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Have Y’all Ever Been to San Francisco’s Mount Olympus?

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A tree.

Mount Olympus is a real, technical park in San Francisco — but a sleeper hit. (San Francisco Recreation & Parks)

For those who have never heard of Ashbury Heights, a literally lofty micro neighborhood above Cole Valley, don’t worry: You’re one thousand percent not alone. Possibly just to appease property developers, possibly because it has actually been a Thing for a long time, the small area at the bottom of Tank Hill is at the least listed as a San Francisco neighborhood on Wikipedia. More importantly, it’s the home to maybe the tiniest treasure in San Francisco Rec and Parks’s bounty of beautiful areas: Mount Olympus.

Triumph of Light on Mt. Olympus, 1947. Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

We’re not talking about any Athenian, Percy Jackson-type shit here. This is a recognized park in the city that spans a mere 1,000 square yards and looks like a relic from a San Francisco long lost to time. It feels that way because, in many ways, the site is indeed an artifact. In the center of the rotunda-like park lies the base of a statue that once marked the geographical center of the city. Unsurprising to any San Francisco heads out there, the statue was a gift from known racist and former mayor Adolph Sutro, the same whack behind the iconic Cliff House and the baths bearing his name in Land’s End.

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The Triumph of Light on Mt. Olympus, Nov. 1, 1927. Photo: OpenSFHistory.org

The statue was called the “Triumph of Light” and depicted a “Goddess of Liberty” with her torch to the sky. OpenSFHistory’s Arnold Woods writes Sutro was enamored with the originally Belgian art piece, the goddess also presiding over a man cast in marble who was meant to represent evil and goodness’s domination over sin. Ironic for Sutro, who lost a segregation case in 1897 when he tried to keep Black people out of his famous bath houses. According to Johnny Come Lately, a blog captured by the Internet Wayback Machine, the statue was taken down in the late 1950s as it was repeatedly vandalized. It’s not clear why the pedestal was left in tact.

A statue.

The park in Ashbury Heights was once considered the center of the city. ( John E Sarna)

Jumping back to today, visiting this tucked-away park is a true San Francisco delight. Getting to the cul-de-sac this park is nestled within is a hike in itself, and far less crowded than counterpart urban hikes including Mount Davidson and Twin Peaks. For those who’ve already crested the unsung hero Bernal Heights, who’ve wound their way through the Pemberton Steps, spending a day exploring Ashbury Heights and its lore-riddled Mount Olympus is well worth it.

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.