Monday, February 15, 2016

Assorted Bridge Notes

Golden Gate Bridge: rogue cupid crime scene.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the ultimate visual symbol of San Francisco. But for two unfortunate pedestrians last week, the bridge will always represent a very physical memory -- in the form of 5-inch blow darts shot by an unseen person. Hard to imagine what the motivation could have been for this nasty attack... too much to hope that it was simply a two-day early Valentine Cupid assault, to be followed by a meet-cute news item of stranger blow-dart victims coupled up?  

 A day out circa 1930s, Golden Gate Bridge view.

The photograph above is from an old California family album (19th c. to 1950s) that I found at an estate clearance shop. The picture appears to show a special outing, as there are no other San Francisco images in the album. The boys look to be in their nice jackets, good trousers, with shirts buttoned up. And, it is a view unchanged today -- thanks to the failure of a Gulf Oil Corp housing development in the Marin headlands, and a 1972 law and series of acquisitions that now form the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

  Postcard, postmarked 1950, a message from two Bobs to another Bob.

This 1950s postcard image shows the bridge in glorious saturation -- place memory in mid-century Technicolor. The note is addressed to a Bob in Portland, Oregon, sent from "Bob & Bob" in San Francisco. One of the Bobs writes: "The usual -- having you know what." Were Bob and Bob having "a wonderful time," or is "you know what" something more interesting, an in-joke among Bobs?! 

Bridge view, card-folded Kodak photo paper, note dated 1982.

This image was used as a holiday card. I dug it out of some miscellaneous photo box at a collectible shop a while back, and bought it when it shockingly occurred to me that, at nearly forty years old, it was edging into Antique View status. 

Whoever the recipient was, the senders very much wanted them to join their "Xmas Eve supper party" -- badly. There are two postscripts urging their attendance, with the second preempting any demurrals: "Remember we will call for you and return you home...", and softening it with "So, if you're in the mood, join us. And Ruth." (The promise of Ruth seems to be their last desperate bid.) But really, would these card senders accept not-being-in-the-mood as a legitimate excuse? I doubt it. They sound too strenuously well-meaning. I'm guessing that the recipient, probably a solitary entity for one reason or another, just wanted to stay home alone with a bottle of wine or two -- but likely caved to good intentions. 


Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Old Gold Dust

Gold Dust Lounge, 247 Powell Street (February 2012)

Today's post is a random moment of nostalgia for the old Gold Dust Lounge on Powell Street, now long gone. Though a "new" version was opened at Fisherman's Wharf in 2013... it is, of course, a different creature all together -- but the three-piece house jazz band plays on, and it's a valiant effort to keep the narrative going. An excerpt from the original location's history submitted for Landmark nomination can be read on their site.

In the teens and twenties the space served as the frontage/entrance way for the Techau Tavern, the location's first iteration as a drinking establishment. As of the 1930s it was the Gold Dust Lounge, and remained one of those unchanging places in the City where you could duck into the enclosure of red velvet, gold walls, putti-covered ceiling, and gaudy gilt-framed nudes, away from the chaos of Union Square -- and find yourself among old-timer locals, visitors from around the world, and tired Bay Area shoppers in need of a quick restorative.

These photos were taken in February 2012, when there was still a bit of hope that the old venue could be saved. The space now serves as a jarringly white escalator foyer for a chain clothing store. No respite from the lately creeping homogeneous gleam and clamor to be found there.

Ephemera from the Techau Tavern, 
showing the entrance that later became the Gold Dust Lounge

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

1930s Public Health and Baby Sun Baths in the Sunset District

On 2nd Avenue, Golden Gate Park in the background, 1933

San Francisco Department of Public Health, Child Welfare Bureau, 1932

Responding to the deepening financial depression in 1930, President Herbert Hoover looked to the American Association of Public Welfare Officials (later the American Public Welfare Association) to assist in the formation of public relief programs in states, counties, and cities. Additionally, it was recognized that some people had needs for particular services in place of or beyond cash support. To this end, small grants for states were authorized to meet these needs, including “Maternal and Child Health.” [Source:]

 This San Francisco Child Welfare Bureau "Baby Record" booklet, which I found in my uncle's baby album, would have been a component of the effort to address childhood needs in Depression-era San Francisco. It gives advice on feeding, scheduling, care, and vaccinations, with entry spaces for baby's weight and size, and a place for notes.


Baby’s Sun Bath and Other Do’s and Don’ts
The printed booklet includes “Suggestions for Habit Training,” with the advice that: “Only REGULARITY and CONSTANT REPETITION of suitable items, in a quiet and friendly atmosphere, can bring you results.” In addition, there are the sound words for mothers to “Keep yourself well, take rest periods, and get enough relaxation through occasional recreation.” And there is this interesting admonishment:

The baby is not a plaything to be handled, jiggled, rocked, or showed off to friends and relatives; never walk the floor with him. He has some rights and quiet is one.

Notably, it is prominently commanded that “Baby should have his sun bath every day,” with the sun’s rays directly on his skin. This should begin with one minute a day, increasing an additional minute “until baby is getting thirty to forty-five minutes of direct sunshine daily.” It is a reminder that rickets, due to a lack of vitamin D, was a common affliction and a serious concern leading up to and during the Depression.  

Advice and Recipes
On the cover of the booklet my grandmother wrote “Emporium” as the location entry for the “Center.” This could only be the large Emporium Department Store on Market Street, which is odd, though there must have been an area set aside for this public purpose. I can’t be sure, but it appears that the baby’s weight and size has been logged monthly throughout the year (probably by a nurse), with notes of advice transcribed by my grandmother. 

The notes are mostly concerned with feeding, as well as indicating vaccination days. She also pasted in typescript baby food recipes indicated as being from the “S.F. Dept. of Public Health.” Could she have typed these up as advised, or would these have been given to her at the Child Welfare Bureau Center?

The cover says "Always Bring This Book." A nurse herself during WWI in France, and for a time after in California—it appears my grandmother diligently took the baby in for his “well baby” checks. At this period the family was living on 2nd Avenue in the Inner Sunset District, about a block from Golden Gate Park. My grandmother wasn’t on her own, but through the thirties (and beyond) my grandfather was often away for extended periods to work for a fish/feed processing company—as attested to by stacks and stacks of sometimes melancholy letters on hotel stationery. 

But back on 2nd Avenue in 1932-33, baby’s schedule set the pace and tone of life. Sun bath advice was duly followed; there are numerous photos of the baby beside an open window, or on the back porch of the flat. In his cozy basket, which seems to be hooked and rigged up to the railing for the purpose, he kicks up his legs in the sunshine.

 2nd Avenue back porch, San Francisco, October 1932

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fair Lights and a Lady Lost


Ferry Building Lights
The "1915" lights mounted in homage to a similar display on the Ferry Building tower a hundred years ago for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition -- were turned on at about 6:15 on March 3. A crowd gathered around officials for the small presentation, which included Willy Brown and Mayor Ed Lee, and the numerals and border lights were illuminated to cheers. I have to say, it warmed my San Francisco history-geek heart to see it.

The Ferry Building in 1915

San Francisco Welcomes the World and a Lady is Lost in the Crowd
CAR LINES READY FOR THRONGS TODAY -- A San Francisco Chronicle article of February 20, 1915, the day the Panama-Pacific Exposition opened, details how the city would be dealing with the huge flow of people. It was announced that ferries, street railways and bus lines would transport 50,000 people an hour. (1) 

San Francisco, a small city that had very recently tumbled and burned to the ground, was now poised to handle the "greatest crowds in the State's history." In the end, nearly 19 million people visited the fair. To have that many people flow through our modern city as it is now would be monumental. To think of what it must have been like in 1915 is boggling -- and many must have been overwhelmed. One of those people was a woman who found herself at the Ferry Building with no idea of who she was or where she was. From a Chronicle article dated September 20, 1915:

In  a state of physical collapse and suffering from loss of memory, a fashionably dressed woman about 60 years old and of apparent refinement, was taken in charge by Policeman Elmer J. Esperance at the Ferry building about 6 o'clock last evening at her own request. From a railroad ticket to Chicago, which was validated yesterday, and visiting cards found in her handbag she is thought to be Minnie J. Risser of 2319 Hampshire Road, Cleveland Ohio. 

The unfortunate woman, who wore jewelry worth more than $2000 and had $61 90 cents in her pocketbook approached the policeman and said: "Officer, I will have to throw myself on your mercy; I haven't the slightest knowledge of who I am, where I live or what city I am now in." (2)

It goes on to say... "She was in a state bordering on hysteria" and told the police officer that she had no idea how she'd gotten to San Francisco. When taken to Harbor Emergency Hospital she was quieted, but her "lapse of memory was not broken" and she was taken to the Detention Hospital (?) late that night. 

The article reports that a telegraph was sent to her address in Cleveland, but no reply had been received. It is then noted that when she approached the policeman, "she carried a small camera with an exposition tag attached." Minnie had been to the fair, and either something significant happened to her -- or her senses were simply overcome by it all. 

 This is a found photograph of a woman standing in front of
the Ferry Building in the teens. While it's not certain that 
it was taken in 1915, it is possible. This lady can be a
stand-in for the elegantly dressed, poor lost Minnie. 

1. San Francisco Chronicle (1869-Current File); Feb 20, 1915; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: San Francisco Chronicle, pg. 9. Accessed in March 2015 at 2. San Francisco Chronicle (1869-Current File); Sep 20, 1915; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: San Francisco Chronicle, pg. 7. Accessed in March 2015 at

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Typewriter You Can Climb

This month a hundred years ago, the Panama-Pacific Exposition opened. Built on tidal marsh filled in with dredged sand, mud, and a dollop of earthquake rubble to fluff it up -- the fair showcased San Francisco's recovery from the 1906 devastation, the completion of the Panama Canal, world industry, and a fantastical vision of the past formed of towering historic-themed palaces constructed with chicken wire and stucco facing.

Exhibits of the technological future included a full scale model of the canal, and a working Ford automobile assembly line where fair-goers could take in the astounding spectacle of a car being produced in ten minutes. And, there was the giant Underwood typewriter. Hard to say if it is more the stuff of a writer's dream or nightmare -- maybe both: a machine on which you could dance out your story in a giddy Busby Berkeley dream sequence... or the looming, mocking, mechanical transmogrification of writer's block!

The California Historical Society is marking the Centennial Anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition with events and two exhibits illustrating the history of the fair, including photographs, souvenirs and artifacts.

A Panama-Pacific International Exposition promotional postcard.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Film, Fur, and Theaters on Market Street

In this 1947 street portrait, a woman walks on Market Street past a movie theater playing "Ride the Pink Horse," a noir film of revenge set at a rural New Mexico fiesta, staring Robert Montgomery. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by crime writer and critic Dorothy B. Hughes. This lady is looking somewhat noir herself with that dramatic fur collar and her shadowed eyes.

The movie was released in October of 1947, so most likely it is late fall or early winter in San Francisco, which is usually very mild if not downright warm. The smallest suggestion of a smile at the corner of her lips may be due to the fact that it was probably only just cool enough to break out that fancy coat and she was thrilled to be wearing it. Either that or she's feeling the heat in the name of fashion -- the people behind her don't look quite so bundled up!

This is the third one of my collected walking portraits that was taken in front of a Market Street movie theater, while three others show their subjects in front of large department stores. It seems these were both prime locations for the anonymous strolling street photographers to take their "walkies" -- which capture such dynamic and brief, candid city moments. Viewing the above image with the others (see previous posts), they begin to form a micro history of a mid-Market Street long lost.

The old St. Francis Theater building on Market Street (at Mason & Turk), which can be seen in the posted walkie of my grandmother from the 1930s, and still stood as of about two years ago -- is now gone, along with the other buildings to the east of it. On my last walk past the site, construction had only just begun, and ghost signs were exposed on the buildings at either end. One is for "Anhauser-Busch Lagers / Milwaukee Steam / on Draft," and "Brunswick Whiskey"; the other was harder to read, but seems to say "Chicago... / Tailoring Co." These will be covered up again soon by the new shopping mall, if they haven't been already, not to be revealed again until the next change of city fortunes.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

If You Are Willing (Or, Hooking Up in San Francisco, 1914)

Postcard, postmarked 1914, Angel Island

I've had this tattered postcard for years, and hadn't previously noticed how much information it contains. But in fact, the card tells a story and suggests that nothing has changed much, only the means are slightly different. The brief note is from soldier Jack, who has addressed the card to "Miss Mabel McGown  / c/o Hale Bros. / 5th and Market St. / Alteration Department." The card is postmarked April 21, 1914, Angel Island, which lies in the San Francisco Bay. Above his note he has indicated "Ft. McDowell." At this time, Angel Island was a military base where soldiers were processed for embarkation and return, and it was also an immigration processing and detention station. Structures related to these uses still stand, and are part of Angel Island State Park.

Mabel is presumably a seamstress, and she works at the post-1906 Hale Bros. Department Store building (which currently houses Nordstrom Rack), on the southwest corner of 5th and Market. Jack writes on the front in pencil "If you are willing," and on the reverse:

Are you coming over some time? 
                             Best regards,

Regards from H. and H.
to your friends A. and H.

Mabel did not give him her home address, and it would seem she met him and his friends while out and about with her girlfriends, "A. and H." Possibly the girls took a ferry to Marin on a day off, or attended an event in Golden Gate Park, where they met Jack and his pals, who were likewise taken with the modern working girls.

I hate to doubt Jack's sincerity, but the card makes me wonder. It's clearly suited for the purpose of connecting. Were they available for sale at the commissary on the island? Did he buy it especially for Mabel, or did he keep a supply of these for just such a purpose, as a sort of early Tinder? Send enough of them out as tangible right swipes, and surely there will eventually be a match?!

That he sent the card care of the department store raises other questions. It would likely have first passed through the manager of the Alterations Department before reaching Mabel, and how would that have been viewed? Did it put her in hot water with her boss? The moral policing of the 19th century had shifted, war in Europe was looming, times were changing, and people regularly used postcards as we use email or texts (to meet up; change plans; convey quick information) -- with a stamp being cheaper than a telegram. But still. The current equivalent would be a guy meeting a girl at a cafe, who only tells him she works at a particular shop, and to later reach her and press his case he sends an email to her care of the general customer service address!

Did Jack and Mabel eventually reunite, maybe for a picnic in the park with their friends, or a journey out to the Cliff House for a day? The card came to me grouped with a 1909 novelty picture postcard of a Lee McGown, who seems likely to be her brother (along with friend Chris Pratt -- at left?). Another card, postmarked from Salt Lake City October 31, 1911, includes a note from him that says "Heres to it Mabel, Drink it down and will have another shot on this Halloween night... From Wicked Lee."

So, Mabel held on to Jack's postcard through the years, together with those from her brother. Maybe she held on to Jack, too.

Mabel lived on Carl St. at Stanyon