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.
A forest of masts occupied Yerba Buena Cove, which edged up to where the Transamerica Pyramid is today (upper photo). The Barbary Coast soon became victim to graft, lawlessness and every other vice known to man. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whoremonger, lewd women, cutthroats, murderers were all found in the district’s dance-halls, concert-saloons, gambling houses and brothels. Debauchery, disease, insanity and death ran amuck.
A three-block stretch along Pacific was almost wall-to-wall with drinking establishments. “Deadfalls” were the lowest of these establishments with hard benches, sawdust floors and putrid wine , which was made from raw alcohol with added coloring. With only one policeman for every 1,500 souls, an average of one murder per night occurred. The number of brothels rivaled that of Paris. Ladies of the night were in high demand as men outnumbered women 70 to 1. Opium was sold openly in all-night drug stores. The city that knew how was an open-air den of iniquity.