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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7 Responses:

  1. ducksauz says:

    I live on what's supposed to a greenway. The city painted sharrows on the road and put in speedbumps and everything. But yet, people still treat the street like a fucking speedway.

    I have fantasized about getting a paint ball gun and setting up at either of the four way stops at the end of my block and shooting cars that blow through the stop signs. It would be especially fun if I could get paintballs with sanded paint to fuck up the finish of their paint.

  2. Eric says:

    Is it too late to fill in that stupid parking garage they built under the Music Concourse? Because I'm still pissed off about that. Never should have been built or even considered.

  3. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    I live on a fairly busy road (by Midwestern suburban standards, not San Francisco standards). Since I'm near an intersection, I get treated to acceleration sounds constantly. I have learned that the correlation between "I have a loud modified exhaust system" and "I accelerate by mashing the pedal all the way to the floor" is high. I would love to sit on the porch and share my thoughts via the medium of buckshot.

    Bring on the quiet electric cars.

    • Erin M says:

      Yes, it's definitely time for this ridiculous illegally modified exhaust trend to end. They do it because they know it's a nuisance and they need attention to fill the empty hole that is their lives.

      I live up in the mountains and we still get the occasional jackass with flatulent exhaust revving the engine all the way down the road. Not safe from stupidity anywhere.

  4. ailepet says:

    Funny to read that Fritz Leiber's "X Mars The Pedwalk" sci-fi short story was actually about settling public transportation issues the old-fashioned way:

    The little old lady dipped into her shopping bag and came up with a big blue-black automatic. She held it in both fists, riding the recoils like a rodeo cowboy on a bucking bronco.

    Aiming at the base of the windshield, just as a big-game hunter aims at the vulnerable spine of a charging water buffalo over the horny armor of its lowered head, the little old lady squeezed off three shots before the car chewed her down.

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