Heritage Server > Story Bank > San Francisco History > Storied San Francisco
From the Fireman’s Fund Record, Special Edition, May 1945.

In 1863 when San Francisco, shedding the excesses of unbridled youth and the excrescencies of the Gold Rush, began more soberly to contemplate its rendezvous with destiny, a group of citizens, impressed with the ravages of successive conflagrations, determined that the rapidly growing community should have fire insurance from its own company. Although their practical knowledge of the insurance business may have been meager, their belief in the value of economic incentives was not. Confident that the surest way of imparting increased ardor to the Volunteer Firemen was to make it pecuniarily profitable to them to put out fires with the least possible delay and property destruction, the Company’s organizers took the San Francisco Volunteers into partnership by agreeing to pay them ten per cent of the Company’s profits as a fireman’s charitable fund. Thus the Company derived its name. Further to heighten the fire-quenching zeal of these dashing Volunteers, the Company caused metal housemarkers, bearing its name, to be placed on all buildings insured by it; arguing that the Volunteers might be expected to strive even harder to extinguish a fire if they knew that saving this building would keep down Company losses and thus augment their fireman’s charitable fund. Quite soon this impractical plan was by mutual consent abandoned. But its resourcefulness and bold ingenuity were outcroppings of that boundless enthusiasm – that robust and exuberant spirit which activated early San Francisco. It was that same spirit which gave to Fireman’s Fund the impulse to grow and expand until today, with its affiliate companies and its thousands of hometown agents and brokers, its insurance coverage – embracing everything except life – extends throughout all America and Canada, and its ownership includes stockholders in every state in the Union.


From its very beginnings, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, named for the early-day Volunteer Firemen, has been closely associated with the life of its home city, San Francisco. Established by "Forty-niners" who had migrated to California from the far reaches of the Nation, it became the first California concern to attain nationwide expansion. Its destiny of STRENGTH PERMANENCE STABILITY was firmly established in the early ‘70’s when it met all its obligations in full in the great Chicago and Boston conflagrations. After the catastrophe of 1906 the Company rose from the ashes and, like San Francisco itself, amazed the Nation with its power of recuperation. It is therefore only fitting that Fireman’s Fund sponsor STORIED SAN FRANCISCO, a tale of this great world city, and dedicate it to the United Nations Conference on International Organization.

"The Eternal City of the Western Hemisphere!" So remarked a distinguished European visitor in observing San Francisco’s startling renaissance after the cataclysm of April, 1906; and the implications of his remark may not be as far-fetched in reality as at first they seem. For the stories that have grown up around claimants to the distinction of having been the first to look upon what is now San Francisco Bay and the City of San Francisco are almost as charmingly embellished with myth and romantic conjecture as are the tales of "Eternal" Rome’s beginnings. Spaniards and Englishmen and their respective partisans, to whom have been added with the years, rival votaries of the rival partisans – all these assert their varied claims and offering us their "proofs" solicit our suffrage.

One advantage of the lack of acceptable proof in such a matter is that imagination is thus left unfettered; free to feed upon whatever myth or conjecture best pleases, and to create out of it material that serves interest, if not always accuracy.

Certain chroniclers there were who claimed access to Spanish records, dim with age and sparse of information, attesting that in 1520 a party of Spaniards sailed into San Francisco Bay, landed on the shores adjoining, and secured fresh water for their ship. The authenticity of these records is vigorously disputed. Then came Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, in 1542, along the coast of California, and although there is no specific mention of his having been in, or seen, what is now San Francisco Bay, he did "annex" the whole of the coast to Spain; and some of his admirers have been known to advance the claim that he "probably" entered San Francisco Bay.

Thirty-seven years after Cabrillo, in 1579, Captain – later Sir – Francis Drake, having concluded a successful season in the role of Chief Privateer against Spanish treasure ships, sailed along the coast of California; seeking, it is said, a way to get home without running the risk of having his own ship pillaged. For a long time he was credited with having entered San Francisco Bay and gone ashore on land that is now part of the city of San Francisco, calling the land "Nova Albion" and "annexing" it to England in the name of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Over the years this claim was increasingly discredited. According to the latterly-accepted historians, Drake missed the entrance to San Francisco Bay in the fog, and landed considerably farther north on the shores of what is now called "Drakes Bay" – the same bay that the Spaniard, Sebastian Rodrigues Cermeno, called "Puerto de San Francisco." How. ever, in the chronicle of Drake’s voyage it appears that Drake fastened a brass plate, on which was inscribed his annexation proclamation, to a "firm poste" which he planted on the shore on which he and his party landed. Consequently, when, in 1936, there was found on the western shore of San Francisco Bay a plate answering to this description, the old claim of Drake having entered San Francisco Bay was disinterred and vigorously promoted. And with such supporting evidence, it seemed very formidable, at least to the layman. But just when the Drake-ites appeared to be winning the day, a chauffeur came forward to say he had found this plate or plaque some time prior to 1936, and fifty or sixty miles from San Francisco Bay; that he had put it in the back of his employer’s car, and, later, deciding it was worthless, had thrown it out where it was found in 1936.

This, of course, considerably weakened the revived Drake claim, for the spot at which the chauffeur said he had found the plate was near Drakes Bay. So the controversy is far from settled.

And while, unlike the celebrated tempest that raged in the Pickwick Club when its founder, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, claimed to have discovered a stone with an ancient cabalistic inscription, this controversy has not yet led any father to disinherit his son for holding views at variance with his own, the arguments abate only to commence all over again.

Whether we choose to side with one of these factions or the other; whichever of the rival conjectures the more intrigues us, actually our first authoritative news of the existence of San Francisco Harbor comes from Don Gaspar de Portola. In 1769, Don Gaspar, with his party, marched up from the south seeking Monterey Bay. He passed it without recognizing it, and a few days later stood on the summit of Montara to look down on what now is known as the Gulf of the Farallones. He knew then that he had missed Monterey Bay, and hung his head in shamefaced disappointment. He knew this because from where he stood he could see, far off to the northwest, the speck of land which the earlier Spaniard, Sebastian Viscaino, had named, in honor of the Three Wise Men of the East, Punta de los Reyes (Point Reyes). Portola had his maps and from them he saw that this point was the headland sheltering the shallow bay which another Spaniard, the early explorer Cermeno, had seen and named the Puerto de San Francisco (now known as Drakes Bay).

Disappointed in having missed the object of his major quest, Portola yet desired to return with something of importance to show to his superiors. Calling up his trusted sergeant, Jose Francisco Ortega, he ordered him and a company of ten men to explore the coast as far as Point Reyes and bring back full, detailed information concerning the Puerto de San Francisco.

Ortega and his men started out to fulfill this mission. They failed. They failed because they found something else of far greater importance. For soon after starting their tour of exploration, they encountered a body of water which cut off the shore on which they stood from the shore that had been visited by Cabrillo, Drake, Cermeno and Viscaino. The body of water which balked them was an inlet which led into a vast land-locked bay. In other words, it was what we now call the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay. The historic date was November 2, 1769, and it is one of those interesting ironies in which fate seems to delight that a discovery which had defied four eminent world navigators was reserved for a group of landlubbers.

Following Portola’s report, Don Pedro Fages, commandante of California; his successor, Don Fernando de Rivera, and Don Bruno de Heceta all successively led land expeditions from Monterey to explore the new-found bay and make arrangements for its settlement. All this by order of the Spanish authorities. And finally, Lieutenant Don Juan Manuel de Ayala, commander of the ship San Carlos, was ordered to sail up from Monterey and survey the new bay. Thus Lieutenant Ayala has the distinction of having guided the first ship through the Golden Gate; and from Eldredge’s The Beginnings of San Francisco is taken the following account of that historic event:

"On July 27th (1775) the San Carlos sailed for San Francisco Bay, beginning the voyage with a novena to their seraphic father, Saint Francis. Owing to contrary winds progress was slow and it was not until August 5th that they approached the entrance to the port. At eight in the morning of that day the launch was lowered, and Don Jose Canizares, sailing master, with a crew of ten men, was sent to make a reconnaissance and select an anchorage for the ship. At nine the tide was running out so strongly that the ship was driven to sea, but at eleven o’clock the tide turned and it drew near the coast, the captain approaching the entrance with caution, taking frequent soundings. At sunset the launch was seen coming from the port but the flood tide was too strong and she was forced back. Night was coming on; an anchorage must be found and the San Carlos stood in through the unknown passage. Rock cliffs lined the narrow strait and the inrushing tide dashing against rock pinnacles bore the little ship onward. In mid channel a sixty fathom line with a twenty pound lead failed to find bottom. Swiftly ran the tide and as day darkened into night the San Carlos sailed through the uncharted narrows, passed its inner portal, and opened the Golden Gate to the commerce of the world. Skirting the northern shore, the first ship cast anchor in the waters of San Francisco Bay at half past ten o’clock on the night of August 5, 1775, in twenty-two fathoms, off what is now Sausalito."

In some writings the San Carlos is also called El Toison de Oro, meaning "The Golden Fleece." In view of what occurred 75 years later, it partakes of the prophetic that the first ship to enter San Francisco harbor should be one called Golden Fleece.

The naming of San Francisco Bay is accredited to Father Junipero Serra, a monk of the Order of Saint Francis. He had founded the San Diego Mission and, with more missionary fathers, was pro-ceeding up the coast of "Alta California" in quest of other favorable sites for missions. Having received directions as to the names to be applied to these missions, he is said to have lamented the absence of his own patron saint among the number, and to have been told by his Visitador that "if St. Francis wish a mission, let him guide you to a good port, and it shall bear his name." Later when the good fathers eyes rested upon the vast expanse of what is now our great bay, he is credited with exclaiming: "This, then, is the port to which the Visitador referred, and to which our Saint has led us – blessed be his name!" And he named the body of water San Francisco Bay.

Father Serra began making preparations for the San Francisco Mission in 1770, but it was not actually founded until the redoubtable Lieutenant Anza, after a long, hazardous trek over mountains, rivers and deserts, brought his party of men, women and children from Tubac, Arizona, to Monterey, California. Leaving most of his party at Monterey, Anza, with his valiant aid, Lieutenant Moraga, and a small group of soldiers, muleteers, etc., came on to San Francisco, arriving about April 1, 1776. Anza picked sites for both the mission and the presidio, and explored not only the peninsula which was to hold the city of San Francisco, but also the east side of the bay. This done, he returned to Monterey, leaving the actual settling of the port of San Francisco in the hands of his faithful lieutenant, Don Joseph Joachin Moraga. The mission was built at what is now Sixteenth and Dolores streets and its original church, known as Mission Dolores, still stands.

The mission was from the first called San Francisco. But the settlement or "town" on the shore of the bay at a cove called Yerba Buena continued to be known as Yerba Buena until January 30, 1847, when Washington A. Bartlett, first alcalde, published an official proclamation changing the name of the town from Yerba Buena to San Francisco. Previous to this, the mission only had been called San Francisco; and in those days it was considered almost an inland settlement, so wild and barren and difficult to traverse were the two miles of treacherous sandhills lying between it and the little town.

The first "house" in the town of San Francisco was at Yerba Buena Cove. It was put up by Captain W. A. Richardson (for whom Richardson Bay, adjoining Sausalito, is named), who was operating two schooners on the bay – one belonging to the Mission Santa Clara (at San Jose) and the other to the San Francisco Mission. The "house" consisted of some redwood poles set perpendicularly, over which was stretched a ship’s foresail. The first real house was erected by Jacob Primer Leese. Part dwelling and part warehouse, it was of considerable size. Its completion, July 4, 1836, was the occasion of a two-day celebration, which was attended by many native Californians and jointly commemorated the completion of the house and the anniversary of American independence. Captain Richardson was present, and brought with him General M. G. Vallejo and his family. The Stars and Stripes were raised for the first time in San Francisco, and beside them waved the Mexican flag; and all the bunting from some ships anchored in the bay was brought ashore for decoration. Among the ships was the barque Don Quixote, captained by Leese’s partner, Hinckley, and besides its bunting it sent ashore also its orchestra, described as "the most fashionable orchestra, perhaps, ever heard in California." It consisted of a clarinet, flute, violin, drum, fife and bugle.

At this celebration Leese, who may be called San Francisco’s first resident merchant, met General Vallejo’s sister, a charming Spanish girl, whom he married in April of the following year. A year later, April 15, 1838, Mrs. Leese bore a child – Rosalie – who has been called the first white child born in San Francisco. Actually, the first white child was born in San Francisco fifty years earlier to the wife of a Spanish soldier named De Soto who came with the Anza expedition and was attached to the San Francisco Mission. However, to avoid the appearance of attempting to undermine anyone’s claim to fame, let it be agreed that Rosalie Vallejo Leese was the first white child born in the town, as distinguished from the mission, of San Francisco.

In January, 1847, the American inhabitants of San Fran-cisco numbered about three hundred, and the town had its first newspaper, the California Star, published by Samuel Brannan, a young man who had come in at the head of a party of Mormons from New York via Honolulu. It was a small sheet of four pages, came out on Saturday, and ran a standing notice that it would "eschew with the greatest caution everything that tends to the propagation of sectarian dogma." A few months after Brannan started the California Star, Robert Semple brought his weekly newspaper, The Californian, from Monterey where it had been issued since August, 1846, and began publishing it in San Francisco.

During 1847 the overland immigration had marked out a trail – historically famous as the route subsequently used by one of the trans-continental rail roads – and immigration increased so that by March, 1848, the town’s population had grown to eight hundred. And by now the older towns in the state, though still larger, were conceding the superior loca-tion of San Francisco. Even thus early San Francisco’s destiny as a great city was fixed.

On April 1, 1847, there were seventy-nine buildings in San Francisco: twenty-two shanties, thirty-one frame houses and twenty-six adobes. By April 1, 1848, the number of buildings had increased to two hundred: one hundred thirty-five "finished" dwellings, ten "unfinished" houses, twelve stores and warehouses, and forty-three shanties and adobes. Of the non-Spanish white residents of San Francisco in April, 1848, two hundred twenty-eight were born in the U.S.A. and thirty-eight in California. The others listed their birthplaces as Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Denmark, Malta, New Holland, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Russia, Sandwich Islands, Sweden, West Indies and "at sea." Among them were three doctors, three lawyers, two surveyors, one clergyman, four schoolteachers, eleven agriculturists, seven bakers, six blacksmiths, one brewer, six brickmakers, seven butchers, two cabinetmakers, twenty-six carpenters, one cigarmaker, three coopers, five grocers, six printers, four shoemakers, four tailors, one watchmaker and one weaver. The others ranged through such classifications as morocco-case maker, inland navigator, editor, gunsmith, ocean navigator, saddler, tanner, and finally, general laborer. The Indians, Sandwich Islanders and Negroes, who constituted about one-fifth of the population, were mostly porters and servants.

The years 1845 and 1846 saw the last of the Mexican rule in California. It had been disintegrating steadily for several years, and now it was breaking up into numerous segments, with very little left in the hands of the nominal "governors." Finally, in 1846, as the consequence of a coup said to have been partly engineered by John C. Fremont, the Republic of California was declared, and a new flag waved over the presidio at Sonoma. It consisted of a white field with a grizzly bear in the center, and came to be known as the "Bear Flag."

While this and the events which generated it were going on, the little village of San Francisco (still called Yerba Buena) was in a more or less somnolent state. The efforts of the various cliques to gain power – some supported by one group of Americans and some by another – put all its resi-dents into a state of uncertainty, and such little business as existed in the community, mainly the traffic in hides, was at a standstill. Its American residents were pretty evenly divided between those who wanted California to be a new republic, and those who desired to see it become a state in the Union. However, they were all equally thrilled to see the sloop-of-war Portsmouth enter the harbor one day, proudly flying the Stars and Stripes. And when, a few mornings later, the roll of drums and the sound of bugles brought them up from their breakfast tables and out into the streets, they were still more thrilled to see seventy sailors and marines under Captain John B. Montgomery marching with firm step toward the Plaza. A few minutes later, as twenty-one guns boomed from the deck of the Portsmouth, the Stars and Stripes rose to the top of the flagpole above the custom house. Thus, less than seventy-live years after its founding, with scarcely more effort by its inhabitants than the giving of three lusty cheers, San Francisco – still a village, still known as Yerba Buena – passed from Spanish to American rule. To commemorate this important event in its history, San Francisco named the old plaza Portsmouth Square, and to one of the principal streets in its financial district gave the name of Montgomery.

On January 24, 1848, a man named James Marshall etched his name deeply on the tablets of fame by finding a gold nugget. He was not a miner, and was not looking for gold at the time. He was, rather, engaged in the relatively prosaic business of constructing a sawmill on the American River for one Johan August Sutter, a Swiss who had arrived in San Francisco in 1839 and by now was becoming an important figure in the life of the region. As the place of the nugget’s discovery was a hundred and fifty miles or so from the village of San Francisco, and in a region mountainous and inaccessible except by trails or the roughest of roads, the story took a month or six weeks to reach the little town; and even longer to gain general credence there. However, the first report did send a few of the more credulous San Franciscans on prospecting tours, and the exciting stories they sent back precipitated the first phases of what soon exploded into the famous "Gold Rush."

Effect upon the hitherto rather lethargic little town of San Francisco was immediate and dynamic; almost catastrophic for a time. The established pattern of life in the little community was immediately torn into tatters; the existing scheme of things was, overnight, completely overthrown. Carpenters dropped their saws where they had been using them, blacksmiths their hammers; storekeepers deserted their counters, preachers their pulpits, teachers their classes, printers their type cases (the two San Francisco newspapers both had to suspend publication for a time) – all inflamed by the wild passion to amass quick riches; all caught up in a feverish, frantic rush to the interior to find the precious metal and quickly gain their fortunes. "Until," as an early writer states, "as if by a plague, the town was depopulated." Scarcely an able-bodied man was left.

Some came back soon, "laden with gold"; others, unsuccessful, returned in disgust at their failure and the hard, rough life of the mining camps. But most of the news was good, and soon it had spread throughout America and the world. It was then that the real Gold Rush began. Though the mines were far inland, San Francisco was the funnel through which men poured into them. It was the destination of all who made the journey by water, and of many who came overland. And those who left the mines, either with or without gold, came to San Francisco. Six months after the first gold rumors, San Francisco’s population had jumped from one thousand to two thousand. By the end of 1849 it had soared to twenty thousand, a tenfold increase in a year. Money was incredibly abundant; "flowed like water" – not coin, but gold dust, nuggets and ingots. Quickly it created an epidemic of high, fast, feverish living – raucous, rowdy, unrestrained. Prices of everything went up like skyrockets. "Easy come, easy go." Board was $5 to $10 a day. A small room with a single bed commanded $150 to $175 a month. Wood was $60 a cord, flour and pork $50 to $60 a barrel, and everything else in proportion. Commercially, the port, scarcely more than just born, had caught up with old Philadelphia: in seven months 697 vessels had arrived, an average of better than three a day. And at one time nearly 400 ships lay idle in the bay – their sailors, "infected with the yellow mania," had deserted to the mines. Life – in all its phases – did not merely move, it rushed pell-mell, helter-skelter at breathtaking pace, and its voice was hoarse and harsh and raucous.

Such was San Francisco when the "roaring forties" merged into the no less "furious fifties." Such it was when on May 1, 1850, the first legislature voted it a city charter. Colonel J. W. Geary was alcalde at the time. Under the new charter he became San Francisco’s first mayor, and for him one of the city’s major thoroughfares was later named.

So great a flood of people coming so suddenly to a little town that was wholly unprepared for them, overtaxed every kind of service and accommodation; especially living quarters, and San Francisco for a time became a "city of tents." From the waterfront far into the sand hills, row after row of tents spread out. Indeed, every kind of improvised, shelter was employed – deserted ships were beached at high tide and made into "first class boarding houses." So went the first winter of the Gold Rush. The following spring, lumber began coming in; poor quality and terrifically high priced but still lumber, and "houses went up like mushrooms." Well, if houses went up like mushrooms, so also did they go down. Built of the flimsiest of materials with cloth partitions and paper ceilings, they were veritable tinder boxes, arid on May 4, 1850, a fire broke out that raged until it had destroyed property worth $4,000,000 – some three hundred buildings. There had been a million-dollar fire the preceding Christmas eve. And the ashes of the May 4 fire were hardly cool before another broke out. This, the one of June 12, 1850, burned up $4,000,000 in property. Three months later, on September 17, 1850, there was another million-dollar fire. After this there was a lull for eight months and the city feverishly rebuilt. Then, on May 3, 1851, the eve of the anniversary of the great fire of May 4, 1850, a fire started that burned until it had consumed $12,000,000 in property, destroying between fifteen hundred and two thousand buildings. It would seem that there hardly could have been anything left to burn but six weeks later, on June 22, 1851, five hundred additional buildings burned down with a loss of $3,000,000. Here were six great fires, with losses of nearly $25,000,000, in less than two years.

There is little doubt that some if not all of these fires were incendiary – in the midst of them looting went on almost uncontrolled – and this was part of the reason for the Vigilance Committee, of which more later.

Out of these great fires also came the Volunteer Firemen, the activities of whose numerous companies is an interesting and colorful chapter in San Francisco’s early history.

These volunteer companies, though their reason for existence was to fight fire, by no means confined themselves to that useful and highly necessary employment. They were social and, ofttimes, political organizations as well. Everybody of the male sex who wanted to be "somebody" – either socially or politically – found membership in one of the numerous companies expedient if not indispensable. Headquarters of the companies were centers of political discussion and planning, and many of the gayest and most pretentious social functions in the young city were given by one or another of these companies of volunteer firemen.

Sometimes the pride and rivalry among the companies went to amusing extremes. One company of volunteers decided to have the finest engine in town and sent $5,000 to a Philadelphia builder for one of the latest design. The builder was considerably disturbed – he did not know how to put that much money into a fire engine. He wrote the company so stating and asked what he should do with the surplus. Back came the reply: "Convert it into gold or silver and stick it on anywhere." Later this same company sent east for a steam fire engine, determined to have the first steamer in the state. Hearing of the order, a rival company sent east for one, and got its order there first by using the Pony Express.

The rivalry among the various volunteers also led to a good deal of what we would now call horse-play. After a fire was out, one company might playfully decide to turn its hose on the other, or to run off with some rival’s minor equipment.

Usually, all this was entirely good-natured, however rough and tumble, but occasionally if it went too far it led to rising tempers. Company A would "swipe" something from Company B; whereupon, to get even, Company B would manage to purloin something belonging to Company A – and this might continue for weeks or months. Once the men of a certain company discovered the foxtail missing from their engine, and put out this public announcement: "The Company values this prize, which was taken away from another Company, very highly, and it is hoped that whoever took it away will have the manliness to return it!" The effort to be first at a fire led to many amusing incidents. One time the boys of the Pennsylvania Fire Company raced the Monumentals to a tar-barrel fire which had been lit to celebrate Lincoln’s first inauguration, and had got out of hand. The Pennsylvania brigade won, primarily because the Monumentals’ engine got stuck in a mudhole. The Pennsylvania boys went back and hauled their rival’s engine out of the mudhole but in doing so ripped off its front wheels.

It may be argued that total overall firefighting effectiveness might have been greater had this intercompany rivalry been less intense. That, however, is debatable, since the rivalry did generate enthusiasm and inspire to increased prowess. In any event the record of the Volunteers was on the whole a very creditable one, and when in December, 1866, the creation of a paid fire department made their further existence unnecessary, they could retire with the satisfaction of knowing that again and again their efforts had saved the city from another costly conflagration.

By 1852, with the Gold Rush still rushing furiously, the vessels arriving in San Francisco numbered seven a day. They brought in everything thriving, bustling, freebooting mining towns could need or want, and took out some hides but mainly millions and millions and more millions in gold. Numerous wharves were run out at great cost into deep water to accommodate this commerce; a large portion of the shal-low waters of the bay was filled in. (Legend has it that in filling in the bay "everything not tied down" was used – including hogsheads of tobacco, bales of cotton, sacks of "stale" coffee, cookstoves and even a couple of unclaimed pianos.) Besides the great argosies of sailing ships, steamers busily plied the bay and steamed up and down the adjacent rivers, carrying men and merchandise to and from the mines and mining towns. Everything was alive with business, and money was lavishly plentiful.

The Gold Rush did not make San Francisco, of course. A great city it would have been without that. But the Gold Rush did give to the little town a mighty fillip that made it into a comparative metropolis overnight, forcing into a few hectic years the growth that otherwise might have required decades. Of course it brought also its evils. Most of those who came for gold, whether they gained it or not, remained to settle down into good substantial residents and citizens. But a certain number were scoundrels of the first water. As scoundrels they came, and as scoundrels they tarried; and for a time their ruthless scoundrelry – taken with the indifference of the good citizens, who were too much occupied with their own affairs to pay heed to anything else – gave the city a reign of terror. Crime of every sort was rampant and, worse, went unpunished. It reached the point where no person’s property or even life was safe.

Finally, sometime in 1851, to cope with this steadily worsening situation, a grimly resolute group of citizens organized themselves into what they called "The Vigilance Committee," and proceeded to try, convict and hang a notorious character named Jenkins, to whom was attributed a series of crimes. Following this dispensation of summary "justice," there was an! immediate hegira of those who evi-dently feared that further practice of their "profession" – or even tarrying longer then in the community – might invite for themselves a like fate; and in consequence, major crime abated. However; the relief was only temporary; one example apparently was not enough to dissuade the criminals, for at various times during the period 1851 to 1856 we find the Vigilance Committee (or successors bearing the same name) in recurring activity. All told, several more men were tried, convicted and hanged.

Perhaps the most famous example of its operation occurred when in 1856 the editor of the city’s leading newspaper was shot down for having published an editorial calling for the stamping out of the criminals and naming names. His assassin was a man named Casey, who had got himself elected or appointed to the Board of Supervisors.

While the editor, James King of William, lay hovering between life and death, the Vigilance Committee was reforming. Within thirty hours after King was shot, more than two thousand names were on its rolls, with hundreds of men standing in line outside the committee’s rooms waiting to join. Bulletins were posted hourly in prominent places, detailing King’s condition, which was growing steadily worse. Suddenly the streets were filled with armed men who, at a signal from their leaders, quietly formed into ranks and marched to the jail where Casey was being held, and demanded that the sheriff turn him over to them. The sheriff promptly did so.

The following day James King of William died of the wound from Casey’s bullet. The Vigilantes immediately put Casey on trial. He was convicted, and the next day, at the same hour that King was being buried, Casey was hanged from a scaffold hastily built outside the window of the Vigilance Committee’s headquarters known as "Fort Gunnybags," the site of which on Sacramento Street is marked to this day.

In later years, when the conditions that had bred Vigilante action were no more than dim memories, some San Franciscans were inclined to deplore and even to condemn the activities of the Vigilance Committee. All its activities were, of course, illegal; or, if you prefer, extra-legal. But in fairness they should be viewed against the background which precipitated them. As one former member of the Vigilantes was quoted years later as saying: "When we started, you took your life in your hands if you went on the street alone at night. When we finished, you could lie down and sleep all night on any street corner, covered with gold, and nobody’d molest you." Thus, however extra-legal, the Committee’s operations were undoubtedly effective. Also, they evidently were sanctioned, even supported by the prevailing sentiment of the community, since efforts to force the Committee’s disbandment proved abortive. However, the Committee made no effort to continue after it considered that its work was done. One day in August, 1856, five thousand members paraded through the city. Then they destroyed their membership rolls and disbanded. Perhaps no less than the Volunteer Firemen, they too could feel that they had saved their city.

It would be, of course, impossible, and equally at variance with our purpose, to present in this modest booklet anything like a complete historical account of the life of San Francisco. The reader seeking this will find it readily enough in any good library anywhere in the world. Herein we hope only to provide a series of impressions – word pictures – that may give the reader a passing view of the pageant which, unfolding during the last one hundred years, portrays San Francisco’s rise from a gay little Spanish-American village to a great metropolis of America and the world.

While, as has been remarked, San Francisco would have been a world city without the Gold Rush, it remains a fact that the impact of that lively, lush decade and the events it generated, left an impress upon the city which nothing could efface and which still, even at this late date, endures. Being of the intangibles, it is difficult to isolate; certainly it cannot be "parsed and paragraphed." But though elusive as the rainbow, it is no less existent – an ever-present ingredient of that "individuality" which, by the testimony of a long procession of the world’s most distinguished and discerning visitors, renders San Francisco "so charmingly different and unforgettable." It was never a real substance of San Francisco, of course; merely a flavor, but an unmistakable flavor, and one that lasts.

There is a youthful boldness which, in point of manners, may be offensive; but when, maturing, it is weaned of its brashness and settles into quiet fearlessness and unostentatious but unflinching courage, far from offensive, it then becomes a thing to welcome and applaud. Into the early youth of the city of San Francisco the Gold Rush brought a boldness that was bald and crude and, to us in retrospect, distasteful. It was loud, bawdy, self-centered, unwitting often, and quite as often entirely unrestrained. As a plant, some of its offshoots produced crime and disorder to plague for a time the city’s life. But from the root of the plant and its main branches came the stoutheartedness and courage, the unconquerable faith and self-reliance that have enabled the city to face and overcome the cruelest blows of destructive man and nature – to fall before their blows but to rise from them quickly, and "with heads bloody but unbowed?’

Four, five, six, seven great, devastating conflagrations – the last one, partner of an earthquake which by breaking water mains made adequate fire-fighting impossible – San Francisco has survived them all, and it is not without significance that the fabled Phoenix is her emblem. Seven times destroyed in sixty years, seven times San Francisco has risen with faith and quiet courage, and built anew. Facing such a record, one may forgive boldness some of its youthful indiscretions.

Into the San Francisco Gold Rush, and from it later into the permanent life of San Francisco, swarmed men of every type from every nook and corner of the earth; men of almost every race, color, creed and station. Here again was a tree, some of whose branches parented crime and disorder. But here again, from that tree’s root and major branches grew the fruit of human tolerance; which, eaten, has made San Francisco freer, probably, of the grosser evils of race prejudice and religious bigotry than any other large city in the world. Here, from virtually the city’s earliest beginnings, have lived men of every color, creed and clime, in good will and tolerant friendliness; none without his natural pride of race and place of origin, but all far prouder to be San Franciscans and Americans. "Men do not," we are told, "gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles." The grapes of good will and the figs of tolerance we have gathered (and still gather) here in San Francisco have grown upon the vine and the tree planted long ago in the soil upheaved and fertilized by the Gold Rush.

Just as San Francisco, in its more subtle lights and shadows, reflects today the color of the Gold Rush, so do certain aspects of its life portray the enduring influence of its location. Set inland, even a hundred miles, though risen to its present size and puissance, it could not be the city that it is. For the winds that, all these years, have swept in from the vast reaches of the Pacific have brought with them some of the quintessence of all the lands and peoples lying near and far beyond. And the ships that come and go – every ship that has sailed into San Francisco harbor, from the tiny barque San Carlos in 1775, down to the swift, modern ocean liners, has brought in something that could not be denominated on any manifest or bill of lading – something more than "goods and wares and merchandise."

What that something is, no one can ever say; words balk when asked to yield such rare and precious vapors. But though said it cannot be, felt it can be; and seen it may be, too – by those discerning ones who look for it.

Thus the life story of San Francisco in no small way is the story of ships and shipping. Of the tiny barques that hazardously battled ‘gainst wind and wave to bring in supplies to the early dwellers of cove, presidio and mission. Of the Rus-sian ships that in the early 1800’s came from the Russian settlement farther up the California coast, to seek seals and sea otters in the waters of San Francisco Bay. Of the whalers that early made San Francisco their home harbor, and got from San Francisco’s own insurance company – the Fireman’s Fund – their first adequate marine insurance. Of the ships that came first to bring the motley horde of modern Jasons, and then came back to carry out the crops of gold these modern Jasons reaped. Of the ships that came to supply the needs of the sprawling Gold Rush village and continued, to serve the city into which that sprawling village quickly grew. Of the "flying" clipper ships that raced each other ‘round Cape Horn for fastest transit time, New York to San Francisco, and whose grace of line and white-winged beauty painting and poetry have immortalized. Of the grain ships that linked San Francisco to the United Kingdom. Of the ships that brought in silks and tea and spices, and myriad things of strange beauty, from the Orient. And, finally, of the less romantic but more dependable ships of steam around whose regular arrivals and departures so much of the city’s vital early business life revolved that "Steamer Day" (the 13th and the 28th of the month) was prominently imprinted on all San Francisco calendars for many years. Today, with transportation far swifter than a swallow’s flight; today, when to span a continent in six or eight hours excites no more than casual comment, it is hard to realize what a ship’s arrival and departure meant to San Franciscans one hundred years ago. It meant so much that they built a huge semaphore atop their highest hill, Telegraph Hill – where stands today the Colt Memorial tower – to signal to the eager, waiting throngs first sight of a ship coming through the Golden Gate. Later, a telegraph line connected this semaphore to Point Lobos some eight miles farther out, which gave stilt earlier news of incoming vessels. Today, ships and trains and planes, though not less important to our life, move in and out to gain hardly more than our passing notice. But yesterday – yesterday when there were no trains or planes – the coming or the going of a ship was dramatically vital. Arriving or departing, fair day or foul, it brought thousands to the waterfront to renew and replenish living contact with the outside world.

Yes, ships and shipping have always been part of the very life blood of San Francisco. Through them – from her beginnings – she has seen and felt and touched all lands and peoples, and "bought and sold" the whole wide world.

Even on land, San Francisco was early served by ships. Her first overland emigrants came in 1849 by covered wagon, or, as more romantically named, "prairie schooner." Four months it took them to complete the "voyage," and tales of their hardships and their heroism would overrun a volume.

Other early land transportation that linked San Francisco with the east was provided by the famed Butterfield Stage Line, which made the trip from St. Louis to San Francisco in twenty-one days. Then came, in 1858, the thrilling, never-to-be-forgotten Pony Express. This carried no passengers – only mail; and, for that time, was comparable to our air mail service of today. Here was something out of the Arabian Nights; something that thrills one and fires his imagination even today after the lapse of nearly one hundred years. The story of the Pony Express – nearly a hundred fearless riders and some five hundred tough, sure-footed horses – is one packed with astonishing drama. These men and their faithful horses, riding in relays, always at top speed, always in incredible danger, fought and conquered snow and rain and raging blizzard, blistering desert heat and Indian bandits, so that early San Franciscans might get their eastern letters in twelve days. The rate was $5 an ounce. Once, to bring San Francisco one of President Lincoln’s important messages, the time was cut to seven days and seventeen hours. From four months to seven days and seventeen hours – that was the fruit of the unceasing effort to abridge distance in the decade 1849 to 1858.

However, even this was not enough. Soon thereafter four men, four Californians, dreamed a dream. That dream was to build a transcontinental railroad. They made it a reality. Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, starting with only $50,000 in money but with an inexhaustible reservoir of faith and energy, built the transcontinental railroad from San Francisco. Begun in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War, this great undertaking, linking west and east forever, was finished in six years. On May 10, 1869, the last spike was driven – a spike of pure gold. The railroad tie which the gold spike pierced and pinioned was made of California laurel (bay), and to it was fastened a silver plaque inscribed with the names of the officers of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. And San Francisco, western terminus of this "belt of steel," celebrated!

The names of those four mighty builders – "The Big Four" they came to be called – are as familiar today as they were seventy-five years ago. The Mark Hopkins Hotel, the Crocker First National Bank, the Huntington Li-brary Stanford University – these institutions perpetuate the names and activate the memory of the four men who played such a vital role in the early life of San Francisco, California and the whole west.

There is a period in the life of San Francisco which historians not too somber or fact-bound boldly designate as "The Reign of Emperor Norton." By them it is not regarded as too much to say that the story of this astonishingly strange and attractive figure, who, in San Francisco, was crowned (by himself) "Emperor of America and Protector of Mexico," and as such "ruled and reigned" benevolently here for well-nigh thirty years, presents the truest portrait words can ever give of the spirit and the heart of San Francisco.

Into San Francisco one bleak November day in 1847 or ‘48 came Joshua Abraham Norton. Born in London, be lived for a time in South Africa, but of the remainder of his early life nothing seemingly is known. His arrival in San Francisco was unremarked, and so were the first several years of his sojourn. He appears to have been successful, both in the mercantile business and in buying and selling real estate. But, no more successful than many others of his time, there was nothing to single him out for especial attention. And then, quite suddenly, from variously assigned causes – all partaking of business or financial reverses, he was bereft of his reason; and lived thereafter as a marked and most unusual man. From somewhere about 1853 until he died in January, 1880, Joshua Abraham Norton lived and acted in the firm belief that he was Emperor of all America and Protector of Mexico.

During all these years San Franciscans accepted this lofty pretense at face value, and by thousands of kindly acts, public as well as private, graciously humored the innocent deception that aberrations had parented in this kindly man’s mind. Food, clothing, shelter; admittance to the theater, opera and other forms of entertainment; cigars, tobacco, wines, books, magazines, newspapers – all these and more were furnished to him freely and gladly, to support and sustain his most unusual role, a role of which all history affords no other such example. He led the city’s big parades, had a prominent place on the platform at all important meetings, attended sessions of the state legislature, issued his own paper money in denominations of 50 cents to $2, collected "taxes" now and then (as needed) from his "subjects," addressed Queen Victoria and the King of Prussia as "my dear cousins"; and issued "imperial" proclamations and edicts almost without number – all couched in grandiloquent, albeit sensible, language and embellished with his ornate "imperial" seal. Few of his edicts or proclamations but were entirely sane and practical in their subjects. Most of them were addressed to righting wrongs or removing grievances; and one of them, mirabile dictu, ordered a bridge built from San Francisco to Oakland immediately, and at a site not far from where the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge now stands!

When the emperor’s uniform wore out, he simply announced through the friendly press his need of a new one, and it was always promptly forthcoming. Sometimes the newspapers would provide it, sometimes there was a public subscription; and once, with perhaps more enthusiasm than legal warrant, the Board of Supervisors provided one out of public funds. His uniform, though hardly conforming to any "royal" pattern, was distinctly colorful. The coat was of navy blue, cut in military fashion and lavishly adorned with brass buttons. Trousers were of a much lighter blue, with a broad red stripe running down the outside of each leg. Ordinarily he wore a small hat that was a kind of oversized cap, it, too, resplendent with brass ornaments. But now and then, on "state" occasions, he donned a broad, black affair ornamented with a long cockade and a band of red, white and blue ribbon. His boots were black and uncommonly large. Usually he carried a heavy cane, but sometimes when the occasion seemed to warrant he substituted for the cane a huge sword, the gift of an admiring San Francisco blacksmith.

In all these years there are recorded only one or two instances in which the "Emperor’s" regal claims were ever resisted. Once, when he was en route to the state capital to attend and "advise" another session of the legislature, a dining-car waiter, who did not know him or his story, disputed his right to a free meal. This was also one of the very few times the "Emperor" was ever known to betray choler. He pounded the table, and in loud tones declared that for such lese majeste he would revoke the railroad’s franchise. However, the train conductor, attracted by the commotion, came and made the proper amends, and the next day the Central Pacific sent Emperor Norton a pass good on all its trains, and in its dining cars, for life!

Nearly all his "imperial" proclamations were directed to community betterment and progress of one sort or another, and many of them made proposals so eminently sane and practical as to be subsequently adopted. Aside possibly from the grandiloquence of their language, they betrayed no sign of the mental limitations of their author; and they seldom failed to make fitting reference to the moral law as foundation on which all man-made law should rest. A member of the Masonic fraternity, he yet was seen as often attending Catholic as Protestant churches, and on many occasions raised his voice – sometimes most effectively – for racial and religious understanding. One of his pronouncements, addressed to a cognate subject, was extolled by a nationally prominent clergyman as being closer to true Christianity than many preachments officially put out in its name.

It hardly can be surprising that such a personage, aberrant though he was, endeared himself to the whole community and, besides the respect of its people, won also the guerdon of their enduring love. So that when, finally, on January 8, 1880, he laid down his "imperial crown and sceptre," flags all over San Francisco were held at half-staff, and he was given a public funeral at which more than thirty thousand San Franciscans of all ranks and stations, including many children, paid homage at his bier. Nor should we be surprised to learn that when, fifty-four years later, the city’s growth required removal of the cemetery in which he was buried, his reinterment occasioned a public ceremony in which the Mayor of San Francisco and many distinguished citizens participated, and which evoked from the San Francisco Chronicle this tribute:

"San Francisco today does what no other city on earth could or would attempt. This City by the Golden Gate pauses long enough, in these sorely troubled times (1934), to pay homage to an emperor who was no emperor, except in his imagination; to a ruler who was no ruler, except in his harmless pretensions; to a king who was no king, except to two nondescript dogs which followed him about the streets of early-day San Francisco as his sole retinue; to a regal splendor that was a complete but lovable sham. For today, with pomp and ceremony, San Francisco inters in Woodlawn Memorial Park at Colma, all that remains of ‘Emperor’ Norton I, ‘Emperor of all the United States and Protector of Mexico.’"

Though more than five and sixty years have passed since the death of Emperor Norton, in San Francisco there yet remains – discernible to those who see more than bald exteriors – the nimbus of this kingly man, who, in a life of courtly pretense, lived less in league with sham than many a man who would have scorned him for his childish vagaries.

San Francisco’s treatment of Emperor Norton typifies the spirit of the city whose generosity, open-heartedness and kindliness have been remarked throughout its history. San Francisco has loved ardently and often, and never has been ashamed to show its love. An unbroken procession of events manifests its devotion to stage people. To an ailing actor of the sixties named Edwin Adams, it gave $3,000. It presented its adored Lotta Crabtree with a wreath of pure gold and a package of twenty-dollar gold pieces on the night of her farewell. For the opening performance of Edwin Forrest in Shakespeare it paid as much as $500 a seat. It presented Adelina Patti with a diamond sunburst and called her back five times to repeat "The Last Rose of Summer" on the closing night of her farewell performance. It crowned the great Bernhardt with a wreath of California laurel. And in the early 1900’s it turned out a hundred thousand strong to hear its beloved Luisa Tetrazzini sing in the open air on Christmas Eve.

Luisa Tetrazzini, though born in Florence, Italy, has always been acclaimed as San Francisco’s own, for it was at the old Tivoli Opera House in San Francisco in 1905 that she received the tremendous ovation heard ‘round the world. She was immediately engaged for two seasons in Covent Garden, London, and did not make her first New York appearance until three years after her San Francisco triumph. With a warm spot in her heart for San Francisco, Tetrazzini came all the way out here several years later to sing at an open-air performance at Lotta’s (Lotta Crabtree) Fountain on Christmas Eve. An estimated one hundred thousand San Franciscans – "the densest crowd the city had ever seen" – jammed the streets for blocks in every direction; and, overcome by this unprecedented reception, it was some time after she reached the platform before the beloved Luisa would trust herself to sing. Then she sang – again and again and again and again – all San Francisco’s old favorites; the songs that had swept her to fame here in 1905. And as the last note of her last song lingered on the clear night air, then was gone, thousands of San Franciscans stood silent, with heads bowed as in a great benediction, and unashamedly wept.

One of the most popular and beloved of San Francisco’s early stage favorites was Lotta Crabtree. As far back as the 1850’s, before even reaching her ‘teens, she began her career as actress and entertainer. With her songs and clog dances and her demure and elfin grace, she was the idol of the miners and other amusement seekers in San Francisco for many years. The more enthusiastic of them expressed their adoration by throwing gold coins, nuggets and even gold watches to her on the stage. In 1876, after she had retired, and as a token of her fond remembrance, she gave the city a drinking fountain, still standing at Market and Third streets, and still known as "Lotta’s Fountain." Besides grace and charm, Lotta had a watchful, thrifty mother, who took charge of her daughter’s earnings and invested them in choice real estate. At her death (in September, 1924, at the age of seventy-seven) Lotta, who never married, left an estate of $4,000,000, and left most of it to a fund for World War veterans.

The cataclysm which struck on April 18, 1906, has been often fixed as the dividing line between the old and the new San Francisco. From April 17, 1906 on back – that was the old San Francisco. From April 18, 1906 forward – that is the new. Such an easy generalization, while perhaps not too accurate, is not inappropriate in its broader implications. Those two days did mark the end of one and the beginning of another epoch in the life of San Francisco. The tree’s trunk and its branches were destroyed. But from its roots, deep-penetrating and firm-bedded, grew a new tree larger, more wide-spreading, yielding finer fruit and foliage than the old. Out of the old, upon the old, guided by the lessons of the old, San Franciscans, with fine faith and stout-heartedness, builded the new. And so also it should be said that while part of the old is gone, part of it still lives – blended in the new San Francisco.

The old San Francisco lives through the stories and the memories of Mark Twain and his Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Of Bret Harte, who founded in San Francisco his world-famous Overland Monthly. Of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Silverado Squatters – the shy and fragile "R. L. S." to whom adoring San Francisco built a monument in its Portsmouth Square. Of Jack London, with his snarling Sea Wolf and his plaintive Call of the Wild. Of Frank Norris and his American classic, McTeague, a gripping novel of life in San Francisco. Of Ambrose Bierce, "Bitter" Bierce they called him, who took San Francisco with him to London to stir and startle the literati, and whose short stories rank him with Edgar Allen Poe. Of Joaquin Miller, who sang lovingly of California’s snow-capped Sierras, and who in high boots and broad sombrero was the rage of literary London. Of Henry George, by day humble gas inspector for the city of San Francisco, who toiled long nights to compose Progress and Poverty and cause orthodox Economics of his day to shiver and shudder. Of George Sterling, who thrilled the World of Beauty with his Testimony of the Suns. Of Gertrude Atherton, charming daughter of San Francisco, whose novels of San Francisco are known the world over. Of Charles Caldwell Dobie, whose vivid and gracious portraits in San Francisco, A Pageant, will live as long as San Francisco. Of a long line of other well-known novelists, poets, essayists and editors whom we can only call "lesser" by strict comparison. Not all were native San Franciscans nor began their careers here. But all were vitally a part of its life and in most instances rose to the heights of fame in San Francisco before moving to broader fields. Caught by the spirit of San Francisco, they compressed that spirit into their writings and impressed it upon the world. Through them, through this galaxy of immortals, much of the old San Francisco lives, and will live eternally.

San Franciscans have long been badgered, and not always facetiously, with the charge that in discussing the great catastrophe they have attempted to magnify the ravages of the fire in order to conceal or minimize those of the earthquake which preceded it. We believe that this attempt is more apparent than real. Men stand less in awe and speak less reticently of man-made disasters than of those accruing from the operation of the blind forces of nature. So it may well be that San Franciscans, being human, speak less in reticence of the fire than of the earthquake. However, there is another and more cogent reason: the direct damages of the earthquake of April 18, 1906, while extensive, were by no means colossal. And had it not been for the four-days’ raging fire, nine-tenths of the destruction would not have occurred. The thousands of residences which escaped the fire, many of which are now still standing, afford irrefutable proof of this. Some were wrenched from their foundations, and many suffered fallen chimneys and cracked plaster, but minor repairs soon put them all back into use. Moreover, few if any of the business buildings which had been properly constructed of proper materials, succumbed to the earthquake. Windows in them were broken and plaster cracked, but damage was small until the fire struck and gutted them. Larger buildings, as we use the term now, were more the exception than the rule before April, 1906, in San Francisco, but there were a number of them then and, except in cases where they have been torn down to make room for larger ones, they still stand and are in constant use today. Properly constructed, of proper materials, they took the worst that the earthquake offered, and did not fall or fail. The Central Tower Building, standing today at Third and Market streets, as good as ever, is one such building. The de Young Building, diagonally across from it at Market, Kearny and Geary streets, is another. So is the Flood Building at Market and Powell; and so are the main Post Office Building at Seventh and Mission, the famed Ferry Building at the foot of Market, the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill, and the Merchants Exchange at California and Leidesdorff. All these buildings took the earthquake’s heaviest blows and, except by the fire, were not seriously damaged. Of the colossal destruction wreaked by the mighty avalanche of fire which for four full days swept San Francisco, the late Frank Morton Todd in his engaging history of Fireman’s Fund, A Romance of Insurance, says:

"The ruin of San Francisco in 1906 resembled that of Constantinople in the thirteenth century. In San Francisco the human enemy was lacking; but the cases have in common the sudden turning of half an urban population into home-less migrants, and the disruption of every arrangement of their lives. . . . By the 21st of April, four hundred ninety-seven blocks, three thousand acres, over four and a half square miles, had been burned out of the heart of the city, taking the wholesale, financial and retail shopping districts, together with the populous area south of Market Street and toward the Mission district, and leaving miles of streets impassable.. . . Over twenty-eight thousand one hundred eighty buildings were destroyed, said to be worth, with their contents, between $350,000,000 and $500,000,000 – which is as close an estimate as it was possible to make—the greatest conflagration loss the world has ever known."

Yes, what ruined San Francisco was the fire; and, in stressing it, San Franciscans are not guilty of attempting to conceal or ignore the earthquake. To be sure, what gave the fire its chance was lack of water; and for this the earthquake, breaking the major water mains, was to blame. But pursuing the matter further, blame might be placed on a long line of city officials – for not providing an adequate auxiliary fire-fighting water supply. Of course their dereliction was not through lack of good intentions. Rather, never having had or heard of such an experience, they could not foresee its possibility, and knew neither the necessity nor the means of coping with it. It took the harsh, staggeringly costly lesson of April, 1906, to teach San Franciscans the necessity of a system of water supply for fire protection, second to none. Thanks to this catastrophic lesson, San Francisco now has such a system – a system so complete, so diverse, and so abundantly extensive that neither serious rupture of mains nor failure of pressure is a likelihood, even in the event of an earthquake of record severity.

For weeks after the great fire, thousands of San Franciscans lived in the streets, in Golden Gate Park, in the Presidio, on famed Twin Peaks, and on other hills – in tents, "refugee shacks," and whatever other form of improvised habitation could be found or quickly built. Many thousands whose homes had not burned were permitted to sleep in their houses, but, lest cracked chimneys or broken flues start new fires, were required to cook in the streets in front of their homes.

Thanks to the quick arrival of the military and the declaration of martial law, there was little looting and no serious crime or disorder. And the general commissary establishment was so quickly and well set up that good food in plenty was available for all. The men folk had to walk blocks and stand in long queues to get it, but in those days they had little else to do, so this worked no hardship. Fortunately, after the heavy rain on the 22nd, the weather cleared quickly and remained sunny and warm; and the testimony of many who went through the experience is that after the first two or three days, by which time order and an orderly pattern of life had been established, they actually enjoyed it – "It was like going to the mountains on a camping trip and roughing it." They were "all in the same boat," and a spirit of camaraderie quickly developed, which lived and later evidenced itself in many a "five, ten or fifteen years after" celebration. Men who previously "never had time" to help another, found themselves now doing so willingly; and with an inner recompense the like of which they never had known before. It was out of that spirit of "one for all and all for one," that, as soon as the ruins had cooled, San Franciscans went to work to build their new city on the ashes of the old one. How well they builded, let the skyline of today’s city proudly tell!

The years immediately following the disaster of 1906 were probably the busiest in San Francisco’s whole history, the teeming years of the Gold Rush not excepted. Fortunately, much of the huge fire loss was covered by insurance, and its prompt payment permitted the quick start of full reconstruction – the new city is really a monument to fire insurance.

Not only the vast physical ruins had to be cleared away and a new city built, but a mess of municipal graft and a swarm of grafters, which had built up and prospered on the city’s ruin, had to be eradicated. In the short space of less than nine years all this was done. And with it done, San Francisco, with pride and happiness, addressed an invitation to all the world, reading: "Come and See!"

The world accepted. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition – the "World’s Fair" as everyone called it – was, despite the World War, one of the gayest, happiest, most interesting and colorful international pageants ever held. Millions of people, the fortunate who came and saw, will so testify. From February, 1915, until November, people from all corners of the globe flocked to San Francisco to see what firm faith and stout hearts had done and to drink a toast to the city that once again, phoenix-like, had risen out of its own ashes to new and more glorious life. And – what perhaps may not be so widely known – San Francisco paid for the whole gigantic Exposition without aid from the Federal government or from any other source!

The 1915 World’s Fair celebrated alike the emergence of the new city of San Francisco and the opening of the world’s greatest man-made highway of international commerce – the Panama Canal. Appropriate it was that the first ship to transit this great new waterway was a San Francisco vessel, belonging to a San Francisco company, which under sail and steam, had served intercoastal commerce out of San Francisco since 1855. The opening of the canal cut transit time between San Francisco and New York in two, and begot a flow of water-borne commerce in and out of San Francisco which went on increasing until World War II intervened.

When America entered World War I, San Francisco responded quickly to do her full part. Though far distant from the scene of action, she was in the forefront of all wartime activity, and her sons fought bravely on every battlefield.

With the Armistice, San Francisco turned happily back to the pursuits of peace, continuing her public building program in the Civic Center which the war had interrupted. Adjoining the great Civic Auditorium, gift of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to the citizens of San Francisco, was the new City Hall, which, with its high-towering dome of gold, is, for beauty and magnificence, unrivalled throughout America. Close by it, later arose the War Veterans Building and the War Memorial Opera House, inspiring monuments alike to the community’s contribution to Allied victory and to the love of its people for fine music. Opposite it, at the other end of the Civic Center, was built another beautiful building, to house the City and County public library. And far out on the ocean’s edge, above the cliffs, on ground where once stood Spanish conquistadors to gaze upon the broad waters of the Pacific, there grew out of a distinguished San Francisco woman’s love and munificence, the Palace of the Legion of Honor – simple, stately, majestic, bequeathed to the city as a temple of fine arts.

Then, when. lesser-statured men might have been content to rest upon their laurels and say "enough," a resounding call went out to build the world’s two greatest bridges: to link San Francisco with Oakland and the other fast-growing East Bay cities with an edifice of steel, and to span the waters of the Pacific at the Golden Gate. There were those, of course, to say "it can’t be done?’ Money, they said, was lacking. There was a world depression on. The Bay bridge could be built, but the Golden Gate bridge was "physically impossible."

But there they stand today! Useful, beyond the wildest dreams of their most ardent votaries. Symbols, majestic, of San Francisco’s strength and faith and courage. Reminders, perpetual, of the verity of Keats’ immortal saying that "a thing of beauty is a joy forever!"

To celebrate the completion of the world’s two greatest bridges, and to commemorate another quarter-century of steady progress, San Francisco, in 1939 and 1940, sponsored the Golden Gate International Exposition, and was host again to millions of visitors from every corner of the world. Neither the second World War nor New York’s mighty rival exposition was enough to prevent San Francisco’s man-made "Treasure Island" from being the mecca of the world. During the spring, summer and fall months of these two years, millions of men and women and children walked the shores of this magic island and marveled at beauty so enchanting it seemed to be of another world.

The Golden Gate International Exposition was the crowning monument to San Francisco’s renaissance. In thirty-five years the city that had been burned to ashes had rebuilt itself, held two international expositions, and built the two greatest bridges in the world!

After April, 1906, there were voices heard throughout America, and some here in our own midst, talking of San Francisco and its glories in the past tense – "the city that was." They spoke in rich and glowing praise of what had been; but with a note of tenderness, a tone of sadness, that seemed to say: "All this, so glorious, has been, but cannot be again."

Well, some of that, of course, has not returned; nor will it. Some of it lies buried with the epoch that ended in the murky dawn of that April morning back in 1906. Its role full played, it was ready to go, awaiting only the dramatic moment to make its final exit. It could not come again; its course was finished, its last race was run. Only its memories linger. But as, when the grain of seed falls into the good earth and dies, new life springs out of it, so out of San Francisco’s spent glories new ones have taken root and risen.

The thing most often urged, perhaps by those who in sweet nostalgia lament "the glories gone" is that San Francisco has lost that gaiety for which it was so long acclaimed – that carefree gaiety which takes no thought beyond enjoying to the full each full moment’s joy.

It is true no doubt that some of this is missing. Part of it went when war came. When our fairest sons are dying, ‘tis not easy to be gay. On that sweet day when peace returns, that part will come again. But another part of it has gone – not to return. For when youth grows into manhood, a certain manly soberness ensues. That part of San Francisco’s old gaiety lies slumbering with the city’s youth. But this is not ground for tears and lamentation. For if this youthful, carefree gaiety be gone, to take its place has come a nobler kind of thing – a serious joy at duties and good deeds well done. And with this, too, a recognition and a sober countenancing of that newly found reality which warns that if humanity would avoid the black abyss, nations and cities and men can no longer stand aloof – "serene, indifferent to fate" – but henceforth must be, increasingly, "their brothers’ keeper." Who knows? The time will come, sooner, please God, than now seems possible, when men of every race and land and creed may think and feel and act in terms of human brotherhood. Then will come again to San Francisco’s face a smile, and to her heart once more a glowing gladness.

[Fireman’s Fund Archives: 4-1-3-4-67, 0412]


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