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Pleasure centers of San Bruno
February 03, 2014, 05:00 AM By Darold Fredricks

Photo courtesy of Fred Beltromo
After 100 years, the area around the famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin (14-Mile House), was developed for housing in the 1940s.

The 1849 Gold Rush presented opportunities of great wealth for those who left the settled communities from the East Coast and other lands. Those who were smart set reasonable goals for their life and the money that was presented to them. Unfortunately the gold fields didn’t keep the 49ers busy for the entire year and when the rains came in the winter, most left for the settle community of San Francisco. With time on their hands now, most of the men (it was a male community) sought pleasure in the forms offered in this developing community. Gambling became the favorite pastime with cards, dice and horse racing predominate.

The need to travel to San Jose to San Francisco posed a problem due to the unpaved and unimproved path that was the main way to travel on foot and horseback. In good weather, it could be traveled in a day but bridge washouts and muddy, gumbo clay sometimes made it impossible to complete the trip in one or two days time. The development of El Camino Real started with the need for food and lodging along the way. In San Bruno, a wide, deep and dangerous creek by Crystal Springs Road presented delays in the rainy season so an enterprising individual built a small shack to supply food for the horses and men who got stuck there waiting for the water to go down. Business was so good that the shack was soon enlarged into a permanent two-story, well-constructed roadhouse. Being 14 miles from the Mission Dolores, it became named “The 14-Mile House.” Eventually, not only food and shelter was offered, but entertainment and gambling. It grew into an institution known throughout the state.

In the late 1850s, a toll road was built that made it possible to get to San Francisco by traveling around (to the east side) San Bruno Mountain. This shortened the time traveling to San Francisco. Just before a railroad (San Francisco and San Jose Railroad) was built through San Bruno, Mr. Cunningham purchased land to the east of El Camino Real (where the American Legion is now). The railroad was built through his property and Cunningham built two two-story buildings he named “The San Bruno House.” His bar was advertised as the biggest bar in the county. A small horse track was built also as well as trap-shoot across the road and the area developed into a sportsmen’s paradise. Boxing bouts were scheduled and thousands would flock to the area for weekend festivities.

In the late 1880s, a former manager of the 14-Mile House, August Jenevein, bought the land across from the street, at a triangular corner, and he built a magnificent two-story, New Orleans-style architecture hotel he advertised as being a “family” oriented hotel. The reputation of the 14-Mile House had become too risqué for many travelers.

Since the late 1840s, San Francisco’s development had been one of a traditional “western town,” wide-open, bent-hell for pleasure community. Uncontrolled crime was common and the businessmen took advantage of little law enforcement by running crooked gambling joints. The area soon sported many places for horse racing. In the Mission District, a track was built to the north of Army Street where Lake Dolores once stood. The entire area became a pleasure center. Restaurants, bars and gambling abounded that allowed the miners all types of opportunity to spend their money. Another race track was built in Bayside (near Hunters Point), another to the west in Ingleside. Many more stood for short times and have been forgotten. The gambling, however, eventually posed too many problems for the police and horse racing in San Francisco was outlawed in the 1890s.

When the Spanish arrived on the Peninsula in the 1770s, they found a nice, pleasant stretch of land that was ideal on which to race horses. This piece of land stood in what is now San Bruno. When horse racing was outlawed in San Francisco, this offered an opportunity to develop a track on the site that had been used for racing for many years.

With the demise of horse racing in San Francisco, a new horse racing track was built on property to the north of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (14-Mile House). With the railroad to the east of the stands, it was easy for patrons from San Francisco to travel to the Tanforan race track. However, when gambling was outlawed by the state, the track became used for the coming fad — the automobile. Auto races were scheduled until World War I when the area was used to train soldiers to go to Europe to fight. The track never recovered without gambling and it was torn down in 1918.

In 1922, with new investors and a modified gambling attitude by lawmakers, a new track was built on the west side of the site, along El Camino Real. 

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.



Tags: built, track, francisco, gambling, horse, racing,

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