Re: More on China Beach building

03/30/20 - posted by John Martini

In reply to CK who asked what the place was like in its heyday, short answer is "underused." I was a GGNRA ranger when a slew of State Park units came over to the Park Service in 1977, including China Beach. My first impression on inspecting the place was 'whoa, this is overbuilt.' Having grown up in the Richmond and Westlake, I knew you could count on one hand the number of sunny days when the big locker rooms and sunbathing decks would be filled, let alone support a concession stand.

Much like Aquatic Park, it was a grandiose recreation center waiting for crowds who almost never came. There were dedicated beach goers who showed up rain, fog or fog or fog, of course, but they were few and far between. Night time illicit parties were more the norm.

During my research work on Lands End and helping catalogue photos for WNP and OpenSFHistory, I've seen countless photos of the little beach before it was developed in the early 1950s. It was a lovely little pocket beach, accessed by goat paths snaking down the hillside. But that didn't stop the crowds from coming on nice days. The beach (which initially was called Baker's Beach, along with the better-known strand in the Presidio) even had a stop on the Ferries & Cliff House steam train. Some photos even show tents pitched above the high tide line.

Boy, they sure ruined that little piece of coast line. It's now more like an homage to how much concrete you can pour on a natural site. Thank you, 1950s.

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