images of Hotaling building

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…)

Old Ship Saloon

images of Old Ship SaloonOver 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…)

Barbary Coast

images of Barbary Coast

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…)

Gold Mountain Monastery

images of Gold Mountain MonasteryIf 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…)

Tin How Temple

images of Tin How TempleThe 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…)

Happy New Year’s

images of New Year's Eve

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…)

City of Paris

Images of City of ParisWe 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…)

FAO Schwarz

images of FAO Schwarz

Listening to the radio, you eavesdropped on Happy Holly’s conversation with Santa and tracked his movements with Rudolph and the other reindeer as all dashed from the North Pole and soared toward San Francisco. Without warning, Dad turned off the ignition and escorted everyone toward a magical toy store. You strolled a block from Union Square to Stockton and O’Farrell where a human toy soldier, dressed in a tall purple hat, greeted you with a stiff wave before your family entered FAO Schwarz (located in S.F. since the late 1960’s). Oversized stuffed animals showed their stitched grins along with Humpty Dumpty who sat with an uncertain expression on a rung of a giant tower, which stretched to the second floor. (more…)

Christmas Past at the Emporium in S.F.

Images of Emporium in S.F. during ChristmasDo you remember the Christmas parade rolling along Market Street in downtown San Francisco? As a tot, you were mesmerized as Santa slithered out of his sleigh and wobbled into the Emporium. In a dash, you sped from the cable car turnaround across the street at Powell and rushed passed sidewalk street artists and a good-news prophet who held up sandwich board that read: “Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great”. Once inside the seven-story neoclassic structure, the centuries old department store (built in 1896) came alive with a self-promoting tune. An orchestra, situated on a spherical platform above a dining area, bellowed out the “Emporium March” to get your parents and grandma in the capitalistic mood. But grandma wouldn’t have it, complaining “what kind of Santa would be found south of Market?” (more…)

Christmas Past

images of Christmas at Union Square

Christmas Past in San Francisco usually started with the task of locating a parking place in the Union Square underground garage. Once successful, the family would climb hand-in-hand up and out of the gray asphalt hole to a magical fairyland. You took in the outfits of the other children and realized why your mother insisted on everyone wearing their “Sunday” best. Dad wore his ugly Santa tie, mom her feathered hat with matching colored gloves, while you donned that Fauntleroy-like velvet suit with lace collar hand-knitted by grandma. White lights illuminated the giant X’mas tree, which stood proudly near a 25-foot menorah (first sponsored by Bill Graham in 1975). (more…)

Christmas in 1880’s San Franancisco

images of Christmas in 1880 San Francisco

Let’s take a trip back to Christmas in 1880’s San Francisco. It is interesting to note during this season of divisiveness that three quarters of the population of the City were first generation immigrants. They brought some wonderful traditions that are still with us today. The influx of Irish changed the major holiday of the year from the Protestant promoted Thanksgiving to Christmas. The folks from Ireland (largest group of immigrants to S.F. in 1880), many of whom settled in what is now present-day Mission District, started the custom of putting out cookies and milk (or was it Baileys Irish Cream) for Santa on Christmas Eve. This was based on the practice of leaving the front door open so that Mary and Joseph could enter and find a beverage and sweet bread on their journey to Bethlehem. (more…)

Civil War Reenactment

images of Civil War reenactment in Duncans MillsThe Civil War reenactment in Duncans Mills occurs each July and is the biggest such show in the state if not the western United States, incorporating over one thousand people. It has been at the same venue since 2000, sponsored by the California Historical Society and Casini Ranch. During the weekend performance, two historic battles are recreated each day with Confederate and Union armies splitting victories.

“There’s a lot of brush clearing to be done,” says Teri Moretti of Petaluma, “not to mention the issue of the cow patties.” These bovine pies, however, remain where they lay, making navigating the battlefield somewhat like negotiating a minefield. The surrounding hills of Freezeout Road soon become filled with the sound of fife and drum, musket and cannon as soldiers engage in a war that took more than 700,000 lives from 1861-1865. (more…)

Sportsmen’s Club of Duncans Mills

image of Russian River Sportsmen's ClubThe Russian River Sportsmen’s Club of Duncans Mills was founded in 1938 to “…promote cooperation between land owners, ranchmen and sportsmen”. Another goal has continued to be the rescue of fish that become stranded in the creeks and pools adjoining the nearby Russian River. In 1948 Angelo Boles pushed the organization to purchase six acres, and a clubhouse was soon underway. George Guerne (relative of founding fathers of Guerneville) showed up with his crew to donate their talents.

Membership peaked in the early fifties with some six hundred members. Today the Sportsmen’s Club is supported by eighty hardy souls. Women such as Gladys Pacheco of yesteryear (served as president from 1951-1953) and Lynn Wheeler of today have always played an important role. (more…)

Casini Ranch in Duncans Mills

images of Casini Ranch

In 1881 Bartolomeo and Anastasia Casini settled in the area around Duncans Mills, first living along what is today Freezeout Road. Not long afterwards, the bridge washed out by one of Russian River’s famous floods, forcing the Casini family to move into the European Hotel nearby. Their son, Paul Anthony Casini, worked as the dairy manager for the La Franchi family. In 1932 he bought out the La Franchi shares and became the sole owner of what is now Casini Ranch. 


Last Train Leaves the Russian River

image of last train along the Russian River  Guerneville declared a holiday on the last day of operations for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.  With three cars full to capacity, Engine No. 108 cruised down to Rio Campo (now Northwood) where it crossed the Russian River (at the 9th tee of present-day golf course) and headed into the Bohemian Grove before running down Moscow Road in Monte Rio to Duncans Mills.  With the sky overcast, 250 persons gathered at the depot for the “last rites” (see photo).  All came together for pictures and speeches.  Lunches were eaten and beer and harder liquid flowed freely.  Over in one corner of the Duncans Mills depot several of the old-timers talked and wondered what was going to happen to the area.  Without a railroad how could business go on?  What did the future hold?  And so sixty years of railroading came to an end.

November 14, 1935.

Train Crosses River at Duncans Mills

image of train crossing Russian RiverThe broad gauge accommodated the passenger trains when the lumber industry along the lower reaches of the Russian River faded in the early part of the 20th century.  The broad gauge crossed the river at three locations: (1) Cosmo (now Hacienda), (2) between Rio Campo (now Northwood) and Bohemian Grove; and (3) at Duncans Mills (see photo).  Two trains made their way from San Francisco to the Russian River on a daily basis with weekend and holiday specials offered at $1.25 roundtrip.  The larger 4-4-0 engines were capable of handling a thirteen-car train.  Northwestern Pacific (NWP) once again bounced back into the black until the Depression hit in earnest, crippling the system in the early 1930’s.


Circa 1930.

Railroad along the Russian River




images of railroad along the Russian River


Old No.222 with engine No. 20 heading a five-car train on the three-rail portion west of Monte Rio approximately where Cassini Ranch is today.  Next stop, across the river to Duncans Mills.



Year 1924.

Heading To Duncans Mills

image of train along Russian River


This is a photo of a broad gauge passenger train leaving Monte Rio and heading down present-day Moscow Road along the Russian River to Duncans Mills, 3.3 mile distance. 


Circe 1890.

Catching the Ferry

The camera-eye records the arrival of the venerable ferry Tiburon as she glides into the slip at Sausalito on a routine afternoon run connecting with train No 224 for the the Russian River in the year 1922.

In the 1880’s passengers boarded the ferries through this structure at the foot of Market Street, San Francisco, for the ride to the train terminal at Sausalito.

Historic Buildings of Duncans Mills

images of Duncans MillsAs you round the curve into Duncans Mills from the east, to your immediate right, you will see The Superintendent’s House (upper left photo) snug against the hill, one of the town’s first historic buildings. Circa 1880, it was the old company house of the Duncans Mills Corporation during the sawmill days, providing shelter for the family that founded the village that still bears its name. Recently it existed as a Bed & Breakfast and is on the market for $945k.   You can Google “24951 Hwy 116” for an insider’s look into a home that has retained the Victorian charm of yesteryear.

On the flats you can still see DeCarly’s old General Store (upper right photo), built in 1888. For over one hundred and thirty years, the store has met the varied needs of the town’s 170 residents. (more…)