California’s First Theme Park







Beer breweries are finding a home in the Whiteaker that has its own celebration. My great grandfather brewed sarsaparilla in Belmont, a city my kindred co-founded. Fairmont and Belmont means ‘Beautiful Mountain’.
We operated a theme park and a Turnverein Hall. The Eugene Celebration should pay special attention to these breweries. I see gymnastics at near the Cuthbert. Check out the people in this giant tree house.

William August Janke, the son of Carl August Janke of Belmont, lived in a Victorian house at 320 Haight St. a a block and a half from Fillmore St. Carl founded what may be the oldest theme park in America that catered to members of the Odd Fellows who lived in San Francisco. Carl Janke hired a special train to bring people to his theme park modeled after a German folk town and beer garden. Carl owned the Belmont soda works and sold a drink that may have contained cocaine. Carl made a jail for his town because folks got out of hand. Consider the Haight-Ashbury that was the haven for the Hippie Movement. It became a theme-park that attracted folks from all over the world. The oldest homes in San Francisco were brought around the Cape in 1848 by Carl Janke.

JANKE – in this city, Nov. 22, 1902 at his residence 320 Haight St. William August Janke, beloved husband of Cornelia L. Janke, and beloved father of Mrs. W.O. Stuttmeister and Carl and W.E. Janke, a native of Hamburg Germany aged 59 years. Internment, Laurel Hill
“According to Belmont Historical Society records, Dorothea and Carl August Janke sailed around Cape Horn from Hamburg, Germany, in 1848. After landing in San Francisco, they settled in Belmont in 1860″

Google 320 Haight to see my great grandfather’s home (grey-blue) and 2795 Pine St. to see the second story apartment I lived in with Nancy Hamren, Keith Purvis, and Carrol Schurter. Two members of the Jefferson Airplane partied with us, and hung out the bay window while on acid trying to cause an accident – which they did!

Today’s Twin Pines Park in Belmont, a refuge for kids, families and the arts, conceals a rowdy past. Here’s an easy cache to introduce its history.

In the 1870s, Belmont was a whistle stop on the Southern Pacific railroad, an aspiring suburb to San Francisco and a base for tycoons like William Ralston who had built country mansions in the canyons and hills to the west. In 1876, two German immigrants brought some industry to town. Carl Augustus Janke and his son Carl Ferdinand founded the Belmont Soda Works just north of The Corners (now Ralston and El Camino). The Jankes manufactured a variety of fizzy drinks, most notably sarsaparilla, and delivered them to San Francisco and points south along the railroad.

The Jankes turned out to be entertainment entrepreneurs as well. They bought up a dozen acres on the south side of Belmont Creek and established Belmont Park and picnic grounds. Patterned after the beer gardens of their German heritage, it offered a 300 person dance pavilion, a carousel, a running track and walking trails, an ice cream parlor, plenty of picnicking space and of course drinks – beer and plenty of sarsaparilla (which might have been spiked with cocaine in that era). The Jankes made a mutually profitable deal with the Southern Pacific to run weekend picnic special trains from the city to Belmont Park. The place often hosted large crowds, with one notable affair being 8,000 people for an Odd Fellows fraternal gathering.

With drink and crowds came trouble. Drunken brawls were not uncommon, and on one occasion a shoot-out between gangs left a man dead (some modern problems are not new.) A private jail was installed at the park, beneath the dance hall floor, and the Southern Pacific put special police on its excursion trains. But as Belmont and other Peninsula settlements grew, the weekly influx of rowdies was seen as a problem that outweighed their commercial benefits. Under pressure from the locals, the railroad cancelled its party train specials by 1900. Belmont Park went into a quick decline, and was mostly subdivided for other uses. The present park and the civic center are part of its remains, with little to show of its checkered past.

Belmont’s party place got too wild
By Joan Levy, Daily Journal correspondent

Belmont Park was started to be a German biergarten, but it turned out to be a picnic ground in a more American style. Carl Janke bought ex-governor McDougal’s place in Belmont. He envisioned a bucolic spot where gentlemen could take their leisure, sip beer and talk. The 12-acre wooded strip along Belmont Creek seemed perfectly suited for this. Janke was born in Hamburg, Germany about 1814, came to California in 1850 and to the Peninsula in 1859. He wanted a home in Belmont.

The park opened around 1866 and soon was popular with people from San Francisco. It was not to be the typical biergarten that Janke envisioned. It attracted small American-style family picnics and huge organizational celebrations. Janke juggled his diverse clientele on the three days a week the park was open. Wednesday was the day for quiet Sunday School picnics. Sunday was for the bigger and more boisterous crowds. That was when they hired the bands and tapped the kegs.

The main entrance to Belmont Park was on Ralston Avenue near 6th Avenue. At the large white gate a fee was collected for the use of the grounds. Up Ralston Avenue was the carriage entrance and stables. To the South was Janke’s home.

Along the creek there was an amusement park with a merry-go-round. A dance pavilion that could accommodate 300 was built around a tree trunk. There was a bar at one end and an ice cream parlor at the other.

There was also a dining hall and some refreshment stands. Janke had a track built for foot racing and pony cart racing. There was a shooting gallery for sharpshooters.

Other early German immigrants to the Peninsula had started breweries to produce their favorite beverage, but Janke and his partner Henry Carstans manufactured soda. Their plant was located on Old County Road near Ralston Avenue in Belmont. They started the operation in 1875 and had a ready market at Janke’s place. They produced sarsaparilla of several different varieties.

Steamers brought people by way of Ralston’s pier at Belmont. At night they could return to the city by special train. One Sunday in 1876, a party of 8,000 members of the Odd Fellows Lodge made the trek in 75 railroad cars. Over time, the crowds became more unruly. It was the scene of a kidnapping, when little Annie Mooney disappeared and was never found. Then in 1880, there was a shoot-out between rival San Francisco gangs during which Dave Condon killed Jerry Stanton. Janke installed a private jail under the dance pavilion, and the Southern Pacific hired special police to monitor the excursion trains. Still, violence and vandalism plagued the peaceful picnickers.

Janke retired, and the management of the park fell to his sons.

Finally, the railroad refused to carry the picnic groups to or from Belmont due to their uncontrollable behavior. This contributed to the demise of the enterprise in the late 1890s.

The park closed and the land was converted to other purposes. In 1906, George L. Center built a sturdy home on the grounds. Later it became the site of a sanitarium for treating nervous disorders and alcoholism.

Now, Twin Pines Park marks the location of Janke’s dream for a biergarten.

Rediscovering the Peninsula appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal. For more information on this or related topics, visit the San Mateo County History Museum, 777 Hamilton St., Redwood City.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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