The Other Fair

New Yorkers recall 1939 as the year of the great World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow. But that’s just more Eastern provincialism. Take a look at what was going on in San Francisco.

A newspaper article the other day informed me that the late 1930s are back in fashion. Historical societies are girding to protect Art Deco. The clarinet of Benny Goodman is heard on compact discs. Designers are filching illustrations and typefaces from The Saturday Evening Post. If the trend continues, we may shortly be revisited by dotted swiss housedresses, junket rennet custard, the wimple, and the Studebaker sedan. Read more »

Starting Again In San Francisco

No city has more energetically obliterated the remnants of its past. And yet no city has a greater sense of its history.

On the edge of a pond a few blocks from my home, there is a knee-high chunk of granite with a bronze plate on one side, marking the spot where a band of Spanish soldiers commanded by a captain named Juan Bautista de Anza pitched camp on a March afternoon in 1776. They were scouting the site of what is now San Francisco, and like most San Franciscans ever since, they came here hoping to change their lives. Read more »

Traveling With A Sense Of History

From Fort Ticonderoga to the Plaza Hotel, from Appomattox Courthouse to Bugsy Siegel’s weird rose garden in Las Vegas, the present-day scene is enriched by knowledge of the American past

To grow up in New England is to grow up with an inescapable sense of history, a heritage that a New Englander carries with him wherever he goes. Read more »

A Century Of Cable Cars

Magnificently impractical and obsolete almost as soon as they were built, the cable lines briefly dominated urban transportation throughout the country

Beloved of San Franciscans for more than a century now, the sturdy cable cars cling tenaciously to the hills of their birth. They are fiercely protected as one of the crown jewels of Bay Area tourism—a columnist in the Chronicle once went so far as to say that, without them, San Francisco would only be a lumpy Los Angeles—but they are a good deal more than that. Read more »

Dawn Of The Railroad

A pioneer locomotive builder used pen and ink, watercolor, and near-total recall to re-create the birth of a titanic enterprise

TOWARD THE END of his life, in the 1880s, David Matthew could go across the bay from his San Francisco home and see the long transcontinental trains rolling into Oakland. Behind them to the east lay more than a hundred and fifty thousand miles of track and a nation that had, in the past half-century, been entirely transformed by the railroads.Read more »

California: The Art Of The State

California has always been as much a state of mind as a geographical entity. For the better part of two centuries, artists have been defining its splendid promise.

BEFORE THE DISCOVERY of gold at Sutler’s mill in 1848, the population of California was too small and too scattered to produce much painting. In modern times the history of art has paralleled the rise of cities and new wealth, and it was gold that made San Francisco large enough and rich enough to support California’s first art community. Read more »

Masters Of The Merchant Marine

We built a merchant marine despite the opposition of the Royal Navy, went on to develop the most beautiful of all sailing ships, and held our supremacy for years. But how do we measure up today?

AMERICA is in the midst of a revival of interest in things nautical—nineteenth-century nautical. It began with the efforts of a handful of romantics to preserve the few remnants of the age of sail and was intensified by the magnificent Bicentennial Operation Sail. Now seaports across the country—in New York and San Diego, Philadelphia and Galveston, San Francisco, Boston, and Houston- are turning their waterfronts into public parks, often with a tall windship as the centerpiece.Read more »

Earthquake

An all-but-forgotten San Francisco photographer has left us a grand and terrible record of the destruction and rebirth of an American city

Read more »

The Bohemian Club

For more than a century, the august members of this San Francisco body have enjoyed a unique, all-male midsummer night’s dream

At first it was a men’s club of the meanest stripe—a sparsely furnished, stogie-scented parlor on the second story of a red-brick office block, across the alley from an undertaker’s morgue, within the sonic radius of a two-bit music hall. Its founders were half-a-dozen newspapermen who imagined themselves, on no substantial evidence, to be the artistic elite of a provincial city that already rejoiced in men’s clubs of virtually every possible type from Cantonese tongs to Bavarian zonkerbunds.Read more »

“To A Distant And Perilous Service”

Westward with the course of empire Colonel Jonathan Drake Stevenson took his way in 1846. With him went the denizens of New York’s Tammany wards, oyster cellars, and gin mills—the future leaders of California.

The lumpy peninsula now called San Francisco was humanized at some unrecorded moment of prehistory by brown-skinned Californians of the Costanoan strain.Read more »