Unexpected history at the renovated Coyote Point
Coyote Point is one of my favorite places to hang out. Everywhere there are stories to tell. Now, with the area’s recent boardwalk upgrade, there’s even more reason to visit the 670-acre county recreation area off Highway 101 on the border of San Mateo and Burlingame. More than 10,000 tons of sand were added to the eastern part of the wide walkway, raising the waterfront about 12 feet. In addition, new toilets have been built, as well as dykes that protect against high tides.
Coyote Point is known for dreaming big. The largest was to make the bay site the “Coney Island of the West”. But it wasn’t long before the dream turned into a financial nightmare. A historical marker in the beach area tells the story of the 1920s amusement park nicknamed Pacific City, which featured ‘The Comet’, a roller coaster that promoters claimed was ‘the fastest, fastest tall and longest”. (They didn’t say where; it might just have been the bigger Burlingame.)
There was also a 468-foot pier that jutted like a finger into the bay. The structure moored ships that sailed to San Francisco and other major cities. Adjacent to the pier and in front of the 3,200 foot boardwalk was a spacious dance floor that hosted some of the best bands of the Roaring Twenties.
According to the Burlingame Historical Society, the amusement park’s grand opening lasted four days and began on July 1, 1922, attracting 17,000 fans on opening day who each paid a penny to walk through the gates. Crowds swelled into the thousands, and numbers peaked three days later on July 4, 1922, when 100,000 people poured into Pacific City. By November, cumulative attendance reached one million at a time when the Bay Area population was only marginally higher.
Then something hit the fan. Burlingame city officials had not anticipated the park’s enormous popularity and rapid growth. Additionally, in the previous decade, the city’s population had fallen from 1,566 to 4,000. The city had neglected to provide adequate sewage disposal, allowing raw sewage to flow into the bay. . At the end of the 1923 season, the lights go out in a rather nauseating Pacific City.
Long before the amusement park was launched, Coyote Point was a popular recreation spot, especially for picnics and swimming. Almost 100 years later, with clean water again, it still is.
Merchant Marine Training School
In addition to Pacific City, Coyote Point’s history includes a World War II merchant marine training academy, as well as the precursor to the College of San Mateo.
The United States Merchant Navy Basic Cadet School trained officers for ships that carried weapons and other supplies needed to win the global conflict. The United States Maritime Commission hastily built 11 structures among the eucalyptus trees on the point. Most things were done quickly because merchant sailors were being killed at an alarming rate and needed to be replaced. Even the lesson time has been reduced.
The site of the academy was inaugurated on August 29, 1942. By November 1944, it was training 528 midshipmen. According to the US Merchant Navy website, the school consisted of 14 barracks, as well as classrooms, a gymnasium and machine shop, as well as a swimming pool and tower where cadets jumped feet first, an exercise that taught them how to break. wreckage of a sinking ship. Additionally, the pool was used to teach trainees how to survive flaming oil fires, which many may soon experience.
The College of San Mateo has had several locations during its history, which began in 1922 as a high school. After the end of World War II, the college found a home at Coyote Point, a move that took advantage of buildings emptied by the closure of the Merchant Navy Academy. (For example, the academy chapel became the college library.)
Classes began in 1947 under a welcome sign emblazoned with the words “Maritime Commission Academy”, which lasted until 1952, when it was replaced by one that read “San Mateo Junior College”, a name that lasted two years until the school became the College of San Mateo. The end of the Coyote Point campus came on September 6, 1963, when a Navy colors guard lowered the flag during a farewell ceremony. CSM’s current campus in the hills of San Mateo offers sweeping views of the bay and was inaugurated on December 8, 1963, with an enrollment of 5,000 students (8,163 today).
Photo courtesy of San Mateo County