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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Adolph Sutro Bust Coming to City Hall

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge Returning to City Hall Monday...
  • Returning to City Hall Monday...

Adolph Sutro served just under two years as mayor of San Francisco. The effort to get him back into City Hall required nearly three times that.

Back in May of 2008, Leonid Nakhodkin -- a Ukranian-born former Soviet political prisoner with a prediliction for cowboy hats and answering the phone by saying "Everything is perfect!" -- hatched a plan to install a bust of Sutro in City Hall. At the time, it seemed a fool's errand. But, then again, so did Sutro's grand plan to build a massive tunnel through the Comstock Lode.

The Sutro Tunnel made its eponymous designer a millionaire, setting the engineer on course to become one of San Francisco's greatest land-owners and philanthropists. And, on Monday, his bust will finally grace City Hall.

A photo illustration of Leonid Nakhodkin with the Sutro bust
  • A photo illustration of Leonid Nakhodkin with the Sutro bust
A photo illustration of Leonid Nakhodkin with the Sutro bust
Sutro's 1894 to 1896 mayoral term was brief -- and not entirely effectual. He made his mark on this city, however, in the years leading to that. And despite his name living on via any number of city landmarks, Sutro remains surprisingly little-known for a man of such stature.

At one point Sutro owned around one-twelfth of the city. Before his death in 1898 at age 68, he'd collected some quarter of a million books, virtually all of which were donated to the public.

The pile money he made from the Sutro Tunnel was followed by plenty more, as President Andrew Johnson in 1866 signed the Sutro Tunnel Act, which mandated that every Comstock silver mine pay continuing royalties to Sutro.

Sutro put his capital into buying -- and later giving away -- vast numbers of books and huge tracts of land. The University of California Hospital and Medical Center Parnassus Campus is built on a 27-acre holding he donated to the city; City residents are still arguing over the trees he planted in Sutro Forest. Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, and much of the surrounding parkland were also formerly his personal holdings. Sutro also designed and constructed the city's first all-electric trolley system, so poor folk could afford the trip out to his baths (the right-of-way traveled along the coastline near the U.S.S. San Francisco memorial; it must have been a breathtaking ride).

The Sutro bust was crafted by sculptor Jonah Hendrickson, who also created the Harvey Milk bust. Nakhodkin said the price tag was a privately raised $35,000; the Sutro bust will occupy a first-floor spot near the Van Ness entrance previously held by a Willie Brown bust that has since moved upstairs.

Hendrickson said that Sutro's voluminous facial hair presented a "sculptural challenge" -- and required a great deal of work. But so did this entire undertaking. And, to put things in perspective, planning and building Sutro Tunnel required 15 years.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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