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Imperial San Francisco

Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin, With a New Preface

Gray Brechin
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 2
Pages: 437
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  • Book Info
    Imperial San Francisco
    Book Description:

    First published in 1999, this celebrated history of San Francisco traces the exploitation of both local and distant regions by prominent families—the Hearsts, de Youngs, Spreckelses, and others—who gained power through mining, ranching, water and energy, transportation, real estate, weapons, and the mass media. The story uncovered by Gray Brechin is one of greed and ambition on an epic scale. Brechin arrives at a new way of understanding urban history as he traces the connections between environment, economy, and technology and discovers links that led, ultimately, to the creation of the atomic bomb and the nuclear arms race. In a new preface, Brechin considers the vulnerability of cities in the post-9/11 twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93348-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Preface to the 2007 Edition
    (pp. xxi-xxviii)
    Gray Brechin
  6. Preface to the First Edition: The Urban Maelstrom
    (pp. xxix-xxxiv)
  7. Introduction: New Romes for a New World
    (pp. 1-10)

    No one had anticipated the big chill that had fallen on the nation’s capital overnight. Temperatures had suddenly plunged into the single digits, forcing planners to scrap the extravaganza that was to have celebrated the second inaugural of the man from California. His party had abandoned a million dollar reviewing stand on the west steps of the Capitol; there would be no triumphal cavalcade that day, no procession down Pennsylvania Avenue to the accompaniment of two hundred high school marching bands and innumerable drum majorettes. Wan shafts of winter light fell on the faces of power brokers and plutocrats crowded...


    • ONE The Pyramid of Mining
      (pp. 13-70)

      Six hundred tons of sculpted bronze and granite would be sufficient to crush any doubts about pioneer morality, claimed speakers at the dedication of the Pioneer Monument on Thanksgiving Day, 1894.¹ Just the day before, a prominent San Francisco preacher had told his congregation that the proud members of the Native Sons of the Golden West were “degenerate descendants of unworthy sires” who had been “Sabbath-breakers and hoodlums” during the increasingly fabled gold rush. Another divine had claimed that unlike the pilgrims, California’s pioneers had come toescapereligion, that “they came not for conscience, but for coin.” Yet another...

    • TWO Water Mains and Bloodlines
      (pp. 71-118)

      Power veils itself. From the mystery of what it does, what it owns, and, above all,whoit is, it assumes added strength. Within cities, the paths of power grow exceedingly complex and subtle over time as elite families marry to agglomerate wealth and as their heirs retain favored attorneys and bankers to manage and expand their fortunes. These paths resemble the cumulative network of utilities under the streets to which there is no comprehensive guide. Yet it is no less necessary to map those pathways of power than it is to map the physical systems themselves if one is...


    • THREE The Scott Brothers: Arms and the Overland Monthly
      (pp. 121-170)

      Former mayor James Duval Phelan dedicated San Francisco’s most aggressive monument on August 12, 1906, amid the town’s ghostly ruins. It would be, he told his audience, the first of many to grace a glorious new metropolis soon to rise from the ashes of the old, purged by earthquake and fire, to claim her rightful role as Mistress of the Pacific. War had assured her dominion over the world’s greatest ocean. The drapery fell to reveal Bellona, Roman goddess of battle, lunging forward on a rearing Pegasus over the fallen body of a California soldier, whose khaki-clad buddy drew his...

    • FOUR The De Youngs: Society Invents Itself
      (pp. 171-199)

      In 1990, publisher Richard Tobin Thieriot celebrated theSan Francisco Chronicle’s125th anniversary with a commemorative edition and a glowing tribute to the “bold, bright, fearless and truly independent paper” that his great, great-grandfather, Michael de Young, had allegedly founded with his brother Charles. The de Young brothers had early learned the power of paper and print to shape thought as well as cities. In praising the founders, Thieriot unintentionally used the wrong verb when he wrote, “The world and the nation have been reflected through our lens.”¹

      Lensesrefract,rather than reflect, reality, as do the vested interests of...

    • FIVE The Hearsts: Racial Supremacy and the Digestion of “All Mexico”
      (pp. 200-242)

      Crowning a high hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the palaces and palm trees of La Cuesta Encantada lure thousands of commoners to what has become one of California’s most popular tourist destinations. They pay handsomely to see the favored home of America’s most notorious press lord, William Randolph Hearst, and to experience for a few hours what was once the exclusive playground of Hollywood royalty, diplomats, and tycoons. Docents lead them through terraced gardens and guest palaces, past marble and mosaic pools and a jackdaw’s nest of imported European culture. In the late afternoon, they watch the westering sun burnish...


    • SIX Toward Limitless Energy
      (pp. 245-279)

      Franklin K. Lane singled out one statue for special praise when he opened the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. President Wilson was unable to attend that day, so he’d sent his secretary of the interior to San Francisco to stand in for him. As a nearly native Californian, Secretary Lane particularly empathized with an equestrian statue calledThe American Pioneer,by Solon Borglum. Lane said the sculptor had made it an archetype of “the race” advancing westward with his rifle erect. It stood in the Court of Flowers as a stirring counterpoint to the image ofanotherrace’s weary defeat,...

    • SEVEN The University, the Gate, and “the Gadget”
      (pp. 280-330)

      When Henry Adams, in 1905, voiced his fears about the skyward arc of energy, the mines at Joachimsthal, where Agricola had acquired the experience to writeDe Re Metallica,were nearly four hundred years old and still producing. San Francisco, as a city, was scarcely fifty-six, and the University of California not yet forty. Ernest Orlando Lawrence was then three years old and Julius Robert Oppenheimer one. Albert Einstein was busy publishing a series of papers that included the equivalence theory E=mc².

      The fortunes of the University of California were tied from the beginning to those of San Francisco’s financial...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 331-358)
  12. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 359-360)
  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 361-388)
  14. Index
    (pp. 389-402)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 403-406)