It appears that the Russian River resorts reached a tipping point in the summer of 1910 when there was a jump in the number of visitors. It was the first season after the Northwestern Pacific (NWP) line finally connected with the narrow gauge railway coming up the coast. This meant someone in San Francisco could easily reach the popular resorts on the west end of the Russian River. No longer was it necessary to board the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad (SFNP) to Fulton near Santa Rosa and transfer to a slooooow connection that crawled as it made over a dozen stops along the way including Dell, Hilton, Eagle Nest, Guerneville, Montesano, and Camp Vacation near today’s Northwood. From there a determined soul would have to board the seventy-five-foot stern wheeler, the Monte Rio, in order to travel further downstream. (more…)
Villa Grande is an unincorporated community in Monte Rio along the Russian River. How the name Villa Grande was born is a story unto itself. In the very beginning, there was “Big Flat”, a patch of land filled with redwoods and owned by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which ran along present-day Moscow Road. The logging boom started to fizzle out by the beginning of the twentieth century, causing NWPR to sell lots in the Big Flat area. A fourth-class post office was established under the title of “Mesa Grande”.
Unfortunately, there was another Mesa Grande located in the San Diego area, necessitating a name change. The post office operated under the new moniker of “Grandville”, doing business out of a cubbyhole in the general store. (more…)
My grandfather was a member of the California Grays, a San Francisco military fraternity. Prior to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the Grays aided the local police in clearing out the Barbary Coast. Fights broke out in many of the saloons with undesirables ferried across the bay to Oakland by the men in their natty West-Point-like uniforms. Grandpa recalls crawling under pool tables to avoid the mayhem. But the job was incomplete. The Barbary Coast remained a sideshow, a skid row and music mecca all rolled into one. (more…)
In 1866 you deboard a three-masted ship, step ashore onto Battery Street and cross over land-filled Yerba Buena Cove into Jackson Square. While navigating this section of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, you keep a wary eye out for pickpockets, con artists, and false solicitors offering everything from snake oil to a free drink of pisco to the unfettered company of the fairer sex. You make your way past the Custom House to a large warehouse at 451 Jackson Street. Mr. Hotaling invites you to his second-story office where you negotiate the price of his whiskey for shipment back East. (more…)
Over 500 ships were abandoned in San Francisco Bay as crew members fled for the gold fields in 1849. Many vessels, like The Arkansas, became part of the Yerba Buena shoreline awaiting their next life. The Arkansas was converted into The Old Ship Ale House near what is now Pacific Avenue and Battery Street, selling drinks at twenty-five cents each. By 1855, rotten timber and ballast stones from other crafts landlocked The Arkansas, causing it to become a permanent fixture of the Barbary Coast District.
Supposedly the term “shanghaied” originated from this bar. A drug-laced liquor would render an unsuspecting patron unconscious. (more…)
The Barbary Coast of San Francisco gets its name from the Barbary Coast region of Northwest Africa, essentially where Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya are today. This region was known for its slave traders and pirates, with all the complementary unsavory types such as gamblers, pimps, thieves, etc. Its namesake in the City is nine-square-blocks bounded by Pacific Ave. on the north, Clay St. on the south, Montgomery St. on the east and Stockton St. on the west. This includes most of Chinatown, Jackson Square and parts of the North Beach District. The tens of thousands gold seekers in 1849 would overrun the town. The population increased from 400 to 25,000 within the year. (more…)
If you are seeking a genuine Chinese experience, ring the buzzer at 644 Broadway in San Francisco where a nun will welcome you. When the door closes behind you at the Gold Mountain Monastery, all outside interference suddenly dissolves as you enter another world. Incense laces the air as a strange sense of peace engulfs you.
You are escorted into a chamber where devotees sit on mats while embracing the teachings of Buddha. Foreign words like sila, samadhi and prajna escape your understanding. But after a brief wait, you recognize familiar disciplines from bygone days such as “all beings are equal”, “a moral life”, and “the importance of education”. Twists on these universal truths tickle your curiosity as ideas of reincarnation, meditation and enlightenment are presented. (more…)
The Tin How Temple at 125 Waverly Place was born in the 1850’s amidst the chaos and excitement of the Gold Rush. Its body, the Barbary Coast District, encompasses parts of modern-day Chinatown, Jackson Square and North Beach. Tin How is the oldest operating Chinese temple in the U.S., which honors T’ien Hou, revered as the guardian angel of fishermen and women in distress.
As you enter what feels like a secret passageway to some urban myth, authenticity abounds. You survey the walls of the stairwell lined with ancient sagas. These artworks and photos of history accompany you as you pass the second floor, labeled “Mahjong Parlors”. Another two flights brings you to a place of prayer. The quiet demands respect with only the sound of a devotee shaking a cup of kau cim sticks penetrating the stillness. The person exchanges the one stick that has fallen to the floor for a corresponding paper with an answer to his/her prayers. (more…)
Since the 1940s, it has been a San Francisco tradition on New Year’s Eve for office workers to hurl the pages of old calendars from windows in the Financial District. The artificial dusting blankets Market Street in a white drift a foot deep, bringing a Tahoe-like scene to the asphalt canyons. It remains a special treat for city kids who may never have played in the snow, or in autumn leaves for that matter.
Herb Caen once wrote that he would stroll downtown and witness “…a custom observed nowhere else.” Later he would add that throwing the entire calendar, as a whole, out the window would be “bad form” as someone might bring in the New Year with a bad migraine, or worse. (more…)
We left Union Square and entered City of Paris (1850-1976) on Stockton Street. I was awestruck at the sight of a forty-foot Christmas tree (first erected in 1909 to celebrate the store’s survival of the earthquake three years previous). Actual bicycles, skis, sleds and other gifts decorated the monstrous fir, which rose to the stained glass dome. I squinted upwards and spied the outline of an old sailing ship within the ornate skylight. Dad explained that the vessel was the City of Paris and had arrived during the Gold Rush days laden with French wine and Cognac and frilly things for the ladies.
We strolled down an aisle named Normandy Lane. A make-believe village soon engulfed us. A well-groomed gentleman, wearing a white carnation in his lapel, stood behind a bar, which resembled a red lacquered bed. We soon arrived at a red, white and blue kiosk displaying children’s books and French magazines. (more…)