Located on the private estate of Adolph Sutro, the property is comprised of 22 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Seal Rocks, and Golden Gate. Beginning in 1881, Sutro turned the site into an Italianate public garden filled with ornamental plantings, over 200 Romanesque statues, a glass-paned conservatory, rock parapet, hedge maze, fountains, and expansive vistas. He was responsible for laying out the paths and garden terraces and choosing the plants and site furnishings.
In order to create a site conducive to growing garden plants, Sutro constructed windbreaks and terraces to form garden rooms. “The Old Grove” was a central organizing element in the garden, consisting of tightly planted cypress, pine, and eucalyptus trees pruned to provide shade over lawn with eight radiating axial walkways below. Decorative gates flanked the two entrances and gravel drives were designed for pedestrian and limited carriage and horseback use.
The garden opened to the public in 1885. Following the family’s financial struggles to maintain the property, the estate was donated to the City of San Francisco in 1938 and is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The buildings were demolished and much of the statuary removed. Today the site, with its gardens simplified but largely intact, provides passive recreation.