San Francisco History

San Francisco and Thereabout
 by Charles Keeler
The California Promotion Committee of San Francisco, Publisher, 1902


        It was on the corner of Market and Kearny Streets in the evening and a great crowd was assembled, filling the streets in all directions for some blocks with a good-natured mass of humanity, dressed for a holiday and standing about as if waiting for something to happen.  Sudeenly there was a flash and scintillation of lights, a suppressed wave of admiring exclamation running through the crowd, and San Francisco was decked in a shimmering garment of incandescent lights.  At the meeting of the streets was an immense canopy of fairy lamps that dazzled one with its radiance.  Up and down the way as far as eye could travel, bands of light were stretched overhead at frequent intervals, sparkling like stars.  At the foot of the street rose the ferry tower, its every line brought out in electric beading.  The great Spreckels Building was similarly outlined with lamps, and away up town the dome of City Hall flashed forth gloriously in outlines of subdued fire.

        Such electric illuminations of San Francisco are now of frequent occurence, for the city is becoming noted as a place for holding conventions, and from all parts of the country come Christian Endeavorers, Mystic Shriners, Knights of Pythias and all sorts of orders and associations who combine a holiday in California with their business.  They are entertained here with that hospitality for which the State is famed--a heritage somewhat diluted, but still characteristic, from the proud señors of the Mexican Republic before the days of '49.

        So great has been the influx of visitors during the past year that there is scarce accomodation for all, but the completion of the two new hotels and the two-story addition to the Palace which is now contemplated, will relieve the present stress.  The Palace has been for years one of the landmarks of San Francisco.  It is big and bulging, but there is something so distinctive about its interior design that it stands alone among hotels.  The great central court is open to the skylight with a balcony bordering it on each floor.  In the midst is an immense palm, and the spacious court is paved with white marble flags.  Behind a screen of palms and glass at the farther end, dining tables are spread, where one may have a meal instead of going to the restaurant or grillroom.  In the office, a cosmopolitan crowd is asssembled--wayfarers from everywhere and nowhere--and one may find here endless types of humanity to delight and interest the student of mankind.

        Although the Palace is the largest of the hotels, there are others about town quite as good.  The New California, on Bush Street, with its pretty little theatre in the center, is attractive and modern throughout.  The Occidental on Montgomery Street, has for many years been the headquarters of army and navy people, as well as for many others who do not wear uniforms.  A block nearer Market on the opposite side of the same stret the Lick House reminds us of the eccentric pioneer who did so much good with his money after he died.  In the residence district of the city there is an increasing number of refined family hotels which are sought by those who come not as curious birds of passage but as tentative residents.

        In the way of creature comforts, San Francisco is noted above all for its restaurants.  The abundance of food produced in the immediate vicinity and the excellence of the large city markets, make it possible to provide meals at prices that amaze New Yorkers.  An elaborate French dinner with a bottle of wine for from fifty to seventy-five cents is provided at a large number of places about town.  A considerable French population came to San Francisco during the early days, and many of these people, gastronomic experts by nature, have found their gold mines in frogs' legs and rum omelettes.  The old Maison Dorée was for years the aristocratic dining place of the city, but it fell upon evil days and the sheriff took the keys.  Of the resorts long familiar not only to San Franciscans fond of good living, but to the Bohemian globe trotters of many lands, there are such French restaurants as the Poodle Dog and the Pup, Marchand's and Maison Tortoni.  Among the best known of the German places, where orchestras enliven the clink of steins and schooners, are Zinkand's, a great favorite with after-theatre supper-parties, and Techau Tavern, in an old church with pillars and recessed nooks decorated in green, where one may have rye bread and Frankfurters together with sundry other good things.  Nor must one forget the plebian Louvre which is German to the core, in spite of its name.

        The Mexican restaurants of the Latin quarter at the base of Telegraph Hill, serve all sorts of hot concontions--peppery stews, chicken tamales, frijoles, and the flat corn cakes so dear to the Mexican stomach, tortillas, with Chili con carne and red peppers to warm up the meal.  Italian restaurants stand side by side with the Mexican on Broadway, with their "Buon gusto" on the window pane to attract unwary flies within their webs.  I have alluded elsewhere to the Chinese restaurants, but a Japanese tea house is more of a curiosity, even in cosmopolitan San Francisco.  Up on Ellis Street is such a place, complete in all its appointments, set in a charming little Japanese garden.  There is even a Turkish restaurant in San Francisco where, surrounded by hangings and rugs of oriental richness, one may whiff the incense and sip the coffee of the Ottoman Empire.  Of coffee houses, chip houses, and creameries, good, bad and indifferent, there is no end.  Swain's is the oldest and best known of the bakery restaurants, while the ladies caught out shopping generally drop into the Woman's Exchange, where all is dainty and appetizing to a degree.

        Since the palmy days of the Argonauts when gold pieces were thrown upon the stage in lieu of bouquets to signify the miners' appreciation of the poplular danseuse or soubrette, San Francisco has been noted for its theatrical enthusiasm, and for the independence of its judgment concerning plays and players.  Of late years the city has shared in the general American deterioration of the stage, but anything really good awakens the old response.  The long lines of people standing for hours in the rain to gain admission to the galleries for a Wagner opera or an Irving play are sufficient index.  Two new theatres are to be erected in the immediate future which will add greatly to the dramatic possibilities of the city.  Cheap opera, both light and grand, for which we are indebted to the German residents, is a constant feature of the theatrical world in San Francisco.

        Although the city has been for years a center for artists, sending forth many painters of distinction and better still keeping a few at home, it has no art gallery save the collection in the Mark Hopkins School of Art.  Here are some admirable works, but the building is peculiarly ill adapted for displaying them.  Paintings by many of the famous European masters are owned in San Francisco, and at occasional loan exhibitions are publicly displayed.

        Of local painters William Keith stands alone in his art as a master of landscape.  Such poetry of field and grove, of mountain and forest, of moving clouds and breaking sunshine, has made his work loved more deeply than widely by all who know California and appreciate the great earth mother.  Some day the East will awaken to the fact that the greatest of American landscape painters has been working away on the Pacific shore all these years, and then he will be "discovered."  The work of Thomas Hill in portraying the larger scenes of California, especially in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains, has given him a national reputation.  In portraiture, the tender feeling, the warm coloring and free handling of mother and child pictures has won a circle of enthusiastic admirers for Mary Curtis Richardson.  The moonlight scenes of Charles Rollo Peters, the protraits [sic.] of Orrin Peck, the Indians of Amédée Joullin, the landscapes of Brewer, Cadenasso, Jorgensen, Latimer and McComas and the decorations of Mathews and Bruce Porter are among the most widely know, although the list might be greatly extended without exhausing the number of really admirable painters.  One of the signs of vitality is the large number of young men and women who are doing excellent work and constantly raising their own standard as well as that of those about them.  In sculpture, Douglas Tilden and Robert Aitken, both young men, have done work of a high order to excellence.

        The Bohemian Club has been a rendezvous for the artists and men of letters in San Francisco.  Under the patronage of the owl, this club has brought together many congenial spirits who have sung songs, painted pictures, written poems and plays, composed music and told stories in honor of Bohemia.  Their midsummer jinks in their own redwood grove in Sonoma County, where the majestic columns of the forest form the wings of the theatre and the mountain a back-ground, where the solemn grandure of a moonlight night is made weird and strange with red fire and colored calciums, bringing out all the tracery of the wildwood in unfamiliar lights and colors--all this with the music of a full orchestra and a spectacular pageant rendered in brilliant costumes, makes a scene of impressive beauty.

        Of San Francisco's numerous clubs, the Pacific Union is perhaps the most aristocratic, its membership including many of the wealthiest and most influential men of the city.  The Country Club, which owns a great hunting park in Marin County, is composed of members of the Pacific Union and there is also a Burlingame Country Club, made up of the elect who play golf and polo.  In the Cosmos Club are many army and navy men, while the University Club, as its name implies, is composed of professors and alumni, and entertains at its comfortable home on Sutter Street many visiting scholars of distinction.  The Olympic Club is chiefly devoted to athletics, having a building finely equipped with salt water swimming tank, gymnasium, handball court and all appliances for cultivating the physical man.

        Among the other men's clubs may be mentioned the two select Jewish clubs, the San Francisco Verein and Concordia.  The Union League, with headquarters at the Palace Hotel, is a Republican club exercising much influence over local and state politics.  The Press Club is composed of leading newspaper men of the city who meet in good fellowship and toss off the grind and partisanship of the office for an occasional hour at their rooms on Ellis Street.  The Unitarian Club has no building or rooms of its own but meets monthly around the festive board and listens to discussions by speakers of eminence and power, of questions of local, national, or universal interest.  These meetings have much weight in presenting to an influential body of men, from many points of view, matters of vital importance.

        The women have their full share of clubs, most of which are evoted to literary, art, charitable or municipal work.  The Laurel Hall Club is one of the oldest of these organizations, and still continues its social and literary gatherings without diminution of interest.  Many prominent women of San Francisco are members of the Century Club, which has a house of its own on Sutter Street.  It devotes its meetings mainly to music and lectures, varied by an occasional evening reception.  The California Club is a large organization of women who undertake practical work in the city and state.  They have already accomplished much good, notably in their agitation for preserving the giant Sequioas.  The California Outdoor Art Leage, recently organized, has commenced a virorous campaign in the city for the cause of flowers, trees and parks, and promises to exert a strong influence in beautifying the city.  The Spinners and Sketch Clubs are composed of young women interested in literature and art.  The Sorosis is a social and literary club.

        The ladies of the Emanuel Sisterhood devote themselves to helping those less fortunate than themselves, and their aid is of the most genuine kind.  They go among the poor to teach sewing, millinery and cooking, and other useful arts.  The Columbia Park Boys' Club, largely supported by them has done a noble work among a group of youngsters south of Market Street.  In a charming home, fitted up simply but with real artistic feeling, the boys have nightly meetings.  There is a small reading room with good pictures on the wall and books and magazines on shelves and table.  Classes in manual training, in drawing and clay modeling are conducted by volunteer workers.  There is a gymnasium, a military department, a baseball club and other athletic features as well as a chorus of young boys who sing classical songs in a spirited manner.

        A college settlement has been established in San Francisco for a number of years, and now, through the generosity of Mrs. Peoebe A. Hearst, has neighborhood meetings in its own comfortable and artistic quarters.  Another modest little neighborhood home is delightfully maintained by Miss Octavine Briggs, who, in the capacity of trained nurse, has brought health, good cheer, and refining influences to many people young and old.  Over in the Latin Quarter at the foot of Russian Hill, the Rev. Fiske and his wife maintain an institutional church known as the People's Place--a center for good practical work in that region of saloons and poverty.

        The churches of San Francisco present few striking features to distinguish them from the houses of worship in other American cities of the same size.  The older church buildings are for the most part commonplace in architecture, but some of the more recent ones are massive stone structures of fine design.  Among the city ministers, none perhaps has exercised so powerful an influence over the destiny of the community as Thomas Starr King, whose eloquent preaching did much to save California to the Union during the stormy days before the war.  His successor, Horation Stebbins, was a pillar of strenghth and a profound moral force in the community.  The quiet example of Joseph Worcester has been a quickening influence for all good and beautiful things.

        Probably the most striking feature of San Francisco's places of worship is their cosmopolitan character.  The Greek Catholic is represented here as well as the Roman, and the towers of the synagogue rise with the spires of the Protestant Christians.  The negro Baptist, Salvation Army and all are here.  The Japanese Confucian and the Chinaman with his joss, worship in their own peculiar fashion.  Christian Science, the newest, and Theosophy a modern echo of the oldest of religions, each has its following.

        The city schools differ in no material respect from those of other American cities of corresponding population.  There are a number of manual training and industrial schools, notably the Wilmerding, the Lick School of Mechanical Arts, the Polytechnic High and the Cogswell Schools.  There are only three academic high schools, the Lowell, Mission and Girls', each sending annually many graduates to the University.  A feature of the school department is the salaried School Board, consisting of men who devote themselves exclusively to the work, and who, in connection with the Superintendent of Schools, conduct all the public educational affairs of the city.

        The museums of San Francisco are nearly all in an early stage of development.  The largest is in Golden Gate Park, a gift of the Commissioners of the Midwinter Fair and is especially rich in archeaology.  The California Academy of Sciences maintains a free museum of natural history in its building on Market Street and has the most complete extant herbarium and study collection of birds of the Pacific Coast.  This institution also gives monthly popular lectures on scientific subjects which are largely attended.  Its printed proceedings are recognized among the important contributions to science, and have an international reputation.  As one of the residuary legatees of the Lick estate, the Academy has an assured income, although not sufficient to properly carry on all its activities.  The University of California maintains in the Ferry Building a small but interesting collection of Alaskan ethnology, most of which was presented to it by the Alaska Commercial Company.  The same building also contains the mineralogical museum of the State Mining Bureau, and the agricultural and horticultureal exhibitions of the State Board of Trade which has for many years undertaken to make the resources of California more widely known.  The Pacific Commercial Museum, recently organized, also has its headquarters in the Ferry Building where it is installing a collection of the commercial products of the countries of the Pacific Ocean.  Its work is outlined somewhat on the plans of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, and it aims to keep the merchants of San Francisco in touch with trade openings and developments in foreign countries.

        Of local libraries but a passing word need be said.  The large Public Library is temporarily quartered in the City Hall, while the Mechanics' Library, especially popular on account of its location near the business and shopping centers, has a building totally inadequate to its needs.  Plans are already maturing for a new building.  The Mercantile completes the list of general public or semi-public libraries.  The Sutro Library is a wonderful repository containing many priceless illuminated codices, incunabula and other rare old editions, but it is at present stored where it is inaccessible to the public.  The Academy of Sciences has a valuable working library of scientific books, its collection of journals and proceedings of other societies being especially noteworthy.  The employees of Wells, Fargo and Company have an excellent circulating library and the Bohemian Club has a choice and well selected collection of books for its members.

        The above somewhat dry review of the institutions of San Francisco seems essential to a proper understanding of the city life of today.  The present period of growth, the awakening of the city to new opportunities and new responsibilities, will no doubt lead to an enlargement of the various institutions of civic life.  The nucleus of all good things is here and with the support and encouragement which is bound to follow the present wave of progress, there is no reason why libraries, museums, art galleries and all civic institutions for the advance of civilization and the betterment of humanity should not grow to their just proportions in the community.



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