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The Cliff House's mini-museum of SF artifacts is up for auction and history buffs hope some of it stays together

The Cliff House in 1909. Photo via Cliffhouse.com
By Jay Barmann - Published on February 24, 2021.

In many ways, the Cliff House had long ago become more about the past than the present. And while many San Franciscans still loved it and still loved taking their friends and parents to brunch there, watching the waves crash against the rocks below, there weren't a ton of people lamenting the loss of the menu when it closed its doors in December — "permanently" according to longtime operators Dan and Mary Hountalas, though the National Park Service has pledged to find a new restaurant operator soon.

Now the Hountalases are auctioning off the furniture and many artifacts that had been collected in the building, items from the now long-gone Sutro Baths and Playland by the Beach, and which were on display in some entry and gallery areas in the restaurant and upstairs bar/bistro. As the Examiner reports, a local group of history buffs and conservators is hoping that the collection — at least some of it — can remain together and available for public view. And when (not if) the place reopens in a new form, new operators might even want to display some of this stuff again, which won't be possible if it's all hidden away in private hands.

The group that's formed is called Save the Cliff House Art Collection, which is a bit misleading because some of the more significant artifacts aren't really art. For instance, there are some vintage bathing suits from the Sutro Baths — one such suit in a frame, estimated to be worth $2,000, was stolen by burglars last month. (Those items, including the bathing suit, were recovered and a suspect was arrested for the theft on February 12.) There's also a cartoonish wooden statue known as the Playland Cowboy, a wooden horse from the Sutro carousel, and a life-like, wood-carved California Grizzly bear.


The Playland Cowboy. | Photo via ACT Art Conservation LLC archive

 

"Having the physical representation of these works accessible to the public and protected so that they can remain in the public safely for the rest of their lives is an incredibly important thing to make happen," says organizer Alexandra Mitchell with the Western Neighborhoods Project, speaking to the Examiner.

The auction is happening March 11 and 12, and the organization hopes to collect donations to keep the most significant historic photographs, art, and artifacts in the hands of those who will keep it publicly visible.

"San Francisco’s Cliff House encapsulated a rich part of our city’s heritage at Land’s End in the Richmond District for 157 years," they write. 

"Art and historical artifacts connected to the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, and Playland, have been steadily auctioned off over the years, removed from public view, and taken out of the city. This remaining group of iconic works belongs to the people and the heart of the city and should stay in San Francisco. With your help, our coalition of local galleries, art conservators, and community historians can save this treasured part of our past."

If interested, you can donate to the cause here.

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