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.
Decades later you learned the fate of Hotaling’s whiskey during the 1906 earthquake and fire. The Army had plans of dynamiting the brick structure to create a fire path until it realized the value of its contents. The largest repository on the West Coast of distilled spirits surely deserved to be saved. Seawater was pumped an incredible eleven blocks from the Embarcadero. Wine pumps from nearby basements added sewer sludge to the two-day victorious fight. However, much of San Francisco was not as fortunate, losing 28,000 buildings and historic mansions including Mr. Hotaling’s private residence in Pacific Heights. Many believed that the City had paid for its sinful ways. Local poet Charles Field responded with a bit of wit: “If, as they say, God spanked the town / For being over-frisky / Why did He burn His churches down / And spare Hotaling’s whiskey?”
These stately streets and alleys no longer harbor the hustle and chaos of yesteryear. Today, the historic brick structures house mainly art, antique and furniture dealers. The finer tastes and extravagances of modern day have replaced the sins of our ancestors…at least for Jackson Square. But not to worry, there is still plenty of Satan’s handiwork available in other neighborhoods of the City that knows how. Cheers!