This etext was produced by David A. Schwan
This is a recast of a newspaper article of the same title published in
The Sun April 21, 1906, three days after the Visitation came upon San
Francisco. It is here published by special permission of The Sun. For
the title, I am indebted to Franklin Matthews. W.I.
The City That Was
A requiem of Old San Francisco
By Will Irwin
"I'd rather be a busted lamp post on Battery Street, San Francisco,
than the Waldorf-Astoria." - Willie Britt.
The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest hearted, most
pleasure loving city of the western continent, and in many ways the most
interesting and romantic, is a horde of refugees living among ruins. It
may rebuild; it probably will; but those who have known that peculiar
city by the Golden Gate, have caught its flavor of the Arabian Nights,
feel that it can never be the same. It is as though a pretty, frivolous
woman had passed through a great tragedy. She survives, but she is
sobered and different. If it rises out of the ashes it must be a modern
city, much like other cities and without its old atmosphere.
San Francisco lay on a series of hills and the lowlands between. These
hills are really the end of the Coast Range of mountains, which stretch
southward between the interior valleys and the Pacific Ocean. Behind it
is the ocean; but the greater part of the town fronts on two sides on
San Francisco Bay, a body of water always tinged with gold from the
great washings of the mountain, usually overhung with a haze, and of
magnificent color changes. Across the bay to the north lies Mount
Tamalpais, about 3,000 feet high, and so close that ferries from the
waterfront take one in less than half an hour to the little towns of
Sausalito and Belvidere, at its foot.
Tamalpais is a wooded mountain, with ample slopes, and from it on the
north stretch away ridges of forest land, the outposts of the great
Northern woods of Sequoia sempervirens. This mountain and the
mountainous country to the south bring the real forest closer to San
Francisco than to any other American city. Within the last few years men
have killed deer on the slopes of Tamalpais and looked down to see the
cable cars crawling up the hills of San Francisco to the south. In the
suburbs coyotes still stole in and robbed hen roosts by night. The
people lived much out of doors. There is no time of the year, except a
short part of the rainy season, when the weather keeps one from the
fields. The slopes of Tamalpais are crowded with little villas dotted
through the woods, and these minor estates run far up into the redwood
country. The deep coves of Belvidere, sheltered by the wind from
Tamalpais, held a colony of "arks" or houseboats, where people lived in
the rather disagreeable summer months, coming over to business every day
by ferry. Everything there invites out of doors.
The climate of California is peculiar; it is hard to give an impression
of it. In the region about San Francisco, all the forces of nature work
on their own laws. There is no thunder and lightning; there is no snow,
except a flurry once in five or six years; there are perhaps half a
dozen nights in the winter when the thermometer drops low enough so that
in the morning there is a little film of ice on exposed water. Neither
is there any hot weather. Yet most Easterners remaining in San Francisco
for a few days remember that they were always chilly.
For the Gate is a big funnel, drawing in the winds and the mists which
cool off the great, hot interior valleys of the San Joaquin and
Sacramento. So the west wind blows steadily ten months of the year; and
almost all the mornings are foggy. This keeps the temperature steady at
about 55 degrees - a little cool for the comfort of an unacclimated
person, especially indoors. Californians, used to it, hardly ever think
of making fires in their houses except in a few days of the winter
season, and then they rely mainly upon fireplaces. This is like the
custom of the Venetians and the Florentines.
Give an Easterner six months of it, however, and he, too, learns to
exist without chill in a steady temperature a little lower than that to
which he was accustomed at home. After that one goes about with perfect
indifference to the temperature. Summer and winter, San Francisco women
wear light tailor-made clothes, and men wear the same fall-weight suits
all the year around. There is no such thing as a change of clothing for
the seasons. And after becoming acclimated these people find it hard to
bear the changes from hot to cold in the normal regions of the earth.
Perhaps once in two or three years there comes a day when there is no
fog, no wind, and a high temperature in the coast district. Then follows
hot weather, perhaps up in the eighties, and Californians grumble,
swelter and rustle for summer clothes. These rare hot days are the only
times when one sees women in light dresses on the streets of San
Along in early May the rains cease. At that time everything is green and
bright, and the great golden poppies, as large as the saucer of an
after-dinner coffee cup, are blossoming everywhere. Tamalpais is green
to its top; everything is washed and bright. By late May a yellow tinge
is creeping over the hills. This is followed by a golden June and a
brown July and August. The hills are burned and dry. The fog comes in
heavily, too; and normally this is the most disagreeable season of the
year. September brings a day or two of gentle rain; and then a change,
as sweet and mysterious as the breaking of spring in the East, passes
over the hills. The green grows through the brown and the flowers begin
to come out.
As a matter of fact, the unpleasantness of summer is modified by the
certainty that one can go anywhere without fear of rain. And in all the
coast mountains, especially the seaward slopes, the dews and the shelter
of the giant underbrush hold the water, so that these areas are green
and pleasant all summer.
In a normal year the rains begin to fall heavily in November; there will
be three or four days of steady downpour and then a clear and green
week. December is also likely to be rainy; and in this month people
enjoy the sensation of gathering for Christmas the mistletoe which grows
profusely on the live oaks, while the poppies are beginning to blossom
at their feet. By the end of January the gentle rains come lighter. In
the long spaces between these winter storms, there is a temperature and
a feeling in the air much like that of Indian summer in the East.
January is the month when the roses are at their brightest.
So much for the strange climate, which invites out of doors and which
has played its part in making the character of the people. The externals
of the city are - or were, for they are no more - just as curious. One
usually entered San Francisco by way of the Bay. Across its yellow
flood, covered with the fleets from the strange seas of the Pacific, San
Francisco presented itself in a hill panorama. Probably no other city of
the world, excepting perhaps Naples, could be so viewed at first sight.
It rose above the passenger, as he reached dockage, in a succession of
hill terraces. At one side was Telegraph Hill, the end of the peninsula,
a height so abrupt that it had a one hundred and fifty foot sheer cliff
on its seaward frontage. Further along lay Nob Hill, crowned with the
Mark Hopkins mansion, which had the effect of a citadel, and in later
years by the great, white Fairmount. Further along was Russian Hill, the
highest point. Below was the business district, whose low site caused
all the trouble.
Except for the modern buildings, the fruit of the last ten years, the
town presented at first sight a disreputable appearance. Most of the
buildings were low and of wood. In the middle period of the '70's, when,
a great part of San Francisco was building, the newly-rich perpetrated
some atrocious architecture. In that time, too every one put bow windows
on his house to catch all of the morning sunlight that was coming
through the fog; and those little houses, with bow windows and fancy
work all down their fronts, were characteristic of the middle class
Then the Italians, who tumbled over Telegraph Hill, had built as they
listed and with little regard for streets, and their houses hung crazily
on a side hill which was little less than a precipice. The Chinese,
although they occupied an abandoned business district, had remade their
dwellings Chinese fashion, and the Mexicans and Spaniards had added to
their houses those little balconies without which life is not life to a
Yet the most characteristic thing after all was the coloring. The sea
fog had a trick of painting every exposed object a sea gray which had a
tinge of dull green in it. This, under the leaden sky of a San Francisco
morning, had a depressing effect on first sight and afterward became a
delight to the eye. For the color was soft, gentle and infinitely
attractive in mass.
The hills are steep beyond conception. Where Vallejo street ran up
Russian Hill it progressed for four blocks by regular steps like a
flight of stairs. It is unnecessary to say that no teams ever came up
this street or any other like it, and grass grew long among the paving
stones until the Italians who live thereabouts took advantage of this
herbage to pasture a cow or two. At the end of four blocks, the pavers
had given it up and the last stage to the summit was a winding path. On
the very top, a colony of artists lived in little villas of houses whose
windows got the whole panorama of the bay. Luckily for these people, a
cable car scaled the hill on the other side, so that it was not much of
a climb to home.
With these hills, with the strangeness of the architecture and with the
green-gray tinge over everything, the city fell always into vistas and
pictures, a setting for the romance which hung over everything, which
has always hung over life in San Francisco since the padres came and
gathered the Indians about Mission Dolores.
And it was a city of romance and a gateway to adventure. It opened out
on the mysterious Pacific, the untamed ocean; and through the Golden
Gate entered China, Japan, the South Sea Islands, Lower California, the
west coast of Central America, Australia. There was a sprinkling, too,
of Alaska and Siberia. From his windows on Russian Hill one saw always
something strange and suggestive creeping through the mists of the bay.
It would be a South Sea Island brig, bringing in copra, to take out
cottons and idols; a Chinese junk after sharks' livers; an old whaler,
which seemed to drip oil, home from a year of cruising in the Arctic.
Even the tramp windjammers were deep-chested craft, capable of rounding
the Horn or of circumnavigating the globe; and they came in streaked and
picturesque from their long voyaging.
In the orange colored dawn which always comes through the mists of that
bay, the fishing fleet would crawl in under triangular lateen sails; for
the fishermen of San Francisco Bay are all Neapolitans who have brought
their customs and sail with lateen rigs stained an orange brown and
shaped, when the wind fills them, like the ear of a horse.
Along the waterfront the people of these craft met. "The smelting pot of
the races," Stevenson called it; and this was always the city of his
soul. There were black Gilbert Islanders, almost indistinguishable from
negroes; lighter Kanakas from Hawaii or Samoa; Lascars in turbans;
thickset Russian sailors, wild Chinese with unbraided hair; Italian
fishermen in tam o' shanters, loud shirts and blue sashes; Greeks,
Alaska Indians, little bay Spanish-Americans, together with men of all
the European races. These came in and out from among the queer craft, to
lose themselves in the disreputable, tumble-down, but always mysterious
shanties and small saloons. In the back rooms of these saloons South Sea
Island traders and captains, fresh from the lands of romance, whaling
masters, people who were trying to get up treasure expeditions,
filibusters, Alaskan miners, used to meet and trade adventures.
There was another element, less picturesque and equally characteristic,
along the waterfront. San Francisco was the back eddy of European
civilization - one end of the world. The drifters came there and
stopped, lingered a while to live by their wits in a country where
living after a fashion has always been marvellously cheap. These people
haunted the waterfront and the Barbary Coast by night, and lay by day on
the grass in Portsmouth Square.
The square, the old plaza about which the city was built, Spanish
fashion, had seen many things. There in the first burst of the early
days the vigilance committee used to hold its hangings. There, in the
time of the sand lot troubles, Dennis Kearney, who nearly pulled the
town down about his ears, used to make his orations which set the unruly
to rioting. In later years Chinatown lay on one side of it and the Latin
quarter and the "Barbary Coast" on the other.
On this square the drifters lay all day long and told strange yams.
Stevenson lounged there with them in his time and learned the things
which he wove into "The Wrecker" and his South Sea stories; and now in
the centre of the square there stands the beautiful Stevenson monument.
In later years the authorities put up a municipal building on one side
of this square and prevented the loungers, for decency's sake, from
lying on the grass. Since then some of the peculiar character of the old
plaza has gone.
The Barbary Coast was a loud bit of hell. No one knows who coined the
name. The place was simply three blocks of solid dance halls, there for
the delight of the sailors of the world. On a fine busy night every door
blared loud dance music from orchestras, steam pianos and gramaphones,
and the cumulative effect of the sound which reached the street was
chaos and pandemonium. Almost anything might be happening behind the
swinging doors. For a fine and picturesque bundle of names
characteristic of the place, a police story of three or four years ago
is typical. Hell broke out in the Eye Wink Dance Hall. The trouble was
started by a sailor known as Kanaka Pete, who lived in the What Cheer
House, over a woman known as Iodoform Kate. Kanaka Pete chased the man
he had marked to the Little Silver Dollar, where he halted and punctured
him. The by-product of his gun made some holes in the front of the Eye
Wink, which were proudly kept as souvenirs, and were probably there
until it went out in the fire. This was low life, the lowest of the low.
Until the last decade almost anything except the commonplace and the
expected might happen to a man on the waterfront. The cheerful industry
of shanghaing was reduced to a science. A citizen taking a drink in one
of the saloons which hung out over the water might be dropped through
the floor into a boat, or he might drink with a stranger and wake in the
forecastle of a whaler bound for the Arctic. Such an incident is the
basis of Frank Norris's novel, "Moran of the Lady Letty," and although
the novel draws it pretty strong, it is not exaggerated. Ten years ago
the police, the Sailors' Union, and the foreign consuls, working
together, stopped all this.
Kearney street, a wilder and stranger Bowery, was the main thoroughfare
of these people. An exiled Californian, mourning over the city of his
heart, has said:
"In a half an hour of Kearney street I could raise a dozen men for any
wild adventure, from pulling down a statue to searching for the Cocos
Island treasure." This is hardly an exaggeration. it was the Rialto of
the desperate, Street of the Adventurers.
These are a few of the elements which made the city strange and gave it
the glamour of romance which has so strongly attracted such men as
Stevenson, Frank Norris and Kipling. This life of the floating
population lay apart from the regular life of the city, which was
distinctive in itself.
The Californian is the second generation of a picked and mixed ancestry.
The merry, the adventurous, often the desperate, always the brave,
deserted the South and New England in 1849 to rush around the Horn or to
try the perils of the plains. They found there a land already grown old
in the hands of the Spaniards - younger sons of hidalgo and many of them
of the best blood of Spain. To a great extent the pioneers intermarried
with Spanish women; in fact, except for a proud little colony here and
there, the old, aristocratic Spanish blood is sunk in that of the
conquering race. Then there was an influx of intellectual French people,
largely overlooked in the histories of the early days; and this Latin
leaven has had its influence.
Brought up in a bountiful country, where no one really has to work very
hard to live, nurtured on adventure, scion of a free and merry stock,
the real, native Californian is a distinctive type; as far from the
Easterner in psychology as the extreme Southerner is from the Yankee. He
is easy going, witty, hospitable, lovable, inclined to be unmoral rather
than immoral in his personal habits, and easy to meet and to know.
Above all there is an art sense all through the populace which sets it
off from any other population of the country. This sense is almost Latin
in its strength, and the Californian owes it to the leaven of Latin
blood. The true Californian lingers in the north; for southern
California has been built up by "lungers" from the East and middle West
and is Eastern in character and feeling.
Almost has the Californian developed a racial physiology. He tends to
size, to smooth symmetry of limb and trunk, to an erect, free carriage;
and the beauty of his women is not a myth. The pioneers were all men of
good body, they had to be to live and leave descendants. The bones of
the weaklings who started for El Dorado in 1849 lie on the plains or in
the hill-cemeteries of the mining camps. Heredity began it; climate has
carried it on. All things that grow in California tend to become large,
plump, luscious. Fruit trees, grown from cuttings of Eastern stock,
produce fruit larger and finer, if coarser in flavor, than that of the
parent tree. As the fruits grow, so the children grow. A normal,
healthy, Californian woman plays out-of-doors from babyhood to old age.
The mixed stock has given her that regularity of features which goes
with a blend of bloods; the climate has perfected and rounded her
figure; out-of-doors exercise from earliest youth has given her a deep
bosom; the cosmetic mists have made her complexion soft and brilliant.
At the University of California, where the student body is nearly all
native, the gymnasium measurements show that the girls are a little more
than two inches taller than their sisters of Vassar and Michigan.
The greatest beauty-show on the continent was the Saturday afternoon
matinee parade in San Francisco. Women in so-called "society" took no
part in this function. It belonged to the middle class, but the "upper
classes" have no monopoly of beauty anywhere in the world. It had grown
to be independent of the matinees. From two o'clock to half-past five, a
solid procession of Dianas, Hebes and Junos passed and repassed along
the five blocks between Market and Powell and Sutter and Kearney - the
"line" of San Francisco slang. Along the open-front cigar stores,
characteristic of the town, gilded youth of the cocktail route gathered
in knots to watch them. There was something Latin in the spirit of this
ceremony - it resembled church parade in Buenos Ayres. Latin, too, were
the gay costumes of the women, who dressed brightly in accord with the
city and the climate. This gaiety of costume was the first thing which
the Eastern woman noticed - and disapproved. Give her a year, and she,
too, would be caught by the infection of daring dress.
In this parade of tall, deep bosomed, gleaming women, one caught the
type and longed, sometimes for the sight of a more ethereal beauty - for
the suggestion of soul within which belongs to a New England woman on
whom a hard soil has bestowed a grudged beauty - for the mobility, the
fire, which belongs to the Frenchwoman. The second generation of France
was in this crowd, it is true; but climate and exercise had grown above
their spiritual charm a cover of brilliant flesh. It was the beauty of
With such a people, life was always gay. If the fairly Parisian gaiety
did not display itself on the streets, except in the matinee parade, it
was because the winds made open-air cafes disagreeable at all seasons of
the year. The life careless went on indoors or in the hundreds of pretty
estates - "ranches" the Californians called them - which fringe the
San Francisco was famous for its restaurants and cafes. Probably they
were lacking at the top; probably the very best, for people who do not
care how they spend their money, was not to be had. But they gave the
best fare on earth, for the price, at a dollar, seventy-five cents, a
half a dollar, or even fifteen cents.
If one should tell exactly what could be had at Coppa's for fifty cents
or at the Fashion for, say thirty-five, no New Yorker who has not been
there would believe it. The San Francisco French dinner and the San
Francisco free lunch were as the Public Library to Boston or the stock
yards to Chicago. A number of causes contributed to this. The country
all about produced everything that a cook needs and that in abundance -
the bay was an almost untapped fishing pound, the fruit farms came up to
the very edge of the town, and the surrounding country produced in
abundance fine meats, game, all cereals and all vegetables.
But the chefs who came from France in the early days and stayed because
they liked this land of plenty were the head and front of it. They
passed on their art to other Frenchmen or to the clever Chinese. Most of
the French chefs at the biggest restaurants were born in Canton, China.
Later the Italians, learning of this country where good food is
appreciated, came and brought their own style. Householders always dined
out one or two nights of the week, and boarding houses were scarce, for
the unattached preferred the restaurants.
The eating was usually better than the surroundings. Meals that were
marvels were served in tumbledown little hotels. Most famous of all the
restaurants was the Poodle Dog. There have been no less than four
establishments of this name, beginning with a frame shanty where, in the
early days, a prince of French cooks used to exchange ragouts for gold
dust. Each succeeding restaurant of the name has moved further downtown;
and the recent Poodle Dog stands - stands or stood; one mixes his tenses
queerly in writing of this city which is and yet is no more - on the
edge of the Tenderloin in a modern five story building. And it typified
a certain spirit that there was in San Francisco.
For on the ground floor was a public restaurant where there was served
the best dollar dinner on earth. At least, if not the best it ranked
with the best, and the others were in San, Francisco. There, especially
on Sunday night, almost everyone went to vary the monotony of home
cooking. Everyone who was anyone in the town could be seen there off and
on. It was perfectly respectable. A man might take his wife and daughter
to the Poodle Dog.
On the second floor there were private dining rooms, and to dine there,
with one or more of the opposite sex, was risque but not especially
terrible. But the third floor - and the fourth floor - and the fifth!
The elevator man of the Poodle Dog, who had held the job for many years
and who never spoke unless spoken to, wore diamonds and was a heavy
investor in real estate. There were others as famous in their way - the
Zinkand, where, at one time, every one went after the theatre, and
Tate's, which has lately bitten into that trade; the Palace Grill, much
like the grills of Eastern hotels, except for the price; Delmonico's,
which ran the Poodle Dog neck and neck to its own line; and many others,
humbler but great at the price.
Listen! O ye starved amidst plenty, to the tale of the Hotel de France.
This restaurant stood on California street, just east of Old St. Mary's
Church. One could throw a biscuit from its back windows into Chinatown.
It occupied a big ramshackle house, which had been a mansion of the gold
days. Louis, the proprietor, was a Frenchman of the Bas Pyrenees; and
his accent was as thick as his peasant soups. The patrons were Frenchmen
of the poorer class, or young and poor clerks and journalists who had
discovered the delights of his hostelry. The place exhuded a genial
gaiety, of which Louis, throwing out familiar jokes to right and left as
he mixed salads and carried dishes, was the head and front.
First on the bill of fare was the soup mentioned before - thick and
clean and good. Next, one of Louis' three cherubic little sons brought
on a course of fish - sole, rock cod, flounders or smelt - with a good
French sauce. The third course was meat. This came on en bloc; the
waiter dropped in the centre of each table a big roast or boiled joint
together with a mustard pot and two big dishes of vegetables. Each guest
manned the carving knife in turn and helped himself to his satisfaction.
After that, Louis, with an air of ceremony, brought on a big bowl of
excellent salad which he had mixed himself. For beverage, there stood by
each plate a perfectly cylindrical pint glass filled with new, watered
claret. The meal closed with "fruit in season" - all that the guest
cared to eat. I have saved a startling fact to close the paragraph - the
price was fifteen cents!
If one wanted black coffee he paid five cents extra, and Louis brought
on a beer glass full of it. Why he threw in wine and charged extra for
after-dinner coffee was one of Louis' professional secrets.
Adulterated food at that price? Not a bit of it! The olive oil in the
salad was pure, California product - why adulterate when he could get it
so cheaply? The wine, too, was above reproach, for Louis made it
himself. Every autumn, he brought tons and tons of cheap Mission grapes,
set up a wine press in his back yard, and had a little, festival vintage
of his own. The fruit was small, and inferior, but fresh, and Louis
himself, in speaking of his business, said that he wished his guests
would eat nothing but fruit, it came so cheap.
The city never went to bed. There was no closing law, so that the
saloons kept open nights and Sundays at their own sweet will. Most of
the cafes elected to remain open until 2 o'clock in the morning at
This restaurant life, however does not express exactly the careless,
pleasure-loving character of the people. In great part their pleasures
were simple, inexpensive and out of doors. No people were fonder of
expeditions into the country, of picnics - which might be brought off at
almost any season of the year - and of long tours in the great mountains
Hospitality was nearly a vice. As in the early mining days, if they
liked the stranger the people took him in. At the first meeting the San
Francisco man had him put up at the club; at the second, he invited him
home to dinner. As long as the stranger stayed he was being invited to
week end parties at ranches, to little dinners in this or that
restaurant and to the houses of his new acquaintances, until his
engagements grew beyond hope of fulfilment. Perhaps there was rather too
much of this kind of thing. At the end of a fortnight a visitor with a
pleasant smile and a good story left the place a wreck. This tendency
ran through all grades of society - except, perhaps, the sporting people
who kept the tracks and the fighting game alive. These also met the
stranger - and also took him in.
Centres of man hospitality were the clubs, especially the famous
Bohemian and the Family. The latter was an offshot of the Bohemian; and
it had been growing fast and vieing with the older organization for the
honor of entertaining pleasing and distinguished visitors.
The Bohemian Club, whose real founder is said to have been the late
Henry George, was formed in the '70s by newspaper writers and men
working in the arts or interested in them. It had grown to a membership
of 750. It still kept for its nucleus painters, writers, musicians and
actors, amateur and professional. They were a gay group of men, and
hospitality was their avocation. Yet the thing which set this club off
from all others in the world was the midsummer High Jinks.
The club owns a fine tract of redwood forest fifty miles north of San
Francisco on the Russian River. There are two varieties of big trees in
California: the Sequoia gigantea and the Sequoia sempervirens. The great
trees of the Mariposa grove belong to the gigantea species. The
sempervirens, however, reaches the diameter of 16 feet, and some of the
greatest trees of this species are in the Bohemian Club grove. It lies
in a cleft of the mountains: and up one hillside there runs a natural
out of doors stage of remarkable acoustic properties.
In August the whole Bohemian Club, or such as could get away from
business, went up to this grove and camped out for two weeks. On the
last night they put on the Jinks proper, a great spectacle in praise of
the forest with poetic words, music and effects done by the club. In
late years this has been practically a masque or an opera. It cost about
$10,000. It took the spare time of scores of men for weeks; yet these
750 business men, professional men, artists, newspaper workers,
struggled for the honor of helping out on the Jinks; and the whole thing
was done naturally and with reverence. It would not be possible anywhere
else in this country; the thing which made it possible was the art
spirit which is in the Californian. It runs in the blood.
"Who's Who in America" is long on the arts and on learning and
comparatively weak in business and the professions. Now some one who has
taken the trouble has found that more persons mentioned in "Who's Who"
by the thousand of the population were born in Massachusetts, than in
any other state; but that Massachusetts is crowded closely by
California, with the rest nowhere. The institutions of learning in
Massachusetts account for her pre-eminence; the art spirit does it for
California. The really big men nurtured on California influence are few,
perhaps; but she has sent out an amazing number of good workers in
painting, in authorship, in music and especially in acting.
"High society" in San Francisco had settled down from the rather wild
spirit of the middle period; it had come to be there a good deal as it
is elsewhere. There was much wealth; and the hills of the western
addition were growing up with fine mansions. Outside of the city, at
Burlingame, there was a fine country club centering a region of country
estates which stretched out to Menlo Park. This club had a good polo
team, which played every year with teams of Englishmen from southern
California and even with teams from Honolulu.
The foreign quarters are worth an article in themselves. Chief of these
was, of course, Chinatown, of which every one has heard who ever heard
of San Francisco. A district six blocks long and two blocks wide, housed
30,000 Chinese when the quarter was full. The dwellings were old
business blocks of the early days; but the Chinese had added to them,
had rebuilt them, had run out their own balconies and entrances, and had
given the quarter that feeling of huddled irregularity which makes all
Chinese built dwellings fall naturally into pictures. Not only this;
they had burrowed to a depth of a story or two under the ground, and
through this ran passages in which the Chinese transacted their dark and
devious affairs - as the smuggling of opium, the traffic in slave girls
and the settlement of their difficulties.
In the last five years there was less of this underground life than
formerly, for the Board of Health had a cleanup some time ago; but it
was still possible to go from one end of Chinatown to the other through
secret underground passages. The tourist, who always included Chinatown
in his itinerary, saw little of the real quarter. The guides gave him a
show by actors hired for his benefit. In reality the place amounted to a
great deal in a financial way. There were clothing and cigar factories
of importance, and much of the Pacific rice, tea and silk importing was
in the hands of the merchants, who numbered several millionaires.
Mainly, however, it was a Tenderloin for the house servants of the city
- for the San Francisco Chinaman was seldom a laundryman; he was too
much in demand at fancy prices as a servant.
The Chinese lived their own lives in their own way and settled their own
quarrels with the revolvers of their highbinders. There were two
theatres in the quarter, a number of rich joss houses, three newspapers
and a Chinese telephone exchange. There is a race feeling against the
Chinese among the working people of San Francisco, and no white man,
except the very lowest outcasts, lived in the quarter.
On the slopes of Telegraph Hill dwelt the Mexicans and Spanish, in low
houses, which they had transformed by balconies into a semblance of
Spain. Above, and streaming over the hill, were the Italians. The
tenement quarter of San Francisco shone by contrast with those of
Chicago and New York, for while these people lived in old and humble
houses they had room to breathe and an eminence for light and air. Their
shanties clung to the side of the hill or hung on the very edge of the
precipice overlooking the bay, on the verge of which a wall kept their
babies from falling. The effect was picturesque, and this hill was the
delight of painters. It was all more like Italy than anything in the
Italian quarter of New York and Chicago - the very climate and
surroundings, the wine country close at hand, the bay for their lateen
boats, helped them.
Over by the ocean and surrounded by cemeteries in which there are no
more burials, there is an eminence which is topped by two peaks and
which the Spanish of the early days named after the breasts of a woman.
The unpoetic Americans had renamed it Twin Peaks. At its foot was
Mission Dolores, the last mission planted by the Spanish padres in their
march up the coast, and from these hills the Spanish looked for the
first time upon the golden bay.
Many years ago some one set up at the summit of this peak a sixty foot
cross of timber. Once a high wind blew it down, and the women of the
Fair family then had it restored so firmly that it would resist
anything. It has risen for fifty years above the gay, careless,
luxuriant and lovable city, in full view from every eminence and from
every valley. It stands tonight, above the desolation of ruins.
The bonny, merry city - the good, gray city - O that one who has mingled
the wine of her bounding life with the wine of his youth should live to
write the obituary of Old San Francisco!