Movie Stars And Others Say Goodbye To San Francisco’s Famed Cliff House

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210+ Photos, Most with Autographs and Inscriptions, Go Up for Bid at
Turner Auctions + Appraisals on Saturday, March 13

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA, March 2, 2021 – Turner Auctions + Appraisals is very pleased to present The Cliff House Collection of Celebrity Photos at its online auction on Saturday, March 13, 2021, featuring movie stars, sports figures and other noted personalities. The framed photographs, most with autographs and inscriptions, graced the walls of the iconic San Francisco restaurant through many decades, from the 1930s to present day. Among the 210+ lots on offer are photos of the famous, including Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Hedy Lamarr, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, the Marx Brothers, Jerry Rice, Barry Bonds, Michael Douglas, Grace Slick, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, Carlos Santana (photographed by Jim Marshall), and many more.

Turner Auctions + Appraisals begins its online auction on Saturday, March 13, 2021, at 10:30 am PST; sale items are available for preview and bidding now. The auction will be featured live on multiple platforms: LiveAuctioneers, Invaluable, Bidsquare, iCollector, and Turner Auctions + Appraisals’ free mobile app, which can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Apps (“Turner Auctions”). All are easily accessed through ‘Upcoming Auctions’ at the company’s website: www.turnerauctionsonline.com/upcoming-auctions. In addition, a wide range of other Cliff House property will be liquidated by Rabin Worldwide, including restaurant and kitchen equipment on March 11; and memorabilia, historic decorations, and gift shop merchandise on March 12. For more information on the Rabin auction, visit www.rabin.com.

Unfortunately, these auctions are due to the closing of the Cliff House, the famed San Francisco landmark perched at Land’s End, renowned for stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean where the city meets the sea. Most recently, its long-time proprietors, Dan and Mary Hountalas, had a 20-year concession agreement with the National Park Service (NPS). This expired in July 2018 and was extended in short increments of six or 12 months until December 31, 2020. While the Hountalases were very eager to extend their long-term concession agreement, the NPS chose to make no decisions regarding the site’s future, despite more than two years of negotiations. This situation, coupled with COVID-19, forced Don and Mary Hountalas to close the restaurant they have run for over 47 years and liquidate their personal property from the venue. There are still no decisions regarding the site, despite outcries from dismayed San Franciscans, tourists, and the media alike.

The Cliff House has had a long and storied history, with various architectural iterations along the way. In 1863, real-estate mogul Charles Butler built the original Cliff House. It was enjoyed by Mark Twain in 1864, who said “If one tires of the drudgeries and scenes of the city, and would breathe the fresh air of the sea, let him… glide out to the Cliff House….” In 1883, silver baron Adolph Sutro bought the Cliff House, which had been visited by numerous famous guests and three Presidents (including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant in 1879, who used the telephone there for the first time, and Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880). This building was damaged first by a nearby explosion of a dynamite-laden schooner in 1887, then completely destroyed by fire in 1894. In 1896, Sutro, by then mayor of San Francisco, rebuilt the Cliff House as a seven-story Victorian chateau, one often featured in old photos. Sadly, this too burned to the ground in 1907. After the fire, Dr. Emma Merritt, Sutro’s daughter, had the restaurant rebuilt, opening in 1909 in neoclassical style.

In 1937, George and Leo Whitney purchased the Cliff House and extensively remodeled it into an American roadhouse. In 1973, Dan and Mary Hountalas leased the Cliff House from George Whitney, Jr. In 1977, Whitney sold the property to the National Park Service; it became one of the gems of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the world’s largest urban parks, and the Hountalases became the Cliff House’s tenants until a concession contract was signed in 1998. In 2003, the NPS and the Hountalases collaborated to restore the property at a cost of $18 million, renovating it to its original look of 1909. Until its closure, the popular and successful Cliff House featured acclaimed California-American food and drink in four diverse settings, receiving a “Travelers’ Choice” award from TripAdvisor as recently as 2020.

Many of the photographs that adorned the walls of the Cliff House date back to the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, when upscale dining establishments frequented by celebrities started to showcase such decor. The Hountalases acquired their initial photo collection from George Whitney, Jr., when they leased the restaurant from him in 1973. They continued and expanded this engaging visual tradition, either requesting a signed photograph from the restaurant’s many celebrity guests or happily accepting one that was offered.

Mary Hountalas has a wealth of engrossing stories to accompany the images. Both Michael Douglas, star of “Streets of San Francisco” TV series from 1972-1977; and Tomas Arana, who appeared in “The Bodyguard,” “Gladiator” and other movies, each included a personal handwritten note with their photos; the Arana auction lot includes this note and several photos. Nicolas Cage would come to eat oysters and drink wine. Grace Slick was a frequent guest. Bandleader Phil Harris came for lunch, turned around and saw a photo of Alice Faye, his actress wife, looking at him from the wall. When a terrible windstorm hit the waterside restaurant in 1995, causing $750,000 worth of water damage, the Legion of Honor,
one of the two Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, volunteered to help save some of the photographs.

Today, as Mary and her husband are forced to walk away from their passion and livelihood of 47 years, they are frustrated and sad over events they did not expect and did not want. Likewise, many San Franciscans, regulars and tourists, celebrities and not, are too. As of now, the Cliff House, an institution that spanned 158 years over three centuries, is no more. Nonetheless, this unhappy situation has a small silver lining: those who desire mementos of this legendary place in San Francisco history may acquire them in March at auction.

Thanks for the memories, Cliff House.

Here are some highlights of the upcoming sale (see details in the online catalog):

Lot 45: Marx Brothers. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size:
8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 2: Shirley Temple. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 5: Cary Grant. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $100 – $150.

Lot 44: Alice Faye. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $50 – $70.

Lot 8: Judy Garland. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 11: Humphrey Bogart. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 132: John Wayne. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 78: Rita Hayworth. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 47: Grace Slick. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $50 – $70.

Lot 144: Clint Eastwood. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $100 – $150.

Lot 123: Jack Benny. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 16: Sharon Stone. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $60 – $80.

Lot 133: Olivia de Havilland. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $100 – $150.

Lot 153: James “Jimmy” Stewart. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $100 – $150.

Lot 7: Hedy Lamarr. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $80 – $120.

Dan and Mary Hountalas during Cliff House reconstruction, 2004

Lot 142: Carlos Santana, photographed by Jim Marshall. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Jim Marshall was an award-winning American photographer, often of rock stars in the 60s and 70s. He was also chief photographer at Woodstock. Estimate $200 – $300.

Interior of the Cliff House Bistro

Lot 155: Clark Gable. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $200 – $300.

Lot 88: Michael Douglas. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $50 – $70.

Lot 70: Bob Hope. Original autographed, inscribed photograph: Size: 8″ x 10″. Condition: Showing fading throughout. In good vintage condition. Estimate $80 – $120.

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ABOUT TURNER AUCTIONS + APPRAISALS
Based in South San Francisco, Turner Auctions + Appraisals was founded by Stephen Turner to expand and complement the capabilities of Stephen G. Turner Associates, an auction and appraisal consulting firm founded in 2004. Turner Auctions + Appraisals presents online auctions in diverse categories of personal property (www.turnerauctionsonline.com). Among them are Fine Arts, Decorative Arts, Asian Arts, Toys, Jewelry, Militaria, Ethnic Arts, and others. The company offers a range of auction and appraisal services for buyers, sellers, and collectors. Online auctions are held several times a month. Working with leading live and online auction houses on the West Coast since 1991, Turner is a professional appraiser of personal property and seasoned auctioneer. His areas of expertise include fine art, decorative arts, antiques & residential contents. The company welcomes consignments and appraisals.

For more information about the company, please contact:
Stephen Turner, President, Turner Auctions + Appraisals, 461 Littlefield Avenue, South San Francisco, CA 94080 415-964-5250 / [email protected] / www.turnerauctionsonline.com

For media inquiries or photos, please contact:
Jill Turner, Rodin & Shelley Associates / [email protected]