The garden's founder, Robert B. Woodward, was an interesting fellow. A businessman. A people-person. A collector. Born in Rhode Island in 1824, Woodward came to San Francisco in 1849 and opened what would become a very popular hotel, the What Cheer House. Located on Sacramento Street near Leidesdorff, it soon was one of the largest hotels in the city. Many sailors enjoyed staying there, and the proprietor was such a well-liked man that they would often bring him trinkets from around the world when they’d come to town. For Woodward, these gifts were the beginning of what would become a life-long obsession with collecting.

The success of the What Cheer House was so great that Woodward soon became quite wealthy. He bought a large piece of land down on Mission Street and built his new family home there. He loved collecting plants, animals and art, and spent much of his time developing his large property into a beautiful location to entertain his friends and family. Over the years, San Francisco locals became so intrigued by his mysterious home, that they would often attempt to get an invitation inside. It became such a popular idea that in 1883 the San Francisco Examiner wrote, “Woodward realized that it was only a question of being pestered forever or quietly throwing open his place.”

And so that’s what he did.

First, he went on extensive buying trips to Europe and came back with thousands of dollars worth of artwork and animal/geological/plant specimens to develop the location into a more interesting public attraction. Woodward then moved with his wife and four children up to Napa, and officially opened up his San Francisco “Woodward’s Gardens” to the public.


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