Finding Founder’s Rock

The short-lived fame of a boulder at City College of San Francisco.

Finding Founder’s Rock
The short-lived fame of a boulder at City College of San Francisco.

Construction work is ongoing at City College of San Francisco’s main campus with a new Student Success Center taking shape near the corner of Ocean Avenue and Frida Kahlo Way.

building under construction
The "Student Success Center" rising at City College on Frida Kahlo Way (formerly Phelan Avenue).

There were some cold, foggy days when I took gymnastic classes from Ms. Hagiwara at City College of San Francisco. The mist, drawn in off the ocean to flow between Mount Davidson and the Merced Heights ridgeline, would hit its first real obstacle at the knoll on which the campus’s Science Hall stood.

college building
City College's Science Hall, designed by architect Timothy Pflueger.

Because whole summer sessions could pass in a cool veil of gray, I thought Cloud Circle a very appropriate name for the main drive around that knoll. And I was somewhat disappointed when I found out the name was not in honor of cumulus formations, but the school’s first president.

Dr. Archibald Jeter Cloud earned a great deal of appreciation for his career as an educator and administrator. He rose from English teacher at Lowell High School to chief deputy superintendent of San Francisco schools and in 1935 was tapped to lead the creation of “San Francisco Junior College.”

men shoveling
Dr. A. J. Cloud at center, cheering on Mayor Rossi's shoveling for the City College campus ground-breaking, April 25, 1937. On the left is Charles R. Cooper, secretary of the "School Week" Committee.

Cloud’s name was synonymous with the school from its establishment until his retirement in 1949. Faculty recruitment, curriculum creation, and the construction of the main campus were all under his leadership. In addition to the hill-looping road, City College has Cloud Hall, the old library and classroom building named in his honor. When he passed away in 1957, every San Francisco public school flew its flag at half-mast.

It’s good the road and the hall are still around because the first object on campus named to recognize Dr. A. J. Cloud was quickly obliterated.

Finding Founder’s Rock

people on rock
Speakers gather on Founder's Rock for the ground-breaking of City College, April 25, 1937.

When San Francisco Junior College was created in 1935, it was a school without a home. Classes were held in 28 different locations across the city before the school district did a land swap with the recreation department for 37 acres in the western half of Balboa Park.

By early 1937, with land secured, and little plaster-and-putty models of school buildings presented to city officials and the press, a ground-breaking ceremony was planned for April 25th, on the grassy eastern slope of the plot.

Mayor Angelo Rossi, Dr. Cloud, and assorted dignitaries gathered to turn a symbolic spade of dirt to start construction. Before the shoveling, however, two students read speeches of appreciation for President Cloud at a granite boulder on the knoll. It was a pretty big rock:

View to ground-breaking ceremony for City College, April 25, 1937. Founder's Rock at right, Balboa Park and Balboa High School in the distance.

Earlier in the week a group of students previewed the campus site and tried for some small slice of immortality by writing their names on the prominent rock. Marion Yager went further by gouging in her name with hammer and chisel:

The program for the San Francisco Junior College (now City College) ground-breaking on April 25, 1937, also mentioned the dedication of Founder's Rock. Marion Yager got to the rock early to chisel in her name (Maybe... That photo seems pretty staged to me and those tools pretty old-school.) San Francisco Examiner, April 23, 1937.

In the day’s ceremonial program, the 40-foot outcropping was named “Founder’s Rock,” likely in imitation of Founders’ Rock at UC Berkeley, where legend (and a plaque) has it as the site of that university’s conception.

But in her address at the ground-breaking, Mimi Colton, secretary of the Associated Students, formally christened the boulder “Cloud Rock” in honor of the college president.

The one big problem with Founder’s Rock/Cloud Rock? It had just been been selected as the foundation site for the first campus building.

The chairman of the Physical Properties Committee of the Board of Education suggested the idea to architect Timothy Pflueger. The board agreed on April 5, 1937 to erect the first unit at the top of the knoll.

Construction began immediately. The Science Hall, set where Cloud Rock once lay near the campus peak, was formally dedicated and opened on November 10, 1940.

1940 aerial view of Science Building under construction, about where that big rock used to be... (San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, AAF-0202)

So, while it was a nice gesture, Marion Yager, Mimi Colton, and Dr. Cloud himself must have known in April 1937 that the solid hunk of granite named in the president’s honor had a future as short-lived and ephemeral as, well, a cloud.

Woody Beer and Coffee Fund

Tea for forever-marshal Robert L. of the Westerners, hot chocolate for me at Java Beach on Sloat Boulevard.

Thanks to Catherine K. for her donation to the fund that keeps on giving. ( beverages to thirsty San Francisco history folks, that is). Is it your turn to chip in?

I keep forgetting to take photos of all the swell people who let me buy them a coffee or beer, so, when we meet, remind me! When are you free?


Tom Irwin, “Site of New S.F. Junior College From the Air,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 1937, pg. 30.

“S.F. College Model,” San Francisco Examiner, April 6, 1937, pg. 11.

“Land Exchange to Give S.F.J.C. 10 More Acres,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 1937, pg. 15.

“Hike Leader Chisels Her Way to Fame,” San Francisco Examiner, April 23, 1937, pg. 11.

“Model of New Junior College Is Admired,” San Francisco Examiner, April 25, 1937, Section S, page 9.

“Mayor Breaks Ground for S.F. Junior College,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 26, 1937, pg. 7.

“Construction Begun at Junior College Site,” San Francisco Examiner, April 26, 1937, pg. 15.

“Dedication of School Units Opens ‘Week,’” San Francisco Examiner, November 11, 1940, pg. 13.

“Dr. Cloud’s College,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 1954, pg. 18.

“Schools Mark Death of Dr. A. J. Cloud,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 24, 1957, pg. 3.