In the 1930s, after the Ocean Shore Railroad gave up, and its rails were pulled up– the Devil’s Slide section of roadway opened following its construction by the old Joint Highway District 9 (San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Cruz). The highway closely followed the abandoned Ocean Shore right-of-way.
Within a year, according to news reports, Devil’s Slide had suffered serious erosion and was closed for repairs after a heavy rainstorm. “Road Closed” signs became a common sight.
“The road,” wrote Aubrey Drury in 1933, “skirts Montara Mountain, with lofty Point San Pedro extending out west, its varicolored strata atilt; and as you round the point you command splendid vistas up the coast, along the dazzling white surf line of the Pacific. Point Reyes, Mount Tamalpais, and the Farallones are all in sight; and to southward stands the square tower lighthouse on Montara Point, while beyond glitters Half Moon Bay….”
This stretch of road could take one’s breath away. Sadly, it also struck a dark chord for people who wanted to end their lives and many succeeded. Later, an ordinance was passed in December, 1949, making it a crime to trespass on Devil’s Slide, or to park in certain unauthorized areas. This law also sought to bar amateur photographers from tumbling to sure death down the slide.
During the Second World War, there was a significant military presence on the Coastside–as the U.S. government built gun emplacements for five-inch guns in the Devil’s Slide area.
In the late 1960s the CEO of a Texas oil company was poring over aerial photos of the California coastline, seeking a spectacular new home site. He settled on Gray Whale Cove, where the California gray whale comes to spawn. The property originally belonged to the U.S. government and was used during the Second World War as an artillery observation point and had some light gun emplacements. Remnants of these structures remained on the property.
The business executive chose this particular piece of land “due to its beautiful setting, unusual climate, proximity to Gray Whale Cove State Park, and general secluded area being only eighteen miles south of the metropolitan San Francisco area.”
An architect was commissioned to design the new home. The plan included leveling the property near the top, requiring moving 94,000 cubic yards of dirt to allow for a yard around the house and an ample parking area. The design for the elaborate estate also encompassed the old fortress and a basement of about 24,000 feet. A stone facade and embattlements were to be added.
If this dream had been fulfilled–which it was not– the extensive plan would have changed the face of the Coastside’s sole north-south link. The primitive beauty of Devil’s Slide remains untouched.