Sweeney Observatory

greenspun.com : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

Recently while hiking around Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park I encountered what appeared to be the foundation remains of some kind of building at the top of the hill. My own research has discovered this to be the Sweeney Observatory, but that's all I have been able to come with. Does anyone know what the purpose of this building was? Who built it and when? Who owned it and maintained it? Are there any pictures of it to be found anywhere. I will appreciate any help. Thanks

-- Michael Binetti (mbinetti@boldata.com), January 27, 2000


The Sweeney Observatory capped Strawberry Hill from 1891 until 1906 when it collapsed during the earthquake. It was a two-story building that resembled a small fortres on top of the hill. It wasn't an observatory in the modern sense of the word (i.e. a place for astronomic observations via telescope) but rather a "look out" station with a commanding view of the City and Golden Gate.

Some people hated the observatory because they felt it ruined the park's rustic appearance. After it collapsed, William Hammond Hall commented, "Apparently, a Higher Power has taken matters into His own Hands."

For more information on the observatory, check out "The Making of Golden Gate Park" by Raymond H. Clary. The book has some great photos of the structure both before and after the earthquake.

-- John Martini (martini@slip.net), January 28, 2000.

I only recently discovered this site which explains the long time span between your original posting and this response. I hope it still is of some interest to you. There are six or seven photos of Sweeny's Observatory in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection which is a part of the San Francisco Public Library website. I've included the hypertext link for your convenience. The design for the observatory was by Percy and Hamilton. It's construction was funded by Thomas U.Sweeny, a wealthy landowner. Referring to the first response to your posting, it's satisfying to learn that even in 1891 there was a spirit of decent in San Francisco.Would you agree?

Also, you might want to consult the issues of "California Architect and Building News" held in the 6th floor History Center of the Library for any articles pertaining to the design and construction of the observatory. This publication was started in 1880 and (so I've been told) is still in publication. If you were to find any material relating to it's design or construction, I would appreciate hearing about it. servers=photos&screen=photos.html

-- Steve Sanders (ssanders@sirius.com), September 13, 2000.

Check out http://www.sfpix.com/park/history/sweeny/ for more pictures and info!

-- JV (bansheeSPAM@SPAMabattoir.com), January 29, 2003.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ