Web Text-ures Logo

Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2006

(Return to Web Text-ures)

Click Here to return to
Highways and Byways of California
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter

Kellscraft Studio Logo
 (HOME)   


 
VIII
AROUND THE GOLDEN GATE

THE situation of San Francisco makes it a logical metropolis. It has one of the largest harbors in the world, and there is no other that can in the least rival this between San Diego and Puget Sound. Besides, the bay and its rivers give an admirable opportunity for extensive and cheap water commerce inland, and the great fertile valleys which open away toward the interior are naturally tributary to the city that guards the Golden Gate. The city is built on about a dozen hills which add greatly to its picturesqueness. It turns its back on the sea, and its wharves front the bay easterly. The name which designates the passage from the Pacific into the harbor was applied by Fremont in 1848, and has nothing to do with the gold-bearing districts. “Golden” referred to the fertility of the country on the shores of the bay.

Looking from the Fishermen's Wharf toward the Golden Gate

The settlement of the place dates back to 1776 when the Franciscan Friars established a Mission here. The Mission was in the center of the peninsula, half way between the sea and the harbor. For over fifty years it was the nucleus of quite a village, and the community in its prime had a population of five hundred Indians and Mexicans. Another settlement was presently established on the shore of the bay for commercial purposes and came to have a considerable trade in hides and tallow.

In January, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold while digging a ditch for a sawmill about forty-five miles northeast of Sacramento. This caused tremendous excitement in San Francisco and two thirds of the population left for the new region of promise. Lots in the city sold for one half what they were worth a month before; but the necessities of life began to get scarce in the gold camps, and some of the miners returned to San Francisco and prepared to profit through the rapid increase of business that was sure to come. The large finds of gold in the interior brought an inrush of newcomers and the population early in 1849 was two thousand. By July it was five thousand, and this number doubled the following year. Between April and December 1849 over five hundred vessels arrived bringing thirty-five thousand passengers. As many more immigrants came overland; but the great majority found their way with little delay to the mines. Such was the eagerness to share in the golden fortune that scores of vessels lay in the harbor unable to proceed farther for want of sailors because the crews had deserted in a body almost as soon as the anchors were dropped. Some of these vessels eventually rotted where they were moored. Others were hauled up on the beach to serve as storehouses, lodging-houses and saloons. For a long time several of them, flanked by buildings and wharves, and forming part of a street, were original features of the town.

Money in the period of sudden growth was scarce, and gold dust was the principal medium of exchange. During 1848 the monthly yield of gold in California averaged three hundred thousand dollars, in 1849 a million and a half, in 1850 three million. Prices of labor and all supplies were very high. Flour was forty dollars a barrel, butter ninety cents a pound, a loaf of bread fifty cents, a hard boiled egg one dollar. A tin pan or a wooden bowl cost five dollars, and a pick or a shovel ten dollars. But laborers received a dollar an hour, and in spite of the cost of living everybody made money.

Bayard Taylor who visited San Francisco at this time says that, “Around the curve of the bay hundreds of tents and houses appeared, scattered all over the heights and along the shore for more than a mile. On every side stood buildings begun or half finished, and the greater part of them were canvas sheds open in front, and with signs in all languages. Great quantities of goods were piled in the open air for want of a place to store them. The streets were full of people hurrying to and fro, and of as diverse and bizarre a character as the houses.”

The winter season of 1849 and 1850 was very rainy, and the streets, which had not as yet been either graded or paved, became simply impassable. In many places wagons would sink to the wheel-hubs, and the animals were sometimes so deeply mired they could not be extricated and were left to die where they were. Trees and shrubbery and boxes and barrels of goods were thrown into the streets to afford a passage-way.

The city continued its rapid growth, and by 1853 the population had increased to forty-two thousand. With the influx of treasure-seekers came a motley crowd of adventurers from all points on the Pacific Coast, Australia and the East, and many of them made a living by preying on their fellows. Gambling jumped into popular favor, and though stringent measures were adopted for its abatement they did not avail. Fortunes were made and lost in a single day, and many a miner who came from the interior to embark for his home, by trying to increase his fortune at the gaming table found himself penniless and obliged to return to the mines and begin all over.

There were parts of the city where even a policeman hardly dared to go, and night was made hideous with debauchery and assaults. During the early years of the city’s awakening many murders were committed by the desperadoes, yet no one was hanged for the crimes, and the courts became a byword. The situation was intolerable and in 1851 the famous Vigilance Committee was organized in the interests of law and order. This Committee within a month tried and hanged four men and banished thirty others, and the course pursued was universally upheld by public opinion. Conditions became normal and the Committee ceased its labors. But in 1856 crime had once more become rampant and the law impotent. The Vigilants reorganized and acted with the same vigor and with the same results as before, and there was again individual security and public order.

The history of San Francisco’s beginnings are extremely interesting to anyone who visits the city and these strange happenings and conditions form a fascinating background. They were constantly in my mind when I was there early in 1906 and added much to the significance of what I saw. For a place of its size I was surprised to find so much of it built of wood. Of course certain fine residences and many of the big business blocks were of material more permanent and substantial, but even in the commercial heart of the town wooden structures were plentiful, while in the residence sections redwood dwellings were almost universal. I wondered what would happen if a big fire got started, and mentioned this thought to a native. He, however, assured me that I need have no apprehension on that score; for they had the finest fire department in the world, and no fire could get beyond control.

A glimpse of the shipping

Another feature of the city that engaged my attention was its weather. Someone had told me that, “with its rains and fogs and rough winds San Francisco has about the meanest climate that ever a man set foot in.” I suppose there is a modicum of truth in the statement, but during my stay the weather was rather fine. If we had rain it came at night, and though there was often fog and gloom in the early morning the sun presently broke through. Then followed a period of dreamy calm, but later the wind came blustering in from the sea and for much of the afternoon blew with uncomfortable violence. This seemed to be the daily program.

The city’s fame as a seaport drew me early to the wharves. Everywhere here for miles were ships loading and unloading, and I found toil and din and smoke and dubious smells no matter whither I wandered. Against the sky was a dense forest of tapering masts with their network of rigging, and here and there were stout steamer funnels belching soot and fumes. The great drays banged and rattled along over the rough pavements, there was clanking of chains, the panting of engines, the shouts of men. Loafers strolled about or roosted on piles of boards and other chance seats, and children and sight-seers mingled with the rest of the crowds, all drawn by the allurement of the sea-going ships and the varied activity. It was a rude region, and the business buildings which fronted toward the wharves were dingy and forbidding. Saloons were predominant, and these endeavored to interest the public by the individuality of their names, as for instance, the North Pole, the Castle, the Tea Cup, Life Saving Station and Thirst Parlor, The Fair Wind, and Jim’s Place.

Whatever else the stranger in San Francisco missed seeing he was sure to visit the Chinese quarter. Here was an oriental community of fifteen thousand in the heart of the city. It occupied an area of about ten square blocks. No space was wasted, and besides the main thoroughfares there were many narrow byways running in all directions and lined with little places of business. Often the buildings were curiously ornamented and made resplendent with many-colored paints and big paper lanterns, but the majority were battered and aged and grimy.

The first Chinese to arrive in California came on the brig Eagle in February, 1848. They were two men and one woman. Within the next two years about five hundred came, and by 1852 there were eighteen thousand. Large numbers went direct to the mines where they worked for a few cents a day. The enmity aroused by their competition in the labor market resulted in exclusion laws, and latterly their numbers have been decreasing. Naturally, therefore, the racial bitterness which the Americans have felt toward the Mongolians is somewhat allayed. Yet harsh feeling is still to be encountered, and one man enlightened me thus:

“They ought to be kept out — every one of ‘em. Go to the farming country and watch how they manage on their ranches workin’ all the time, night and day, and Sundays, rain or shine. A white man has no show against them — not a particle. When it comes to disposing of what he raises, the Chinaman sells every time he starts out to make a trade. Ask him the price of a bunch of beets.

“‘Five cents,’ he says.

“‘Too much,’ you say.

“He picks up another bunch and says, ‘Here, two bunches for five cents today;’ and you take them.

“A Chinaman knows how to accumulate the cash. He will come into this country with nothing and go away with a bag of money as long as your arm.

“In the city they crowd into the smallest quarters and eat the cheapest food. Let them keep coming and they would take all the work and absorb all the wealth there is here; and we ain’t keepin” ‘em out either in spite of our laws. One way or another they are constantly sneaking in. Each Chinaman has to be photographed to identify him, but they all took alike, and if you catch one of those that have slipped in, he’ll show a photograph of some other Chinaman, and you can’t tell but that it is of him.

A main thoroughfare in Chinatown

“They are a thrifty people and an honest people, I’ll say that for them. They stand by their bargains and always pay when they say they’ll pay. I’d rather sell goods to a Chinese merchant than an American so far as finance goes. Some are millionaires. But they don’t help develop the country. They don’t invest here. All their money, sooner or later, goes back to China, and it’s a big drain. That ain’t where we’re goin’ to get hit the worst, though. The Chinese who do us the most harm are those that come to look around or to study. You see the Chinamen are cracker-jacks to imitate. Give ‘em the chance and they’d steal all our ideas about machinery and how to do things in a modern way. Then they’d go back to China and start their manufactories, and we wouldn’t be in it at all.

“There’s no other race to which there’s the same objection. Lots of Mexicans come in, and they’re kind of a mean, treacherous class that don’t like us any better than we like them; but they’re lazy and shiftless, and their competition don’t count. Then there’s Indians. I ain’t got no objection to them. The fact is they’re nearer of kin to us than the Chinese, a good sight. The world has only three race divisions. There’s the Caucasian, the Ethiopian and the Mongolian. The Indian ain’t a Mongolian, is he? and he ain’t an Ethiopian. So he must be a Caucasian.”

I found a few of the Chinatown shops large and fine, and the goods in them were often expensive, rare, and delightfully original and charming in design. But for the most part the shops were small and not by any means prepossessing. Usually they had open fronts, and much of the stock was displayed on the sidewalk, and the walks were also made use of for the conducting of many minor industries such as cobbling and tinkering. I loitered about for hours watching the strange scenes. The people with their yellow visages and unfamiliar garments looked as if they had been exhumed from some prehistoric past. The men mostly wore black or dark blue. Often the women wore these colors likewise, but a good many had clothing as gay as a rainbow, and so did the children. The women went about bareheaded and their garments consisted of large loose-fitting blouses with huge sleeves and a pair of trousers of equally generous proportions.

The inhabitants included some persons of refinement and learning, and a considerable number of keen and successful business men; but the larger part were of the lower class. This, I suppose, is the reason why the women usually had normal feet; yet once in a while I saw one stump along with feet that seemed to be nonexistent.

In various places were walls pasted over with hieroglyphic notices and bulletins, nearly all printed on red or yellow paper, and the passers often paused to read. There was always an absorbed group in front of a trinket stand where some colored Japanese battle pictures were displayed. No space in the buildings was wasted, and the occupants were much given to burrowing about underground. The filth of the basements had formerly been superlative; but of late, by order of the city, every cellar had been supplied with a cement floor. The shopkeepers seemed very busy, yet sometimes I would see one taking his ease and smoking his long pipe in contemplative peace and satisfaction, or I would see a group standing about a table at the back of their cavernous little place of business eating with their chop-sticks and drinking tea. Every butcher had an entire roasted hog hung up from which he cut portions as they were wanted. Some of the meat and dried fish and vegetables looked very uncanny. I often could not tell what the things were, but I did recognize on sale in one shop a chicken’s feet minus the skin.

Almost every kind of business was represented in Chinatown. They even had a bookstore, and they published a daily newspaper. Barbers’ shops were numerous, for every man had his head shaved about once a week; and when you looked into the tonsorial establishment you perhaps saw the barber making the job thorough by shaving the inside of the subject’s ears. One very busy alley was largely given up to the sale of fish. The stores were full of the finny merchandise, the narrow walks were almost covered, and numerous great shallow baskets spread with fish and crabs and clams were put on boxes along the curb at either side of the street.

I went into a joss-house. In the lower room was a group of men smoking (and gambling, so I was told). Up above was the room of worship, gorgeous, but tawdry. It was crowded with paraphernalia and well supplied with wooden images. Near by was a fine restaurant occupying an entire building. The furnishings were very aristocratic, and there was much carving and heavy oriental chairs and tables. It was run by a company of eight men, and their safe in one corner of an eating apartment had eight padlocks on it. Each partner carried the key to his individual padlock, and the safe could only be opened when all were present.

Another place I visited was the underground shop of an “inventor,” as he called himself. But his inventions were more curious than original. They were all rather rude mechanisms that did things of no particular use. One of the oddest was an arrangement for reading by candlelight. When you were through you let go of your book which was hitched to a string from above, and it was drawn up out of the way. At the same time the candle swung back and an extinguisher dropped over it.

A somewhat similar subterranean shop was occupied by a very old man who had two mimic theatres fastened to his wall crowded with actors, one-half life size. He would set the mechanism going and the figures would bob their heads and move their hands in a most unearthly manner. He also had a wonder-stone, a polished disc about eighteen inches across and with many smoky stains in the rock. The old man pointed out in the stains a great number of figures — men, women and animals; but it was seldom I would make out the things he said he saw.

There were pawn-shops in Chinatown, and in the windows you were sure to see, among other articles, several opium pipes. Opium is less used than formerly, but opium dens still existed, and I wandered into one of them. Its entrance was at the back of a gloomy hallway. Within was a large apartment having a double tier of platforms at the sides on which were heaps of blankets and a few Chinamen sleeping or smoking. One ancient was lying on his side and toasting a bit of opium on the end of a slender stick over a little lamp. Then he crowded it into the orifice of his pipe and puffed away. Another fellow was smoking a water-pipe — that is, drawing tobacco fumes through a one-inch tube, two feet long, filled with water. This individual showed me various small trinkets which he said were very cheap because they had been smuggled in from abroad by friends. The Chinaman is not very particular about obeying laws that he can evade. He even holds slaves — for one alley was pointed out where, behind barred windows, the women slaves of this strange foreign community were kept.

The view across San Francisco Bay to Mt. Tamalpais

My sojourn in San Francisco came to an end at length, and one evening in the early dusk I crossed the bay to go on by train to other regions. From the ferry-boat I looked back and saw the great city with its masts and towers and heights, gray and beautiful against the glow of the sunset sky. Lights were everywhere a-twinkle, and the beholder could not but be impressed with the greatness of the city — populous, rich, serene and powerful; and yet, one week later came the great earthquake and the fire that reduced this metropolis of the west coast to a blackened ruin.

NOTE. — The old San Francisco is no more, but the attraction of its situation will always remain, and the new tragedy in its stirring history adds greatly to the interest of the visitor. At about five o’clock of Wednesday morning, April 18, 1906, occurred the first great shock of that elemental calamity. It had been a beautiful night, and the Post-Lenten fever of society’s revels was at its height. That night the climax of the Grand Opera season had been reached in a magnificent performance, and never before had there been such enthusiasm in San Francisco’s musical world. The performance was only concluded at midnight, and then for hours the cafés had been gay with the laughter and discussions of the opera-goers. Even at the time of the great shock some of the revelers were still in the streets. There was a series of shuddering jerks and writhings of the earth, here and there a crash of falling walls, then a profound silence for several minutes. After that was heard the clangor of the gong on the cart of the fire chief as he dashed through the heart of the city. Broken gas-pipes had started fires; but worst of all, beneath the surface of the streets the water mains had been severed, and the city was doomed. Not until three days later did the conflagration burn itself out. Over four square miles of the city were gone utterly, and property to the value of more than a third of a billion dollars had been destroyed, and the larger portion of the inhabitants were homeless refugees in the public parks.

A new and more substantial city has risen from the ashes, and it continues, as before, to be the largest city on the Pacific Coast. It is at the north end of a long peninsula. On the west is the ocean and on the east is San Francisco Bay, 50 miles long and 10 miles wide. The city lies mainly on the shore of the Bay and on the steep hills that rise a little back from the water’s edge.

The Golden Gate which gives entrance from the sea to the Bay is one mile across. The Presidio, or Government Military Reservation, stretches along the Golden Gate for 4 miles. Daily drills of the troops stationed there are held from 9 to 11 A. M.

Beyond the Presidio, on the outermost portion of the peninsula that borders the Golden Gate, is the popular resort, Sutro Heights Park. A great attraction here is the view of the Seal Rocks. These rocks are three in number, conical in shape, and from 20 to 50 feet high, and only a stone’s throw from the land. On them huge sea-lions bask in the sun. Some of the creatures weigh over half a ton and are from 12 to 15 feet long. They are protected by law, and scores of them are always hovering about the rocks. Their evolutions in the water are very interesting, and their singular barking can be heard above the roar of the breakers. Near by are swimming pools and an aquarium.

A little to the south is Golden Gate Park with its fine lawns, serpentine drives, shady walks, gorgeous flowers, and groves of tropical or semi-tropical trees, and its wonderful collection of animals and birds.

One of the most interesting historical relics of the city is the old Mission Dolores at the corner of Dolores and 16th streets. The superstitious believe that it escaped by divine intervention the great fire which destroyed so much of the city. It dates from about 1778. The adobe walls are three feet thick, it has a tile roof, and the floor is of earth except near the altar. Adjoining it is a neglected little churchyard.

The Chinese Quarter has been rebuilt since the fire, and is still one of the most fascinating features of the city. It contains about 10,000 inhabitants, mostly men.

The San Francisco climate is notably equable, without extremes of either cold or heat. Nevertheless, visitors should always have warm wraps available, for strong chilling winds from the sea are frequent even in summer.

Beyond the Golden Gate, northward, rises Mt. Tamalpais, 2600 feet high. A scenic railroad climbs to its summit, whence can be had an excellent view of the entire bay region.

At Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco, is the University of California, with its extensive and picturesque grounds. It has over 3,000 students, one-third of whom are women. An unusual feature of its equipment is an open-air Greek theater, which accommodates 12,000 spectators, and is used for university meetings, commencement exercises, and concerts.

Automobile trips can be made from San Francisco in every direction. One of the best roads is that to Sacramento, the capital of the state, 136 miles distant. Perhaps an even pleasanter way to make this trip is to go by steamer up the Sacramento River. Orchards and gardens are almost continuous along the banks of the stream.

The motorist going south from San Francisco will find good dirt roads in the main, but in places they are very narrow, and have some sharp turns and steep grades. Thirty-four miles takes one to Palo Alto. The name means tall tree, and the great redwood which suggested the name still stands. Stanford University is the great attraction at Palo Alto. It has an endowment of $30,000,000, and its buildings in the Mission style of architecture, with long corridors and inner courts, are the finest possessed by any university in the world.

Twenty miles farther south, is San José in the center of the largest compact orchard on the globe, sheltered by the mountains roundabout from every asperity of land or sea. This is the starting-point for Lick Observatory, 26 miles away on Mt. Hamilton. Stages make the round trip in a day, allowing an hour’s stay on the mountain. The road is excellent, and the views are beautiful and ever-changing. The distance to the summit from the base of the mountain is only two miles in a direct line, but by the road it is seven miles. The road is said to make 365 bends in this upward climb. The observatory is one of the most notable in the world in point of situation, equipment, and achievement. Its great telescope has a 36-inch object glass. James Lick, whose gift of $700,000 built the observatory, is buried in the foundation pier of the telescope.

Continuing the journey southward from Palo Alto, we reach Santa Cruz, 91 miles from San Francisco. This is a favorite summer and winter resort, with an excellent bathing beach, fine cliffs, and good fishing. Six miles distant is a grove of big trees, about 20 of which have a diameter of over 10 feet. One of them attains a diameter of 23 feet. A large hollow tree is shown in which General Fremont camped for several days in 1847.

Somewhat farther down the coast is charming Monterey, the old capital of California in the days of Spanish rule. Dana, in his “Two Years Before the Mast,” describing Monterey as it was in 1835, before California had become a part of the United States, says: “It makes a very pretty appearance; its houses being of whitewashed adobe. The red tiles, too, on the roofs contrast well with the white sides. There are no streets nor fences (except that here and there a small patch might be fenced in for a garden) so that the houses are placed at random. In the center of the place is an open square, surrounded by four lines of one-story buildings, with half a dozen cannon in the center; some mounted and others not. This is the presidio, or fort. Every California town has a presidio in its center; or rather every presidio has a town built around it; for the forts were first built by the Mexican government, and then the people built near them, for protection.”



Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.