Mar 27, 2023 - News

Mount Davidson 90-year-old time capsule to be unveiled

The cross atop Mount Davidson. Photo:Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

San Francisco community leaders plan to dig up a 90-year-old time capsule buried near the base of Mount Davidson's towering cross this weekend.

What's happening: The Council of Armenian Americans of Northern California plans to unveil a time capsule that a Boy Scout troop buried at the cross in 1933 to commemorate the inaugural Easter sunrise service on April 1, 1923.

  • The time capsule is expected to hold old editions of the Bible, water from the Jordan River, city and telephone directories from 1933, and issues of the leading newspapers of the time.

Why it matters: The cross atop Mount Davidson has a long, complicated history in San Francisco involving legal battles and ballot measures.

  • Despite threats to its existence, the cross has served as a community-gathering place since the Great Depression, including for Easter services and to commemorate the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Flashback: Between 1923 and 1934, the cross evolved from a 40-foot wooden structure to the 103-foot-high concrete structure with reinforced steel you see today.

  • The first cross was built for the 1923 ceremony, which attracted about 5,000 attendees, Friends of Mount Davidson Conservancy co-founder Jacqueline Proctor told Axios.
  • In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a button in D.C. that lit the permanent cross atop Mount Davidson for the first time. More than 50,000 people attended that event.

What they're saying: Proctor noted that the concrete version of the cross was built in the middle of the Great Depression, when "people were feeling pretty hopeless."

  • "But they came together to be together and to find hope."

Of note: In 1992, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with other plaintiffs, sued the city, arguing it was illegal to have a religious symbol on public property.

  • The city lost the suit and was required to either remove or sell the cross.
  • In 1997, the Council of Armenian Americans of Northern California became the legal owner of the cross, following a voter-approved measure allowing the sale.
group of people at the easter sunrise service in front of giant cross among trees
Easter sunrise service attendees gather around the cross in April 1998. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Between the lines: San Francisco became a refuge for Armenians who were able to escape the genocide nearly a century ago, Roxanne Makasdjian, the executive director of The Genocide Education Project, told Axios.

  • Armenians in San Francisco wanted to become custodians of the cross as a thank you to the city for providing the Armenian community with a haven, Makasdjian explained.

What's next: The time capsule unveiling is planned for Saturday from 11am-12:30pm. It will be followed by the placement of a new time capsule, featuring an iPhone, an Armenian Bible, a face mask, issues of the San Francisco Chronicle, and more.

  • One hundred years from now, the council hopes someone will unearth the new capsule.

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