SF bids farewell to historic Pacific Rod and Gun Club 

click to enlarge The Pacific Rod and Gun Club has been open since 1928 and at its current facility at Lake Merced since 1934. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER 2014 FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner 2014 File Photo
  • The Pacific Rod and Gun Club has been open since 1928 and at its current facility at Lake Merced since 1934.
The Pacific Rod and Gun Club opened more than eight decades ago “with a bang” at its home along Lake Merced, a day after the club was dedicated with a shot by then-Mayor Angelo J. Rossi, per a June 11, 1934, San Francisco Examiner article.

Members are now preparing to close the club’s doors indefinitely in similar fashion Sunday with a final round of shooting before vacating the 14-acre site to allow the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which manages the land, to conduct a yearlong $22 million cleanup.

“It’s an iconic, historical facility,” said Patrick Gilligan, the club’s president. “It’s the way San Francisco was 80 years ago.”

For members, closing the club is also like losing a piece of themselves.

“It’s been my whole life. I can’t remember a Saturday, Sunday or Wednesday when I wasn’t out there with my folks just watching or shooting,” said Ray Brooks, 81, who has frequented the site since 1937, when he was 4.

Brooks, the oldest living shooting member of the club, has even shot there with a number of celebrities.

“Having lunch with Barbara Stanwyck, hanging around with Clark Gable — it was just kind of an everyday thing,” Brooks recalled. “I guess because we were in the same game [of shooting], they treated me with respect, and I treated them with respect.” The club hosted national skeet shooting championships annually until the 1970s, drawing up to 350 competitors each time, said Brooks.

“It was popular,” he said. “People would come from all over, from Texas and Arizona, New York and Connecticut, to shoot.”

click to enlarge A 1934 San Francisco Examiner article heralds the club’s christening at its current location.
  • A 1934 San Francisco Examiner article heralds the club’s christening at its current location.
San Francisco resident Michael Emery said the club has exposed his teenage sons to a variety of members over the years, many of whom do not fall into the cigar-smoking stereotype associated with the club.

“There’s been a patchwork quilt of San Franciscans of all ethnicities and religions who have come through that club and been members,” Emery said.

Membership in recent years has been around 400 members, the highest it’s been since 1994. That’s when the club switched from lead pellets and clay pigeons to nontoxic steel shots and biodegradable targets, more environmentally friendly alternatives.

For San Francisco native Tony Maffei and his two teenage sons, visiting the club on weekends was a place to bond. On Sunday, Maffei made sure to carve out a few hours with his eldest son to enjoy what may be their last time shooting there.

“I think some people view the Pacific Rod and Gun Club as just a place where a bunch of guys go and shoot guns,” Maffei said. “That can’t be more inaccurate. “It’s a place of camaraderie, it’s a place of education, it’s a place of how to be a member of a team, how to be a good steward to the environment.”

The cleanup involves removing soil contaminated by lead pellets and clay pigeons used at the club prior to 1994. It remains unknown what the site will be used for once the cleanup is complete.

The four main skeet fields and four main outbuildings have been designated as historic resources, but the club will have to apply to use the site again.

“We will be working with Recreation and Parks to develop a request for proposals concurrently with the clean-up,” SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue wrote in an email to the Examiner. “Our goal is to have a transparent and engaging public process to help shape the future use of the site.”

Members emphasized the club will still exist, and are hopeful the organization will return to Lake Merced next year, at least in some form. In the meantime, members plan to visit gun clubs in Richmond and Martinez to go shoot.

“It’s a goal of mine to see shooting in some form return to that site,” Gilligan said. “The people of San Francisco deserve to have it out there.”

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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