Growing by the Bay

Category: history Page 1 of 2

Video: San Francisco in the late 1930s

This somewhat cheesy video from the late 1930s catalogues the tourist attractions of the city. It’s a pretty thorough survey, and there are a lot of great clips included. The Bay Bridge had only recently been built.

At least the narrator can pronounce Kearny (rhymes with “carny” not “gurney’).

bridge worker

Good-bye, Bay Bridge

historic photo of construction workers on the san francisco-oakland bay brige


It feels like it’s taken forever, but the new Bay Bridge is finally entering its final months of construction, if reports can believed. To honor the old bridge, the Oakland Museum of California, in collaboration with Caltrans and the Bancroft Library, is compiling an oral history of the span. According to Louise Pubols, a senior curator at the museum (quoted in the SF Chronicle), “The Bay Bridge has that scrappy, underdog, proud, blue-collar identity, a lot like Oakland itself. It’s a workhorse. It gets stuff done.” According to historian Sam Redman (quoted in the same article), “People always talk about the grace and beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s the Bay Bridge that changed the way people actually live.”

Emperor Norton had mandated a bridge connecting San Francisco, Yerba Buena Island, and Oakland back in the 1870s, but the bridge was not actually constructed until the 1930s as part of an economic stimulus program. In the early years the lower deck was used for train travel (a kind of proto-BART system). Today it’s part of one of the nation’s most nightmarish commutes, and as the new bridge adds no additional lanes this will not change. Because the Bay Area has an inadequate public transit system, it will be difficult to reduce auto traffic over the congested span. It’s too bad that current stimulus money is being put into a high-speed rail system through the central valley rather than into local urban transit that might actual get some people off the roads.




Image of construction workers on the Bay Bridge via Tumbler images




Video: San Francisco before the earthquake

This seven-minute film taken from the front of a San Francisco streetcar going the length of Market Street toward the Ferry Building is said to have been shot four days before the earthquake and fire of 1906, and to have survived because it was sent by train to New York for processing before the quake. Virtually all of the buildings shown (except the Ferry Building itself) were destroyed in the quake.

The street scene is lively and chaotic, and many details are fascinating.

San Francisco Presidio in 1887

This image of the presidio in 1887 comes from the public library’s historical photographs collection. Of interest are the small trees (today a large grove or forest) that punctuate the landscape. It is easy from this photo to picture how spare the sandy Pacific reaches of the city once were. The photograph is attributed to the U.S.Army Signal Corps; on the back is written the following:

PRESIDIO OF SAN FRANCISCO, 1887. This photograph was taken facing west and shows the Presidio Boulevard approach to the Post. The trees, planted in 1882 when Major General Irwin McDowell was Commander of the Western Department, today cover the hillsides.

Video: Opium burning, San Francisco, 1914

This 1914 video shows opium paraphernalia being burnt in what is now the Civic Center area. At the time the area had not yet been rebuilt following the ’06 earthquake (because voters would not pass bonds for funding the project because of the corruption of city leaders), but here you can see the new city hall under construction.

The burning was associated with anti-Chinese sentiment. But the opium habit had been acquired by the Chinese when it was forced on them by the English in the Opium Wars in the mid-nineteenth century.



Video: War protest, 1967

This newsreel footage documents 1967 antiwar in San Francisco and elsewhere.


Aerial photo of 1949 San Francisco

This photo was taken in 1949 by San Francisco Chronicle photographer Barney Peterson. It was discovered by the Sparkletack blogger Richard Miller’s aunt among his grandfather’s archives. The photo is copyright the Chronicle, but I hope they won’t mind my posting this small version; the image links to the Sparkletack post.

aerial photograph of san francisco, 1949


The city as it was

cable car postcard from 1960s

David Newman administs a Flickr pool called San FranGone: The City as It Was. Here you can find photos, postcards (such as the mid-a960s cable car above), and maps ranging from the nineteenth century to fairly recently. Newsom says:

Please post your image in this group if:

You can’t go there anymore (i.e. Playland-at-the-Beach)

If the person, place or thing has changed significantly since the image was made (i.e. SF Bay with ferries, before the bridges were built)

This sheet music cover dates from 1917.

frisco china town sheet music

Hanging out on Haight and Masonic during the Summer of Drugs Love:

summer of love fashions

My publishing company used to occupy the entire first floor of the tower portion of the Call Building, the tallest building, I think, to survive the earthquake.

historic call bldg, san francisco

The pool has some limitations. A few posters somewhat overwhelm the rest, and there are quite a few more pictures of someone named Leo than I really need. While the pool is fun to browse, it is very difficult to find anything in particular. I think the pool should be subdivided by decade, subject, or neighborhood.

For more click on the screenshot below.

san fran gone: historic sf

1938 San Francisco map

1938 san francisco map

By 1938 the essential outlines of the city were filled in and established. Some names have changed — I didn’t know that Fort Point was called Fort Winfield Scott. The location of Funston Park was called Lobos Square. USF was the San Francisco College of Women. There were “bear cages” in the park, as well as “elk and deer corrals.” And so on.

A large (5800 x 4358 px) image of the map is here.

Vertigo at Fort Point

fort point in the movie vertigo

Fort Point, at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, figures prominently in the Hitchcock film Vertigo. It is here where Kim Novak plunges off the fort into the water and is saved by Jimmy Stewart.

The story is told — I don’t know if it is true or not, although it sounds plausible — that Novak and Hitchcock squabbled throughout the filming of the movie. Novak, it is said, constantly complained that her wardrobe was not glamorous enough.

In the filming of this scene Hitchcock exacted his reverge. Claiming to be dissatisfied with the first couple of dozen takes, he made Novak enter the chilly water 25 times.

Muybridge’s San Francisco panoramas

muybridge panorama of san francisco, 1877

Eadweard Muybridge produced two panoramas of the city. This one, made in January 1877 (the same year he produced photographic evidence that a trotting horse may lift all four hooves off the ground), was shot from the Mark Hopkins Mansion at California and Mason. Muybridge used 13 different cameras to make the image. At America Hurrah you can click the panorama thumbnails to see larger versions.

UPDATE: The American Hurrah link has gone bad. One place you can still find at least a portion of a larger version is cameraplex. (There the first panorama is dated to 1878.) Below is a detail.

Muybridge, San Francisco panorama, detail, ca 1877-78

Muybridge, San Francisco panorama, detail, ca 1877-78.

Historical map of San Francisco Creeks

This great map from the 1890s shows creeks in blue and marshes in green, with modern landfill in magenta. A larger version is at the Oakland Museum of California site.

historic water featuers of san francisco

An alternative to the Fisher Museum?

An alternative proposal to the Fisher Art Museum in the Presidio has been put forward by a group of historians and conservationists. The group supports a smaller museum devoted to the local history. Will the proposal get a fair hearing? Doubtful. The Chronicle reports:

Opponents of Fisher’s museum plan complain that the competition sounds more wide open than it is. The formal request for proposals, for example, says that any new building “should take advantage of roof levels for display of public art,” something that works a lot better for an art museum than a history center.

The trust’s plan “was specifically designed to accommodate the contemporary art museum,” said Whitney Hall, one-time commandant of the Presidio and now a director of the historical association.

Trust officials deny that the art museum is a done deal. The directors will listen to the competing proposals at a Dec. 3 meeting and then make a decision based on what’s best for the Presidio, said Dana Polk, a spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust.

Oil spills, volunteers, and the San Francisco Bay Area

volunteer canyon, marin county

Today beaches near the Golden Gate are closed as a noxious oil spill is washing up against the shore. A large South Korean-based Hanjin container ship struck one of the supports of the Bay Bridge and released oil into the bay from a damaged tank. According to Caltrans engineers the bridge got the better of the collision and suffered no significant damage. The cause of the crash is a mystery, since the bridge is pretty easy to spot by eye or radar, even in heavy fog. The ship even had a local pilot aboard. We are still waiting to learn the extent of the environmental damage.

The most famous oil spill on the bay occurred on January 19, 197. On that date, two oil tankers, the Arizona Standard and a sister ship, the Oregon Standard, collided in the bay. Winds and currents drove the resulting spill north toward Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County. As the Point Reyes Light recalls, “The collision ripped open six of the Oregon’s 26 fuel oil compartments, dumping 840,000 gallons of oil into the bay — more than half of which ended up on beaches around the Bay Area. The spill killed roughly 20,000 birds and some seven million marine organisms, according to Bay Area researchers.”

What was most remarkable about the event was the rallying of community support for the embattled beaches. The community of Bolinas quickly rallied. Sculptor Tom D’Onofrio shared his recollections with the Light:

Drawing on his days at a logging camp in the Adirondacks, D’Onofrio felt that stringing a boom — a row of logs — across the lagoon’s narrow mouth might provide a decent barrier, and that hay could be used to soak up oil.

“It was a crude plan, but this was instantaneous thinking,” the sculptor said.

He approached neighbor John Armstrong, a boatbuilder with many logs on his property, and persuaded him to help with the boom’s construction.

D’Onofrio then drove down to Scowley’s, the local cafe and hangout (now site of the Kaleidoscope women’s craft collective) to enlist manpower.

“I went into Scowley’s and jumped on a counter and yelled, ‘This is what’s happened: there’s oil offshore and it’s coming this way,'” D’Onofrio recalled. “‘We need every able-bodied man, woman, and big child. Can we count on you?’ And everyone there yelled, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it!'” By the time the band of volunteers reached the beach, hundreds of residents had converged at the end of Wharf Road to help.

While many birds were lost a large number were also saved, and the actions of the volunteers were inspiring. A nearby canyon was renamed Volunteer Canyon in commemoration of their efforts. It is home now to an Audubon center, and is the nesting place for egrets and blue herons. The image shows a group of birders enjoying the canyon, whose preservation is due in part to the sense of community that resulted from the mobilization of the volunteers.

On their own: In Bolinas, residents struggle to keep fragile lagoon safe.
The residents were angry that such important work was left to amateurs while an international cleanup effort is under way only a few miles away.”

1906 Earthquake photos

1906 earthquake and fire, view from golden gate park

The U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library includes 301 historic photos of the great April 18, 1906, San Francisco earthquake and its immediate aftermath. Shown is a view of the fiery city from Golden Gate Park.

Pan American Unity

pan american unity detail one

In 1940, Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who had been divorced for a year, met on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Rivera was in town to paint Pan American Unity, a large mural commissioned by the Golden Gate International Exposition.

pan american unity friday kahlo detail

In the mural, Rivera had depicted himself with his back to his ex-wife. In the image he was holding the hand of Hollywood starlet Paulette Goddard. The gesture, Rivera said, symbolized “closer Pan-Americanism.” When the mural was unveiled, Kahlo did not attend the ceremony. “I do not want to meet Paulette and other dames,” she said.

Then, to the surprise of many, Rivera and Kahlo showed up together on December 8 at City Hall. There they were quickly married for a second time. But within a couple of weeks Kahlo — who had married on the condition that there would be no sex between the two and that Rivera would support her financially — left for Mexico, never to return to the city.

At the advent of the war the mural was put in storage, where it remained for two decades. Today it hangs in the lobby of the theater at City College, testament to the midcentury affairs of artists and nations.

For more, see Intersections: True Tales of San Francisco


The Belgum Sanitarium

Hikers in the Wildcat Canyon hills above the city of Richmond may be surprised to come upon a glade full of palms and other exotic trees amid the chaparral and oak woodlands.

palms at the belgum sanitarium, richmond

These are the vestiges of a sanitarium that overlooked the bay, with views of San Francisco to the south southwest

san francisco view from east bay hills

and Richmond to the west.

view of richmond from tilden park hills

This was the location of the Grande Vista Sanitarium, founded by Dr. Hendrik Belgum in 1914. Residents of the sanitarium included drug addicts and alcoholics as well as the mentally or emotionally disordered — neighbors called it “the crazy house.” The sanitarium, advantageously located, catered to an up-scale clientele who wished to keep embarrassing members of their families out of view.

The centerpiece of the property was a large stucco mansion originally built by Jacob M. Tewksbury, a wealthy pioneer. Guests entered through a high-ceilinged foyer decorated with Tiffany chandeliers. Other features included a day room, library, kitchen, living room, and formal dining room. A curving staircase led to bedrooms and offices — nearly all with magnificent views — on a second floor.

One of these rooms served as Dr. Belgum’s office. As years went by, the doctor himself grew more and more eccentric and reclusive, preferring the company of his patients to that of the people he met on his expeditions into town. Neighbor children brave enough to sneak up to the mansion reported being spellbound by strains of enchanting music cascading down the hillside. It was said that the doctor and his ethereal sisters enjoyed dancing with the patients as the setting sun would cast its golden glow across the bay below them.

According to one of the doctor’s brochures, “To insure our guests an abundance of fresh, wholesome, nourishing food, so essential to the restoration of health, a select purebred dairy is maintained, also a poultry plan, an apiary, a fruit orchard, vegetable gardens, conservatories, private spring water system, etc.” Remains of some of the foundations can still be seen on the site.

In 1948 a grass fire suddenly flared up and threatened the idyllic estate. Dr. Belgum fought desperately to put out the blaze, and in that struggle he gave up his life. Then the mansion passed to his brother, Bernard N. Belgum, and sisters, Ida Ruth Belgum and Christine Heiman. A few patients remained with them as those melancholy years dragged on, though the surviving Belgums had no medical qualifications. As the turmoil of the fifties and early sixties raged in the cities ringing the bay, the sanitarium, in its remote setting, seemed frozen in time.

After Bernard’s death in 1963 at the age of 82, no heirs remained to inherit the estate. The grounds were simply abandoned, and all of the buildings had been burnt down by vandals by 1977. The following year, the East Bay Regional Park District acquired the land, which is now part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.

This part of the park is used for grazing cattle, who tramp down the hills above the sanitarium.

hils above the sanitarium

The sanitarium’s palms can be glimpsed beyond the thistles that grow where the cattle graze.

thistles and palms

To reach the site, take the Belgum trail from the Alvarado staging area in the Richmond hills.

alvarado staging area, wildcat canyon, richmond hills

A nearby display gives the history of the site. There is little material readily available about the Belgum sanitarium. (I have put up a few more pictures in my Belgum flickr set, which also contains larger versions of the images here.) Chad Dickerson of Yahoo posted some information about it, and consequently has been termed an “authority,” but really he just reprinted the material that is available at the site and does not appear to have done any original research. Still, he did post the materials from the site in their entirety, whereas I have been selective and have also added some narrative touches in order to tell the story of the sanitarium in a way that appealed to my imagination.

A more promising source of information is the El Cerrito Historical Society, which cites a publication called Richmond: Windows to the Past by Susan D. Cole (Contra Costa County Library, 1980). It includes “pictures and vignettes about early Richmond, including perhaps the best information available on the Belgum family’s Grande Vista Sanitarium, which was located near the mouth of today’s Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.” The Richmond Public Library probably has a copy, but I have not consulted it.

P. Joseph Potocki

What has become of P. Joseph Potocki, I wonder. He produced a most peculiar Frisco (Phrisco?) blog called San Francisco Phax & Phikshun. The last post on the blog is dated October 2, 2006. I doubt that he is Joseph P. Potocki. Where has the fellow gone?

Here’s is his summary of the sixteenth century in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • 1500’s: Nudist Natives live la-la-la-like in Bay Area Nirvana
  • 1542: Aspiring Conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo blows by Bay
  • 1579: Pirate (not yet Sir) Francis Drake plugs holes in his Hind at Point Reyes
  • 1595: His ship sinks, spices up Drake’s Bay, then Sebastian Cermeno paddles back to Acapulco
  • 1597: Nonplussed Natives yawn, resume civilized customs, until return of stinky death-cult barbarians–two centuries later

Lady from Shanghai

I’ve always enjoyed Orson Wells’s The Lady from Shanghai (1948). It was shot in San Francisco and Sausalito (and L.A.). Here are a few images, taken from the excellent site Film in America. At that site there are more images and commentary. I’ve taken the liberty of adjusting the tone of the images for clarity and photographic quality.

The Bay Bridge is visible from this shot in Sausalito

Death of the Hippie

death of the hippie (san francisco, 1967)A couple of days ago I was talking about the so-called Summer of Love as a media concoction. To repeat, the flowers were already beginning to wilt by that celebrated summer. To indicate how short-lived the movement really was, recall that by October residents of the Haight were commemorating “The Death of the Hippie” in a mock funeral. PBS’s American Experience has a brief video clip of the event (click the image to visit the site).

Like all successful media constructions, the Summer of Love had a strong commercial aspect. B in the D, bellbottom sentiments were used to peddle Coca Cola. Today, the De Young Museum is pretending that the cliched commercial graphic designs of “psychedelic” artist Peter Max are fine art.

And the beat goes on.

Reuters: Wistful over lost dreams


Summer of Love

summer of love, 2007

San Francisco celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Drugs Love in Golden Gate Park this weekend, and it sounds like it was a big hit. The weather certainly cooperated.

Something to know about the Summer of Love is that it was largely a media creation. By the summer of 1967 the peace, love, and pot movement had peaked and was about to decline. Probably its apogee was around January of that year, with the Human Be-in in Golden Gate Park. Within a year the Haight would look like a war zone, with abandoned and boarded-up business, the streets grim and taken over by hustlers, punks, and dealers of hard drugs.

National papers and magazines picked up on the counter-culture movement after the Be-in, and ran breathless articles about the Diggers and the “hippie” movement in San Francisco. That publicity fueled an immigration of teeny boppers from all over the country to the Haight. The release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album early that June kicked things into overdrive, as everyone in the country tuned into that album — it was not uncommon to hear the lingering chords of “A Day in the Life” reverberating from several different directions — reinforcing that sense that people were coming together in some sudden convergence of positive energy. And, in a way, they were. But it was short-lived. The Summer of Love was a swan song, really.

The image above, by Brant Ward, is from the Chronicle’s coverage of the weekend’s festivities.

Speaking of Sgt. Pepper, here’s the Shatner interpretation:

San Francisco cable car lines, 1893

Some people don’t realize that cable cars were at one time a working transit system in San Francisco and not just an amusement ride for tourists. In fact, when I first came to the city I used a cable car for one leg of my commute. The cars cost the same as buses then.

Click on the detail below to see a full map of San Francisco cable car lines in 1893. The original could be better quality. I played with levels and curves to make this detail a bit more legible.

cable car lines in san francisco, 1893

Encyclopedia of San Francisco

julia morgan entry at the encyclopedia of san francisco

The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society in putting together an encyclopedia of the city. Right now there isn’t much up, but if they follow through with this ambitious project it should end up being a helpful resource.

It’s too bad there’s no feed so that one could be alerted of new entries. Right now the only way to find new items, as far as I can see, would be to scroll through the alphabet — hardly a solution that will encourage return visits.

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