Monday, March 23rd, 2009
THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:
Slumming the Barbary Coast
“A Barbary Cruise”
I’ve been thinking about the fact that — just like our out-of-town guests inevitably insist that we take ‘em to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf — in the 1870s, visitors from back in “the States” just had to go slumming in the infamous Barbary Coast.
The piece I’m about to read to you was written by Mr. Albert Evans, a reporter from the good ol’ Alta California. The Barbary Coast was part of his beat, and this gave him connections with the hardnosed cops whose duty it was to maintain some kind of order in that “colorful” part of town.
As romanticized as it has become in popular memory, the Coast was a “hell” of a place — filthy, violent and extremely dangerous for greenhorns.
When some visitors came to town in about 1871, Albert asked one of his policeman buddies to join them on the tour. His account of this “Barbary Cruise” is a remarkable firsthand snapshot of the territory bounded by Montgomery, Stockton, Washington and Broadway. But what’s almost more interesting is the way he reports it; the purple prose, the pursed-lip moralizing, and — though I’ve skipped the Chinatown part of the tour — the absolutely matter-of-fact racism on display.
This is the Barbary Coast seen through the eyes of white, bourgeois, and extremely Victorian San Francisco — prepare to be both educated and annoyed.