Recently, I saw a new trail marker/ map on Clarendon Avenue, across the street from “The Woods” townhome complex, and decided to explore.
It goes through the ravine that probably was part of the lake in olden times. It’s now dry, and forested with eucalyptus and understoried with blackberry. Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) gets it cleared out occasionally with goats. It’s quite delightful, a narrow winding trail that climbs up the other side of the ravine and comes out in LHH’s front yard.
Hiker and blogger Tony Holiday tried out the same hike – though he went a bit further, beyond the juvenile detention facility – and has given me permission to use his story and some pictures here. (For lots more great pictures, see his blog post, Daisies, on his site Stairways Are Heaven. It’s also a great resource for transit-friendly hikes.)
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From DAISIES by Tony Holiday
Thanks again to a good Facebook friend who told me about a new multi-use trail. And it’s a beauty!
The trailhead is on the Midtown Terrace side of Clarendon, just past Laguna Honda Reservoir. This is the south side of Clarendon, across the street from “The Woods” residences. There’s a sign with a map at the trailhead. It’s also a short distance from Olympia Way and the Midtown Terrace Playground.
Does this trail have an official name? If not, how ‘bout the “Woods” Trail?
Loved it immediately. Lush, narrow, definitely magical, with beautiful old trees.
It curves round, winding up to a south ridge.
No one on the trail but me (and Karl the Fog).
Nearer the summit was chainlink fencing and some old trash just off the trail. The cans, etc. will probably eventually be cleaned up. An old dumpsite for Laguna Honda Hospital?
To my left as I climbed were backs of Dellbrook Ave. homes. To my right, above, some of the many hospital buildings, old and new.
Then there were all these amazing white daisies along the trail.
There are benches just inside the hospital grounds behind one of the buildings. Still no one around but me. Continued up to a way out at a hospital parking lot.
From here delighted to see more woods just ahead.
Hidden away in the forest here are two huge graffiti-covered tanks.
Started down (west) alongside the hospital grounds to my right; to the left the Juvenile Probation Dept. Down at street level was Woodside & Idora. Continued curving downhill to the #43 bus stop that’s just across from the Forest Hill Metro Station.
Another treat —the colorful mural at the entrance to the hospital grounds on Laguna Honda at the bus stop. I think this has to be my favorite of all murals seen so far. [For lots more mural photos, see Tony’s original blog post.]
Walter Caplan asked for publicity for this flyer, forwarded by George Wooding of Midtown Terrace. (Walter, thanks for clearing publication permission with Laguna Honda Hospital.) It’s for the Laguna Honda Community picnic, tomorrow 13 Oct 2012, between noon and 4 p.m. at the Betty Sutro meadow. Bring your own food and toys!
The article below is republished with permission from Outsidelands (with some added emphasis). Click HERE for the original article. I want to thank Rex Bell for a wonderful step back in time.
A WALK ALONG THE ALMSHOUSE ROAD:
A Historical Description of Today’s Clarendon Avenue
by Rex Bell
I’ve always been fascinated with San Francisco history. To indulge my interest, I sometimes try to imagine what areas of the City I’m so familiar with were like in the past. I recently got a little help when I discovered a detailed, descriptive article that appeared in the San Francisco Call on Sunday, November 8, 1896.
The author of the article is unknown and long forgotten, but he created with words a vivid image of what was then a truly rural part of San Francisco. He writes about his walk along a road, very close to the City, but well hidden and isolated. He clearly describes what he sees and hears along the way, orienting the reader to his starting point, the curves in the road, and the changes in grade.
The author began his walk at the top of Stanyan Street, just above Cole Valley on the east side of Sutro Forest, on a clear Fall day in 1896. He described a place at that location where Stanyan transitioned into a dirt road that provided access to the beautiful rural path then known as the “Almshouse Road.” (So-named because it led to the Almshouse, which was an infirmary that housed San Francisco’s sick and poor of the day, located at the present site of Laguna Honda Hospital).
As I studied the article, I came to realize that much of what the author described is today known as Clarendon Avenue—the street that winds through a wooded portion of the City beginning at Twin Peaks Boulevard near Clayton Street. It heads up and over the hill along the eastern edge of Sutro Forest, descends down into a valley between the neighborhoods of Midtown Terrace and Forest Knolls, past the Laguna Honda Reservoir, and ends at Laguna Honda Boulevard.
On a Sunday afternoon in July 2011, I set out to retrace the steps that the author took on that day in the Fall of 1896. I began at his starting point (at what is now the intersection of Stanyan and Belgrave Streets), but I found the path blocked by houses. Slightly annoyed, but not dissuaded, I walked around— over Tank Hill and up Clarendon to where Stanyan once came come through. From this location, with a copy of the article in-hand, I began my walk back in time along the section of Clarendon that was once known as the “Almshouse Road.”
From the San Francisco Call, November 8, 1896:
“A GENUINE OLD-FASHIONED COUNTRY ROAD WITHIN THE LIMITS OF THE CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO”
“What other city in the world the size of San Francisco can boast of a country road within its limits, only a short distance away from the busy marts of trade? By this is not meant a street with a rural appearance, but a real road, without side walks or lamp-posts, that winds among tree-covered hills, past ranches and gardens and pretty homes, with vines and flowers in the yard, at the same time being shut out from all sight and sound of the busy metropolis. It is very likely that the city by the Golden Gate stands alone in this respect, as she does in many others. It is also likely that comparatively few of the residents of this City know of such a road’s existence, although most of them have undoubtedly been within a few hundred feet of one end of it.
“Nevertheless the road exists and is not at all hard to find. It is down on the map of San Francisco as “the Almshouse Road,” and the end nearest town starts at Stanyan street, several blocks south from the Haight-street entrance to the Park.”
“At this point there is nothing unusual looking about the road, it having much the appearance of many of the newly laid out streets in the vicinity. It starts up a gradual incline and goes through a cut in the hill only about a block away. A little has been done in the way of improvement here. Wooden curbs have been put in and the center of the road is covered with crushed stone the same as is used in the park. But go up to the cut in the hill and look beyond. The entire aspect changes and every bit of suggestion of a city street disappears. The roadbed is simply laid on the surface of the ground and almost nothing done in the way of grading. On both sides there are hills and trees with vacant lots divided by fences.
“About two hundred feet from the end of the road it makes a curve and a descent at the same time, then a sudden ascent. Here there are a few small houses, and by turning back one can look over the park and even beyond and see the smoke of the big City mingling with the clear blue of the sky.
“But keep on and another descent will lead into a canyon and a few hundred feet up this and all sight of the big City is lost. When once within this big canyon it is hard to realize that only a few hundred feet to the northeast there is a big City throbbing and pulsating with life. There is no suggestion of it here, and as far as the general aspect of nature goes, one might as well be in the depths of the Sierras. Away to the south the road can be seen winding among the hills, every now and then disappearing behind a bluff only to reappear a short distance farther on.
“There is a breath of autumn in the air. The grass on the hill sides is sparse and brown, but the birds are singing and the murmur of the brook can be heard as it tumbles over the rocks. A gentle wind rustles the dead weeds and sends the dried leaves flying. Listen. Not the faintest sound of the big City comes in here. Surely this cannot be San Francisco. But it really is, and just over the hill to the right not much farther than a boy could throw a stone are well laid out streets, all the modern improvements that make up a metropolis.
“Although the road really goes up hill it does so so gradually as to be imperceptible. Every step takes one farther and farther into the depths of nature, and the canyon becomes almost wild for a short distance. There are big jagged rocks overhanging the way and seeming ready to fall at any moment. At this point the hills on both sides are so high the sea breeze is kept out and an absolute silence reigns.”
“In the vicinity of the Almshouse the roadway is lined with pretty residences, and numerous ponds and reservoirs add to the country-like effect. Roosters are crowing, cows bellowing, dogs barking and hens cackling, mingled with the sound of the woodsman’s ax in the timber near by.
“The prettiest portion of the whole road is just beyond the Almshouse gate. It might properly be named the Eucalyptus road, for both sides of the driveway are lined with the most picturesque specimens of those artistic trees. The trees are just in their prime and make a most refreshing shade, that is pleasant to look at in cool weather and cooling when the sun is hot. This avenue is about 500 feet long, and in some places the branches of the trees meet overhead, forming a natural archway, the equal of any in the State. When the sun is low in the west and the trunks of the trees cast long shadows over the roadway, then is it indeed a beautiful sight. The spots of light dance as if endowed with life, and the whole interior of the archway is filled with a soft glow that mingles with the quivering sunshine.
“Beyond the Almshouse there is a clearing where the inmates of the institution are want to come and rest while seated in the sun on the logs of the newly felled trees. They add considerably to the picturesqueness of the scene, those poor old people, as they move about, many of them attired in the most outlandish garments of the brightest colors. But some how they seem to blend with nature, and even if the clothes they wear have been out of fashion over half a century, the wearers are proud of them; perhaps proud of the length of time they have had them.”
“Half a mile from the Almshouse gate the road is of the most countryfied description. There are barns and stables on both sides, and back on the hills dozens of vegetable gardens. At present these gardens are looking their best. Great rows of all sorts of good things are in the most perfect condition of greenness, and walking among them are gardeners singing at their work.
“Every foot of the Almshouse road is a pleasure to walk over to any one who enjoys nature. Add to this the fact that it is within the limits of one of the largest cities in the world, and the trip over it becomes a most unique experience.”
“A peculiar feature of the Almshouse road is that it can be followed for about two miles and suggest nothing but the country, but after that distance it makes a curve toward the City, and in a mile more comes back to the streets of San Francisco not many blocks from where it started.” (End of article.)
The rural countryside has long since vanished, and the charming country road described by the author is now a four-lane boulevard. Most of the area has given way to residential housing. The Almshouse was long ago replaced by the Laguna Honda Hospital complex and Sutro Tower dominates the skyline for miles around.
But it would be wrong to say that absolutely nothing remains of the place described in the article. The rural roots of this part of the City still linger. Eucalyptus-covered Mount Sutro is still a forested wilderness and much of the landscape around Laguna Honda Reservoir remains undeveloped. Even within the quiet residential neighborhoods of Midtown Terrace and Forest Knolls, bisected by Clarendon Avenue, it still holds true that “…it is hard to realize that only a few hundred feet to the northeast there is a big City throbbing and pulsating with life. There is no suggestion of it here…“
Following a heads-up from the neighbors working to preserve the Laguna Honda Reservoir, I attended a meeting of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council (WTPCC). The WTPCC is a council of councils; its members are the neighborhood organizations from all over San Francisco’s west side. We met in the quaint Maybeck clubhouse in Forest Hill. Nestled under tall redwoods, the place has a charming, almost medieval atmosphere.
After thanking two members of the Council who were retiring (to the tune of “Jolly Good Fellow”!), the chairman George Wooding rapidly got through several agenda items. Some that are relevant to our neighborhood:
Regarding the gravel yard at Laguna Honda Reservoir, he had attended the June 6th meeting with the PUC. He said the PUC had a moratorium in place until July 15th at least. The Home Owners’ Association of The Woods, a residential community adjacent to the reservoir, is joining the WTPCC.
About Sutro Forest, he mentioned that UCSF was having a community meeting on June 30th.
The current owners of Park Merced discussed what was happening there. They are under financial pressure with loans coming due, but hope to negotiate with their lenders for a better payment terms. Meanwhile, they are planning to build new housing and slowly phase out the older buildings. They assured us that existing tenants under rent control would be given comparable-but-new homes at the rent-controlled rate.
The evening’s main issue was the misuse of the Gift Fund of Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH). Apparently, a gift fund described as being specifically for the welfare and happiness of the residents/ patients/ inmates of the hospital, has been utilized for the benefit of the hospital staff. The fund, which had reached around $2 million, has been run down to about $700 thousand. Its oversight structures have been disbanded, so now money can be taken out more easily. Several sub-accounts have been set up under the Gift Fund to utilize the monies for the nurses, doctors, and administrators of the hospital while cutting back on excursions for the residents.
George described WTPCC’s futile efforts to get inputs or explanations from LHH representatives, from various oversight institutions, and from the district supervisor. WTPCC passed a resolution to recommend an independent audit of the funds, restoring any misspent monies, and reinstating oversight structures.
Laguna Honda Hospital has hired a herd of goats to clean out the undergrowth in front of its new building, and behind the parking lot (along Clarendon Avenue). In the picture, the white dots are the goats, and you can see a bus parked on top of the hill.
A neighbor also wrote to say LHH is offering tours.
“I received a flyer inviting the Forest Knolls neighborhood to tour the new Laguna Honda hospital. They suggested we wear long pants (no skirts or dress shoes) and sensible shoes – they would provide boots – The first tour is today (Thursday) at 2 PM…. They have one more tour this month and two in March and one in April. “
Thursday, February 11, 2010 2 p.m.
Saturday, February 27, 2010 11 a.m.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 2 p.m.
Saturday, March 20, 2010 11 a.m.
Saturday, April ?, 2010 11 a.m.
“Tours can accommodate a limited number of people. Please let us know you are coming. Call 415-759-4597.
“Where to meet: All tours begin in the lobby of the old building.
“What to wear: Long pants, blouses or shirts with at least a four inch sleeve. No sleeveless shirts, skirts or dresses. We provide hard hats, safety glasses and vests. Please wear boots or sturdy shoes with a hard sole (we have loaner boots). For your safety, dress shoes and tennis shoes are not allowed.”
Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH), at the foot of Clarendon Avenue, is in a sense part of our neighborhood. The Woods, a community of townhomes, lies just across from it, as does Galewood Court. Thanks to the addition of some unlovely tower blocks, and the felling of a lot of trees (eucalyptus – of course), it’s a lot more visible than it used to be. Especially at night, when it bears some resemblance to a large parking garage.
So we’re concerned at what’s happening at LHH. George Wooding, President of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, wrote an article pointing out problematic changes that the public has not been informed about.
For those interested in more detail, there’s a website called Stop LHH Downsize with a great deal of information (including the full text of Mr Wooding’s article, “Many Problems Face Laguna Honda Hospital“).
Here’s the gist of the story:
In 1999, the San Francisco voters agreed to a bond measure to rebuild Laguna Honda Hospital – a city-owned nursing home, they thought, for indigent elderly and disabled San Franciscans.
What has happened since?
The rebuild has cost $600 mn instead of the budgeted $401 mn.
Tree felling has chopped large holes in the screen between Clarendon Avenue and the hospital’s rear, giving the neighborhood a fine view of the backside of the new blocks and the parking lot.
LHH has cut 35% of the beds (420 of 1200), eliminated another 200 planned assisted living units, and suspended or terminated its adult daycare program for older people with dementia.
More problematically, LHH has changed its mission – or is trying to.
The Department of Public Health is planning to admit people with mental health and substance abuse problems. Instead of having a nursing home in our neighborhood – a mission most of us support – we will have effectively, a mental-health hospital.
It’s an experiment that has already been tried, unsuccessfully. In 2003, in order to reduce pressure on San Francisco General Hospital, young patients with substance abuse and mental health issues were sent on to LHH. Staff were attacked, fires set, and there were clashes between the young male patients and the older residents. Eventually, the situation deteriorated sufficiently that the Department of Justice was involved, and the experiment stopped.
It’s about to be restarted. (We think, since there has been no clarity on the issue.)
Says Wooding in his article: “We don’t know what population LHH intends to serve when it opens just four months from now, and whether LHH will be serving geriatric patients with chronic medical illness, or psychosocial patients with mental illness and substance abuse needs.”
The underlying problem is that San Francisco has no place to send mentally ill/ substance abusing patients who cannot be released into the community. (In 2004, San Francisco’s only long-term care psychiatric facility closed down, with a loss of 145 psychiatric beds.)
That doesn’t mean that LHH should be sacrificed to that function.Especially without buy-in from voters and the surrounding communities.
[Edited to Add: At the March 11, 2010 community meeting, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd announced that the new facility would open in June (though the patients would not move in until later). In response to a question, he said that LHH was not changing its admission policy: It would be open only to people whose primary diagnosis was physical, though some of those might have mental challenges as well. “Don’t worry, it’s not becoming a homeless shelter,” he said.]