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Closure of iconic Cliff Home ends a exceptional period of San Francisco’s historical past

On the place the place San Francisco drops into the ocean, a door is shutting on a vibrant chapter of town’s historical past.

The longtime proprietors of the Cliff Home, a 157-year-old iconic San Francisco restaurant with breathtaking ocean views as soon as loved by Mark Twain, introduced this week that they might be compelled to shut by the tip of the 12 months. They cited each coronavirus restrictions and their landlord, the federal authorities, stalling on a long-term lease, as elements of their determination.

The Cliff Home was not the primary of town’s beloved eating places to shut. In reality, it follows their neighbor, Louis’ Restaurant, the one different impartial restaurant remaining on that oceanfront stretch of street, in shuttering for good throughout the pandemic.

However the lack of the Cliff Home marks the tip of an period for a spot that has remodeled over greater than a century: from an elite resort for the rich, to a bustling vacation spot for the everyman, to a semi-deserted but magical reminder of civilization’s fleeting nature.

The Cliff Home is perched on the cliffs simply north of Ocean seaside in San Francisco. {Photograph}: Buyenlarge/Getty Photos

“When Louis’ closed, I simply learn story after story, reminiscence after reminiscence, of people that got here to our restaurant and cherished our restaurant and cherished the realm,” stated Tom Hontalas, the proprietor of Louis’, which opened by his grandparents in 1937. “And now the Cliff Home, it’s much more magnified as a result of they had been a a lot larger operation. For lots of people, particularly San Franciscans, it’s going to be totally different.”

As we speak on the craggy cliffs referred to as Lands Finish, vacationers and locals can get misplaced on trails lined with eucalyptus timber and emerge onto the ruins of Sutro Baths, a once-decadent swimming pavilion constructed within the late nineteenth century, to observe whales breach within the distance. At its peak, the Cliff Home was a part of a bustling strip of cafes and storefronts that attracted guests from throughout the nation. On the bar, guests would battle over tables with window views so they may sip on their cocktails and munch on their seafood because the solar set over the Pacific.

“There’s one thing concerning the place that attracts you,” stated John Martini, a neighborhood historian and former worker of the Nationwide Park Service. “Perhaps it’s the basic American westering – maintain transferring west, maintain transferring west. That is so far as it goes. That is the sting.”

The Sutro Baths on Lands End was once a decadent swimming pavilion built in the late 19th century.

The Sutro Baths on Lands Finish was as soon as a decadent swimming pavilion constructed within the late nineteenth century. {Photograph}: Alamy

An immigrant historical past

The primary Cliff Home – it will be rebuilt a number of instances over its lengthy historical past – was inbuilt 1863 by actual property tycoon Charles Butler. The one method to simply entry the resort, positioned six miles away from the developed a part of town, was by a toll street that Butler constructed, that means the Cliff Home started as a spot solely the rich may afford. Mark Twain visited twice, and after his second go to, wrote that the “wind was chilly and benumbing. It got here straight from the ocean, and I believe there are icebergs on the market someplace.”

The Cliff House was first built in 1863. It would be rebuilt several times over its long history.

The Cliff Home was first inbuilt 1863. It could be rebuilt a number of instances over its lengthy historical past. {Photograph}: Justin Sullivan/Getty Photos

By the point Adolph Sutro, elected mayor of San Francisco in 1895, purchased it in 1890, together with the encircling areas, the clientele was not so elite. That was partially as a result of it was extra accessible. Sutro constructed his personal steam practice line to the Cliff Home, after which one other avenue automotive line to the Sutro Baths – the frilly, glass-domed swimming pool – when the fare doubled on the unique steam practice line.

Up till his dying in 1897, Sutro constructed up the realm, which got here to incorporate concession stands, saloons and boarding homes, Martini stated, proof of which was all found after the Nationwide Park Service purchased the land in 1977 and performed an archeological research.

It was round this time that the latest Cliff Home proprietors – and the household of Tom Hontalas, the proprietor of Louis’ – entered the scene. Mary and Dan Hountalas, who ran the Cliff Home for greater than 47 years, are the final of a era of Greek immigrant households that had been a part of that cliffside in its heyday, when so many storefronts and cafes crammed the strip that San Franciscans may not see the ocean.

A view of Cliff House road from Bancroft library at UC Berkeley in 1925.

A view of Cliff Home street from Bancroft library at UC Berkeley in 1925. {Photograph}: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Dan Hountalas is a distant cousin of Hontalas. Hontalas’ grandfather, Louis, immigrated from Greece in 1906 at 11 years outdated. His older brother, who arrived earlier than he did, opened a restaurant referred to as the Cliff Cafe. Louis began working for his brother after which, in 1937, opened Louis’.

“Each our households had been on that hill for over 100 years,” Hontalas stated. “It was all little cafes. For some cause, the little cafes had been all run by Greek immigrants. I don’t know what led them to that hill, however I all the time thought it wasn’t a coincidence.”

The cliff primarily grew to become San Francisco’s boardwalk, Martini stated. In his analysis, he discovered shorthand for “going to the cliff”, which he initially thought was reference to “going to the Cliff Home” – in reality, it simply meant going to the seaside.

Prime: A view of the Cliff Home in 1980. Backside: Louis’ Restaurant at Lands Finish.
Prime: A view of the Cliff Home in 1980. Backside: Louis’ Restaurant at Lands Finish.

The realm began to say no after the second world warfare. As Mark Twain identified, it’s chilly on the market – and with automobiles extra available and roads higher after the warfare, San Franciscans discovered different seashores to go to as an alternative of the cliff.

After which, in 1966, a fireplace destroyed the Sutro Baths. Hontalas was eight, and remembers his aunt bringing him and his three siblings to observe the flames from above. In the long run, all that was left was Louis’ and the Cliff Home.

The ruins of the Sutro Baths remained, giving this place of magnificent magnificence a haunting, ephemeral high quality. It was a reminder that nothing lasts, right here on the fringe of the world. Folks cherished it. After the Nationwide Park Service bought the land, they might maintain public conferences about what to do with the house. Most of the time, folks referred to as for leaving the ruins as is, Martini stated.

And on the finish of most visits to the ruins or to the Lands Finish path was a cease on the Cliff Home, to heat wind-chapped cheeks over a sizzling toddy and chowder, or to Louis’, to refresh with a burger and a shake. When the Nationwide Park Service talked about closing Louis’ in 1992, Hontalas launched a postcard marketing campaign and found that two-thirds of their clientele had been native. “While you consider a nationwide park, you consider Yosemite, you consider someplace you drive to,” he stated. “However that is in a metropolis. That makes it actually particular. Folks truly dwell right here and go to it each single day, identical to we did after we went to work.”

After serving tourists and locals for more than a century, the iconic Cliff House restaurant is prepared for closure.

After serving vacationers and locals for greater than a century, the enduring Cliff Home restaurant is ready for closure. {Photograph}: Jeff Chiu/AP

As with each restaurant closure, there’s unhappiness and there’s anger.

However Hontalas says he can stroll away now understanding that for 3 generations of his household’s historical past, he was a part of what made this small nook of San Francisco particular.

“From the early 1900s, these Greek immigrants – that’s one thing that may by no means be there once more,” Hontalas stated. “And I received to be there for many of my life. That was good. I received to listen to a number of good issues concerning the job that we did. And that makes me really feel good. The remainder is simply going to be a reminiscence.”

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