“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…” The song, written by John Phillips of Mamas & Papas fame, was recorded by Scott McKenzie (1939-2012) in 1967, becoming a world-wide hit and selling over 7 million recordings.
The words of the song went on to say that in San Francisco “Summertime will be a love-in there … and you’re going to meet some gentle people there…” and in many ways this helped define San Francisco as the Hippie capital of the world – where flower-power, peace signs, youth, music, long hair, free love, love-ins, drugs and Vietnam helped to define the ‘60’s generation.
It was the sixties and The 1960’s perhaps more than any other era was a time of change with the Monterey Pop Festival, just 2 hours south of San Francisco in June 1967 headlining singers like Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, the Mamas & the Papas, Otis Redding, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds & Simon & Garfunkel. There was a worldwide music revolution taking place and San Francisco was at the American heart of it.
The history of San Francisco however goes back many years …
San Francisco is located on the West Coast Pacific Ocean coastline roughly 400 miles north of Los Angeles, and while it has beaches on the coast it is more defined by its location on San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge almost as famous as the city itself.
The American West Coast was home to a large number of Native American tribal groups and in the San Francisco area by the Miwok and Ohlone /Costanoan people, long before any European explorers found their way here.
In 1542 the Spanish Conquistador, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (1499-1543) set sail on a voyage up the west coast of New Spain from Barra de Navidad in Mexico (Manzanillo) reaching today’s San Diego . He and his ships continued northwards, but he died from wounds he received in the Channel Islands following a skirmish with local islanders. His second in command, Bartolomé Ferrer (1499-1550) then took charge and sailed northwards along the coast, but did not sail into San Francisco Bay, reaching what is now Cape Orford in 1543 in today’s Oregon State, where Cape Blanco Lighthouse (Built 1870) now stands.
In 1579 the British explorer and privateer Sir Francis Drake (c.1540-1596) who had spent much of his life and travels raiding Spanish Galleons for the gold they were carrying, sailed up the coastline past San Francisco on the ‘Golden Hind’ in search of the North West Passage that was thought to exist as a sea passage from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific Ocean. He is thought to have landed at Drakes Bay about an hour north of San Francisco. The freezing cold as he headed further north forced him to abandon this search for the North West Passage and question its existence and so he then sailed south west across the Pacific to the Moluccas (Spice Islands-today’s Indonesia), round the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and back to England, by which time he had circumnavigated the world.
In 1595-96 a ship the San Augustin, captained by a Portuguese Captain Sebastiao Rodriques Soromenho (1560-1602) had sailed from the Philippines to the Californian coastline, anchoring in Drakes Bay. A fierce storm destroyed the ship here, but the captain and crew managed to take a long boat and head south to Mexico and safety without finding or seeing the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Conjecture is that both Soromenho (possibly named Cermeno) and Sir Francis Drake both missed identifying the entrance to the Harbor due to thick fog at the time. Relying on wind only to sail and entering into a thick fog without being able to see rocks, sand bars or other dangers would certainly endanger the ship.
In 1602 the Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino (1548-1624) had mapped the Californian coast as far north as Monterey – the ‘Bahia de Monterrey’ described as a great harbor and suited as an anchorage for Spanish Galleons plying the ‘Manila Trade’ (1565-1815) which was between Manila in the Philippines (where they sourced goods from China and other parts of Asia)and Nao de Acapulco in Mexico . At the time there was much conjecture as to whether in fact California was a peninsula or actually an island – the debate lasting over 100 years, before it was finally agreed that it was indeed a peninsula. The maps that Vizcaino drew and his accounts of Monterey being a future potential great harbor were later used when the Spanish set out to establish Missions and Forts in Alta California.
The Manila Trade route was also a closely guarded secret, and the Galleons that set out were subject to pirate attack, the dangers of weather, and also scurvy on board ship. It is thought that the Galleons on the return journey from Manila would sail to the northern coast of California and use the south flowing currents as well as the wind to sail south to Acapulco. With a valuable cargo on-board, they were not allowed to stop along the coastline, other than possibly to take refuge from bad weather, but in most cases they would be safer at sea than close to a rocky and dangerous coastline.
To understand this trade route more clearly – the existing trade routes from China, the Spice Islands (Indonesia) and India were controlled by the Dutch and English who headed around the Cape of Good Hope and back to Europe, and the Spanish were therefore stopped from using this trade route. The Manila Trade Route from Manila to Acapulco and across land to San Juan and then back to Spain gave them control over this trade route to the exclusion of English and others.
It was not until the 1700’s that Jesuit Missionary Friars establishing the first missions in New Spain including Baja California – that sought to teach the Catholic religion, educate and build a commercially self-reliant missions in most cases being a church, gardens, fields, workrooms and walls for protection around the mission, one of the most notable Jesuit missionaries being Eusebio Kino who built a number of Missions in New Spain, including Baja California.
In the 1700’s Nueva California later named Alta California was declared to be part of New Spain, but was not occupied by the Spanish, continuing to be the land of many tribes of Native Americans – including Pima, Opa, Yumas, Yaquis and Apache.
In 1767 the King of Spain and King of Naples, Carlos III issued a mandate summons whereby all Jesuits wherever they were located within the Spanish Empire had to return to Spain – if not volunteering, then by force. The King based this decision on his belief that the Jesuits were becoming too strong a force, not paying sufficient taxes nor declaring supposed wealth they were accumulating, and were being loyal to the Vatican and Rome and not to him, King Carlos III as the absolute ruler over Spain and the Spanish Empire. The ‘Expulsion’ as it came to be called was a very hard time for the Jesuits – with many Jesuits dying in the process and evicted from their missions by force.
Gaspar de Portola (1716-1786) in 1768 was appointed by King Carlos III as the governor of ‘Las Californias’ – being both Baja California and Alta California – and in 1769 Portola organised for a sea and also land journey with himself, Franciscan Father Junipero Serra and a party of men, mules and provisions to head north to San Diego, and then from there north to Monterey Bay, which had been identified by Sebastian Viscaino in 1602 as having good potential to establish a settlement on the Harbor. Father Junipero Serra was declared a ‘Saint’ by the Vatican in 1988.
On this first journey Gaspar de Portola, Fray (brother) Juan Crespi, Sergeant José Ortega (1734-1798) and his land party of men, horses and provisions left San Diego in May 1769 and passed by Monterey Bay without recognizing it, before Gaspar de Portola, Sergeant José Ortega and Fray Juan Crespi sighted San Francisco Bay on October 31st, 1769. Although Portola was not particularly impressed with what he saw, Fray Juan Crespi described what he saw in a journal note saying “It is a very large and fine harbor, such that not only all the Navy of our most Catholic Majesty but those of all Europe could shelter in”.
They then returned to San Diego, stopping at Monterey Bay on the way taking 3 months to travel the distance back, arriving in San Diego on January 24, 1770. A second expedition set out in May 1770 to Monterey and this time they began construction in Monterey of a Presidio Fort and inside the Presidio compound construction began of the ‘Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo’ (Destroyed by fire in 1789 but rebuilt in sandstone in 1794). Monterey in turn became the Capital of both Baja and Alta California in 1777.
Also in 1770 another expedition led by Captain Pedro Fages (1734-1794), who had been second in command on Gaspar de Portola’s earlier expedition, travelled north to San Francisco from Monterey but further inland creating an easier route northwards. Captain Pedro Fages had by this time been made Lieutenant Governor of the State. Further expeditions followed in 1772.
In 1776 another expedition set off from Monterey to establish a Mission in San Francisco- the ‘Mission San Francisco de Assis’ (Mission Delores) with Father Junipero Serra as the director in charge of the Mission. The Mission Dolores Basilica buildings, gardens and the cemetery next to it can still be seen today at 3321 Sixteenth Street (See www.missiondolores.org Tel: (415) 621 8203).
Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) built 8 new missions, roughly a day’s horse ride between them from Baja California northwards into Alta California. Existing Jesuit missions were also taken over, creating a total of 21 missions in Baja and Alta California.
When Father Juniper Serra died in 1784 he was buried in the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo – built in 1771, his second mission. The Mission, Basilica, Chapel, museum and cemetery can still be seen – located at 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel about 2 hours driving distance south of San Francisco. See www.carmelmission.org Tel: (831) 624 1271.
The Missions formed an important part in the development of California – the Franciscan Missions priorities being to bring the word of God and Jesus to these “heathen lands” through teachings, baptisms, blessings and other rites. They also saw their spiritual role being to instruct those who came to the mission in Christian religion, and their temporal role being to teach Spanish language as well as the skills needed in adobe brick making, building, growing crops and fruit trees, animal care, cooking, cleaning and other household duties.
With each new mission they brought with them the necessities for performing Religious services, baptisms, Mass, Religious Rites and Sacraments, but also cattle, seeds, metal tools and household utensils to enable them to build Missions that could survive and become self -sufficient. The local tribes, including the Ohlone and Miwok in San Francisco who joined in the missions and converted to Christianity became what the Franciscans called “Neophytes” becoming the workforce to build the missions.
Besides the skills and equipment brought to the missions and forts they built, the Spanish also brought with them diseases like measles and even Cholera to which the Ohlone and other tribes had no immunity and just as in other parts of North, Central and South America the European diseases killed thousands and overall millions of local people. In Mission Delores Cemetery alone there are estimated to be 5000 Ohlone and Miwok people buried, along with Missionaries and others.
At the same time (1776) that Mission Delores was being established, the newly appointed Spanish Governor, Pedro Fages, Governor from 1770 to 1774 built a Presidio (Fort) in San Francisco with a garrison for protection of the Delores Mission and other Spaniards who would follow. The Fort Presidio was built as a means of defense and to confirm that Alta California was indeed under the control of Spain.
El Presidio de San Francisco is now the Presidio National Park on the tip of San Francisco Peninsula – and has shuttle buses running to take you around the Park and all the historic locations within it. Marshall Beach and also Baker Beach on the Pacific Ocean are also inside the Park.
The Presidio Garrison Fort was built at the entrance of San Francisco Harbor with more than 200 men, women and children located here, and Captain Juan Bautista de Anza (1736-1788) as its first commander.
In his diary note of March 27th, 1776 Juan Bautista de Anza who had journeyed first from Sonora to Monterey and then onwards to San Francisco wrote “The Port of San Francisco is a wonder of nature and may be called the Port of Ports, on account of its great capacity and the various bights included in its Littoral or shore and in its islands”. Today the Anza Historical Trail, named in his honor, from Sonora (Nogales in Arizona) to San Francisco is a National Historic Trail. See www.anzahistorictrail.org
When the Spanish conquered their territories in North, Central and South America they declared the lands by ‘Virtue of discovery” ignoring the rights of those people whose traditional lands they were taking. In turn they gave authority to Presidios commanders to grant ‘Ranchos’ as a reward for soldier service and to new settlers and others deemed worthy. Mission lands also came under these laws, and missions used the lands that they were granted to grow crops, raise cattle and make tobacco, wine, soap, flour, leather, shoes, cloth and other goods for sale and use by the mission.
While much of the provisions and supplies were carried north to San Francisco from Monterey carried on pack mules and horses, other supplies were brought to San Francisco by ship, with the first ship to arrive in the Bahia de San Francisco (San Francisco Bay) being the San Carlos, captained by Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala (1745-1797) on August 4th 1775.
After some trepidation about entering the Harbor and the dangers that might be encountered, de Ayala first sent his pilot, José Cañizares to cross through the Golden Gate entrance into the Bay rowing a Redwood canoe that he had built in Monterey, before following with the San Carlos, and anchoring off Angel Island inside the Bay. He then made charts and surveyed the Bay and islands over the next 40 days, before sailing south back to Monterey and on to San Blas in Mexico.
In the years that followed, San Francisco slowly developed, with the Mission, Presidio and area of Buena Vista forming the basis of the settlement.
The late 1700’s was also a time when the European Colonial Powers were most active too.
The English Explorer, Captain James Cook (1728-1779) had sailed in the Pacific Ocean on 3 voyages – his first to Tahiti and then south to discover New Zealand and the east coast of the Great South Land (Australia), then on his second voyage, charted more of New Zealand and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), and his third voyage took him to Hawaii (The Sandwich Islands) where he was killed by a spear that was thrown at him by a Hawaiian.
The Spanish Explorer Juan Perez (c.1725-1775) also explored the west coast sailing from Monterey north to Alaska in 1774, naming the islands in British Columbia in today’s Canada. On board too was Fray Juan Crespi. Spain had declared its rights and ownership over the whole of North America, based on the fact that Vasco Núñez de Balboa (c.1475-1519) had crossed over the isthmus at Panama in 1513 to find the Mar del Sur (South Sea) now Pacific Ocean, the first European to do so from the New World (America) declaring that all lands that touched this sea were territories belonging to Spain.
French Explorer, Jean-François La Perouse (1741-1788) was also exploring the Pacific, mapping much of the West Coast from Monterey north to Alaska in 1786. Two years later he and his ships were lost at sea somewhere it is believed near the Solomon Islands.
George Vancouver (1757-1798) also English (who had travelled with James Cook on both his 2nd and 3rd voyages) also charted the North West coastline of North America on an expedition between 1791 and 1795. This expedition had taken him via the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), along the south west coastline of Australia, to New Zealand, Tahiti, and China before heading east to the North West coastline of America, where he then charted the coastline of today’s Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia all the way north to Nootka in Alaska, before heading back to Britain in 1795. The city of Vancouver is named in his honor.
Robert Gray (1755-1806) an American born in Rhode Island also explored parts of the North West coast too between 1787 and 1790 trading between the North West where he found and named the Columbia River and secured pelts and furs for sale in China where he sold them and bought tea to take back to Boston on the East Coast. He spent several days on the Columbia River in 1792, and when he came ashore, he raised an American flag and planted coins under a Pine Tree, declaring that this land was claimed in the name of the United States.
The Russians too had designs on extending their territories too and in 1741 Vitus Bering (1681-1741) born in Denmark, but as a Captain in the Russian Navy, he set out on an expedition at the request of Peter the Great to explore the Aleutian Islands, parts of Alaska and today Bering Island and the Bering Sea bear his name. Russian fur hunters and traders also hunted in the far North West, and in 1799 the Russian-American Company was formed hunting for sea otters along the coastline. In 1806 a Russian ship, the Juno sailed into San Francisco Bay and in a strange twist in history, the Company’s Imperial Inspector, Nikolai Resanov met with the Spanish commander of the Presidio and in turn proposed to marry his 15 year old daughter!
In 1812, the Russian-American Company built Fort Ross (See www.fortross.org) in Bodega Bay just 67 miles north of San Francisco, with Russian, Alaskan and the Kashaya Pomo Indians establishing the settlement largely to hunt for sea otters for their pelts. In 1839 the Company abandoned the site, but it can still be seen today at 19005 Californian Coast Highway 1, 67 miles north of San Francisco.
While for a time there was a strong possibility that Britain, Russia and possibly French might challenge Spain’s control over California, again in a twist of history, it was Spain’s own territory of Mexico that would turn on Spain and challenge it. The Spanish-Mexican War of Independence started as a series of revolts around 1810 which were put down, but in 1821 the War was concluded with Mexico taking control from Spain over Mexico, New Mexico and Baja and Alta California, although news of this did not reach California for close to a year later. This change from Spanish to Mexican rule heralded a very important change in policy.
Under Spanish rule, foreign ships and foreigners were not permitted to use Spanish ports, but under Mexican authority foreign ships could use Spanish ports as long as they paid duties on their cargos.
Traders, whalers and others grew in number with the new rules allowing them to use Monterey and San Francisco Bay – and local trade changed from otter pelts and furs from hunters to trade in hides, tallow, dried meat, maize, suet, flour and other produce and goods that were produced on the land. Even so, San Francisco’s population remained small, and in 1848 it was just over 1000 people.
The United States had formed the Pacific Squadron in 1821, to protect American ships in the Pacific from pirates and in 1835 the United States East India Squadron joined it too, putting in place American interests in the Pacific which have continued to this day.
A rough town plan had been put in place with the town itself called ‘Yerba Buena’ by an British Merchant Marine William Richardson (1795-1856) who had come ashore in 1822 and ended up staying and marrying the daughter of the Commander of the Presidio, going on to become the Captain of the Port. The town’s name changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco in 1847, a year after the United States war with Mexico (1946-48) had concluded with the signing of the ‘Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’ signed in February 1848 whereby Mexico ceded Alta California and all of New Mexico which at the time included the current state of New Mexico, Arizona, and parts or Utah and Colorado to the United States. Baja California remained as part of Mexico.
Yerba Buena is today a large esplanade park area in the center of San Francisco with gardens, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and other cultural building around the Park area.
Just over a week before the Treaty was signed, gold was discovered in California and with news of the discovery this was the start of the ‘Great Californian Gold Rush’ that saw thousands of people flock to California overland by horse, wagon and by ship- the rush of people that came to became known as the ‘49ers’. By 1850 San Francisco had become a city with 20,000 people the gateway to the gold fields. The fast American Clipper sailing ships that had been built for the tea trade overnight became the means to bring Passengers from Boston and New York to San Francisco, while other shiploads sailed into San Francisco from China, South America, Britain and other parts of the world.
With the massive increase in population, California also gained statehood becoming the 31st State in the Union in 1880. Between 1853 and 1861 Fort Point was built to protect San Francisco Bay and the wealth that was now coming through the city.
Construction of a Railroad by the Panama Railroad Company across the Isthmus of Panama to Balboa (Panama City) began in 1850 and was only completed in 1855 – a massive undertaking given the times, tropical diseases, snakes, cholera, swamps and difficult terrain that it had to pass through, even though it was just 47 miles across. Large numbers of Irish and Chinese workers as well as workers of other nationalities were employed to build the railroad and an estimated 5000 to 10,000 workers were said to have perished in the process. The Railroad however dramatically cut the time to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, with ships travelling to Panama on the east side to drop off passengers, who could then take the 47 mile journey across the isthmus and then a ship to California. The Panama Canal was not built and opened until 1913.
In 1862 Abraham Lincoln approved plans for a Trans Continental Railroad to be built to connect New York and Chicago on the east coast to Sacramento in California. Two companies, one on the east (Union Pacific Railroad) and one in California (Central Pacific Railroad) began the constructions with the track which was completed in 1868. Again Irish and an estimated 12,000 to 20,000 Chinese workers were employed to build the railroad, with the Railroad also bringing more people to California and to San Francisco.
Once the railroad was completed, the Chinese and Irish workers became jobless but would stay on in San Francisco to build a new life. San Francisco’s Chinatown grew from this time – with Chinese Laundries, barbers, draperies, restaurants, and other businesses developing, and work in building fishing, shrimp drying, the fish cannery, flower and vegetable gardens being established.
If you visit the Maritime Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, you will be able to see the ‘Grace Quan’, a 43 feet long replica built by NPS Volunteers in 2003 of one of the Redwood shrimp fishing Junks that Chinese fisherman built, sailed and fished from in San Francisco and from the village, now City of San Rafael on the north side of the Bay in the years from 1860 to around 1910.
On one hand the Government encouraged Chinese to come to the United States to work, with trade treaties signed between the two countries (The Treaty of Tientsin in 1858 and Burlingame Treaty in 1869), but there was also growing resentment too, which resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, with new Chinese immigrants being processed on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. The Act was only repealed in 1943.
In 1906 an earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed much of San Francisco, including Chinatown. The earthquake and fire destroyed many buildings, but this did not stop the city from rebuilding what was destroyed but also building more.
There are many things that can distinguish a city – and San Francisco has a number of them – the Bay itself, the Golden Gate Bridge, the island of Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, its painted Victorian houses and of course the Cable Cars.
With the gold rushes bringing gold and wealth to San Francisco, new opulent hotels and other buildings followed, as well as cobblestone streets and horse drawn streetcars. The hills of San Francisco are hard enough to walk up, let alone for horses to pull a streetcar.
In 1869 the Englishman, Andrew Hallidie (1836-1900) moved to America in 1852, bringing with him his father’s ‘wire rope inventions’.
Just as a plait adds strength to hair, and spinning and weaving to make cloth, wire rope technology spinning fine wires together also creates a much stronger cable or rope. The original idea of a woven wire rope using strands of wire was developed by a German mining engineer, Wilhelm Albert (1787-1846) around 1831-1834 and this development was used in German mines to pull coal wagons along tracks in place of chains which were subject to breakage and metal fatigue.
In 1840 a Scottish engineer, Lewis Gordon (1815-1876) who had seen the wire ropes used in the German mines and met Wilhelm Albert, returned to Scotland to meet with Robert Stirling Newall (1812-1889) and together they refined and developed machinery to manufacture wire rope cables for use in Telegraphy. Their Telegraph cables went on to be used in the first telegraph cable laid across the English Channel in 1851 and in 1866 the Trans-Atlantic Cable from London to New York.
A German emigrant to the United States, John A. Roebling (1806-1869) also built a wire rope company and his company’s cables were used in building New York’s Brooklyn suspension Bridge in 1883.
According to a story, Hallidie after seeing a horse-drawn Streetcar accident where the weight of the streetcar pulled the horses backwards and off their feet. He used this accident as a means of promoting the idea of using wire rope cables to build a cablecar system in San Francisco. This story may or may not be true, but ‘the accident’ was certainly a good way to sell his invention and its application.
Hallidie’s cable system was first tested in San Francisco in 1873 and then went on to become one of the endearing features of San Francisco. The Cablecar Museum is located at 1201 Mason Street (See www.cablecarmuseum.org Tel: (415) 474 1887). Hallidie also built a wire rope company that went on to build other cablecar systems as well as cables for many suspension bridges.
Wire Ropes also called cables became a significant part in another San Franciscan landmark – The Golden Gate Bridge – with construction starting in 1932 and the Bridge opening in 1937. This was at the time when ‘Art Deco’ design was hugely popular, and the bridge design and piers all have Art Deco features. There are also other examples of Art Deco design in San Francisco, perhaps the most interesting being the Bathhouse Building (built in 1939)in Art Deco Streamline Moderne design that houses the Maritime Museum, modelled on a ship with turret and port holes in its sides.
The idea of building a bridge across the Golden Gate Strait to link both sides of the Bay date back to the 1870’s, perhaps even earlier but it wasn’t until the 1920’s that designs for a bridge came into serious consideration, by which time the population on both sides of the Bay had grown enormously. The only means of crossing the bay at that time was by Ferry, both carrying passengers but also cars.
At the height of the Great Depression that had started in 1929, unemployment in California by 1932 had reached 28% when construction of the access road to the proposed Bridge began in December 1932. It was a massive construction project with the main suspension span 1.2 miles long, 60,000 ton anchorages at each end, and the bridge, cables, anchorages and approaches weighing a massive 894,500 tons.
In just one of the main cables alone, there are 27,572 galvanized carbon steel wires making up these cables to create a cable with a diameter of 36 and 3/8th inches – almost a meter or yard wide. You can actually see a section of one of these cables close up near the Bridge Pavilion and Roundhouse below the southern end of the Bridge.
The Bridge road level is some 220 feet above the water, with the 250 pairs of vertical suspension cables, each 2 11/16th inches in diameter rising above, with the towers on each end rising 500 feet above the roadway.
Since its construction, millions of cars and people have passed over the bridge, and the Bridge has become a symbol of San Francisco with millions taking photos of it in the day, night and as the fog rolls in from the ocean.
San Francisco’s other most famous landmark is Alcatraz Island (Rock island) and its notorious Prison.
In 1775 the first Spanish ship the San Carlos captained by Juan Manual de Ayala entered San Francisco Bay and the charted the Bay giving names to the islands including Alcatraz Island – which in Spanish was called ‘La Isla de los Alcatraces’ – Alcatraces being the Spanish word for Gannets (a sea bird). The name ‘Alcatraz’ became an Anglicized version of the Spanish, though there is some doubt as to what type of birds roosted there, some people believing it to be cormorants or possibly pelicans.
In 1852 construction of a lighthouse on the island began and it became operational in 1854 with the United States Army Corp of Engineers starting to build a fortress there in 1853 with the Fort becoming operational by 1858 with a garrison of 200 soldiers and cannons located there. Over coming years it performed the role of both a Fort and also prison, variously holding Confederate prisoners captured during the Civil War, military prisoners, even Hopi Indians in the 1870’s and later even conscientious objectors during World War I.
The next chapter in its life is where it gained its notorious reputation as the most secure high security prison in the United States, with its most infamous resident prisoner being Mafia Boss, Al Capone.
From the time of its opening as a federal Prison in 1933 until it was closed down in 1963, there were 14 attempts by some 36 prisoners to escape, all being caught, drowned or shot in the process, although there is still conjecture as to whether 2 escapees in 1962 actually drowned or not. The Clint Eastwood Movie ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ helped dramatized Alcatraz and its infamy.
Today it is possible to visit Alcatraz to see the tiny 9 x 5 foot cells in the cell block, tunnels, lighthouse, officer’s Row gardens and guard houses and see cell 181 where Al Capone (1899-1947) was imprisoned at Alcatraz between 1933 until 1939. The island still holds the ghosts of its past, and since 1973 the island has been cared for by the National Park Service.
Fisherman’s Wharf today is a mix of real fishing boats, ferry and cruise operators, shops, food sellers, souvenir shops, restaurants, museums, street action and performers. Almost every tourist who comes to San Francisco will head here to walk along the waterfront and piers – to just people watch and enjoy the atmosphere and see whatever is going on here. There’s always something happening.
Apart from the fogs that roll in from the ocean, often covering the Golden Bridge sometimes even entirely, there are the beautifully styled and painted Victorian Terrace Style Row Houses that have characterized San Francisco for over 100 years. The houses often have a basement level, stairs leading to a small front porch and doorway to the house, with bay windows to the side, including on the second floor and also an attic level on top, with a gabled roof and finials and decorative wooden fretwork facades. The homes are very attractive using blues, yellows and other pastel colors and have often been referred to as ‘the painted ladies’ because of their colors. The best row of these Victorian homes is next to Alamo Park (Corner of Steiner Street and Hayes Street). For a walking tour see www.victorianhomewalk.com
When you think of New York City, you also think of New York on the East Coast as being the gateway to America where millions of immigrants passed by the Statue of Liberty to be processed on Ellis Island before heading west to seek their fortune. In many ways, San Francisco was the west coast smaller equivalent to New York, with Angel Island in the Bay established as an Immigration Station. The Angel Island Immigration Station operated between 1910 and 1940 during which time more than 300,000 immigrants were processed here, with the Island also being used to as an internment camp for Japanese and prisoners of war at the time of the Second World War. San Francisco, what Japanese originally called “Soko” has been home to many Japanese since the 1860’s, but in the war, even those Americans with Japanese heritage were interned. There was and still is a San Francisco neighborhood called Japantown (Nihonmachi).
Angel Island is now a National Historic Landmark and National Park and you can catch a Ferry to the island from Pier 41 on Fisherman’s Wharf to the island to then take a Segway or tram ride to see around the island. See www.angelislandsf.com for tours.
The Second World War in the Pacific brought thousands of sailors and troops to San Francisco and with the end of war, many of those returning who had fallen in love with San Francisco during their service moved here to live and work, and others to study at Berkeley University – one of America’s most famous Universities, founded in 1869.
The post war boom in manufacturing also saw San Francisco grow rapidly with the city spreading outwards around the Bay. In turn the ‘baby boomers’ born in the post war period in the post-war 1940’s and 1950’s became teenagers in the 1960’s and early 1970’s and much of the conservatism of the past was swept away with a new youth culture becoming dominant – a blue jeans revolution that encompassed hair styles, music, dance and fashion headlined by students against a background of ‘The Draft’ and the Vietnam war.
Levi Jeans were born in San Francisco, and in many ways the history of the Levi Strauss Company is a mirror of American and San Francisco’s history too.
Levi Strauss (1829-1902) was born in Germany, and arrived in New York as an immigrant with his brothers and sisters in 1848, working with his brothers there first before heading west to the Californian Gold Fields and San Francisco in 1853, where finding no luck on the gold field, he set up a company to sell cloth, fabric, canvas and other dry goods to drapers, tailors and other customers.
Another immigrant, Jacob Youphes (1831-1908) a Latvian, changing his name Jacob Davis to Americanise it (just as many other immigrants have done) was a customer of Levi Strass, buying fabrics including Duck (a tough linen canvas fabric taken from the Dutch word “Doek” ) from the Levi Strass Company to make horse blankets, wagon covers, tents and other goods.
One of Jacob’s customers asked him to make some extra strong pants that wouldn’t break, so he tailored them in Duck fabric and then for added strength used metal rivets at the weak spots around the pockets. Early success led him to approach Levi Strauss with the idea of Patenting the idea and a US Patent in their joint names followed, being issued on May 20, 1873.
The “Waist overalls” as they were originally called became the work clothes of millions of workers, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the word “Jeans” was applied to the overalls, with “Levi Jeans” along with other makers, becoming the symbol of youth and fashion, a clothing style that has continued to this day.
The company manufactured their Waist Overalls and then Jeans from 1873 and onwards in San Francisco, rebuilding their factory after the 1906 Earthquake, and on through World War One, the Depression, World War Two right up to 2002, at which point they closed the San Francisco jeans factory and moved production to Asia. The Company’s headquarters is still in San Francisco.
San Francisco has had its share of challenging good times and bad, weathering earthquakes, wars, depression, corruption, racial tensions, homelessness, congestion, drugs, aids, homophobia, gay rights, violence and all sorts of political, economic, moral and social issues that have confronted most societies over the years.
One thing that has remained unchanged throughout the city’s history is that San Francisco and its location on San Francisco Bay make the city a beautiful and innovative city.
I hope that in reading this short history of San Francisco, you have also learnt a little more about “The City of Angels”.