San Francisco History

Streets of San Francisco
by E. G. Fitzhamon

The Streets of San Francisco
Union Square No. 2

[photograph not included here]

Photograph of banner presented by the Ladies of Trinity Church to the Vigilance Committee of 1851.


Union Square’s Post street side had become a notable block fairly early in San Francisco’s history, and continued to do so.

At Post and Powell for many years stood Trinity Episcopal Church, which afforded quite a crinoline-bonnet fashion show at its outpouring in Union Square when a Sunday’s morning service had been concluded.

It was predecessor to the church now for some years at Bush and Gough.

Also it was successor to an earlier Trinity Church, organized in 1849, that had stood on north side of Pine street, between Kearny and Montgomery.

Ladies of that earliest Trinity Church were so strong in support of the Vigilantes of 1851 and their determined crusade against the “Sidney Coves” and other ex-convicts and ruffians that infested young San Francisco that they presented the Vigilance committee with a handsome banner.

Of heavy blue satin with gilt lettering and decorations, this banner was 7 feet 8 inches in length by 5 feet in width.

Its wreaths of gilt oak and fig and olive leaves were intended to be emblematic of virile strength of the vigilantes, of the homes that they had protected and of the peace that had followed their suppression of crime by publicly hanging murderers and driving other villainous malefactors out of town.

Next to Union Square’s Trinity Church there stood for a good many years the First Regiment Armory, C. N. G. It was of brick and stone, semi-Tudor in architecture and a noted building in its day.

Facing Union Square gave additional emphasis to its embattled front.

Next east of the Armory was Redmen’s Hall, a frame building and rather plain in contrast.

On the Post and Stockton corner, where the Plaza Hotel is, was the Walkerlee office building, for erection of which several earlier homes had to give way. It was owned by William Walkerlee, a Philadelphia financier.

When the Union Club and the Pacific Club had been merged into the Pacific Union many years ago, the latter leased the entire top floor of that Walkerlee building for its clubrooms. The building was destroyed in the conflagration of 1906. After which the club took over the gutted Flood mansion on Nob Hill.

When San Francisco was in ruins a large frame building was erected temporarily in Union Square for lodgement of permanent guests of Hotel St. Francis.

It soon became known about town as “Little St. Francis.”

In that building in Union Square, William J. Biggy, when appointed “elisor” of Abe Ruef’s person during the graft prosecution excitement, lodged the little schemer and lived there with him for safekeeping, though the latter seemed hardly necessary, because Ruef was “out on bail”—about $600,000 worth of bail, it was said.

Biggy, when chief of San Francisco Police Department, was drowned mysteriously in the bay, between Belvedere and the Embarcadero, shortly before midnight of November 30, 1908. It was a dark night.

Ten days later the bay’s swirling currents gave up his body in the ferryboats’ wake off Goat Island.

This writer saw it brought ashore, not far from the little wooden Harbor Emergency Hospital that for a few years was perched on edge of the then open water front, and observed a dark mark across one side of the forehead.

This tragedy never was solved satisfactorily. Its mystery was added to thirty months later when the engineer of the police patrol boat on which Biggy had visited Police Commissioner Hugo Keil at Belvedere, became a maniac and in his ravings exclaimed:

“I don’t know who did it; but I swear to God I didn’t.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 19 September 1928, page 7.


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