San Francisco History

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


        During a good part of the decade immediately preceeding the dawn of the new century, a strange lethargy seemed to have settled upon the city by the Golden Gate.  To the northward, Seattle and Spokane were forging ahead with giant strides.  To the southward, Los Angeles had grown from a pueblo to a metropolis.  In San Francisco, public spirit was at a perilously low ebb.  Of local pride there was but the faintest glimmer.  Population was at a standstill; houses were for rent.  Merchants took what trade came their way but seldom reached out for more.  Staggered by the crash of '93, the city seemed unable to recuperate, or make a recovery so slow that people shook their heads and spoke disparagingly of the place.

        What was the matter with San Francisco?  Why did it rest supinely upon its many hills and let the workd take its own course?  The railroad was commonly blamed for all the evils arising from the difference and indifference of public opinion on local questions.  The Octopus, as that Quixotic champion of the city's rights, Mayor Sutro, dubbed it, was indeed a power with tentacles far spread over the State, and permeating many branches of civic life.  But there were other factors which retarded the growth of San Francisco, chief among which was the lack of public spirit among the citizens.

        It is a more agreeable field of speculation to note the forces which have been instrumental in changing all this--for a change has indeed come over the community.  One of the earliest symptoms of an awakened civic pride was the action of the Merchants Association in reforming the work of cleaning the streets of the business district.  At about this time a ripple of enthusiasm was caused by the completion of the San Joaquin Valley Road and its absorption by the Santa Fe System, which insured a competing overland line to San Francisco.  Events for arousing the city crowded thick and fast about the end of the century.  The Klondike gold excitement stimulated trade and travel with the North.

        Years before Dewey's guns thundered at the gates of Manila, far sighted men had predicted that the strife for commercial supremacy was destined to shift ere long from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but their prophecies had fallen upon deaf ears.  The Eastern States took little note of Pacific Coast events, save to chronicle a prize fight or a sensational murder.  But when regiments of soldiers came pouring into San Francisco on their way to the Philippines, the attention of the nation was centered here.  It began to dawn upon men, both at home and abroad, that this was the port of departure not merely for the Spanish Islands of the Pacific but also for the Orient beyond.  The strategic importance of San Francisco was impressed upon the dullest minds.  Complications in China requiring the presense of American troops there, served but to deepen this realization.  The moving of an army of seventy thousand men to and from these remote regions, the presence of fleets of transports in the harbor, the stimulus of trade in new channels, all served to rouse the dormant city.

        Simultaneously with these stirring events came the reorganization of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  As a part of the great Harriman System, a policy of co-operation with the people in the building up of the State has been vigorously pushed.  It is now apparent on every hand that the interests of the railroad and of the people are one.  If the arteries of commerce are obstructed, will not the tissues of the State wither?  Or conversely, if the body politic be not sound and strong, will it not inevitably impair the circulation of trade?  To grasp this fundamental proposition of the organic connection between the people and the avenues of commerce, and to work to make this relationship a just and harmonious one on both sides, is the first essential to the prosperity of a country.  Especially is this so of a region which from its vast isolation is dependent upon commercial relations with remote parts of the land.  The importance of this new spirit cannot be overestimated in an analysis of the factors which are now at work in rejuvenating San Francisco.  The withered staff of Tannhauser has burst into leaf, and the dead past shall bury its dead.

        The new charter of San Francisco is constructed on the most advanced ideas of municipal government, and already great benefits are coming to the city from its operation.  Since its adoption, large sums of money have been appropriated for extending the park system and for much needed additional school buildings.  San Francisco occupies the proud position of a municipality practically without civic debt.

        In the prosperity which has come with the new century, San Francisco has shared to the fullest measure.  Capital has been attracted from various parts of the country.  The street railways were purchased by a Baltimore corporation and their relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad teminated.  New buildings were commenced in various parts of the city--great substantial steel-frame structures of stone and terra cotta.  Whole blocks of these dignified, well proportioned buildings are going up on Mission Street, replacing shabby rookeries;  the splendid new Mutual Bank Building of gray stone and steep red tile roof, towers up with the other fine structures at the corner of Market and Geary Streets.  Facing Union Square, a block away from the big modern building of the Spring Valley Water Company, the steel frame of the new Saint Francis Hotel is climbing higher and highter, and the stonework fellows with wonderful celerity.  Over on Market Street at the corner of Powell, on the site of the old Baldwin Hotel, and opposite the great stone Emporium, one of the largest and costliest buildings of the city is now being erected for store and office purposes.

        Just in the nick of time, the magnificent new marble postoffice is being completed up on Mission Street to replace the miserable structure down on Washington Street which for so many years has served as a make-shift.  A magnificent hotel is to be built immediately by the Fair Estate on the California Street heights.  These are but a few of the more striking business buildings now being pushed to completion.  In one week, according to statitics compiled, six million dollars' worth of buildings were commenced in the city.  A gratifying feature of the work is the simplicity of design followed in nearly every instance.  Costly materials and the most perfect of modern workmanship, combined with good proportions on broad lines, are bound to make the new San Francisco an eminently satisfying city architecturally.  In former days the fear of earthquakes, together with the cheapness of wood, make people, as a rule, construct low frame buildings.  Now that the matter has been tested and the earthquakes found to be far less destructive than the thunder storms of the East, tall stone buildings are no longer tabooed.

        All this building is not the result of a speculative boom but the response to a real demand for more accommodation.  People are coming to San Francisco from hither and yon, to settle in the community.  New business enterprises are being started, old ones enlarged.  Vast sums are being expended upon railroad improvement of lines centering here, and immense steamships are built or building for trade with this port.  Since the days of '49 such an impetus of growth has not visited San Francisco.

        That the city, and indeed all California, has awakened to the opportunities now arising, is shown by the recent organization of a Promotion Committee composed of representatives of the various commercial organizations of the city and State.  Strangers are made welcome at their comfortable headquarters on New Montgomery Street, and information relative to the resources of California is given to all who are interested.

        It is almost an axiom of civic life that the permanent well-being of a city depends upon the prosperity of its adjacent country.  Never did any land have more to offer the home seeker than has California.  The orange grows to perfection in valleys a hundred miles north of San Francisco, where it ripens by November, a month earlier than in any other part of the United States.  Figs thrive over an even wider area than the citrus fruits, and experiments recently made in shipping them fresh to Chicago and New York have proven a success.  California olive oil commands a high price on account of its freedom from adulteration, and ripe olives are becoming a much relished food.  The prunes of San Jose and the raisins of Fresno have acquired world-wide fame, while California wines compete successfully at international expositions with their French predecessors and rivals.  The improved railroad facilities have made it possible of late to ship early fresh vegetables, as well as all of the fresh fruits to the Eastern market.  Indeed shipments to Europe of fresh California fruit are now regularly made.  With the railroad back of the people a limitless market will await the horticulturist, and his returns will be proportionate to his labor and skill.

        Many inexperienced people have imagined that fruit growing in California was all attended to by nature.  Young Englishment have come here, lured by tales of prodigal fertility, and have smoked their pipes while thier ranches went to perdition.  Horticulture in California required knowledge and hard work, much as anything does in this world that is worth doing.  The best results are to be had on irrigated land, and small holdings are now proving more successful than the large ranches of the past, but patience, skill and grit are needed for the work.  The passage by the American Congress of the Newlands Act has called the attention of the whole country to the possibilities of development in the West through irrigation.  The lakes and streams of the Sierra Nevada Mouintains contain enough water to make fertile all the cultivatable valleys of the State, and it is now only a question of years before this will be done.  The great wheat fields of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, cultivated with gang plows and harvested with machines that do the whole process of cutting, threshing and sacking, are rivaled only by the vast prairies of the Mississippi.  Another industry that is assuming large proportion is the manufacture of beet sugar, which is carried on in parts of California on an immense scale.*

        The old-fashioned placer mining--the washing of gold out of the sand of river beds with a rude wooden cradle--is no longer profitable as in the days of '49, but during the past five years over fifteen million dollars annually has been mined by the improved methods now in vogue, and there seems to be no diminution of the supply.  The great stamps of the Placer and Nevada County mines are thundering away at the ore, while dredgers scoop up the sand of river bottoms and sift out the gold as it passes through.

        In manufacturing lines, San Francisco has been greatly hampered by the lack of coal mines within convenient distance, although a firm like the Union Iron Works, which can build such battleships as the Oregon and the Ohio, need not take second place to any builders in the world.  Up to the present time coal has been king; but in this as in other matters an era of change is at hand, and Old King Coal seems destined to take a back seat.  His rival to the throne is none other than that modern Zeus, the wielder of thunderbolts, which we call the electric motor.  For many years the use of water as a motive power has been out of date, but the present cycle of progress brings it once more to the front.  Over the valleys and hills of California march silent processions of poles carrying heavy wires upon large insulators.  The lightning is being harnessed to the waterfalls of the mountains, and the mysterious currents generated in the far away heights by the singing streams which pour their current down the rocky slopes, are flashed in a trice to populous centers, there to light houses and highways, to speed cars over city streets, and to turn the humming wheels of industry.  In the days to come, manufactuing supremacy shall be determined not by coal mines but by waterfalls.  California, with its glorious Sierra battlement where the snows pile high all winter long, melting in never-failing streams that swiftly course to the valleys, is above all other lands supplied with this natural motive power.  The mountain streams shall labor now for man, and sing at their toil.  Even into the great city shall penetrate their power, and the smoke and grime of coal shall be replaced by a mightier and cleanlier force.

        Coincident with the perfecting of insulating appliances, making it possible to carry electric currents from the mountains to the sea, has come the discovery and development of seemingly limitless oil wells in various parts of California.  The use of oil fuel as a substitute for coal is meeting with the most gratifying success.  Railway engines burn it and cinders become a thing of the past.  It has been tested upon a large passenger steamer running between San Francisco and Tahiti, with the result that a saving of two hundred dollars a day is effected.  Oil burning fright steamers are plying between San Francisco and the Hawaiian Islands.  The terrible work of the stokers is abolished and the decks are no longer grimy with cinders.  Within a year all the engines of the Southern Pacific Railway  will be converted into oil burners.  Dusty country roadways when oiled become like park boulevards.  And thus electricity and oil are not only replacing coal, but accomplishing far more than the old fuel could do.  To be sure the transition has but begun, and vast quantities of coal must still be imported to San Francisco, but when ere long the oil pipe line is laid from Bakersfield to tide water, when J. Pierpont Morgan's new oil company, just organized with a capitalization of twenty million dollars, is in operation, and the new San Francisco Electric Power Company has brought its lines from the mountains to the city, the demand for coal will surely not continue to increase in proportion to the growth of population or of manufacturing industries.

        One other great natural source of wealth California possesses, namely her forests.  But every true lover of the wildwood looks with dismay at the recklessness with which this treasure is being squandered.  Nor it is by any means a sentimental motive which has actuated the protest against this ruin and waste.  The future of California depends upon the conservation of its water supply.  Without this the land will become a desert.  The forests are the only power which can restrain the impatient torrents from despoiling the land--from rushing down the mountains in freshets and tearing away the soil of the valleys.  The forest roots melting snows, and the bounty of heaven becomes a blessing instead of a menace to the valleys.  Hence the wisdom of a great series of national parks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The hungry saws are ripping up the sublime redwood forests of the coast district--forests as beautiful and impressive as any in the world.  One State park of thirty-eight hundred acres in the Big Basin of the Santa Cruz Mountains is already saved, but aside from this the entire stretch of redwood forests is at the mercy of the lumbermen.  There should be a chain of such parks up the coast to the Oregon boundary, lest our children grow up to curse us for our sinful neglect of them.  San Francisco, awakened, aroused, building, reaching out, must not be satisfied with accomplishing its own immediate ends, but must remember that it has children who are to inherit the world of its hands.

    *Mr. Charles F. Lummis in his brilliant serial, "The Right Hand of the Continent," in Out West for October, gives the following summary of California's production of sugar:
    "It sends out 40,000 tons of beet sugar, an increase of fortyfold in seventeen years.  Leaving out Louisiana, California produces more sugar by ten per cent that all the rest of the Union combined--more than the other beet-growers, the Texas and Florida cane, the Kansas sorghum, the maple sweets of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota."



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