During the following century it has become one of the world’s most beloved cities, ranking up there with Paris and Rome on visitor surveys. Although most of the gold is gone, the rush is still on. At the turn of the 21st century, if real estate and rental prices in Marin and San Francisco can be used as a yardstick, no other place in the world beckons like the Golden Gate.
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Since the Gold Rush, new population booms have followed, one upon the other, each leaving its own layer on the region’s historical landscape. In the early 1900s, post-earthquake San Francisco was rebuilt in grand fashion, as the shanties that had been erected in haste were replaced with Victorians and artful civic buildings. After the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, an exodus to Marin began in earnest, and that was accelerated by the postWorld War II exodus that affected all of California. In the 1960s and 70s, Flower Power brought young people to the city from all over the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Hippies were followed by the migration of Hollywood-north, New York-west and multi-national money from everywhere, as those-in-the-know selected Marin and San Francisco as the place to Be. From the 1970s to present thanks to engineers at Cal and Stanford, universities with Gold-Rush roots the region has seen booms in aerospace, high-tech and dot-com. And from the 1980s to the present, the Mexicans and other working-class immigrants from countries south of the border have returned to the Golden Gate.
Attracting all of these migrations of people has been new gold in California: scenic beauty and quality of life. Although nature provided these riches, recent generations can be credited with taking steps to see that the wealth has not been squandered.
In Marin and San Francisco are some 150,000 acres of parklands more than six times the area of the city, and over 40 percent of the two land areas combined. Nature lovers will find the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the largest urban park anywhere, which extends to both sides of the bridge. Marin’s crown jewel, the Point Reyes National Seashore, was signed into being as one of John F. Kennedy’s last official acts.
San Francisco has a number of large parks, including Golden Gate Park, which dates from the philanthropy following the Gold Rush. In Marin is Muir Woods National Monument, also created by philanthropy at the end of the 19th century. The entire Mount Tamalpais Watershed, some 20,000 acres, is public land owning to the establishment of California’s first water district in the early 1900s. Tamalpais is also the site of the first California State Park, thanks to the individuals who had established historic hiking clubs on the mountain.
When the post-World War II rush was on, other state parks were established, including Angel Island, China Camp and Tomales Bay. In the 1970s, Marin voters established an open space district, which has since created dozens of large preserves, purchasing lands that would have otherwise been converted to housing tracts. These public lands have been preserved through both the grand gestures of wealthy individuals, and the life-long efforts of thousands of everyday people.
But, perhaps the biggest step in this preservation was provided by accident. In an effort to protect the land from invasions, military forces for the last two centuries have constructed a system of defenses on the coastal bluffs and islands of the Golden Gate. It started with the Spanish in 1790, when they installed cannons near today’s Fort Mason. And the building continued, with new batteries placed during the Civil War, Spanish American War, both World Wars, and right on up to the Cold War with Nike Missile pads. Each generation of weapons became obsolete, thankfully, before it was ever put to use. In the 1970s, these old military sites became the basis for Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Ironically, in an effort to protect these lands from invaders we had preserved them for ourselves.