Rustic Bridge, Stow Lake (watercolor by Heath Massey)
The “Rustic Bridge” at Stow Lake cries out “paint me,” to watercolorists like me. No other spot in Golden Gate Park evokes the English rustic tradition quite so picturesquely as this bridge. Designed by Arthur Page Brown in 1892, it links Strawberry Hill to the mainland on the south side of the lake. Constructed of red chert, the local, sedimentary rock that crowns many of the hills in the city, the bridge blends naturalistically with the surrounding foliage and reflects subtly in the algae-green water of the lake.
Arthur Page Brown completed a remarkable body of work in San Francisco during his brief career. Besides this jewel of a bridge, he designed Trinity Church (Bush and Gough) and the Swedenborgian Church (Lyon and Washington), as well as a number of residences, including the Alban Towne house (1101 California) which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, but whose portico is now another beloved landmark in Golden Gate Park (Portals of the Past at Lloyd’s Lake). Brown’s most magnificent legacy is the Ferry Building, which he designed in 1892 (it was completed in 1898 after his death).
After graduating from Cornell, Brown worked as a draftsman at the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White before opening his own firm in New York in 1885. In 1889 he came to San Francisco at the request of Mary Ann Crocker, to design a mausoleum for her husband, the late Charles Crocker, at Mountain View Cemetery. With another commission from Mary Ann Crocker in hand he opened an office in San Francisco, where many prominent Bay Area architects worked for various periods of time, including Willis Polk and Bernard Maybeck.
Arthur Page Brown died in 1896 at the age of 36, from injuries sustained in a run-away horse and buggy accident near his home in Burlingame. I can only imagine the architectural treasures San Francisco might have enjoyed if he had followed the rising trajectory of his early career. But I do think this beautiful bridge in Golden Gate Park would have been hard to top.