriel Block on Market Street and advocated for a better schoolhouse between First and Central Avenues. He couldn't have known this then, but this would be a foreshadowing of things to come for his Cook Street property.
Nicole: But this is the really big one that fascinates me. In July of 1887, he also asked the Board of Supervisors to remove City Cemetery outside of city limits. He said, and I quote, “the old cemeteries act as a barrier to the improvement of all the property west of [00:22:00] Divisidero Street. If they were not situated where they are, all the Point Lobos Avenue property would be settled. People seem to dread living in the neighborhood of a burying ground. The cemetery reserve comprises the finest building property in the county today. And the view from any point is magnificent.”
Arnold: He’s not wrong about that.
Nicole: No, but like this man who's on the board of a cemetery nearby is like, that other cemetery over there, that one's gotta go.
Arnold: And soon they'd all be gone.
Nicole: Yeah, it's true. So, he was one of the first people to really start this movement to advocate for the removal of the cemeteries.
Arnold: So as we talked about earlier, he had sued Whittier Fuller and Company for $100,000 in damages and was represented by none other than Reuben H. Lloyd.
Nicole: It's not what you know, it's who you know.
Arnold: For perspective, that's over $31 million in 2022. But the [00:23:00] trial seemed to linger for some reason and Smith left town. In May 1889, he left for New York where he attended the annual banquet of the 82nd volunteers followed by a lengthy European tour. He returned to San Francisco victorious, winning his lawsuit against Whittier Fuller Company with a judgment award of, get this, $30,000. Which is about $967,000 today. Life changing money.
Nicole: So this was a massive sum for the time and I read a great account that said that he would keep that check for the rest of his life and like, show people. Like hey, here's my $30,000 check. That was impressive enough, but the ruling also set a legal precedent for the entire country. The San Francisco Examiner reported that and I quote, “the decision…will be of interest to owners of buildings with elevators…According to the opinion, which is the first of its kind delivered in the United States, [00:24:00] elevators are common carriers and their owners are made responsible for all damages incurred to individuals by their cause.” So, in other words, in other words, those who owned buildings with elevators carry the same liability as stage coaches and railways. They had to ensure these elevators were safe in the same fashion.
Arnold: Exactly. At this point, things are looking up for George Smith, the man once called the genial painter.”
Nicole: Oh, great.
Arnold: A banquet was held in his honor to celebrate his return from Europe in October 1889, and he's featured in this amazing article about the gentleman drivers of Point Lobos Avenue.
Nicole: So good.
Arnold: The article talks in detail about the state of horse breeding in California and explains how Point Lobos was the quote, “pride of the town,” known as the “finest kept driveway in the United States.” It was coded with clay and dragged every morning so you could achieve maximum horsepower. [00:25:00] Hence it was quote, “the gathering place of the gentleman drivers.”
Nicole: Yeah. And the article laments that many of the old timers who like, used to race on Point Lobos, weren't around anymore and talks about how there was more fraternity and jollity among them. The Examiner goes on to, I quote, say, “road houses were more plentiful, closer together, and better patronized, and money seemed more plentiful…but the establishment of Golden Gate Park and the building of the Bay District Track proved the death knell of the Cliff House Road. The park immediately became the fashionable drive, and it has continued to increase in popularity.” So, gentle reminder San Franciscans, that since the dawn of time in the city, people have complained that San Francisco used to be better.
Arnold: Anyways, that article goes on to talk about Smith as part of the fashionable set [00:26:00] with fast horses, and they even drew him.
Nicole: Yeah.
Arnold: A picture of him in the paper. Also, in 1891, he's hired to paint and polish the Olympic Club building on post near Mason. But then, another stroke of bad luck.
Nicole: Guy can't catch a break. So, in January 1892, a fire severely damaged the Smith Paint Shop on Sutter Street. And big changes were already happening that year for his company, as the firm had been taken over by his sons, Henry J. and George S. Smith. And the business was actually renamed as George J. Smith and Sons.
Arnold: A newspaper account at that time described the family as quote, “both are native sons and are very prosperous in their businesses, as they follow the successful motor of their father to be honest in all dealings and do the best of work…Now retired from active life, George Smith's career has been as honorable as it has [00:27:00] been successful, and he now intends to have the rest of his life in quiet retirement, his only care being to see that his sons follow in his footsteps.” End quote.
Nicole: So now Arnold, he gets to live out his retirement with a big old $30,000 check in his breast pocket. Basking in the glow of his success. Right?
Arnold: Wrong.
Nicole: Yeah, not so much. Well shocker, he encounters some more bad luck. In April 1894, George Smith, and I swear to God we are not making this up, I can give you the footnote of this report, he slipped on an orange peel while walking on Market Street and fractured his right leg below the knee. Now, I've never heard of anybody actually doing this, except for in cartoons. But you can remember that, one, he had a horrific leg injury in the Civil War, and then there was that elevator accident and also that other carriage accident. So like, [00:28:00] he's not the most sturdy on his feet. And what's even worse is that this damaged the other leg. Like his good leg is where he was injured in this incident. So now he's got two crippled legs and, and things are not good, Arnold.
Arnold: However, the business carried on the family name despite these troubles. In 1895, George J. Smith and Sons put in the lowest bid to paint the Ferry Building. But delays with the project continually frustrated city officials. A quote, “strong letter” was sent to Smith and Sons, quote, “warning them that if they did not put more men to work by Tuesday next, commissioners would take the job out of their hands and do it themselves at Smith's expense.” End quote. When in doubt, of course blame the painter for the project delays. Seems like everything was cleared up by 1897 though, because the city awarded them another big contract then.
Nicole: Then they're like, oh [00:29:00] well, you're not great, but you're fine. So, although I did wonder if like their delays had something to do with the fact that they didn't push their employees past eight hours and they could only keep a certain amount of people on the payroll. So, I did wonder that, but I didn't follow up that thread when I was researching. So that brings us up to 1898. In January that year. George J. Smith, the builder of 46 Cook Street, ended his life with a bullet through the heart. After living in pain for the majority of his adult life, he, he absolutely couldn't take it anymore. He said goodbye to the last employee to leave the office that day, arranged things very neatly on his desk, and he pulled the trigger.
Arnold: Sad.
Nicole: Yeah.
Arnold: George asked that the Odd Fellows see to his funeral, requesting a quote, “plain redwood coffin with a plain black iron handles, neither shellac, varnish, paint or cloth on the coffin. [00:30:00] Just redwood, nothing more.” End quote. He also asked to be cremated once he arrived at the Odd Fellows Cemetery and that quote, “none of my family wear black or any outward sign of mourning after my death. Life is too short for that sort of, sort of thing.” End quote.
Nicole: He then asked for his remains to be kept in a niche at the Columbarium. He instructed, and I quote, “that there'd be no plate or inscription of any kind on the coffin, the inscription on the urn to be, ‘George J. Smith, born January 3rd, 1842, died…,” and then his death date, “no more, no less.” End quote. And that's where he remains today. Yes, that is a burial pun. You're welcome. So, this means that we can all still visit George Smith within San Francisco city limits and not far from the place he called home in life, which is pretty incredible. Like who among us get that kind of honor?
Arnold: One of [00:31:00] the few San Franciscans who still resides in the. Outside Lands.
>Nicole: Yeah.
Arnold: So to speak anyways. What strikes us about George is that he seemed to be such a good guy who had the absolute worst possible luck. Employees presented him with a gold cane on one of his birthdays, and they often worked for his painting business for decades. They were even invited to vacation at the Smith Ranch in Cloverdale every year. A tradition that continued after his death. As did painting the Ferry Building and the scandal around delays unfortunately.
Nicole: Kept going. And George's widow inherited all his property, something George made sure of before his death. The people who owned it next, the Svanes, would safeguard the land that included an orchard and farm extending all the way to Euclid and Blake Streets until the 21st century. And when the Svanes purchased the property, it still featured a carriage step with [00:32:00] George Smith's name carved into it, which is now gone.
Arnold: The Svanes, which by the way is spelled S-V-A-N-E, they hailed from Denmark, with Jorgen becoming a US citizen in Napa around 1887. He first appears significantly in local papers for participating in numerous Danish tug-of-war competitions, including one at Woodward Gardens in the Mission District. Working as a bricklayer when not competing, he began buying and selling property. And in June 1903, he married Caroline Rasmussen, although she was better known as Lena.
Nicole: So, Lena came from a pioneer Pleasanton family. Her father, Peter Anderson Rasmussen, was also from Denmark, and he met his wife Wilhelmina Lawson, at a local Danish gathering in Dublin. The couple were married in San Francisco at the home of a Danish priest in 1876, and their first home in Pleasanton is [00:33:00] now where the City's history museum stands, which was music to my ears.
Arnold: Shout out to the Pleasanton History Museum. Peter eventually married, rather owned his own farm on San Ramon Road, and when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1926, they threw an epic party at the family home. Telegrams were sent from the King of Denmark and San Francisco's mayor, among others. Today there's a large Rasmussen family marker near the family plot in Dublin, in Dublin’s Pioneer Cemetery, that explains their whole history.
Nicole: This is now what I'm working to in my life. Like getting some sort of plaque in a cemetery that's like, here lies Nicole Meldahl and the Meldahl family. We'll see. So, Lena and Morgan were married at the Rasmussen home. The young couple quickly started a family giving birth to a son named [00:34:00] Leland Quist Svane in 1904 and Peter Victor Svane in 1907. And little over a year later, they purchased the Cook Street property. And, by 1909, Jorgen is listed as proprietor of the RB&S Special Delivery Company. He ran this drayage firm with his brother-in-law, R.B. Rasmussen, from offices on Oak Grove Avenue and Harrison Streets.
Arnold: That company did well and they expanded. Rasmussen, Svane, and another partner named Fred Ludekens, were granted certificates from the Railroad Commission to operate motor freight lines between San Francisco, Oakland, Crockett, Port Costa, and Martinez in the 1920s. They were also allowed to operate a quote “automotive truck line as a common carrier freight,” between those places. Although they sometimes lost their license to do so for failing to comply with regulations. By 1925, it was called the San Francisco [00:35:00] Martinez Express Company.
Nicole: So when Jorgen died in November 25th, 1927, he too was interred in the Columbarium and the Svane property on Oak and Harrison was put up for sale in 1928. And here is where the Svane family history takes a wild turn. So, buckle up listeners. Peter Victor Svane eloped with a society girl named Orrie Montgomery in January 1928. And this, and I quote, “runaway marriage,” as it was described in local papers, was over by December with Orrie suing for divorce on the grounds of cruelty.
Arnold: We should someday look up the pleadings in that case and find out what the cruelty was.
Nicole: It's like, this guy's a jerk. He's an idiot.
Arnold: Around that same time, a significant portion of the Svane’s Cook Street property was eminent domained by the city of San Francisco to build the John W. Geary [00:36:00] School. It was needed for overflow from Roosevelt High School. The contract to construct the school was awarded in May 1929, and the school opened on March 31st, 1930, changing the pastoral vibe of this block forever.
>Nicole: Thank God they opened that school that no longer hosts children anymore. Although it is beautiful. Future home of Western Neighborhoods project. Putting it out there, Unified School District.
Arnold: We have a lot of potential future homes of the Western Neighborhoods Project that we would like to have.
Nicole: Somebody give me a building. Like, we need a building, everybody. So, Peter continued to build a reputation as a real rascal. Let me tell you guys. In February 1937, he attended the Parilia Ball, which seems like an absolutely gnarly epic bacchanal costume party, and I'm not gonna even try to describe [00:37:00] it. Please just go to OpenSFHistory.org and type in P-A-R-I-L-I-A ball, to see a bunch of drunk and scantily clad photos of people's grandparents and great-grandparents like getting up to a lot of no good. So, trust me on this, you won't be disappointed. Anyway, at this event, Peter ends up with and I quote, “cheek cut in a bit of fisticuffs.” Which, in his defense, the police were called that year cause, like, a lot of crap went down. So, like, it wasn't like he was the only dude who caused trouble at this party. I will, I will defend him with.
Arnold: Now remember, he had gotten divorced from Orrie, but he didn't stop there. He seems to love getting married, then divorced, and getting remarried again. In between, he seems to have lived at home with his mother at 46 Cook Street. That is until Lena died on November 28th, 1947, after which Peter took over the family home. [00:38:00] He married again to a woman half his age in 1949. And that couple has two children, a son named Peter Svane, Jr., who was born in 1952, and then a daughter who was born in 1956.
Nicole: Yeah and, Junior is a real handful, so taking after his father with an arrest for marijuana charges in in 1968 while he's still in school. And an article written by R.B. Read in June 1969 is wonderful. He shares all of these memories of his like core group of miscreant youths in San Francisco. And he paints what I think is the perfect picture of Peter Victor Svane.
Arnold: So, of this group. R,B. Read said, quote, “it's most vitalistic member was a giant Swede named Peter Victor Svane, who is now a local trucking executive. In the backyard of the family home where P.V. was born, we used to enjoy roast capretto. In bad [00:39:00] weather, we had Swedish pancakes in the old carriage house. P.V.’s second hobby, (his first involved him in a number of marriages) was seeking out little restaurants of quality to which we would then repair in a boisterous body.”
The quote goes on to say, “but Peter Victor's greatest discovery was Pier 23, where he made an arrangement with the owners. He got them to rig up a speaker on the deck out back over the water, and to cook up a cauldron of clams on Saturdays. Every Saturday we congregated there, 25 or 30 of us, around a plank table eating the, those great clams, with French bread, drinking gallons of wine and dancing like crazy.” Remember this is, this is like the sixties, right?
Nicole: Yeah.
Arnold: “After a while I found myself attending these sessions in a sailor suit and shortly thereafter, floated away to another kind of clam bake in the South Pacific.” End [00:40:00] quote. We know what that clambake was.
Nicole: I actually think this is probably around like the forties, thirties, forties. Because he's talking about like his, like the yesteryear.
Arnold: Oh, that's right, the memories coming in the sixties. Yeah. Okay. So it's a different clambake in the South Pacific.
Nicole: Yeah, let’s not, it's not great, but yeah. Read also conjectures that Peter introduced Dixieland Jazz to Pier 23, which is actually what it kind of became known for after that. Who knows if that's true or not, but, but I do like it and I think we need to celebrate this man with clambakes at Western Neighborhoods Project forever more. And when Peter died at the Cook Street home in 1972, his obituary mentioned that his family drayage business was one of the oldest in the state, and he was in charge since 1932. It also notes that the Italianate home he lived in, grew up in, had been designated by [00:41:00] the Junior League of San Francisco as a heritage home in 1966. This heritage home became the Bohemian outpost for Peter Junior, whose 57 marijuana plants were discovered by police when they responded to a shooting at 46 Cook Street in August of 1975. So, apparently he ran some sort of, like, marijuana situation that his son picked up afterwards and like carried on the legacy. I don't know, the article was wild.
Arnold: Junior held onto this property until almost the present day. He bought out his sister Karen in 2001, but eventually put it up for sale in 2010 when it went on, and then came off the market for a couple years. It finally sold in 2012 for just over 1.5 million. Only to be sold [00:42:00] again, along with the carriage house, for 3 million in 2016. And the real estate listing in 2016 for this triple lot, each zoned for two units said, quote, “for the discerning buyer who desires maximum square footage in the heart of the city, this is an opportunity to develop in a state with a resident surrounded by lush and shady trees. Reminiscent of the Great Gatsby. Built pre-1900, this property is characteristic of the times with a true carriage house at the rear of the property that can easily be converted into a home office. This property has been in the same family since 1950.” End quote.
Nicole: Nope, not accurate. This person has clearly never read the Great Gatsby. What part of the Great Gatsby takes place on, like, a rural area anyways? Real estate agents are idiots sometimes. I'm sorry guys, like the broker babble as [00:43:00] SF Daily Photo mentions all the time is just truly astounding sometimes. And you can probably guess what happened next to the property. The 1870s Italianate home built by a pioneer westside resident, who was also an amazing dude I have a giant crush on. His property, which stayed remarkably intact into the 21st century, was gutted and sold in December 2020 for over $2 million. Look up 46 Cook Street online and like, gird your loins, because it is a horrific white box open concept. Just like, you know, Home Depot special.
Arnold: All the character was gone.
Nicole: Yeah, the outside is still pretty much intact. I will give them that because they're forced to do that, right? Like there's no protections for interior spaces. It's only exterior, but that's a whole other podcast. And they were going to tear down the carriage house, which is [00:44:00] now next door at 48 Cook Street, but it was saved because of a tree out front that was planted by George Smith from seedlings borrowed from nearby Odd Fellows Cemetery, since, you know, he was a member of the board and it was right. So ironically, the landmarking documentation for that tree is filled with a bunch of inaccurate history, mostly hearsay, and like interviews with the Svane family that, like, get you close to the truth, but not quite all the way there. But who cares? It's saved the Carriage House. Mission accomplished. And luckily that carriage house is still intact. Thanks to this artist who has faithfully saved it and we hope it stays like that forever, which it kind of seems like it's going to. So fingers crossed. It's sad to me that this remarkably intact multi-lot property that really harkened back to the pioneer days on the west coast, made it intact [00:45:00] all the way until a few years ago and couldn't get saved.
Arnold: So that's your story of these Cook Street properties that Nicole got a glimpse of recently, and that leads us to say…Say What Now?
Nicole: Oh!
Arnold: So Michael Cook, he continued to purchase land around Lone Mountain beyond his Cook Street footprint. In a partnership with a man named Williams, later allegedly selling Lone Mountain itself to Archbishop Joseph Alemany for $150.
Nicole: Whoa.
Arnold: Now, according to Lone Mountain’s current occupant, which is the University of San Francisco, Alemany did purchase Lone Mountain in 1860, turning it into the 23-acre Calvary Cemetery, where San Francisco's wealthy were buried until new internments ceased by City Decree in 1900. [00:46:00] However, we have yet to confirm that the land came from Cook. That's gonna be more research for another day.
Nicole: Can you, I would be so mad if my ancestors sold an entire mountain in San Francisco for 150 bucks.
Arnold: And, of course, at the time of that sale, Lone Mountain was not in San Francisco.
Nicole: It's true. Nonetheless, if that were like my great grandpa, I'd be like, oh, we owned Lone Mountain. We owned Lone Mountain.
Arnold: We will give an update someday when we learn whether or not this story is true.
>Nicole: Yeah. If you, if there was any, you know, Catholic church property experts out there, like please, hit us up. Which is, you know, a really great way to segue into…listener mail. So, Arnold, how can people well versed in [00:47:00] the Archdiocese property records contact us?
Arnold: Well, it's, it's a fairly difficult process. You have to open up your email program, type in podcast@outsidelands.org, and then, you know, you have to think of what you wanna say and write it all down in that email to us. Or, you can go to one of our social media presences, which are on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We're gonna post a podcast on each of those platforms and you can comment underneath and one of us is gonna see that comment.
Nicole: It's true. And after listening to episode number 458 on Mountain Lake Park, our dear friend Alice said, and I quote, “I just wanna say that your comparison of William Randolph Hearst as the Elon Musk of the 20th century is one of the funniest things I've ever heard. Thanks Alice. You know [00:48:00] Alice, I wanna say you and your mom are always a ray of inbox sunshine, so, and in person too. But you know, thank you so much for always brightening my day when I'm at the office.
Arnold: And of course, Alice is a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project and Nicole, what kind of benefits does becoming a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project bring to you?
Nicole: Oh gosh. There are untold benefits that I'm going to tell you about right now. You get the quarterly membership magazine, you get discounts on events and other exclusive perks, and also your membership just supports all the cool good work that we do and that we make available for free, right? Like we very rarely make you pay for things here. There's OpenSFHistory, where you can download thousands of photographs of San Francisco for free. There's the Cliff House collection. We've been putting it on display, but those puppies take a lot of [00:49:00] time to interpret and care for. And, of course, this podcast, right? This podcast that is in your ears every week for free. All of this takes time and money for us, so we would appreciate it if you took a little time and clickity, clickity clacked the big orange button at the top of any one of our websites, Outsidelands.org or OpenSFHistory.org. And if you just give us 50 bucks a year, that will, you'll be part of the family and it'll be great, I promise.
Arnold: And you can always be checking our website Outsidelands.org and click on the events link at the top of the page cause we've got some announcements. Oh wait, we don't.
Nicole: It's like, ohhh.
Arnold: We are totally done with the public programs for the year, but that doesn't mean we won't be hard at work, cause this work is the [00:50:00] less sexy stuff. Now you had a chance…today we're having our city cemetery walk, but that is all sold out.
Nicole: Yeah, totally done.
Arnold: So you'll have to wait a year, because we'll probably do it again next year, and that's a big fun walk. But we're gonna have all kinds of events coming next year, so stay tuned. You can check the events link on the website. You can follow us on Eventbrite, and get up to the date notices of any events that get scheduled.
Nicole: And in the meantime, you know we're gonna be doing the less sexy stuff like rebuilding our website. But also, I'm gonna try to use my extra time, all this extra time, to create more digital content. So, more videos hopefully and things like that. I don't know, I'm trying to learn a lot of things really fast about how my phone and my computer work, cause I am a 95-year-old person stuck in a 30-plus-year-old's body. So, don't worry, you'll still be able to hear new things, get new history. It just won't [00:51:00] be an in-person event. So, with that part of the announcements taken care of Arnold, what is our preview for next week?
Arnold: Well, if you've been following along the pattern we have, we tend to do two podcasts on history subjects and then an interview podcast. And that interview podcast is happening next week and the guest will be…a surprise. Tune in next week and find out who.
Nicole: Absolutely thanks for being with us friends. We will catch you tomorrow or next week, afternoon, morning, or the night.
Arnold: Ciao for now.
Nicole: Goodbye.
Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.
Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org.[00:52:00] You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.

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