Truly hidden unless you know where to look, the sundial can’t be seen even from the surrounding Urbano Drive. Not until you approach the quiet cul-de-sac of Entrada Court will you see the 28-foot gnomon (the sundial’s pointer). The pointer is surrounded by a clock face that is 33 feet in diameter, embedded with massive Roman numerals.
Paths lead away from the outside edge of the clock face, separating the surrounding lawn into four spade-shaped sections that point to the north, south, east, and west, respectively. In between each spade sits a smaller circular section of lawn displaying one of four concrete columns, each representing one of the four Greco-Roman architectural styles: Doric, Corinthian, Ionic, and Tuscan. ‘They embody San Francisco’s neoclassical obsession that was championed during the Beaux-Arts era by architect Albert Pissis,’ Juan De Anda writes of the columns in SF Weekly. Atop each column sits a vase upon which the four stages of man, the four seasons of the year, and the four periods of the day are described with allegorical figures. Originally, a reflecting pool also sat beneath the sundial, inlaid with two brass seals and surrounded by colored lights.
The sundial was erected in 1912 by the Urban Realty Improvement Company to inspire sales of the upper-income Ingleside Terraces homes in the surrounding area. The neighborhood included 148 acres of residential potential, offering ‘a lawn tennis court, a clubhouse for social gatherings and about 750 houses priced from $6,000 to $20,000.’ The sundial is surrounded by the oval-shaped Urbano Drive, which operated as Ingleside Race Track between 1895 and 1905. After the infamous 1906 earthquake, the race track found a new purpose as a refugee camp for survivors, never to return to what it once was.
This small park, designed by Joseph A. Leonard and called Sundial Park, was dedicated on the night of October 10, 1913. That night also hosted the opening of two other significant engineering feats: the Twin Peaks Tunnel and the Panama Canal. Leonard narrated an elaborate opening ceremony with about fifteen hundred people in attendance, accompanied by music from the Coast Artillery Band, while children dressed as nymphs unveiled each piece of the park. The ceremony was rumored to have felt lavish and magical. ‘A child emerged from the pool and represented the releasing of the water’s spirit… A baby in a pram drawn by a stork, with some encouragement from other children, traversed the heart-shaped paths that represent the four points of the compass. Following the children’s entertainment, fifty couples joined hands and danced the night away. It was said that the total effect was like being in a fairy land,’ Hamilton Barrett writes on outsidelands.org.
At the time, the the park boasted the largest sundial in the world. It has since lost that title, and is no longer even the largest sundial in San Francisco, since the implementation of the massive Hunters Point Sundial. Still, the Ingleside Terraces Sundial is well worth a visit, especially around the summer solstice, when the timing is synced most accurately. Learn to tell time with the sundial using this guide.