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Early History of the Hills South of Twin Peaks in the Old Rancho San Miguel

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Immediately south of Twin Peaks and east of Mt. Davidson in San Francisco you'll find four additional peaks of the San Miguel Range: Red Rock Hill, Gold Mine Hill, Fairmount Hill (the latter also includes Billy Goat Hill), and Martha Hill. On each is situated one or more neighborhoods, each with its own rich history and unique legacy.


On the summits of Red Rock Hill and Gold Mine Hill is the planned redevelopment community of Diamond Heights, originally conceived in 1950. Its California-modern architecture stands in sharp contrast to the electric mix of architectural styles ranging from late 19th-century Victorian to 21st-century modern just down the hill. These mostly older homes, located in the neighborhoods of Glen Park, Sunnyside, and the Fairmount Heights, were all once considered rural areas, offering shade trees, fertile ground for quaint gardens, and more days of sunshine than many areas of the of the City.


Yet, from the downtown perspective, and lacking suitable roads for easy access, most considered these neighborhoods to be too far out in the Outside Lands, some four to five miles from the City's business center. Home sales would remain sluggish for decades, generally attracting European immigrants working blue collar jobs. It would take a major disaster, the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, for home buyers to begin to take notice, leading each of the neighborhoods into a housing boom.


The Yelamu of San Francisco

Little is known about the specific history of each of the four hills before the Gold Rush. It is believed that as many as 10,000 Muwekma Ohlone (Muwekma is believed to be an Ohlone word meaning "the people") lived between San Francisco and Point Sur, divided into many tribelets with a variety of languages. The Yelamu tribelet of the far northern San Francisco peninsula practiced hunting and gathering, partaking of the abundant flora and fauna of the region. Permanent villages had been established for thousands of years at the mouths of creeks emptying into the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, including Islais Creek that originates just north of Glen Canyon. It is likely that, when the seeds and berries they depended on came into season, they made their way up the slopes of the four hills to to fill their baskets. 


The Spanish and Mexican-California Period

The lifestyle of native Ohlone was turned upside down when Franciscan missionaries established Mission Dolores in 1776. Their goal: to establish a Catholic utopia that would serve to convert "beasts" into European-like "people of reason." Each mission in the system from Sonoma to San Diego varied in their treatment of Native Californians during this period of assimilation, with many natives being treated as slaves, and the population of Ohlone rapidly declined. Following baptism, free will was taken away, gender separation reduced birth rates, and practice of their traditional culture was forbidden. The greatest impact came from the lack of immunity to European disease. The death knell sounded for most with the introduction of influenza, small pox, mumps, measles, and syphllis.


The Spanish brought cattle with them on their journey north, and tanning became one of the first industries in the Bay Area. There was much open space surrounding Mission Dolores, but much of it to the west and north was mostly sand dunes. Yet, southeast of the mission were hills suitable for grazing, what became known as Nuevo Portrero and Viejo Portrero, or New and Old Pasture, respectively - today's Portrero Hill. It is likely the rich fertile soils of Glen Canyon and the four adjacent hills also attracted cattle for grazing.


During the Mexican-California period, Jose de Jesus Noe petitioned governor Pio Pico to grant him one Spanish league - exactly 4444.34 acres in 1845. Using modern landmarks, the land extended south from Mt. Sutro to today's San Mateo County line, east along San Jose Avenue, and west to Junipero Serra Boulevard, comprising one-sixth of the land mass of San Francisco. A section of Noe's San Miguel Rancho along the summits of the peninsular divide south of Twin Peaks would one day be transformed into the neighborhoods of Glen Park, Sunnyside, Fairmount Tract, and Diamond Heights we know today. Moreover, despite the fact that Glen Canyon today seems to be largely undeveloped open space, this does not mean it was never developed and has a remarkable history all to itself.


Click on a label on the map to learn more about each neighborhood.



Spanish Mexican
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