The violent early history of cars in Golden Gate Park

"Special policemen should be stationed in the Park, armed with shotguns, to shoot the tires of automobiles exceeding the speed limit."

Those were the heated words of William H. Metson, president of the Golden Gate Park Commission, at the peak of an early 20th century battle over cars in Golden Gate Park. [...]

At the time there were fewer than 500 cars registered in Northern California. But Golden Gate Park Superintendent John McLaren, the architect of the park, was a naturalist who was wary of museums and deplored the idea of statues, let alone vehicles. While cars were free to travel the rest of the city's roads, San Francisco reportedly became the only major city to ban cars from its parks outright -- a restriction that lasted for three years. [...]

In just two years the Automobile Club of America had pivoted from happy talk and broken promises to more of a scorched earth attack -- joined by lobbyists from the Automobile Dealers' Association plus a team of lawyers. They argued in 1907 that because cars now outnumbered horses in the park, drivers had established dominance and should have no restrictions.

"There are enough owners of automobiles in San Francisco and vicinity, and there is enough money invested in its automobile business, so that they need not in my opinion submit to unfair discrimination," pro-car advocate C.A. Hawkins said at a June 13, 1907, meeting of the Park Commission. "If that fails, (we will) organize and go into politics strong enough to see that the next Board of Park Commissioners are men who are more fair-minded than the present Board."

Despite that overt threat, the park leaders continued to resist. Finally on July 4, 1907, Park Commissioner Metson let loose with his shotgun-to-the-tires suggestion. In a Chronicle article headlined "Buckshot for Speeding Autos," McLaren himself spoke of his own recent incident of "rank indifference" from a motorist in violation of park rules who "refused to recognize the superintendent's authority and rudely thrust him aside."

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