Woodward realized that it was only a question of being pestered forever or quietly throwing open his place
October 4, 2009 10:25 AM   Subscribe

"The What Cheer House catered to men only, permitted no liquor on the premises, and housed San Francisco's first free library and first museum." Opened in 1852 by Robert B. Woodward it became immensely popular. "[S]ailors enjoyed staying there... [he] was such a well-liked man that they would often bring him trinkets from around the world when they’d come to town. For Woodward, these gifts were the beginning of what would become a life-long obsession with collecting." He moved the collection and opened Woodward's Gardens in 1866 between Mission and Valencia at 13th-15th streets. Called the Central Park of the West, it was San Francisco's most famous public resort.

- more information, photos and rememberances on this lost landmark
- guidebook entry from 1879 describes the gardens
- what San Francisco was like in 1856
- SF Chronicle article about the gardens from 1913, photos from the SF Call in 1907
- the origin of the phrase "what cheer"
- what's there now
posted by jessamyn (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Captivating! I've never heard of Woodward's Gardens, and the description sounded so wonderful, I started to think it was imaginary before delving deeper into your links. Also, "What Cheer" is a great name for a teetotallers' hotel!
posted by Scram at 10:45 AM on October 4, 2009

Long before dishes and wifi, Woodward’s Gardens featured the first record player in San Francisco, and provided much live entertainment, although some of the "Barnum of the West’s" attractions — midgets, a Warm Springs Indian tribe in a recreated village, and a bear pit — would not be acceptable today.

so, how does dialectial materialism work in all this.
posted by clavdivs at 10:48 AM on October 4, 2009

When I first started reading about this -- the What Cheer House was where I started, doing some related library research -- I couldn't help but think that some of these elaborate schemes [he tunneled under 14th Street?? Is that tunnel still there? Can someone find out?] -- sounded a lot like Martin Dressler.
posted by jessamyn at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2009

Great post! Today there is an excellent restaurant called Woodward's Garden at the corner of Mission and Duboce (13th) on part of the old site.
posted by trip and a half at 11:04 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

the origin of the phrase "what cheer"

Oh my goodness, thank you so much.
I just always thought my state's capital had the most depressing motto ever. Cheer? What cheer?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:05 AM on October 4, 2009

That's essentially where the last San Francisco Metafilter meetup was held, as well. Doing our part (except for the not drinking) to uphold some sort of tradition!

There's also a restaurant there called Woodward's Garden.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:08 AM on October 4, 2009

Hey yeah, we walked right past the site on our way to Zeitgeist for the cortex meetup! I would've pointed it out to cortex at the time, but you hadn't made the post yet, darn it.
posted by rtha at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2009

To clarify, I meant the intersection the restaurant is at is physically located on the old site, it was not part of the original resort.

Jess, that entire area was essentially demolished and rebuilt when a freeway overpass was constructed. I doubt that any remnants of the 14th Street tunnel are still accessible, if they still exist at all. I can't say for sure, but I think I probably would have heard about it -- I've lived in very close proximity for almost thirty years.
posted by trip and a half at 11:17 AM on October 4, 2009

Also a poem by Robert Frost
posted by gingerbeer at 11:24 AM on October 4, 2009

Ah yeah, my Mission geography is sort of centered around where the BART is and I keep forgetting that the overpass is right there.
posted by jessamyn at 11:24 AM on October 4, 2009

In fact, now that I think about it, I'd be willing to bet that the BART tunnel runs right through where Woodward's tunnel was.
posted by trip and a half at 11:27 AM on October 4, 2009

Stereoscopic views of Woodward's Garden, courtesy of the NYPL.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:32 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

What Cheer is also a city in Iowa.
posted by starman at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2009

how perfect for a sunday afternoon.
posted by The Whelk at 12:17 PM on October 4, 2009

What Cheer Brigade.

I saw this radical marching band at Whartscape, they're sweet.
posted by cloeburner at 12:45 PM on October 4, 2009

Dang, cloeburner beat me to it. What Cheer Brigade, from CitrusFreak's home state of Rhode Island. If you get a chance, you should go see 'em.
posted by box at 2:48 PM on October 4, 2009

Fantastic post, and of course I especially appreciate the phrase link. (Keep making posts like this and who knows, Matt might start paying you!)
posted by languagehat at 5:39 PM on October 4, 2009

Gingerbeer beat me to the Bay Area urban planning/history nerdiness crown, but I'll add, I just found a couple links on foundsf.org (awesome site) like this article and photos.

Fabulous post, J!
posted by serazin at 11:06 PM on October 4, 2009

Someone already did a post about Playland at the Beach, right? There was also Idora Park in what is now Oakland's Temescal district, Shellmound Park in Emeryville, built on the decapitated top of an enormous shellmound, and now the home of a mall, and Neptune Beach in Alameda. There was another one in SF too - the Chutes or something? I can't remember the name. More on the amusement park side than the public garden side of the continuum I think.

I did some reading about these parks a few years ago, and my understanding is that a lot of them were initially developed or eventually purchased by the trolley companies. They'd basically create an attraction to justify building a car line out to it. They developed real estate the same way - build a neighborhood and a train line and make money off both.
posted by serazin at 11:19 PM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay at the What-Cheer-House.
It's fun to stay at the What-Cheer-House.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...
posted by Naberius at 6:03 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know I must have passed by this place 100 times when I lived there and didn't have any idea what it was all about. Thanks for the very informative post.
posted by blucevalo at 11:58 AM on October 5, 2009

What cheer!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:12 AM on October 6, 2009

Oh my god, this, this... place was... was... amazing! holy holy, I wanna go I wanna I wanna!

This is an awesome post... it fills me with longing and wonder, and it reminds me of how feeble most of today's McAmusement Parks are.
posted by not_on_display at 6:12 PM on October 8, 2009

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