San Francisco history podcasts


A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.

October 1, 1938:
Blackie swims the Golden Gate!

blackie swims the golden gate in 1938

On a foggy Saturday in 1938, a swaybacked, 12-year-old horse named Blackie swam — dog-paddled, really — completely across the choppy waters of the Golden Gate. The horse not only made aquatic history with that trip, but he soundly defeated two human challengers from the Olympic Club, and won a $1000 bet for his trainer Shorty Roberts too.

It took the horse only 23 minutes, 15 seconds to make the nearly mile-long trip, and the short film made of the adventure shows that Blackie wasn’t even breathing hard as he emerged from the waters at Crissy Field.

His trainer Shorty couldn’t swim, but he made the trip, too — and this was part of the bet — by hanging onto Blackie’s tail. A rowboat led the way, with Shorty’s brother offering a handful of sugar cubes from the stern to keep the sweets-lovin’ horse on track.

Before that plunge into the waters of the Golden Gate there had been no swimming on Blackie’s professional resume. He had originally arrived in California as a rodeo horse, and after surviving that career joined the Army. He was stabled out at the Presidio, but headed out to Yosemite every spring as part of the park patrol.

Shortly after his famous Golden Gate crossing, Blackie retired from working life, and was put out to pasture in the north bay town of Tiburon. He found a particular spot to his liking in this verdant new home and stood there, rarely moving a muscle, for the next 28 years. He became a fixture of the neighborhood, often visited with gifts of sugarcubes. When Blackie finally passed, Tiburon’s unofficial mascot was buried in the pasture.

A life-sized sculpture of Blackie now stands right there, his old home now known as “Blackie’s Pasture Park”. You may pay him your respects, if you like, at the corner of Tiburon Boulevard and Trestle Glen Road.

October 1, 1964:
Cable cars declared national landmark

San Francisco cable car

It was on this day that the clanking, screeching, bell-ringing symbols of San Francisco — that’s right, cable cars — were declared a special rolling National Landmark, #66000233.

This marked an incredible reversal of fortune for our colorful trolley system, which the City had attempted to banish from the hills not twenty years earlier.

It was an especially poignant moment for the “Cable Car Lady” Friedell Klussman, whose outrage at the City’s 1947 eradication plan had led her to form the “Citizen’s Committee to Save the Cable Cars”. Mrs. Klussman’s single-minded determination is the number one reason that lucky tourists can still wait in hour-long lines at the Powell Street Turnaround.

October 2, 1967:
Grateful Dead house raided, man

grateful dead 1967 drug bust

As the rapturous 1967 Summer of Love faded into autumn, the communal home of the Grateful Dead — the Haight-Ashbury district’s unofficial City Hall — was raided by San Francisco’s finest.

The Grateful Dead provided the perfect symbol of the long-haired, drug- and music-fueled ecstatically rebellious freedom promised by the psychedelic movement, and their 3-story Victorian at 710 Ashbury Street had already become a regular stop on the Grayline “Hippie Hop” bus tour. I suppose the buzz-cut boys in blue just couldn’t help themselves.

Despite the neighborhood being flooded with acid — LSD had been made illegal almost exactly one year earlier — the raid netted nothing but a tiny bag of marijuana. That was enough to justify arresting every soul on the premises, though — including, ironically enough, the only non-pot-smoking members of the band — Bob Weir and “Pigpen” McKernan. Jerry Garcia managed to avoid the bust by being out at the time, shopping for “groceries”.

The Dead would pack up and split for Marin shortly after the bust. Before hitting the road, and with just two hours to set the whole thing up, the band staged a free farewell show on Haight Street, completely blocking traffic with a flatbed truck and several hours of happy tripping chaos.

A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.

September 24, 1855:
The head of Joaquin Murietta

joaquin murieta - the Mexican Robin Hood

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. Joaquin Murieta was a notorious and romantic figure in the early history of California.

With Jack, his right-hand man, Murieta led a gang of Mexican bandits through the countryside on a three-year rampage, brutally “liberating” more than $100,000 in gold, killing 22 people (including three lawmen), and outrunning three separate posses. After posse #4 tracked him down and chopped off his head — or at least the head of someone who might possibly have maybe looked like him — Murieta’s story entered California folklore.

joaquin murieta wanted poster

The backstory-legend of the man known as the “Mexican Robin Hood” sprouted from a fictional account written after his death. This novel spun the tale of a Mexican nobleman whose wife was raped, brother hung, and he himself horsewhipped by a group of white miners — and a racist court system which allowed no Mexican to testify against them.

Murieta vowed to avenge his family’s dishonour himself, and with a small group tracked down and killed all six attackers. Since this act had turned his gang into outlaws, so the story goes, a life of crime was the natural consequence.

Murieta’s head, preserved in a jar, became a lucrative public attraction, until the public’s fancy turned to other affairs. While alive, the reward for his capture had risen as high as $5000. At auction, the pickled head of the outlaw brought a mere 36 bucks.

September 29, 1923:
Crookedest street in the world opens

The Crookedest Street in the World

The 1000 block of Lombard Street, which famously claims the title of “crookedest street in the world”, was once rarely used, straight as an arrow, paved in cobblestones and climbed Russian Hill at a startlingly steep 27% grade!

In 1922, a man who owned several lots on the block proposed the switchback design to make the street accessible to automobiles, and raise his property values. The city of San Francisco spent $8000 on the project, requiring property owners to pay for the fancy brick steps that run along the verge, to maintain the spectacular plants and flowers in the median and to install and maintain light fixtures.

The newly crooked street opened this week in 1923 — but it didn’t become a tourist attraction until the early ’60s, when a photo of the street (flowers in full bloom) appeared on a postcard. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold, and the rest is history.

At the risk of creating a new tourist mecca, I will reveal what many San Franciscans already know — namely that the crookedest street in the world is not Lombard at all, but the steeper and crookeder (crookeder?) 800 block of Vermont Street on Potrero Hill.

September 29, 1923:
Steinhart Aquarium opens

steinhart aquarium opening 1923

On the same 1923 day as Lombard Street opened across town, the Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park opened its sculpted bronze doors to the public. For the next thirty years, it would be the most outstanding aquarium in Western North America.

Ignatz Steinhart was a wealthy entrepreneur, and, I presume, a great lover of fish. He donated the money to build the place in honour of his deceased brother Sigmund.

The aquarium was designed by San Francisco architect Lewis Hobart, known for a couple dozen other little projects such as the Bohemian Club, Grace Cathedral, and that fabulous Union 76 clock tower at the foot of the Bay Bridge — the one destroyed by Bank of America back in the ’90s.

seahorse railing steinhart aquarium

Everybody’s favourite part of the aquarium was probably that gorgeous bronze sea horse railing around the alligator pit. That railing, along with the doors, were sculpted by San Francisco artist Edgar Walters — also responsible for the beautiful sculpture above the entrance to the PG&E building at 245 Market Street.

Interestingly, after a 4-year rebuilding project which saw the Academy temporarily relocated downtown, the whole California Academy of Sciences will re-open in Golden Gate Park on September 27. That’s this very week, exactly two days short of the 85th anniversary of the aquarium’s original dedication. C’mon, couldn’t they have waited two days to make it come even?

A little explanation is in order.

So. The schedule of Sparkletack production has fallen off a bit during the past year, and for that I apologize. I miss the show myself, so I’ve decided to tweak the format a bit.

Here’s my new plan. I started to think about the fact that every time the planet spins around its axis, it’s the anniversary of some interesting, odd, or somehow notable happening in the history of our fair city.

I’m going to select a handful of these every week, and put together a short piece just to remind you — and myself — of the marvelous and wacky things that have taken place all around us during the past 170 years or so.

The format is far from settled yet — this is officially an experiment, and I’m open to suggestions.

The longer, more in-depth shows won’t disappear — the plan is to keep producing them as well, at a more comfortable pace. They’ll just appear when they appear. The Sparkletack blog won’t change at all, and I should mention here that I really love the tips and info that you constantly send me, dear listeners … thanks, and keep ‘em coming.

September 17th, 1859

San Francisco's Emperor Norton

It somehow seems appropriate to begin with the anniversary of San Francisco’s first encounter with her patron saint:

It was this very week that a neatly dressed and somewhat earnest gentleman entered the Clay Street offices of the San Francisco Bulletin with a piece of paper in his hand. The next day, the headline of the Bulletin asked the citizens of San Francisco a question: “Have We An Emperor Among Us?”

Thus began Joshua Norton’s 21-year reign over an amused and tolerant city — and a mostly unsuspecting United States of America.

After losing a fortune in spectacular fashion five years earlier, the once-prominent businessman had dropped out of sight, re-emerging from self-imposed exile as a destitute but much more interesting character.

Clad in a Union army officer’s coat with tarnished golden epaulets, wearing a battered top hat with an ostrich plume, and carrying a sword and ornate wooden walking stick, Emperor Norton came to be beloved by San Francisco in a way unique to this city — respectfully saluted by policemen, his hand-drawn banknotes honored by the finest restaurants, and a cascade of proclamations and edicts published in the newspapers — beginning with that Bulletin announcement, printed 149 years ago this week:

“At the peremptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the past nine years and ten months of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U.S., and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in the Musical Hall of this city on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.”

– NORTON I, Emperor of the United States

Though the good Emperor’s sanity has been questioned on more than one occasion, his concerns sound alarmingly contemporary — we miss the stabilizing presence of his eccentric Imperial Majesty now more than ever.

September 17, 1850

San Francisco fourth great fire

A reminder that the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 was just another turn of the wheel for a city already quite accustomed to burning itself down.

On the morning of September 17, 1850, San Francisco’s fourth Great Fire broke out. Great Fire #4 was a minor blaze in the series of six conflagrations which leveled portions of San Francisco in the early years of the Gold Rush.

Four square blocks just north of Portsmouth Square were destroyed, the area between Washington, Pacific, Montgomery and Grant (then DuPont) streets. Luckily, the area had been scorched by Great Fire #3 just a few months earlier, so the typical welter of rickety wooden gambling halls, brothels, and rooming houses hadn’t yet been completely rebuilt.

September 19, 1899

On September 19, 1899, Ringling Bros. Circus made its first appearance in San Francisco, setting up the big top at 16th and Folsom Streets. If the late September scheduling of today’s, um, “carnivalesque” Folsom Street Fair is merely a coincidence, well … I guess you can insert your own joke here.

September 16, 1927

charles lindbergh

Breaking into the 20th century, Charles Lindbergh touched down at what is now San Francisco International Airport at the height of the Jazz Age.

Lindbergh and his gorgeous aluminum aircraft, “The Spirit of St. Louis”, had just made aviation history by completing the first ever solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He was in the midst of a kind of victory lap around the whole country that summer, giving speeches and riding in parades in all 48 states. Hordes of spectators surrounded the runway that day and lined Bayshore Highway just to catch a glimpse of the now world-famous aviator.

September 18, 1939

Western Union messenger boys go on strike, dramatically parading down Market Street and successfully breaking the Depression-era stranglehold of the company union. I don’t know about you, but somehow a scene from “Newsies” is running through my mind — I guess it’s all those little caps.

September 21, 1959

nikita khrushchev

In the heart of the Cold War, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev arrives in San Francisco during an American “friendship visit”. Kruschev remembers San Francisco with special warmth in his memoirs, noting that, in contrast to many other cities in the United States — I’m looking at you, Los Angeles — San Francisco treated the Soviet visitors with politeness and respect.

“There were neither shouts nor gestures, although Americans know how to do such things if they want to show their hostility”.

Kruschev, rather immodestly, later took credit for his visit having helped re-elect his host, Mayor George Christopher. No shoe-banging on this trip … that would have to wait until New York in 1960.

September 17, 1972

streets of san francisco

The no-nonsense TV cop show “Streets of San Francisco” went on the air for a 119 episode, five season run. The father-son-like chemistry between Karl Malden and Michael Douglas combined with location filming in gritty ’70s San Francisco made it a classic. And here’s a little-known fact — one of the many unknown actors popping up in bit parts was California’s future Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s one of San Francisco’s best-loved monuments — the figure of a heartbreakingly beautiful girl balancing lightly atop a granite column high above Union Square. She soars above both pedestrians and pigeons, gracefully clutching trident and victory laurels, lifting her shapely arms in triumph over the city of San Francisco.

It was intended to memorialize Admiral Dewey, a hero of the 1898 Spanish-American war. But in the century since then, it’s honoured this now-obscure naval officer in name only; the statue has become inextricably identified with its model, one of its wealthiest and most notoriously colorful characters in San Francisco history; Alma de Bretteville Spreckels.

How did a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks end up atop of a column in the middle of Union Square? Better yet, how did this lead to first a scandal, and then the construction of the grandest home in San Francisco — 2080 Washington Street? And how does any of that relate to the history of our beloved Legion of Honor Museum?

Listen in to today’s podcast as I relate the rise of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels from Victorian pinup to eccentric “Great Grandmother of San Francisco”, the wealthiest woman on the West Coast.

For further edification:
» Legion of Honor Museum – official website
» Admiral George Dewey – Wikipedia
» Dewey Monument – inscription
» “Sugar Daddy and the de Brettevilles – Bay Time Reporter
» “‘Mike’ de Young Shot” – New York Times, 11.20.1884
» “Erection of Dewey Monument – San Francisco Call, 7.3.1899
» Union Square Dewey Monument dedication – film, American Mutoscope, 5.14.1903
» Spreckels Sugar – corporate website
» Loie Fuller – bohemian dancer
» Alma and Adolph’s first (and much smaller) home
» Danielle Steele interview – Entertainment Weekly





musical support:
Thanks to Eric Frampton for the theme track for today’s podcast, “Waltz for James”, and to the Piney Creek Weasels for “The Dog Song”, both courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. Classical pieces came from Musopen.com, and those fabulously scratchy 78s and wax cylinders were excavated at InternetArchive.org. Image of the Dewey Monument at top of post by Peter Kaminski, protected by a Creative Commons license.

printed bibliography:


Big Alma

Bernice Scharlach – Scottwall Associates, 1990


Bonanza Inn: America’s First Luxury Hotel

Oscar Lewis – Knopf, 1943


Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915

Kevin Starr – Oxford University Press, 1986


As I Remember

Arthur Genthe – Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936

linking policy: Books in print available through your local independent bookstore; out of print books through Abebooks.com

To many of the thousands of gold-seekers pouring through the Golden Gate back in 1849, the word “Argonaut” was already a familiar one, drawn from the ancient myth of “Jason and the Golden Fleece”.

“Argonaut” was the name applied to Jason’s band of heroic companions, combining the name of his ship — the “Argos” — with the Greek word for sailor — “nautes”. The word came to mean “an adventurer engaged in a quest, usually by sea”. The parallels between Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece and the ’49ers quest for California gold proved irresistible, and by the 1870s “Argonaut” was in common use to identify that first generation of pioneers.

Charles Warren Haskins was part of that first wave of Argonauts. He worked the gold fields around Hangtown (now Placerville) for a couple of years and then returned to Massachusetts to get married in 1851. He brought his new wife back to California, and raised a family. In 1890, on an extended visit to his son in Idaho, Charles finally mined the real treasure of his Gold Rush experience — his memories. He began to compose a memoir in an energetic vernacular style that recalls Mark Twain.

“WHILE residing in the village of Kingston … in the silver mining regions of northern Idaho during the winter of ’87-’88, and being compelled to remain within doors in consequence of the great depth of snow and intense cold, in order to pass away the time I amused myself by writing an account of scenes and incidents that occurred in California in early days in the mining regions. These events are written entirely from memory. As to the the correct description of events, I ask the remnant of that band of sturdy Argonauts who laid the foundation of a great State to bear me witness.”
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What is Treasure Island? Why is it there? And where is it going?

In the second episode of this 2-part podcast series, San Francisco’s plan for a mid-bay international airport is abruptly derailed by World War II. The US Navy seizes the island, transforming the former World’s Fair location into “Naval Station Treasure Island”. The new base plays a vital role in the war, funneling millions of sailors into the Pacific Theatre. The world’s largest mess hall, San Francisco’s peculiar celebration of the war’s end, and an alarming series of Cold War-era mushroom clouds round out the military phase of Treasure Island’s history.

But that’s just the beginning, because after half a century San Francisco finally has its island back! Plans for the future of “San Francisco’s Newest Neighborhood” have been fraught with conflict and political turmoil, but believe me; they’re nothing short of spectacular.

Listen to Part One of the story.

For further edification:
» California State Military Museum
» “The Navy’s Last Detail” – SFGate.com, 1997
» Home movie – V-J Day celebrations and riot – Prelinger Archives
» “The Naval History of Treasure Island” – Prelinger Library, 1946
» Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA)
» “Treasure Island’s need for speed” – SF Chronicle, 2005
» Treasure Island Master Plan – Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
» “A Vision for Urban Living” – SF Chronicle, 2006
» Treasure Island Museum
» “Consequences of a Rising Bay” – SF Chronicle, 2007

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Treasure Island is easily visible from San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a low-lying front porch jutting out towards the Golden Gate from Yerba Buena Island. Palm trees in a silhouetted row set off massive white buildings, dwarfed by the towering silver Bay Bridge marching across the water towards Oakland. That bridge carries over 130,000 people a day within yards of this artificial lily pad, most of them whizzing by at 70 miles per hour without giving it a second thought.

What is Treasure Island? Why is it there? And where is it going?

In the first episode of this 2-part podcast series, you’ll learn how politics, pride, and the Great Depression collided to spark this audacious construction project, and the story of its glamorous first occupant — the 1939 World’s Fair. Crazed seagulls, the tooth of a woolly mammoth, Irving Berlin, and a radio signal from Bombay are just a few of the elements that make this story a San Francisco classic.

Skip to Part Two.

For further edification:
» “Trails End for ’39ers” – Almanac for Thirty-Niners – WPA, 1938
» “Western Wonderland” – Time Magazine, 1939
» Gorgeous pre-Fair Publicity Film – Prelinger Archives
» Newsreel footage of ’39 World’s Fair – Prelinger Archives
» Home movie from the ’39 World’s Fair – Prelinger Archives
» “Not So Golden Gate” – Time Magazine, 1939
» “The Legend of Yerba Buena Island” 1936
» Treasure Island – Wikipedia
» Treasure Island Music Festival – Noisepop/Another Planet

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On a recent Pacific Heights walking tour I found myself standing atop Lafayette Park. As I admired the spectacular view, the guide told an unfamiliar story about a mansion that once occupied this hill. The building is long gone now, of course, but its history is a wild one.

Here’s the story: Samuel Holladay, respectable Gold Rush era citizen and pillar of society, had legally stolen this beautifully situated hilltop. He was a squatter… and even better, had successfully defended the property against the City of San Francisco for over thirty years! Needless to say, after the tour I made a beeline to the sixth floor of the San Francisco Public Library.

It seemed so unlikely; what bizarre circumstances could have led such a distinguished character to take such a seemingly scurrilous action? The great thing about our city’s history is that once you’ve seized a single thread, it can take you anywhere — and this one went all over the place. In today’s podcast I will untangle the story of Samuel Holladay, the king of Holladay Hill.

For further edification:
» Lafayette Park – GoogleMaps
» contemporary view from Lafayette Park – 360 degree panorama
» Samuel Holladay’s 1901 autobiography – Calisphere
» 1888 California Supreme Court decision
» 1895 United States Supreme Court decision – final
» map of San Francisco showing Western Addition, 1861 – David Rumsey collection
» Kim Barnes – Friends of Lafayette Park
» San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council
» George Davidson – bio and observatory photo

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You’ve seen the green and white signs in front of the “Lefty O’Doul Restaurant and Piano Bar” down on Geary Street, but who is Lefty O’Doul? Just another phony Irish name invented to sell beer?

Absolutely not! The silhouette of that left-handed slugger on the sign is a clue. Lefty O’Doul was a baseball player, and despite the fact that other boys from San Francisco went on to enjoy a brighter national spotlight, Lefty was our boy — our very own real hometown baseball hero. We cheered his ups and downs back east, watched from afar as he palled around with Babe Ruth, and when he came back from the big leagues to manage the hometown San Francisco Seals he was the most popular man in town.

That in itself would make a pretty good story, but it’s the international angle that will really surprise you. You see, “Lefty” and “the Man in the Green Suit” were only two of the nicknames O’Doul answered to in his checkered career. The most interesting one is this one: “the Father of Japanese Baseball”. It turns out that the Irish kid from Butchertown was as much a citizen of the Pacific Rim as of the baseball world — and he’s now enshrined in Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

His tombstone down in Colma reads “He was here at a good time, and had a good time while he was here”. Need I say more? Even if you don’t know a thing about our “national pastime”, you’re going to love Lefty O’Doul.

Full disclosure: I wore my San Francisco Seals hat as I researched this story. So much for objective journalism!

For further edification:
» O’Doul’s lifetime statistics — Baseball Almanac
» “Lefty O’Doul Kids Day” 1938 — Virtual Museum of San Francisco
» Interview for “The Glory of Their Times” — Baseball Hall of Fame
» San Francisco Court of Historical Review — San Francisco Chronicle June 1997
» “Hall of Fame Hopes” — San Francisco Chronicle June 2006
» O’Doul Essay — The Diamond Angle
» Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame
» Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant — official site
» Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant — GoogleMap



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At the end of the Part One of this two part series, Abraham Lincoln had been elected president, the Civil War had broken out, and the question of California’s loyalty to the Union was in grave doubt. The youthful Unitarian minister from Boston was a newcomer to the scene, but his powerful voice had been quickly recruited to the Union cause.

His impact would be immense and wide-ranging, and not just as a peerless advocate for the Union. From his proto-environmentalist writings on Yosemite to his contribution to a California culture of philanthropy, Starr King made his short time in our state count. Lincoln himself thought of Starr King as “the Man Who Saved California for the Union”, and at the beginning of the previous century most Californians felt the same, selecting King to represent the state in the form of a statue back in Washington D.C.

But this story doesn’t end in the past. In August of 2006, a resolution was rushed through the California legislature to evict Starr King from his place of honour and replace him with a statue of ex-president Ronald Reagan. There was no public discussion.

King’s statue is still standing, but his days are numbered. Can it be right to erase such a potent symbol of our collective past? Well… listen to the podcasts, digest some of the background material below, and then make up your own mind. It seems to me that King is the right guy for that job back east — if you agree, click the link below to locate your California State Representative and let your opinion be heard.

For further edification:
» Find your California State Representative — www.leginfo.ca.gov
» Starr King and the California Civil War (pt.1) — sparkletack
» Starr King statue — National Hall of Statuary
» “Debate Urged on Starr King Eviction” — San Francisco Chronicle 11/25/06
» “Saving Starr King” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/15/06
» “A Vacation among the Sierras: Yosemite in 1860″ — Thomas Starr King
» “Roots of the American Red Cross” — Unitarian Universalist World

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Over 100,000 people a day travel the Geary Street corridor. But how many glance over and notice the grey statue standing watch at Franklin Street? Only a very few look even further, and notice the low, stone sarcophagus nestled in front of the gothic Unitarian Church. Walk right up to it and you’ll discover that it contains the earthly remains of Thomas Starr King.

Thomas Starr King? Who on earth was that — and what’s he doing here?

Indeed. The storm clouds of the American Civil War were brewing, and California’s loyalty to the Federal government was an open question. Though largely forgotten, Starr King was known in his day as “the Man Who Saved California for the Union”. His impact on California was incalculable, as you’ll begin to discover in this podcast — part one of a two-part story.

For further edification:
» Starr King in California — William Simonds, Project Gutenberg
» Starr King statue — National Hall of Statuary
» California in the Civil War — Wikipedia
» Starr King bio — Starr King School for the Ministry
» First Unitarian Church, 1864 — GoogleMaps

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History is rife with bizarre confrontations and grand feuds, but in San Francisco none were more bizarre than the showdown between Charles Crocker (bellicose railroad robber baron) and Nicholas Yung (unassuming German undertaker).

Call it “a tale of two egos”. It was over a very small piece of land, but this property was located on center stage of 1870′s San Francisco — the very top of Nob Hill.

This podcast pulls several threads from the San Francisco tapestry — the Big Four, the Transcontinental Railroad, rabble rouser Denis Kearney and photographer Eadweard Muybridge — and weaves them together into a 25 year saga of pigheadedness that could only be resolved by the destruction of the entire city.

For further edification:
» 1902 SF Chronicle “Spite Fence” article — SFGenealogy.com
» The Big Four — Central Pacific Railroad Museum
» “Kearneyism” — Virtual Museum of San Francisco
» Grace Cathedral — official site

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Unsurprisingly, San Francisco’s history includes an amazing number of extremely “creative” plans which seem to us today to be absolutely insane. In 1945, a schoolteacher and amateur theatrical producer named John Reber devised a plan to solve all of San Francisco Bay’s water and transportation problems in one fell swoop. His outrageous proposal was to dam the bay not once but twice, creating two enormous freshwater lakes and reducing the Bay itself to a mere puddle.

This week’s podcast looks at the unusual history leading up to this plan and some of its unintended consequences, including the indirect inspiration of the Bay Area’s first grassroots environmental movement and the construction of the amazing “Bay Model” in Sausalito.

For further edification:
» Bridging the Bay: Salt Water Barriers – UC Berkeley Library online exhibit
» Bay Model visitor center
» Save the Bay – San Francisco Bay Advocacy Group
» “A Hidden Geography” – Richard Walker, UC Berkeley Department of Geography

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In this week’s podcast we’ll marvel at beautiful Lotta Crabtree, quintessential star of the late 1800s. She was the protege of Lola Montez, the highest paid performer on Broadway, the darling of the entire nation, and the most popular comedienne of her era.

As you may already suspect, her story begins right here in California, and the city nearest and dearest to her heart was the gold rush town which had bestowed the first of many nicknames to come: the “San Francisco Favourite”.

For further edification:
» Lotta Biography – with photos
» Lotta’s Legacy – essay by J. Kingston Pierce
» “San Francisco Rising” coverage – Leah Garchik
» “San Francisco Rising” photos – San Francisco Sentinel
» Fountain refurbishment – San Francisco Chronicle
» Lotta’s opera – live on Market Street


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This week’s podcast chooses just one of the many thousands of individual stories to emerge from the catastrophe, following the eccentric Italian superstar and the storied hotel through their respective trials and tribulations. One survives… but the other does not.

For further edification:
» “The San Francisco Earthquake” – Gordon Thomas, Max Morgan Witts
» “Lest We Forget” – 1906 Earthquake memoir
» 1906 earthquake synopsis – history.net
» 1906 earthquake online exhibit – Bancroft Library
» Caruso biography – Wikipedia
» the Caruso page
» Caruso’s “clarification”
» SF Public Library earthquake photo collection
» technical story of the 1906 earthquake – United States Geological Survey
» SF Public Library earthquake photo collection
» Vespadan’s photostory synopsis
» USGS earthquake conference
» 1906 earthquake alliance
» Faultline @ the Exploratorium – featuring indescribable earthquake songs from Mel Zucker
» Jello City – a must see

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