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There are very few photographs showing the interior of the 1896-1907 structure.

But why?  Cameras were in wide use at that period.  Interior photos were not uncommon.  So why so few photographs of a place visited by presidents and kings?  Was there a "No Photography" rule to boost postcard sales?  Whatever the reason, we know almost nothing about the interior beyond the blueprint labels.  So if anyone knows of other interior photographs, please step forward...



From Marilyn Blaisdell's book

San Francisciana
Photographs of the Cliff House


John Hall, creator of the 3D model gives his analysis of the above photo as follows...

It was taken on the third floor porch, south side, outside the main dining room. The window on the left side of the jpg was covered for the photograph to keep the direct sun out of the camera. The window just to the right of the covered one was not covered and is the bright spot over the 'secret service men'. The bright window is facing west.




The Orchestrion
Two new presumed interior photographs, discovered by Fred Dahlinger

From a Welte catalog, 1919...  


Fred describes his research...

I noted the absence of Cliff House interior views, just one in the period prior to the 1907 fire. There is mention on your website of the 1905 addition of a Welte orchestrion to the Cliff House (see below), from the San Francisco Call newspaper. The price given, $10,000, is likely accurate, or close to the real expense. A Style 10 Welte Concert Orchestrion had a list price of $10,000 in the early 1910s.

This morning, I was reminded by the expert in all matters relevant to Welte orchestrions, Durward R. Center, that there's a view of the Welte instrument in the Cliff House Dining Room.

That set me on a search and I discovered a second view in an M. Welte & Sons, Inc. catalogue sent out in 1919. The firm's address on the catalogue was listed first in 1918, likely making it no earlier than 1917. Despite that date, the volume contains many vintage views of Welte installations dating back much earlier. Thus, I would offer that the attached view could be the 1905 Sutro Welte; and especially so if there's no mention of another Welte in the replacement structure. There are peculiarities in both the instrument case and the room decorative detailing that align the two images together. I have no reason to doubt the Welte identification as Sutro's, so this second image must also be the same installation.

As Durward told me, this is a very large Welte, perhaps from the largest class of such devices, Concert Orchestrions Nos. 8 to 10, playing the broadest of their rolls, the 120-hole. None in this category are known to exist today, the largest being a single No. 7 Concert Orchestrion in Romania. The largest in the USA are No. 6s and a No. 5; these all play the 75-hole rolls. The music from all of them is magnificent. The only instrument playing the largest Welte rolls, from a No. 10, is a pipe organ in England. Here is a link to see and hear it playing the 120-hole No. 10 Concert Orchestrion rolls; and then the larger 150-hole organ rolls.

There's an excellent video of Durward and that features his philosophy and his magnificent Style No. 5. I think you will enjoy it. Durward restored the Welte Concert Orchestrion for the Henry Clay Frick Mansion in Pittsburgh, PA and recently the smaller Welte Cottage Orchestrion for the Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor in Richmond, IN. He has done many others for private collectors.

Fred Dahlinger


Fred found this photograph based on this 1905 newspaper article
referencing a musical instrument called the Orchestrion...

San Francisco Call, Saturday, August 26, 1905

A still earlier reference...

The San Francisco Call - Sep 27 1903

Another very similar photo showing a close-up of the same area...

Pneumatic Concert Orchestrions
With Perforated Paper Rolls
Wonderful Imitations of Orchestras Used with Great Success in
Restaurants, Cafes, Candy Kitchens, Etc.

Image from 1908 Lyon & Healy catalog loaned to Q. David Bowers and Arthur A. Reblitz by Kenneth Goldman.



The prior image may be reversed (difficult to tell).
Note:  the "Welte & Sons" logo in the above image proves it to be un-mirrored.


Possible placement in Cliff House


My conclusion is that both of the new photographs are likely of the 1896-1907 Cliff House, regardless of the mirroring:

  • The chairs match those in the original Roosevelt Banquet photo.
  • The period looks right.
  • It appears to generally fit into the blueprints, courtesy of John Hall's 3D model.
  • And possibly most important, the direct mention of the Orchestrion in the 1905 newspaper clipping.


So what became of the Orchestrion?  Fred Dahlinger provides further insight...

The big 1905 Welte apparently escaped the flames of September 7, 1907 per these stories...

Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel - 13 July 1907

"The $20,000 Welte Orchestrion that has been one of the attractions at the Cliff House in San Francisco, has been loaned by the management of that resort to the proprietors of the Casino at Santa Cruz, Cal. "

Music Trade Review, July 20, 1907, page 24


"The Casino still stands at Santa Cruz, but the company files have no reference to the large Welte.  There was a much smaller Welte unit in their skating rink, but it has also disappeared without a trace."  - Fred Dahlinger


Unfortunately this last story suggests the orchestrion was destroyed in 1908...

Oakland Tribune - Jul 5, 1908



Not directly related, but one further reference to musical instruments at the Cliff House...

Music Trade Review - July 20 1907, page 24


San Francisco Call - 27 Sept 1903




Interior photo - San Francisco Call, May 16 1901

For full article, including balcony photos: article.pdf


Newspaper illustration showing the interior
San Francisco Examiner - Sep 2 1897  (pdf)


The San Francisco Examiner - Sep 13 1899
Illustration of the Cliff House interior


One non-photographic clue to the interior involves possible murals painted by an artist named Gustav Ferdenano Dietz.  Read more here.


Reference Photographs

The following photographs are interior views of the Cliff House from other periods...



This image is from Marilyn Blaisdell's book.

Although the above image is on page 31 of Marilyn's book, it likely belongs a few pages earlier chronologically as it is more likely a photo of the earlier structure.

John Hall gives solid evidence as to why the above photo is NOT of the 1896 structure...

I am 99.999% positive that the photo is not the 1896 Cliff House.  Here is my reasoning including photos and diagrams.

There are a couple of things in the photo that demonstrate my point. The light shining through the windows is at such an angle that the windows must be along an outside wall. See photo 1. The 1896 Cliff House "Porch" would not allow direct sunlight intrusion to the room except on the west wall with the sun at a very low angle. In addition, count the windows from the sunlight on the floor. There are 3 pairs of windows along the wall. This matches with the paired windows along the south side of the Second Cliff House. See photo 2. Next look at the woodwork in the room. The style of the wood work looks earlier than 1896 to me. The interior doors do not have the same style as the doors on the 1986 Cliff House plans. The final point is the room itself with the placement of doors, windows, and fireplace. See photo 3 of the chimney placement in the Second Cliff House. This room doesn't match any room in the floor plans of the 1896 Cliff House. The closest room to this was the third floor (street level) bar room where the fireplace and windows were on the same wall. There are other minor things that suggest an earlier date. These include the elaborate ceiling painting, and kerosene chandeliers both out of date by 1896.

John Hall



South Sea Islanders

The above image has been attributed to the 1896-1907 Cliff House, but almost certainly depicts the
earlier Cliff House structure, specifically 1888.

  Per John Hall (6/30/2014):  "The “interior” photo is on the balcony of the pre 1894 Cliff House. Note the arches along the back of the below  photo. They match the arches on the left hand side of the above photo."


Per Frank Sternad (6/30/2014):  "The below 1888 news items likely explain the origin of the natives, three men and three women, rescued by a British transport, wrecked at San Pedro, then sent to SF. The canoe ride exceeded their wildest dreams. Blaisdell credits the photo to Archibald J. McDonald which may or may not coincide with the "MD" at lower left. McDonald was active in SF in 1888."

1888 9 26, Daily Alta California

1888 10 13, Los Angeles Daily Herald




Later Cliff House

A very nice interior shot courtesy of POOA of the later 1909 structure.
If anyone can identify the performers, I would love to know...   gary


From Marilyn Blaisdell's book, taken in Dec 8,1916.
The dancer is Irene Lacour, also known as Ingebor Lacour and Ingeborg Lacour-Torrup  (ID thanks to John Martini)
Note circled ornamentation in background, also visible on the previous photo.