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Finding Aid to the Elmer E. Robinson Papers, 1935-1982 (bulk 1947-1956)
SFH 6  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Related Archival Collections
  • Related Materials
  • Materials Transferred
  • Materials Cataloged Separately
  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Title: Elmer E. Robinson Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1935-1982
    Date (bulk): 1947-1956,
    Collection Identifier: SFH 6
    Creator: Robinson, Elmer E. (Elmer Edwin), b. 1894
    Physical Description: 9 boxes, 1 oversized folder (6.58 cubic feet)
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    Abstract: Reports, mayoral and campaign speeches, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and historical documents documenting Robinson's mayoralty, which was noted for its many building programs, including the start of redevelopment. The papers provide a snapshot of post-World War II activities and changes undertaken at City Hall.
    Physical Location: The collection is stored onsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.


    The collection is open for research, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Please call the San Francisco History Center for hours and information at 415-557-4567.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has been assigned to the San Francisco Public Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items and the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Elmer E. Robinson Papers (SFH 6), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


    Transferred from City Hall. An additional accession of materials was received from Elmer Robinson's granddaughter on June 4, 2009, and subsequently folded into the collection. These included scrapbooks documenting Robinson's 1947 mayoral campaign, the renovation of the Municipal Railway, and his court cases as a judge. Additional materials were received from the University of the Pacific in 2018 and added to Series 1 (Box 8).

    Related Archival Collections

    Researchers are encouraged to see related collections at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley: San Francisco News-Call Bulletin Photograph Archive (approximately 200 negatives of Mayor Robinson); and Stanford University Libraries: Elmer E. Robinson Collection, 1764-1973; and Elmer E. Robinson Americana, 1765-1950 (both historical document collections created by Robinson).

    Related Materials

    Researchers are encouraged to see also the San Francisco History Center’s subject and biographical files, other Mayoral Papers, and the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection; and to check the catalog holdings of the San Francisco Public Library for related materials. The San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection houses the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin Photograph Archive, which includes photographs documenting Robinson’s time in office.

    Materials Transferred

    Photographs were transferred to the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

    Materials Cataloged Separately

    The following items were transferred to the book collection of the San Francisco Public Library: Report of the Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities,1970; and Ancestral Lines and Family History of Our Family, Including the Families of Robinson-Barrett, Pelet-Rahlves, Gould-Newcomb, Asbill-Graeter.

    Biographical/Historical note

    Elmer Edwin Robinson was born October 3, 1894 to Ralph and Edith Robinson in the Richmond District of San Francisco. He spent his youth near Fort Bragg where his father operated hauling and ice businesses. Robinson returned to San Francisco, working his way through night law school at the now-defunct Kent College, and was admitted to the bar in 1915. He married Doris Gould in 1917 with whom he had a daughter, Elizabeth Jane. He married twice more, to Rosemarie Kerr and later to Ora Norris.
    Robinson worked as a deputy District Attorney for six years before going into private practice as a civil and criminal attorney. In 1935, Governor Frank Merriam appointed Robinson to the Municipal Court bench and promoted him to the Superior Court within nine months. As presiding Superior Court judge, Robinson brought the court calendar up to date for the first time in 57 years.
    A member of the Republican Party, Robinson served as secretary of the state Republican Committee. He was twice defeated as the Republican candidate for state Senate in 1922 and 1931. With the support of Republican, Mason and legal circles, Robinson was elected San Francisco's 33rd mayor in 1947 when the city was emerging from World War II. He presided during an era that has been described as "the last of the city’s old-time good times," when vice quietly flourished. Robinson was re-elected in 1951 over George Christopher, a bitter opponent at the time. Term limits prevented a third run.
    In his two terms as mayor from 1948 through 1955, Robinson oversaw building programs including the Cherry Valley Dam, the International Airport, schools, branch libraries, playgrounds and recreation centers, police stations, firehouses, parking garages, and the modernization of the Municipal Railway. He established the Parking Authority and the Redevelopment Agency, which planned the city's first major redevelopment project. Robinson also established the children's fishing program at Lake Merced. He lowered the tax rate three times, and left the next mayor-elect with over $100 million of bonds for further improvements. He also built a civil defense program and served as President of the United States Conference of Mayors.
    Upon leaving City Hall, Robinson returned to his private law practice. He continued to serve as president of a Colma cemetery. A collector of original American historical documents, he was an acknowledged expert on forms of government in the United States. Robinson lived quietly until his death on June 7, 1982 in Butte County at the age of 87.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection documents the two-term administration of Mayor Elmer E. Robinson during the years of 1948 to 1956. The Robinson mayoralty was noted for its many building programs including the start of redevelopment. The papers provide a snapshot of post-World War II activities and changes undertaken at City Hall.
    Materials include reports, mayoral and campaign speeches, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and historical documents. The collection is particularly rich in speeches from 1948 to 1953, and there is good coverage on the topic of a second Bay crossing from 1947 to 1954. Internal and constituent correspondence is limited. Subjects include civil defense, renovation of the Municipal Railway, Radio Free Europe, the warehouse strike of 1949, growth of rapid transit, the visit of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and Robinson’s 1947 mayoral campaign. He was a collector of original American historical documents, and a few are contained within Series 4. Others can be found at Stanford University Libraries.


    The material has been arranged into four series: Series 1. Mayoral Activities; Series 2. Speeches, Articles, and Commendations; Series 3. Campaigns; and Series 4. Historical Documents. Folders in Mayoral Activities and Historical Documents are in alphabetical order by folder title, and then by date. The other series are organized chronologically. Within folders, materials are filed chronologically.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Robinson, Elmer E., (Elmer Edwin), b. 1894--Archives
    Bridges--California--San Francisco Bay Area--Planning
    City planning--California--San Francisco
    Housing policy--California--San Francisco
    Mayors--California--San Francisco
    San Francisco (Calif.)--Politics and government--20th century
    Urban policy--California--San Francisco
    Urban renewal--California--San Francisco