OpEd: The removal of Adolph Sutro’s name from a school was a travesty

By Jerry Klinger

Jerry klinger
Adolphe Sutro
(Photo: Wikipedia)

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco school board voted 6-1 on January 29 to rename more than 40 schools. The Council considers it inappropriate to have schools appointed for people who have been “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings, oppressed women, committed acts which led to genocide or who have otherwise dramatically reduced the chances of those of us exercising our right to life. , freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Diane Feinstein, John Muir, James Lowell, Paul Revere are on the misfit list, as is Adolph Sutro. Malcolm X was on the list. Malcolm X was a pimp at one point in his life. After lengthy discussions, the Council felt that his entire life should be considered and that his name should not be deleted.

A few months ago, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation was approached by a representative of the Friends of the Sutro Tunnel. JASHP was asked if they would give historical interpretive markers, 3 National Park Service style sloping rest areas.

The Friends of the Sutro Tunnel are mining history buffs in the Dalton, Virginia City, Nevada area who strive to preserve, interpret and reopen the engineering marvel of the 19th century Comstock Lode, the Tunnel Sutro, built by Adolph Sutro.

Sutro was a Jewish immigrant, a refugee from the German anti-Semitic world who measured a person by who they were and not by what they could do. In America, on the borders and in the mining boom towns, a person’s worth was first and foremost what they could do, not if they were Jewish.

Sutro, a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur seized the golden ring of opportunity. He recognized a desperate engineering need from Comstock Mining. He built an incredible four mile long drainage and communication tunnel under the Comstock to make successful mining possible. The money mined from the Comstock Lode helped build San Francisco.

JASHP agreed to help the Friends on the condition that Sutro’s Jewish heritage is identified in the markers. Without hesitation, the condition was accepted.

In 1879, Sutro sold his interest in the Tunnel. He moved to the city by the sea. Investing brilliantly in real estate in San Francisco. He got very, very rich. He used much of his funds for philanthropic purposes, developing public parks, libraries, and public expressions of Victorian art.

Sutro was elected mayor of San Francisco, 1894-96. He was the first American Jew to be elected mayor of a major American city. He served a two-year term as a popular progressive, but found politics very distasteful.

After years of hard work and development, in 1896 Sutro opened the Sutro Baths, spectacularly overlooking the Pacific in the Lands’ End area. It was the largest public swimming complex in the world and a place of entertainment open to all San Franciscans. To keep access to the Baths affordable, he built his own rail line, against the Southern Pacific Railroad. Sutro insisted that the rate be as cheap as possible.

California was and still is a legislative progressive state. In March 1897, the first national public accessibility law prohibiting racial discrimination in public housing, recreational facilities, restaurants and baths was passed. It was called the Dibble Law. Four months later, John Harris, an African American, with a group of his white friends, goes to the Sutro Baths to test the Dibble Act. Harris’s friends were admitted to the Baths. Harris was not.

Harris sued Adolph Sutro for damages, $ 10,000 for discrimination, violating Dibble Law and causing him great personal distress. The trial went to court. The jury was very sympathetic to Sutro’s attorney’s argument that admitting a black man to the baths would seriously harm the business. White San Franciscans would not share the same pool with a black. Very reluctantly, and only after the judge demanded that the jury obey the law, the jury found in Mr. Harris’ favor. He received $ 100.

Nothing has changed. San Francisco’s racial intolerance has remained. The Sutro Baths were not desegregated until the 1930s.

Before Sutro became mayor, San Francisco held Sutro in very high regard. 1891, they renamed a dilapidated school near Geary Boulevard the Sutro Elementary School.
The rebuilt Sutro Elementary School was officially established in 1894 on 12th Avenue and opened in 1895.

JASHP contacted the current Sutro Elementary School, asking if they had an interpretive marker explaining who the school was named for. The school did not. JASHP offered to fund one. The administrator responded very positively.

One of the conditions of the gift was that Sutro’s Jewish heritage must be recognized in the text.

The administrator had no problem with the condition. She also confirmed that she did not believe the school would be renamed.

When the school board voted to rename schools in January, it sparked a storm of criticism. The name change was tabled for further consideration because the Mayor of London Breed said the focus on name changes was a misuse of time and money during the pandemic. The school board should pay attention to the safe reopening of schools.

It was a convenient excuse. The name change report has been widely criticized as a Wikipedia-level hollow academic analysis of complex issues.

JASHP submitted the final marker text to Sutro Elementary. His heritage has been recognized.

“Adolph Sutro was born in Prussia in 1830. He emigrated to the United States in 1850, seeking opportunity, tolerance and freedom, refused him in Prussia because of anti-Semitism.”
After a few days, the director responded through her administrative assistant: “Thank you, but we will pass. “

JASHP does not think the rejection of the gift was anti-Semitic. The rejection reflected the uncertainty of the school board’s future agenda.

The hearing to remove Sutro’s name in January had lasted less than two minutes. He was called racist, not fitting the name of a primary school. The whole of his life, where issues of discrimination had never existed before, didn’t matter.

When Harris’ racial incident happened, Adolph Sutro was not involved. He only owned the Baths in name. The Baths were managed by his son. Sutro had long since retired to his San Francisco home and led a private and secluded life.

Adolph Sutro was severely weakened by dementia when the Harris incident occurred.

By the time the Harris case had made its way to court, Sutro had had two hits. He was found legally incapable of managing his own affairs and placed under the care of his daughter. She took him out of his house. He died in 1898, far from everything he knew.

The school board’s decision to remove Sutro’s name was as incompetent as Sutro was when Harris was denied admission to the baths.

Golden Gate Park has a beautiful lake named after San Francisco’s late 19th century commissioner of parks, William W. Stow. Stow had been president of the California State Assembly and candidate for governor of the Nativist Know Nothing party in the 1850s. One of the main elements of his candidacy was to prevent Jews from entering California. .

Stow said, “I have no sympathy for Jews and would it be in my power to enforce a regulation that would eliminate them not only from our county but from the entire state!” I’m for a Jewish tax so high that [Jews] could no longer operate stores. It’s a class of people here just to make money and leave the country as soon as they make money.
Fortunately for the American and California Jewish experience, he was defeated. Although Stow may have remained an anti-Semitic, he never again put forward another anti-Semitic agenda in California life.

Stephen Miller, originally from San Francisco, heard about Stow and started pushing for Stow Lake to be renamed. Rationale, if the awakened agenda is to rename the schools in San Francisco, many of which are for Jews, Stow Lake should be renamed as well.

He approached every Jewish organization in San Francisco for help, finding none. He went to the Sacramento Jewish Caucus and couldn’t even get an answer.
The Jews did not want to get involved.

JASHP reached out to Michele Gee at Golden Gate National Park to offer him interpretive Sutro markers. Ms Gee said they had just ordered new ones and unfortunately did not include recognition of Sutro’s Jewish heritage. It was a good idea.

JASHP is prepared to fund new replacement markers for Golden Gate National Park, if you wish.

Wokism operates in a discriminatory, selective, superficial, malicious manner with political goals.


Jerry Klinger is the president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.

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