Heritage on the Marina is owned and operated by the San Francisco Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society, one of the City’s oldest, most well-established charitable organizations. Both the Society and the Heritage on the Marina have fascinating histories, as richly colorful as San Francisco itself. And, just like the city that has been dubbed “Baghdad by the Bay”, their real stories begin with a few shiny nuggets of gold…
It’s hard to imagine today, but before the Gold Rush, San Francisco was a tiny port city with a population of less than 1,000. Once gold was discovered near Sacramento on January 24, 1849, San Francisco quickly became the hub for traveling prospectors, with their need to trade handfuls of nuggets for cash. This began the city’s long-standing tradition as a financial epicenter.
By 1853 the city had exploded to about 50,000 residents, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 40. This was, indeed, the Wild West! Families were often abandoned, being left behind in San Francisco while gold fever drove the men to the muddy rivers and streams of central California.
Women and children were often seen on the streets, seeking shelter and food. One such woman knocked on the door of Mrs. A. B. Eaton, who took her in. Seeing the poor woman’s plight – and knowing it was shared by so many others – Mrs. Eaton gathered a church full of acquaintances to discuss how to best aid women in need. The year was 1853, and this marked the formation of the San Francisco Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society “to render Protection and Assistance to strangers, to sick and dependent Women and Children”.
A Board of Managers was formed and memberships were sold. Originally, it cost $5 for an annual membership, $20 for Honorary membership and $50 for Lifetime membership. San Francisco’s most distinguished citizens counted themselves among the proud supporters.
For the first three years the Society focused on boarding women in benefactor’s homes, while also operating an employment agency to give women jobs and wages. In 1857 they established their first dedicated care home at 2nd and Tehama streets, renting it for $25 a month. Furniture was donated from the homes of Society members; merchants along Front Street were asked to grant provisions, and soon the new Hospitality House was ready for guests.
Soon the Society outgrew the rented house, and one Board member approached a generous San Franciscan, Horace Hawes, about donating undeveloped land. He made a gift of one city block, bordered by Van Ness, Geary, Franklin and Post. It was an area of barren sand dunes at the time. The Board raised funds to build, and architect S. C. Bugbee donated his talents, drawing up plans for a large home that would house thousands in need for the next 65 years. Mrs. James Robinson, daughter of Horace Hawes, introduced a clever means of funding when she installed collection boxes targeting the steamships making port in San Francisco. (One of these collection boxes is permanently installed in the Heritage lobby.)
The Franklin Street house came to be affectionately known as the “Old Brown Ark”. It was primarily used as an orphanage, while also housing indigent mothers and elderly women. In the early 1920’s the government mandated foster care as the preferred choice for children, and the “Ark” closed down. Even so, the need to care for San Francisco’s elderly women was now more pressing than ever.
In 1922, Heritage on the Marina’s current land site was donated by another generous benefactor, after the then-empty block had been used as a site for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The famous architect Julia Morgan, renowned for her work on the Hearst Castle, the Fairmont Hotel, Mills College and many other projects of note, was enlisted to design a home of elegance and stature to provide convalescent care to San Francisco’s elderly women. It was completed in 1925. Sisters Edith and Lucy Allyne, direct descendants of San Francisco pioneers, donated half the funds to purchase apartments on an adjoining property. These flats housed members of the home’s staff.
By 1957, the need for convalescent care had declined, and the Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society merged with the Crocker Old People’s Home. They then began offering life care contracts for the first time. After the merger, Captain Barrett Hindes, President of the Board of Trustees, led the Board in determining the name for the newly-focused organization. With over 100 names considered, one rang truest – The Heritage. “Heritage is something you cannot buy”, noted Captain Hindes. “You just come by it through a lifelong worthiness.” And so, we became The Heritage. Today, we’ve modified the name into Heritage on the Marina to reflect its pristine setting.
Since then Heritage on the Marina has only grown more refined and specific in its focus. Our lovingly maintained grounds and facility attest to the attitude of caring that is pervasive in Heritage culture.
Now in its 160th year, the San Francisco Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society continues to be a vital force in responding to the needs of an ever-changing city. The traditions of excellence, graciousness, feelings of home and family, and a spirit of generosity remain as our cornerstones.