This extremely subjective chronology of San Francisco history is based on the Sparkletack Weekly Timecapsule podcasts, and each entry in the timeline links to the corresponding blog post. I update it weekly as the podcasts go out, so watch for a deeper, richer, and weirder list as time goes by …


  • November 7: Thanks to Captain Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeño, San Francisco Bay gets its name — by mistake.


  • October 9: The original “Mission San Francisco de Asis” better known as Mission Dolores – was officially dedicated on the banks of Dolores Lagoon, in today’s aptly named Mission District.


  • January 30: Thanks to a Spanish noblewoman and the quick thinking of Yerba Buena’s first American alcalde, San Francisco gets its name.


  • February 1: The editor of the brand new Alta California scrutinizes San Francisco’s prospects from the eye of the Gold Rush hurricane. Alta California
  • November 10: Gold rush in full swing: the Collector of the Port of San Francisco files an official report stating that since April 1st, 697 ships have already arrived. 401 of these were American vessels and the remaining 296 had sailed in from foreign shores.
  • December 15: A London Times article evaluates the “American Newspaper” in the Gold Rush era. Alta California


  • September 17: San Francisco’s fourth Great Fire breaks out — a minor blaze in the series of six conflagrations which leveled portions of the city in the early years of the Gold Rush.
  • October 18: The relieved and excited population of San Francisco celebrates California’s admission to the Union with parties, fireworks, and great rejoicing.


  • sometime in 1852: English adventurer Frank Marryat pays a visit to a San Francisco Gold Rush barbershop.
  • December 10: Despite averaging nearly a murder a day for the first few years of the Gold Rush, San Francisco’s first official hanging takes place.


  • September 24: The preserved head of Joaquin Murieta and the hand of Three-Fingered Jack were sold at auction today to settle their owner’s legal problems.


  • November 15: After her husband (the captain) is incapacitated, teenaged Mary Ann Patten heroically assumes control of a clipper ship, sailing it around the Horn and into San Francisco Bay.
  • December 1: One of San Francisco’s Gilded Age newspaper giants begins its life today: the San Francisco Call.


  • September 17: San Francisco’s Emperor Norton begins his eccentric 21-year reign over the city.


  • January 17: The notorious Countess Lola Montez dies in New York City.
  • October 24: The trans-continental telegraph line is finished, literally uniting the United States by wire just as the country was disintegrating into Civil War.


  • October 15: The Cliff House — first of umpteen incarnations — opened its doors at Land’s End.


  • October 8: Just after noon on a sleepy Sunday, the Great San Francisco Earthquake struck! It isn’t the one you’re thinking of, though — this one happened in 1865. And even though that title would fade just three years later when a much bigger quake hit, and of course would disappear altogether when the 1906 monster laid waste to the city, the 1865 shaker was a pretty good one.


  • February: A California Supreme Court decision allows the Second Street Cut project go ahead, slicing the fashionable neighborhood of Rincon Hill in half.


  • spring: Albert S. Evans take a party of guests slumming in the Barbary Coast – with a police escort.
  • April 9: The power of hoodlum king Billy Smith is broken, after an altercation with a group of singing picnickers leads to his incarceration


  • October 20: “Hoodlums swindle a Market Street Coffee-house” San Francisco Chronicle


  • October 28: “Murder in Chinatown” San Francisco Chronicle


  • January 20: Nellie Bly blows past San Francisco on her way around the world. Phileas Fogg, eat your heart out!


  • October 27: A monument to the reverend Thomas Starr King is erected in Golden Gate Park. Each Memorial day for decades, citizens will wreathe it in flowers to honour the “Man who Saved California for the Union”.


  • December 25: On Christmas Day, 1894, the first San Francisco Cliff House burned to the ground.
  • December 25: “It Would Not Sing — the Case of a Bird With Disputed Talents” San Francisco Chronicle


  • December 2: Legendary frontier lawman Wyatt Earp referees a heavyweight boxing match in San Francisco.


  • January 23: “Little Pete”, Chinatown’s notorious tong boss, is assassinated in his own barbershop.


  • January 7: Theo Durrant, Gilded Age San Francisco’s most notorious criminal, is executed at San Quentin prison.


  • January 14: “Small Boy Defends Himself — John Manuel Parodi, Aged Six, Makes His Legal Debut” San Francisco Chronicle
  • September 19: Ringling Bros. Circus makes its first appearance in San Francisco, setting up the big top at 16th and Folsom Streets.
  • December 15: “Seven Men Jailed for Driving on Potrero-Avenue Sidewalk” San Francisco Chronicle


  • April 20: With the help of men, God, sewage, and the Navy, Hotaling’s Whiskey is spared by the Great Fire and Earthquake.


  • November 3: The entire theatrical wardrobe of Kolb and Dill — the most popular comedy team in San Francisco — is to be sold at auction.


  • December 9: “Miss Goldie Griffin Wants to Become Cop and Asks for the Job” San Francisco Chronicle


  • March 15: America’s “Master Birdman” Lincoln Beachey makes his final, fatal flight — at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition.


  • February 21: The cornerstone of the Palace of the Legion of Honor is laid … smack dab in the center of an enormous cemetery.


  • May 19, 21: “German Flapper Outflaps American Variety — and Her Brother is Flabbergasted”; “Big Business Banishes the Flapper” San Francisco Chronicle


  • September 29: Lombard Street, newly reconstructed as the Crookedest Street in the World, opens today.
  • September 29: Steinhardt Aquarium opens in Golden Gate Park


  • September 16: Charles Lindbergh touches down at Mills Field, now San Francisco International Airport) on a national tour celebrating his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Hordes of spectators surrounded the runway today and lined Bayshore Highway just to catch a glimpse of the now world-famous aviator.


  • December 16: Escape from Alcatraz! Braving armed guards, bone-chilling water, and a mythical one-finned shark named Bruce, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe take advantage of the heaviest fog on record to escape from Alcatraz. Or do they?


  • October 1: A swaybacked, 12-year-old horse named Blackie makes aquatic history by swimming across the Golden Gate.


  • September 18: Western Union messenger boys go on strike, dramatically parading down Market Street and successfully breaking the Depression-era stranglehold of the company union.


  • March: SFSU track and field star Johnny Mathis turns down an Olympic tryout invitation to pursue a singing career in New York.


  • April 15: The Giants play the Dodgers in the first major league baseball game ever played on the West Coast.


  • September 21: In the heart of the Cold War, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev arrives in San Francisco during an American “friendship visit”.


  • October 31: After a decades-long run, the “Black Cat Cafe” — a notorious, flamboyant and historically significant San Francisco gay nightclub — holds a final rousing Halloween bash before closing down for good.


  • October 1: San Francisco cable cars were declared a special rolling National Landmark: #66000233.


  • October 11: Dorothea Lange, the celebrated Depression-era documentary photographer, died in San Francisco today at the age of 70. After getting stranded in San Francisco in 1918, Lange made the Bay Area her permanent home.


  • October 2: The communal home of the Grateful Dead in the Haight-Ashbury district was the subject of a drug raid by San Francisco police. Though the raid netted nothing but a tiny bag of marijuana, everyone on the premises was arrested — including the only non-pot-smoking members of the band, Bob Weir and “Pigpen” McKernan.


  • November 9: A small group of Native Americans symbolically claim Alcatraz for the Indian nations of North America. This leads to a real occupation lasting for almost two years.


  • October 18: The famous gateway to Chinatown — you know the one, guarded by fou lions, surmounted by a couple of dragons — was installed and officially dedicated.


  • September 17: The no-nonsense TV cop show “Streets of San Francisco” goes on the air for a 119 episode, five season run.


  • October 20: The City of San Francisco renames 12 streets for locally renowned artists and authors.