Help Us Preserve and Exhibit the Cliff House Collection
Together, we saved 58 items from auction on March 11-12, 2021. Now the hard work begins. Support our collective effort to preserve and interpret our shared heritage in San Francisco’s Outside Lands.
In late February 2021, after hearing historic art and artifacts from the Cliff House were destined to be auctioned off in March, Alexandra Mitchell of ACT Art Conservation approached John Lindsey of The Great Highway gallery and said, “John, we can’t let this happen, we have to save the Cliff House collection.” John agreed and said, “You should call Nicole Meldahl at Western Neighborhoods Project.” This is how our collective effort, Save The Cliff House Collection, was born.
A website was built, an inventory was done with the cooperation of Rabin Worldwide at the blessing of the Hountalas family, and we began fundraising. Then, Minnesota Street Project joined our Dream Team to provide museum-quality art handling, transport, and storage for free.
It took 441 individual donors to do it, but we were able to raise more than our goal of $150,000 in just over two weeks to save 58 artifacts from auction! This was a grassroots campaign that succeeded primarily through small contributions supported by a few organizations / individuals who stepped up to the plate to save our shared heritage; they include:
- Richard Beleson in honor of Gary Kamiya
- An anonymous donor who had their wedding reception at The Cliff House
- The San Francisco Cable Car Museum
- The Fleishhacker Foundation
- The Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People
And we did it! With your help, we were able to acquire a representative sample of artifacts from the auction which will now be part of the Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP) collection. This will enable us to showcase the many layers of history, not only of the Cliff House but of the Sutro Baths and Playland at the Beach. Highlights from what we were able to save include:
- Sheriff C.U. Soon, aka The Cowboy, from Fun Tier Town at Playland at the Beach
- The two porcelain musesThe Whitney family totem pole
- The Whitney totem pole
- A set of Sutro Baths posters
- A pair of Sutro Baths bathing suits
- An original 1890s stool and lockers from Sutro Baths
- A waiter’s cap and Maître d’s bibs signed by famous visitors
- Historic documents, publications, and assorted photographs
- Over a dozen menus from the Cliff House, Cliff Chalet, and other restaurants from the area
Community history is a community project and our campaign showed that, when we work together, we can save our shared heritage. We are so grateful to Rabin Worldwide, Dan and Mary Hountalas, Market Street Railway, Douglas Gorney, and all of you who contributed to our campaign in so many different ways. We genuinely love each and every one of you.
The auction was only the beginning. Almost as soon as we began fundraising, we began looking ahead at Phase 2 of our campaign: making this collection accessible to the public. We’re talking to members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, representatives from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, the San Francisco Zoo, San Francisco Heritage, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and other community stakeholders to find the best temporary and permanent exhibition spaces for this collection and other items held in the public trust by Western Neighborhoods Project.
In the immediate future, everything we saved will be safely stored by Minnesota Street Project and conserved by ACT Art Conservation. Western Neighborhoods Project is planning an exhibit at our office and gallery, 1617 Balboa Street in the Richmond District, and will conduct a series of Community Listening Sessions as conservation work gets underway. San Franciscans helped to save this collection, San Franciscans will have a say in where it is displayed. Stay on top of our progress by following the journey on Instagram, @savethecliffhouseart, and checking the Western Neighborhoods Project website for upcoming events, www.outsidelands.org.
Incredibly, the most expensive part of this campaign has just begun. We need your continued support to make sure these pieces are kept safe and accessible to the public.
Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support work that includes but is not limited to:
- Conserving all the items we saved
- Improving collections storage and purchasing archival supplies
- Developing exhibitions and public programming for all-ages
- Planning a permanent museum to showcase the diverse art and history of San Francisco’s west side
Have a question? Email the Dream Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can’t support us financially but want to help in other ways? Awesome. Email Nicole Meldahl, Executive Director of Western Neighborhoods Project, at email@example.com.
Follow the journey and spread word!
Want to read more about this wild ride? Peruse our press page at your leisure.
Western Neighborhoods Project, a registered 501(c)3 community history nonprofit has preserved, interpreted, and shared the history and culture of San Francisco’s west side since 1999. A.C.T. Art Conservation LLC is a Fine Art studio owned and founded by 4th generation native San Franciscan, Alexandra Mitchell, a Fine Art Conservator working to protect history and heritage for over 15 years. The Great Highway is a fine art gallery located in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset district and founded in 2011 by John Lindsey.