Wonder Women! Glen Park's Gum Tree Girls, Minnie Straub Baxter, and the San Francisco Freeway Revolt
Read more about the legacy of Gum Tree Girl Zoanne Nordstrom and her fight to protect Glen Canyon by clicking the above link, then linking on the post about her.
Learn more about her amazing life story at the Glen Park News.
In the summer of 2016, the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project recorded the oral history of two of Glen Park's Gum Tree Girls: Zoanne Theriault Nordstrom and Joan Seiwald, who also spoke for their late compatriot, Geri Arkush. The legacy of the Gum Tree Girls was celebrated at a meeting of the GPNHP in October 2017, during which Zoanne, Joan, and Geri (represented by her daughter, Kristen) were presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for their "... civic activism and moxie that saved Glen Park and Glen Canyon from freeway construction during San Francisco’s Freeway Revolt, 1965 to 1970." The history of the Freeway Revolt in Glen Park is below. Here are quick links to snippets from the Gum Tree Girls oral history video:
Part 1. "The Hell It Is!" Part 2. "The Beautiful View of the Freeway" Part 3. "Pave It, and Paint It Green" Part 4. "We Were Trouble" Part 5. "A Great Name!" Part 6. "You Can't Do This!" Part 7: "You Can Beat City Hall!"
Freeways for All!
In 1948, the California Highway Department (today, the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans) and San Francisco's Department of Public Works published a grandiose plan to crisscross the City of San Francisco with freeways. It was an idea that had already been percolating for 20 years.
First, a brief history of motoring. The first automobile in San Francisco had been built in 1896 by John L. Meyers, foreman at the J. L. Hicks Company, manufacturer of gas and gasoline engines. (1,2) By 1900, there were 5 vehicles registered in the City, and by 1903 the number had increased 100-fold. (1) By September 1930, there was one auto for every 4 residents in the City: with a census of 658,000 in 1930, that would be nearly 160,000 automobiles. For comparison, as of 2015 there were nearly 500,000 cars registered in San Francisco, a number that included registration of only about 25% of the 5,700 Uber and Lyft cars using road space in the City on any given weekday. (3-5)
With the love of "Motordom" on the rise in the early 1900s, both automobilists and highway engineers were already looking for alternative routes, and freeways had become the newest call to action. As first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1926: "Circumferential routes were quickest for automobile movement and best for relieving congested centers.” (6) Eleven years later, anticipation for the new roadways intensified: "We are ready for highways divided physically to end the menace of the head-on crash. And we are ready to build super-bypasses or circumferential routes that avoid whole regions of congestion …" (7)
In the 1948 plan, a “System of traffic-ways would criss-cross SF,” including a Panhandle freeway to the west, a Mission freeway to the southwest, and a Bayshore freeway to the south. Further, that, “These three great thoroughfares to be articulated by the Central freeway, which would function as a distributor and diffuser of these heavy traffic concentrations.” [For more of the citywide history, see Chris Carlsson's "Freeway Revolt" at FoundSF.org.]
Moreover, it was also announced that, “The Circumferential Expressway would be built along the Seventh avenue-Woodside-O’Shaughnessy route ... It would connect directly into the Alemeny freeway by way of Bosworth street ... Eventually it should be extended across Golden Gate Park to Park-Presidio boulevard for access to the Richmond district and the Golden Gate Bridge.” (8)
Talk of freeways continued in the years that followed. Sensing some resistance in 1954, the San Francisco Examiner and other papers attempted to portray how freeways would be a savior of the thing most precious: "... for tourists and San Franciscans alike, as the evolution of transportation continues, the portal picture is being revived by what the engineers call skyways - the Bay area freeways. As these skyways are developed, the beauty which long has been one of San Francisco's great traditions not only will be restored to view, but will be unfolded to countless thousands entering San Francisco from all directions. The recently completed section of the Bayshore Freeway [now U.S. Highway 101] between Army [now Cesar Chavez] and Bryant Streets opened an entirely new vista. Motorists skirt Portrero Hill on wide curves. As they approach the elevated section of this new freeway facility, a panorama of the imposing city skyscrapers develops with a real life suddenness to dwarf the thrills of Cinerama." (9)
It's true that driving upon high, no matter the landscape, may indeed offer the better view. Yet, any plan for the bisection of a neighborhood, already known for its beloved open space and sylvan beauty, with an elevated viaduct that would run parallel to Bosworth Street, then bank north to run along aside O'Shaughnessy Boulevard and hover 60 feet above Glen Canyon, then plow underground at Portola Drive and rise again 1,100 feet later at 7th Avenue, then bore underground a second time under Golden Gate Park and reappear at Park Presidio, while in the process taking out 120 homes and 13 businesses and with the sole intent of being a quick jaunt to the Golden Gate Bridge was an affront to a large number of residents. (10,11)
Freeway Revolt, Round 1: Minnie Straub Baxter
In 1958, enter Mrs. Hermini "Minnie" Straub Baxter, a native of Glen Park, daughter of August Straub, iconic Glen Park saloon keeper and co-founder with Theodore Pinther of the first Glen Park Improvement Association in 1907. Born in 1895, Minnie had witnessed the explosive growth of Glen Park following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. As a pre-teen, she had been exposed to all of the civic activism bubbling around her from the time the gavel calling the first meeting of the Glen Park Improvement Association to order was struck. She was there when the ladies of the Glen Park Outdoor Art League and Johanna Pinther's San Francisco Women's Club (of which Minnie's mother was a member), both founded in 1908, were working to bring basic infrastructure to the new community of Glen Park and striving to achieve votes for women in California. All three associations were imploring the Crocker Estate to return the southern portion of Glen Canyon, at the time being operated as a reservation-only pleasuring ground, from the grips of private ownership back to public recreation (a mission they and their successors would pursue until 1922 when the Crocker Estate finally sold 10 acres to the City for use as a public park). Minnie had known the value of grassroots activism as long as the term had been in use, and 50 years later she would be carrying that Glen Park tradition forward.
Minnie soon set out to galvanize the neighborhood. She first circulated a card to promote attendance to a community meeting that declared, "Come and learn how Glen Park District will be DESTROYED!” Some 500 "glum and bitterly protesting" residents attended the meeting at Glen Park School, with Minnie closing the meeting with this: "Only God created this beautiful neighborhood in which we live – what man dares destroy it?” (12,13) She traveled to Sacramento to speak in opposition to the freeway plan before the California Assembly to deliver what became famously known as "The Three-Minute Speech" (Read Minnie's Three-Minute Speech). (11)
She soon met face-to-face with the Director of the DPW, Sherman P. Duckel, who without apology noted that, "someone is always hurt by construction of a freeway." City Planning Director Jim McCarthy proclaimed, "Like it or not, the automobile is here to stay. Some of us must pay." The Mayor of San Francisco, George Christopher, whose own Christopher Dairy cows had roamed and ruminated on the slopes of Glen Canyon until 1940, stated, "If the City doesn't support freeway planning, it could lose the millions the legislature plans to allocate." (Of note, some $350 million in highway funds had been tagged for San Francisco, equivalent to about $3 billion today). The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce believed freeway construction was for the common good. And, State Senator Randolph Collier, identified as the "father of freeways," responded with, "By and large everyone including San Francisco officials endorse the freeway plan. Some San Francisco residents protest against the freeways, but they are the articulate 10 percent minority." (11,14)
Despite all the government hubris being dispensed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously against the city-wide freeway plan in January 1959. From an editorial by the San Francisco Examiner, "The Board of Supervisors correctly reflected public sentiment when it killed several proposed San Francisco Freeways last week. The lawmakers and highway planners at Sacramento seem reluctant to accept that as fact ... there can be no doubt that the unanimous vote was a true reflection of public sentiment ... The officials at Sacramento ... must be helped to see that this extremely compact city of hills and panoramas possesses values and qualities given to few cities in this world. San Franciscans are neither quixotic nor pointlessly stubborn when they insist these must not be destroyed by surface and elevated freeways ... but this city of never-ending beauty is also a great, throbbing commercial center ... In rejecting freeways they're not seeking quaintness, like Carmel-by-the-Sea. Their revolt is against the kind of freeways they see around them ... They are rebelling against freeways ... that stride along as huge, ugly elevateds or that slash great gashes through residential or business districts. The revolt is the day of reckoning for all those who have exalted freeways above other urban values." (14) Round One had been won, and Glen Park's Minnie Straub Baxter had played a tremendous role in its success.
Freeway Revolt, Rounds 2, 3, and 4: The Gum Tree Girls
In the early 1960s, 2 young moms - Zoanne Theriault and Joan Seiwald - had become new residents of Glen Park. They had first met on one of their frequent outings to Glen Canyon Park to entertain their young children. Soon, they would also meet lifelong Glen Park resident Geri Arkush and quickly became fast friends. They had no idea that over the next few years they would become icons of a new generation of grassroots activists.
While Minnie Straub Baxter, along with a multitude of residents throughout San Francisco, had waged a successful battle against the freeway demagogues, the defeated highwaymen were determined to still carry out their plan. Reports surfaced in 1959 and 1960 that the DPW still planned to widen Bosworth and tunnel under Portola Drive, claiming that traffic along Bosworth and O’Shaughnessy would double by 1980 because of the new redevelopment project called Diamond Heights. Glen Park residents labeled the plan as “the Crosstown Freeway plan in disguise” (engineers had renamed the Circumferential Expressway to one that rolled more easily off the tongue). (15,16) By 1965, DPW had purchased and razed nearly 20 structures along the north side of Bosworth, including the building at 700 Bosworth at Lippard that housed the Glen Park Branch Library, as well as the former home of Glen Park suffragist Johanna Pinther at 1006 Bosworth at Hamerton. (17-20) The widening of Bosworth to four lanes would not be completed until 1970.
With Bosworth taken care of, DPW set its sights on O'Shaughnessy Boulevard by threatening to straighten the hairpin curve exiting from Glen Park and extending the widened road further up the hill towards Portola Drive, which the San Francisco Examiner said, "... will offer the eager motorist a hot-shot route from the Southern Freeway [today's U.S. Interstate 280] over Twin Peaks to the northern side of The City.” (21) Concurrently, plans were underway to also widen Elk Street running along the eastern border of Glen Canyon Park between Bosworth and Sussex Streets. (22)
One day in 1965, Zoanne Theriault Nordstrom was strolling through Glen Canyon with her toddler son and came upon some activity that raised her suspicions. View Part 1 below, "The Hell It Is!", to hear Zoanne and Joan tell their "origin story." (Read the letter Joan Seiwald refers to in Part 1.)
Zoanne, Joan, and Geri called the first meeting of their new Save Glen Park Committee to order on October 19, 1965. During the meeting, they shared the mission of the committee: To investigate the plan for the rerouting of O’Shaughnessy over the recreation area, and to see what could be done to save Glen Park that, according to Zoanne years later, "... was the perfect small town in the middle of a big city." (11,23,24)
Joan and Zoanne speak about that first meeting in Part 2, "The Beautiful View of the Freeway."
The Save Glen Park Committee members, with Minnie Straub Baxter providing assistance by writing letters in longhand, quickly got the word out to news organizations, government officials, and even local developers. For example, construction of new homes in the Diamond Heights redevelopment project was just getting underway. Zoanne wrote letters to both Joseph Eichler and the Hayman Brothers, architects in the project who had many properties facing Glen Canyon (in 1950, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency had claimed Glen Canyon as part of Diamond Heights to preserve the natural views). Zoanne was to the point: “We would like to inform you that Glen Park faces destruction … Since Glen Park will be one of your main assets for selling these homes, we should like to enlist your help for saving the park … Can you help stop this senseless desecration?” Both architects agreed to help stop the freeway. (23-25)
Surprisingly, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department had believed that a freeway hovering over the western baseball diamond and recreation center would not impair the enjoyment of recreation. In September 1965, Recreation and Park General Manager James P. Lang had stated the department would "... not stand idly by while the 'forces of progress' plow ahead unheeded." Lang went on that, "When the engineers notified us last year part of Glen Park [ie, the recreation area] might have to go, we had an understanding that we would be kept posted as to their plans ... To date we have heard nothing ... I'm not going to just roll over and play dead when it comes to a questions of what happens to the trees in our parks ... We may need improved throughways but we need our park areas as well." (21) Yet, two days later, General Manager Lang responded by letter to Zoanne that, "It is the objective of this Commission to protect park lands for the enjoyment of the people of San Francisco. In January 1957, the matter of the Crosstown Freeway was considered by the Recreation and Park Commission and at that time a route was approved which would do very little damage to the Park." (22,23) (Read the letter from General Manager Lang.) By November 9, the Save Glen Park Committee had learned from City Engineer Clifford Geertz and DPW Director S. Myron Tatarian that Superintendent of Parks Frank Foehr and the department's Chief Nurseryman, Jack Spring, had approved the test borings in the canyon without triggering any new deliberations by the San Francisco Parks Commission. (26)
View Part 3, "Pave It, and Paint it Green" to hear more from Joan and Zoanne.
In the heat of the battle, Joan lamented over the sanctimonious attitudes of the all-male government towards Glen Park: "They thought Glen Park was a ‘bucolic backwater’ and [were] calling us ‘dumb housewives’ … they didn’t want the working class in the city.” (27) She later recalled, "We were very determined individuals ... we bird-dogged the supervisors' meetings, wrote letters to editors, garnered support wherever we could .... For a while, we thought that Mr. Goetz [Clifford Geertz], then Chief Engineer, was just waiting to see if the 'Gum Tree Ladies' would move or lose interest. We did neither." (24)
The Gum Tree Girls next instigated a campaign of "small scale civil disobedience." For example, Geri Arkush's daughter, Kristen, who was only a young girl at the time, remembered, “We swung into action in order to delay this ill-conceived project any way that we could." According to Kristin, one tactic the children of the Gum Tree Girls happily performed was removing the surveyor’s flags from eucalyptus trees along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, and taking them again every time they were replaced. (28)
View Part 4, "We Were Trouble" to hear about the tactics the Gum Tree Girls used at City Hall.
As for their famous moniker, neither Zoanne, Joan, nor Geri came up with "The Gum Tree Girls." We can thank San Francisco City Engineer Clifford Geertz, one of their most important adversaries, for that. And why the name "Gum Tree?"
Many early descriptions of San Francisco during the period of discovery in the late 1700s remark on the barrenness of the landscape and the general lack of trees. (29) Blue gum eucalyptus had been shipped from Australia to San Francisco following the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848, likely first arriving around 1856. (30) It was to serve as a fast-growing source of lumber but it was soon discovered that the wood splintered too easily during milling. As a result, alternative uses for eucalyptus were found, primarily as wind breaks and markers of property lines.
Milch rancher Henry Wilson had laid out his homestead in and around today's intersection of Diamond and Chenery Streets in 1854, and is likely the person responsible for planting a grove of eucalyptus (gum trees) as a wind break and property line by the close of that decade. (31) By 1891, Archibald S. Baldwin of the real estate agency Baldwin & Howell, who in 1897 would be responsible for establishing the Glen Park Company- the first use of Glen Park in our district - for the express purpose of running a zoo in order to sell home lots, was the owner of the Gum Tree Ranch. Stated to be near the 4-Mile House of the Southern Pacific Railroad, located at today's Randall Street and San Jose Avenue, a reminiscence published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1947 pinpoints the Gum Tree Ranch as being located on Diamond Street where Surrey Street, Sussex Street, and Poppy Lane intersect. (32)
While the gum tree grove at Diamond and Chenery was gone by mid-20th century, many San Franciscans had not forgotten it, with some continuing to refer to Glen Park as the Gum Tree district. Moreover, with all of the tree-planting performed in the early 1900s by Archibald S. Baldwin and the Glen Park Outdoor Art League, there was still an abundance of gum and other types of trees in Glen Park and Glen Canyon growing in the direct path of the proposed freeway.
It seems City Engineer Geertz was not fond of eucalyptus trees, saying at one point that once they've been cut, ",,, they grow back like weeds." (26) Joan Seiwald spoke passionately for saving the trees: "One of the most beautiful parks in San Francisco is the Glen Park Playground. Now concrete threatens the rustic scenery ... this is a crime against the people of this city - and it is a waste of money as the Southern Freeway [U.S. Interstate 280] has siphoned off most of the traffic." (21)
By calling Zoanne, Joan, and Geri the "Gum Tree Girls," we see the disdain Geertz had not only for eucalyptus trees, but also for the resistance to the plan coming from Glen Park and the women who were leading it.
View Part 5, "A Great Name!" to hear how Zoanne, Joan, and Geri interpreted the insult from Geertz.
When asked during their oral history interview, Zoanne and Joan expressed surprise that gender would have ever played a role in their interactions with government officials. (28) However, a thesis by Justin Germain about the role of women during the Freeway Revolt came to a different conclusion. According to Germain's report, business and government were always focused on economics and infrastructure. Yet, women appeared to be the backbone of the movement, maintaining their focus on the human values of community, family, and preservation of natural landscapes. According to Germain, "Women like Bierman [ie, Sue Bierman, who was working with Willie Brown to save the Golden Gate Panhandle from freeway intrusion], Pennestri [ie, Gina Pennestri, an anti-freeway activist working to protect Twin Peaks and who had expressed frustration that women activists were being referred to as "ladies" and "little housewives"], and Nordstrom rarely, if ever, claimed that their advocacy aimed to empower women. Yet by gaining organizational leadership, politicizing freeways’ effects on personal lives, and drawing upon perceptions of sexual difference for political reform, they anticipated the rhetoric of women’s liberation activists less than half a decade later. Women’s effective leadership showed that it was anything but foolish to view housewives as prominent social activists. Their actions brought new perspectives about the social effects of development that seem natural to contemporary urban planners." (33) (A similar perspective had emerged when describing the activities of suffragists in the early 1900s). For his research, Germain was awarded the 2017 University of California, Berkeley Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research (upper division).
In Part 6, "You Can't Do This!," Zoanne and Joan describe their experiences in meeting face-to-face with public officials.
Before the days of instantaneous Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, messaging was far more labor-intensive than it is today. Some will remember when the only thing a thumb did on any keyboard was hit the space bar. To speak to someone remotely, you picked up a receiver connected to a telephone that in turn was connected by a cord coming out of the wall, then dialed the number on a rotary dial one number at a time, with numbers 5 through 0 taking much longer to complete that numbers 1 through 4. Letters were either handwritten or typed on old-fashioned typewriters, with copies made using sheets of blue carbon paper alternating with additional sheets of typing paper, and with "snail mail" being the only option for delivery. For mass printing, paper was printed with purple ink that would remain damp for a long time after it was pumped off mimeograph or ditto machines, from which emanated a distinctive aromatic smell fondly remembered by Baby Boomers (apparently, a combination of the aniline ink dye and a duplicating fluid comprised of methanol and isopropanol). This is the technology (or lack thereof) that the Gum Tree Girls and their predecessor, Minnie Straub Baxter, were working with to get their messaging to save Glen Park out to the community at large.
Despite the lack of communication efficiencies, their efforts were working. Members of the Board of Supervisors supporting the effort to save Glen Park included Jack Morrison, Peter Tamaras, Roger Boas, Terry Francois, Leo McCarthy, George Moscone (who would soon become a California state senator), and California Assemblyman Willie Brown. (23,24) It was clear to Brown that efforts to widen various streets across the city was a forerunner for building the Crosstown Freeway. According to Brown, once traffic was routed up O'Shaughnessy across to Woodside and dumped at Seventh Avenue and Lincoln Way, a freeway "... would be the next step." He went on to charge that street widening was a "back door way" to get such a freeway. (23)
In October 1965, Zoanne wrote a letter to Harold Gilliam, environmental reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, sharing she had spoken with a, “... Mr. Ewing, engineer for structural design of viaduct … [he] insists the route will be a grand improvement, only 28 trees to be removed … for every tree removed, they would plant a fast-growing Eucalyptus … When I asked to see the landscaping plans he said that they didn't have the plans at this time since they had to wait for the appropriation before going ahead with such details ... we saw a lovely drawing of how beautiful it would be when it was finished, how much care had been taken with the design of the viaduct, how concerned everyone was with the landscaping etc. In other words, a snow job.” (23)
The Gum Tree Girls and local residents were infuriated at the damage already done to the park during the test borings. DPW Director Tartarian responded that access roads cut into the park were not scars, but merely "tracks," and that they "would heal after the first rain." (23,34) The Save Glen Park Committee also expressed concern for the future if the freeway were built: "These trees not only give Glen Park its beauty, but they also serve a functional purpose; they shelter the small children's area, the tennis courts, and playing fields. Without this shelter, the tiny-tots area, now warm and pleasant, would be wretched and windy; for baseball players it would recreate the conditions at Candlestick Park; and it would be almost impossible to play tennis. And since Glen Park is one of the largest parks in The City, its facilities are extensively used for intra-city sports. Furthermore, the carbon-monoxide from the cars overhead would blow directly upon the children and adults who seek refuge, in the park, from the wind, smog and concrete. Glen Park also houses the Silver Tree Day Camp which provides for a country experience, within The City, for over a thousand children every summer ... And last, but not least, Glen Park is the last rustically beautiful park, of any size, in San Francisco." (23)
The second Save Glen Park Committee meeting to discuss these issues attracted a reported 175 concerned residents on November 9, 1965. (23,24) (See the announcement for the second meeting of the Save Glen Park Committee. Read the report voted on and passed by meeting attendees for consideration by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Read the Policy Statement of the Save Glen Park Committee.) At the meeting, George Moscone, in attendance with three other supervisors, assured Glen Park and Diamond Heights residents that, "The Department of Public Works isn't so much at fault, but they have been acting on a resolution passed a long time ago by another Board of Supervisors. Now we have a new board and I'll give you a guarantee: we come a lot closer to serving your wishes than any board of highway engineers!" (23)
The Committee and those in attendance approved a recommendation to reject any plans for O'Shaughnessy Boulevard, and called for the Transportation Committee of the Board of Supervisors to hold a public hearing on the matter. Supervisor Jack Morrison nearly simultaneously introduced a resolution to the Board demanding that the DPW immediately stop work and "restore, repair, and replant the damaged portions of Glen Canyon Park." (35)
The Transportation Committee unanimously agreed: Glen Park should be saved! In an editorial by the San Francisco Chronicle, it was reported as a, "... unanimity that is possibly unique where street and freeway projects are concerned." The Board of Supervisors had, "... acted promptly and decisively when dirt-movers began chewing into the Glen Park hillside and citizens' groups from Glen Park and adjoining areas justifiably entered angry protests. In prospect was a realignment of O'Shaughnessy Boulevard, a project approved in 1962 to save motorists a few seconds by slicing through one corner of the rustic recreation area and uprooting a stand of more than 100 venerable eucalyptus trees. The despoilment thus entailed was so wanton and so shocking that upon consideration on Monday a majority of the Board of Supervisors declared themselves in favor of a resolution that would tell the Department of Public Works to stop work at once and to 'restore, repair, and replant damaged portions of Glen Canyon Park' ... This marks a significant victory for human values over highway engineers, an official recognition that a neighborhood's claims may outweigh the convenience of motorists who may be passing through." (36) (Read the Board of Supervisors Resolution.)
Hear more how the Gum Tree Girls achieved success in Part 7, "You Can Beat City Hall!"
While the battle had been won, the war was not yet over. One year later, a new plan was introduced that was portrayed as having less impact on Glen Park and Glen Canyon, that the corner of Diamond Heights High School [today, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts] would be saved, that a landscape architect will be involved, and that the plan for the four-lane parkway would, “ ... provide greater opportunities for views of the canyon for motorists traversing the route.”
In a letter dated February 1967 to Rudy Nothenberg, assistant to Assemblyman Willie Brown, Zoanne noted that, "The 'scenic parkway' proposal was developed by the Department of City Planning; but this 'parkway' rendering requires landscaping embellishments to create this atmosphere. Mr. Geertz, of DPW, admitted that his department does not have jurisdiction to implement these landscape concepts; it is the responsibility of the Recreation and Park Department. This fact has not been mentioned at either the Park and Recreation Commission or the Planning Commission hearings ... We feel that the DPW should not present the 'parkway' concept if they do not ask for funds to complete the project. This 'scenic parkway' is the Crosstown Freeway Route by another name." (23)
The Save Glen Park Committee again looked to the Transportation Committee of the Board of Supervisors for support, and again embarked on letter-writing campaigns, outreach, and community meetings. In July 1967, the DPW was told by the supervisors to go back and come up with a new plan. Total defeat was postponed by Supervisor Jack Morrison, who now believed some type of improved roadway might be warranted, and wanted to see if the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would loan a two-acre parcel it owned in the southwest corner of Glen Park as an alternative to the original plan. (37). An editorial in the San Francisco Progress claimed the road was, "a road to nowhere," and that the current roadway could accommodate the traffic load just fine, emphasizing the need for gaining public approval before implementing any roadway plan. When reporting to the Supervisors' Transportation Committee later that year, both Engineer Geertz and City Planner Allan Jacobs admitted they had yet to investigate the two-acre parcel, calling it "an oversight." With this additional delay, frustrated residents shot back they had already been studying the project for the past 5 years! (39)
The last attempt at the freeway plan was in 1970. Finally, again with a unanimous vote, the Transportation Committee of the Board of Supervisors rescinded authorization for the widening of O'Shaughnessy. (39) The plan was finally crushed for good at the next full meeting of the Board a few days later. (40)
The Legacy of Minnie Straub Baxter and the Gum Tree Girls
The war to save Glen Park and Glen Canyon Park from freeway bisection had lasted 12 years. While the freeway was defeated in Glen Park and throughout the City, some preliminary neighborhood infrastructure had succeeded in getting built, including the widening of Bosworth and construction of the San Jose Avenue approach to Interstate 280. During this period, Glen Park was also dealing with other major upheavals, particularly the resculpting of Gold Mine, Red Rock, and Fairmount Hills for the Diamond Heights Redevelopment Project, the loss of more buildings (including the next location of the Glen Park Branch Library after the Bosworth location had been demolished) with construction of the Glen Park BART station and its parking area, as well as the construction of the Southern Freeway (I-280) immediately to the south.
Minnie Straub Baxter and the Gum Tree Girls had carried forward the civic ideals of their suffragist predecessors a half-century before, continuing a long history of women’s grassroots activism and leadership for which Glen Park has become well known. In their honor, the main trail in Glen Canyon Park, Alms Road, was renamed the Gum Tree Girls Trail by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department in 2014.
Moreover, unbeknownst to the Gum Tree Girls in the 1960s, stopping the freeway also saved the integrity of the site near the Recreation Center that would be designated as California State Historical Landmark No. 1002 in 1991, commemorating the first dynamite factory in America that had been personally licensed by inventor Alfred Nobel. Had the O'Shaughnessy hairpin curve been straightened, the historic site would have been obliterated. The late Jean Kortum, herself a veteran of the anti-freeway movement in the North Beach area, was responsible for securing the site's historic designation. Zoanne, Joan, and Geri's daughter, Kristin, joined Jean Kortum's son, John, and his family to unveil and dedicate the plaque for California State Landmark No. 1002 (the plaque for the landmark had never been placed) in 2018.
As to the significant value residents place on Glen Park and Glen Canyon, a fifth-generation resident of Glen Park, William Tietz, framed it most eloquently at the height of the mid-20th century freeway battle:
It has been the good fortune of my sons and I to have been born in San Francisco and to make our home in Glen Park. The lives of my wife and I have been enriched by our neighbors and the environment of the glen, which belongs not only to us but to all who are inspired by a natural heritage of beauty.
This glen, with its grove of trees, rich outcroppings of rock, its wildlife, the flowing contours of the hills silhouetted against the evening sky, has been an intimate, stimulating, creative experience in the lives of many. Two men expressed to me their love for this glen and contributed their efforts to preserve it for future generations - John McLaren [San Francisco's first superintendent of parks], and William Gladstone Merchant, architect [a protégé of Bernard Maybeck who designed the Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center in 1938]. Their works do not need my glorification for they glorify San Francisco.
In their memory, and on behalf of my family, I protest the desecration by our Mayor and his Administration of the beauty of this glen, in the construction of a concrete jungle that will replace the grove of trees that once was part of our lives.
May I remind them ... that the purpose of this City cannot be measured In the seconds of a speedometer! (24)
Over 50 years later, these words still ring true.
Mouse over images below to see image details.
1948 map by the San Francisco Department of City Planning showing the comprehensive plan to circumnavigate the city. Photo from KQED.
1948 map by the San Francisco Department of City Planning zoomed in to show more detail of the Circumferential Expressway planned for Glen Park. Photo from KQED.
Dedication of the plaque for California Historical Landmark No. 1002, April 21, 2018. Joan Seiwald and Zoanne Nordstrom to right of plaque, daughter of Geri Arkush, Kristin, to left of plaque, and next to the Kortum Family. Image by JaimeBorschuk.
1948 map by the San Francisco Department of City Planning showing the comprehensive plan to circumnavigate the city. Photo from KQED.