History of San Mateo Park

 

San Mateo Park, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most beautiful residential communities, is located on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately 20 miles south of San Francisco and adjacent to the towns of Burlingame to the north and Hillsborough to the west and south.

In the late 19th century, San Mateo Park was a portion of the extensive Howard Estate, which included much of the former Mexican Land Grant, Rancho San Mateo, and encompassed much of what today is San Mateo, Burlingame and Hillsborough. The land that would become San Mateo Park, approximately 1,200 acres, was later sold by the Howard Estate to the Clark family who, for a couple of decades, ran a dairy farm and cattle ranch.

In 1896, when San Mateo Park was founded, there was a trend in the United States known as the “City Beautiful Movement.” It was the goal of George Howard, Jr., noted local architect, and John McLaren, noted landscape architect and designer of Golden Gate Park, to develop San Mateo Park as an upscale community that reached the highest ideals of this movement.

Together, Howard and McLaren laid out gently winding streets, conforming them to the rolling terrain. The entry into San Mateo Park from El Camino Real would be a magnificently landscaped crescent. At every intersection, and randomly placed throughout the development, would be 69 landscaped circles, medians and crescents. The trees would be native oaks and redwoods from Northern California, elms, maples and poplars from the Eastern United States, plus palms, cedars, olives and other exotic trees from throughout the world. To guarantee that every home built in San Mateo Park would be of quality, both in construction and design, strict deed restrictions were formed.

Today, the goal of these two visionaries, George Howard, Jr. and John McLaren, has largely been realized. “The Park,” as San Mateo Park is affectionately called by residents, is now a virtual arboretum of native and exotic plants and trees and filled with a treasure trove of period houses of all sizes and descriptions — turn of the century Queen Annes and Mission revivals, early 20th century craftsman bungalows, plus English Tudors, French Normandies, Colonials and Mediterraneans from the ’20s and ’30s. Included among these are several landmark homes by such noted architects as George Howard, Jr., Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan. Over the years, many of these landmark homes have been splendidly restored to their original glory.

San Mateo Park has a friendly neighborhood feeling with its somewhat whimsical homes and luxuriant vegetation, a relaxed informality. San Mateo Park is a neighborhood where residents walk, and where children ride their bicycles along the quiet streets. It is this neighborhood feeling, along with the exuberance of its architecture and landscaping, that gives San Mateo Park its unique character and makes San Mateo Park so desirable. 

 

Setting and Historical Context

From the San Mateo Historical Association, Tom Gaman obtained a copy of the original Plan map of San Mateo Park, dated 1903. Potential buyers were urged to come on the newly constructed train line from San Francisco and to purchase lots. Roads and islands had previously been laid out, and the San Mateo Park was sold off in a series of auctions. Lots near El Camino Real were developed first, while lots to the west were developed last. Home sites sold for less than $1000 at the time. The initial wave of construction at San Mateo Park occurred in the first decade of the century following the 1906 earthquake, when, presumably, many San Franciscans left the City. Along with nearby nurseryman, E.W. McLellan, and possibly a planner by the name of Bromfeld, John McLaren was hired as a landscape architect. It is very clear from the layout and the species selection that McLaren was very influential in the landscape design and plot layout process at San Mateo Park, although others certainly did the actual layout and planting work. McLellan raised, landscaped, planted and watered the trees under contract to the developers in 1903 and 1904. One of the early brochures (at the Historical Society) shows small trees on expansive lawns. One discussion talks of an unobstructed view of the bay. Today, 100 years later, those trees have grown, the vegetation has thickened and San Mateo Park is probably a different place than even its founders had ever imagined. Recent aerial photographs of the area show the Park as a cluster of trees in an island of urban influence.