By: Peter Hartlaub, SF Chronicle
The newsroom is a hardened environment, full of gallow’s humor and remarkably free of mourning — sometimes when there’s a pretty good reason to mourn.
But there are also a lot of old school San Franciscans here who take their traditions seriously, and the Rim Fire’s threat to Camp Mather was sobering for many of my reporter and editor friends. The camp, for those who have never been, is San Francisco property nestled in the Sierras. Originally a small town used by workers in the Hetch Hetchy lumber camp, it debuted as a vacation spot in 1924, and has been frozen in time since. (Two pay phone booths represent the camp’s highest tech landmarks.)
When Chronicle managing editor Audrey Cooper suggested Camp Mather as a subject for this archive series, I hesitated. The best nostalgia trips generally feature architecture, fashion and cars — three things that change the most over time. Change of any kind isn’t plentiful at Camp Mather. But once Chronicle librarian Bill Van Niekerken pulled the photos, I realized the lack of cultural inertia made the place even more special. It shows how much history that we had to lose, and makes the efforts of the firefighters that saved the structures seem that much more dramatic.
A few more thoughts below the 1924 article …
Chronicle archives, 1924
* Twenty-eight dollars for 13 days, and that included round-trip transportation! I’m curious about that mode of transportation. Model T? Horseback? Rickshaw? Note that the first half of the summer was for “chaperoned girls,” and the second half for “chaperoned boys.” Which finally explains why “Grease” didn’t come out until 1978.
* When looking at these photos, think how much the San Francisco skyline has changed since 1948. (These submarine photos are a good start for the “then.”) Meanwhile, Camp Mather looks almost exactly the same.
* Historic note #1: Four years into the camp’s existence, there was a bitter battle between San Francisco supervisors and grand jury members — the latter had reportedly gone to the camp unannounced, demanded accommodations, were turned away because there were no vacancies, and made a formal complaint about unsanitary conditions as revenge. (The grand jury whiners were humiliated when the supervisors visited the camp, and raved about the upkeep. Twitter would have been amazing in the 1920s.)
* I feel gratitude, but not the usual waves of nostalgia with this week’s Let’s Go to the Morgue! feature. That’s because this is the rare feature where you can still visit the past. Camp Mather is like Jurassic Park, except with cabins and swimming holes instead of Brontosaurs and Velociraptors. More information about the camp here.
Camp Mather in 1948. (Photo courtesy SF Recreation Department)
* Historic note #2: The federal government, led by the Secretary of the Interior, tried to take the property away from San Francisco in 1939. City attorneys went to court and won the battle.
* Thanks to Audrey for the idea, and Bill for digging these photos up after my own search had come up empty. Most photos in the Chronicle’s photo morgue were shot by our staff, but these were all 1940s and 1960s handouts from the San Francisco Recreation Department.
* Condolences to families and staff who enjoyed the Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, which lost structures this week in the fire. The Berkeley camp had an equally important history, serving locals back to 1922. I hope this post doesn’t add to the sadness and frustration you’re feeling now.
* One more thanks to the firefighters who secured the area and saved generations of family memories. According to Camp Mather officials, the San Francisco Fire Department, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Recreation and Park Department have all had a hand in keeping the core of Camp Mather safe from the fire. I hope you all get free hay rides for life.
PETER HARTLAUB is the pop culture critic at the San Francisco Chronicle and founder/editor of The Big Event. He takes requests. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @peterhartlaub. Follow The Big Event on Facebook.
See the complete article at http://blog.sfgate.com/thebigevent/2013/08/29/frozen-in-time-a-tribute-to-camp-mather/