After five years of planning, a bronze bust of former San Francisco mayor and Jewish community pioneer Adolph Sutro has been installed in City Hall.
A ceremonial unveiling of the bust by sculptor Jonah Hendrickson took place April 29, with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Sutro’s great-granddaughter Cynthia Soy-ster among the speakers.
Three consul generals also were in attendance: Andy David of Israel, Peter Rothen of Germany and Sergey Petrov of the Russian Federation.
Ukrainian immigrant Leonid Nakhodkin spearheaded the effort to get city approval for the bust and raise funds to have it made. The total project cost was $35,000, most of it donated by philanthropist Nahum Guzik.
“When I came to San Francisco 23 years ago, I was interested in the history of this city,” Nakhodkin told j. of his motivation to see the project through. “I recognized this absolutely incredible individual, Adolph Sutro. He is in my mind the first and greatest philanthropist in San Francisco. When I visited City Hall, they have busts of mayors, and when I looked around and didn’t find [Sutro’s] bust, it depressed me.”
Elected mayor in 1895, Sutro was the first practicing Jew to hold the office.
Born in Germany, Sutro immigrated to San Francisco in 1850 when he was 20. An engineer by training, he devised a method for draining water out of the famed Comstock silver mines in Nevada. In 1866, the Sutro Tunnel Act was signed into law, mandating that Comstock mine operators pay royalties to Sutro.
That made him a wealthy man. At one point Sutro owned more than a 12th of San Francisco. Before his death in 1898 at age 68, he donated large parcels of his real estate holdings to the city, one of which now serves as the site of the University of California Hospital and Medical Center, Parnassus campus.
In addition to the Sutro Baths, which he built and bequeathed to the city along with the Cliff House, Sutro also constructed San Francisco’s first electric trolley system.
He amassed nearly a quarter of a million books, many of them in Hebrew, all of which were later donated to the public. The majority were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Fortunately, thousands of others, including priceless 500-year-old Hebrew manuscripts, are preserved at the state library — the Sutro Library — in San Francisco.
“There are many things named Sutro in San Francisco,” Nakhodkin added. [People] maybe think it’s a company, but now they will know about
who it is.” — j. staff