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San Francisco in the 1930s

San Francisco in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City by the Bay

Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    San Francisco in the 1930s
    Book Description:

    "San Francisco has no single landmark by which the world may identify it," according toSan Francisco in the 1930s, originally published in 1940. This would surely come as a surprise to the millions who know and love the Golden Gate Bridge or recognize the Transamerica Building's pyramid. This invaluable Depression-era guide to San Francisco relates the city's history from the vantage point of the 1930s, describing its culture and highlighting the important tourist attractions of the time. David Kipen's lively introduction revisits the city's literary heritage-from Bret Harte to Kenneth Rexroth, Jade Snow Wong, and Allen Ginsberg-as well as its most famous landmarks and historic buildings. This rich and evocative volume, resonant with portraits of neighborhoods and districts, allows us a unique opportunity to travel back in time and savor the City by the Bay as it used to be.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94887-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. The San Francisco Seven
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    David Kipen

    Landmarks can take a while to announce themselves. First opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge rates only a couple of artful paragraphs in the guidebook before you, compared to fully 25 pages for Golden Gate Park. Plainly, there’d be no getting away with that ratio today. Like the bridge itself at first, this Federal Writers Project guide has gone remarkably unappreciated since its publication in 1940—read to tatters by a dedicated cadre of writers, lefties, and urbanists, updated without glory once, yet never truly celebrated for the indispensable navigational beacon it is. To explore the Bay Area without...

  6. Preface 1940
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
    Walter McElroy
  7. I. Gateway to the West

    • The Bay and the Land
      (pp. 3-12)

      WHEN the first settlers, led by Lieutenant Jose Joaquin Moraga, arrived June 27, 1776, on the site of San Francisco, the American people were yet to declare themselves a Nation—though within seven days they would do so, 3,000 miles away on the Atlantic seaboard. Seven decades would pass before the heirs of ’76 would raise their flag on this site. Two years more, and the name of San Francisco would go round the world.

      It “never was a village”—this had been its proud boast. Where barren sand dunes, marshes, and brackish lagoons had surrounded an abandoned mission and...

    • A Frontier to Conquer
      (pp. 13-28)

      FROM the chalk-white bluffs of the bay sheltered by Point Reyes, the coast-dwelling natives saw with amazement an immense object borne on billowing wings loom out of the mist at sea on June 17 (Julian Calendar), 1579. The man whom they sent the next day to reconnoiter paddled back excitedly to tell of living beings, white of skin and bearded, aboard this apparition. Concluding that these visitors were no less than spirits returned from the dead, the Indians timorously kept their distance, prepared to make—if necessary—proper obeisance. For three days longer the spirits remained in their abode, which...

    • Emporium of a New World
      (pp. 29-47)

      HARDLY had the dead hand of Mexican rule been lifted from the Bay region when the Gold Rush struck it like a hurricane. The thousands who flocked to the shores of San Francisco Bay in 1848 at first asked little. But when the excitement died down the little gold frontier town had become a city, and its people demanded much: wharves, and dry paved streets; homes and stores, with firm foundations on which to build them; and a transportation system that would encompass not only the land about the Bay, but the Bay itself. Almost overnight the fleet of steamers...

    • I. Bay Region: Today and Yesterday
      (pp. None)
    • Golden Era
      (pp. 48-74)

      TO THINK of its power and influence,” marveled Horace Greeley at San Francisco’s pioneer literary journal, theGolden Era, “when the population is so sparse and the mail facilities so poor.” TheEra’syouthful founders, Rollin M. Dagget, who was only nineteen years old when he arrived on the Coast, and J. MacDonough Foard, who was only twenty-one, had followed Greeley’s own advice: “Go West, young man!” The phenomenal success of their attempt to spread enlightenment on such matters as education, literature, and the fine arts through theEra’scolumns, beginning in 1852 when the infant city could not yet...

    • Calendar of Annual Events
      (pp. 75-78)
  8. II. “The City”

    • General Information
      (pp. 81-92)

      Information Service:Better Business Bureau, 15 Stockton St. California State Automobile Assn. (A. A. A), 150 Van Ness Ave. Californians, Inc., 703 Market St. National Auto Club, 228 Pine St. Redwood Empire Assn., 85 Post St. San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, 333 Pine St. San Francisco Hotel Assn., 821 Market St. Shell Travel Bureau, 102 Bush St. State Chamber of Commerce, 350 Bush St. State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 160 Van Ness Ave. S. State Park Commission, 417 Montgomery St. Travelers’ Aid, Ferry Bldg. U. S. Forest Service, 760 Market St. U. S. Travel Bureau, 461 Market St. Out-of-town telephone...

    • San Franciscans: 1940
      (pp. 93-95)

      TO SHARE with San Franciscans their feeling for the city’s elusive identity—that prevailing atmosphere which is to San Francisco what dynamic tempo is to New York, what Old World charm is to New Orleans—a visitor does best to wander about its streets. The city has a look of incredible venerability. What remains of the old San Francisco—the roaring boom town of the Argonauts, the Barbary Coast, and the bonanza days—consists mainly of a handful of once proud business buildings, crumbling and obscure, that somehow belie their conversion to modern usage by their appearance of having withstood...

    • The City’s Growth
      (pp. 96-111)

      AT THE crossroads of the great migrations of antiquity arose such cities as that magical pandemonium the Argonauts inhabited: Nineveh, Babylon, and Jericho. Although the sin and splendor of the bonanza epoch have long since given way to the iron age of corporate industrialism, the successors of the Argonauts have striven mightily to retain their heritage of hilarious action. Somehow it is all here, chastened and dispersed, but no less explosive than in the era before “The Fire”: the vigorous delight in living, the susceptibility to tremendous projects, the vengeful spirit of the Vigilantes, the profound sophistication and the capacity...

    • II. Industry: Arts: Learning
      (pp. None)
    • San Franciscans at Work
      (pp. 112-126)

      WHEN the first streaks of dawn scatter the night, San Francisco awakes, not to the march of early morning factory workers, but to the whir of limousines speeding brokers to the Stock Exchange. For in San Francisco, because of the difference between Pacific and Atlantic time, they must be at work by six of a summer morning to be on the floor of the Exchange when Wall Street begins trading. In winter, when daylight saving has been discontinued in the East, the San Francisco broker may sleep on hour later.

      But the stock brokers are not the earliest risers. At...

    • Social Heritage
      (pp. 127-156)

      OF ALL the arts San Franciscans have practiced, the one they have most nearly perfected is the art of living, but hedonism is only one of the elements of which San Francisco’s civilized social tradition is compounded. Omar Khayyam’s “Take the Cash and let the Credit go” has been as freely accepted for a motto, perhaps, as his “jug of wine” and “loaf of bread”—and more freely than the spiritual precepts of the city’s official patron, the gentle St. Francis.

      Yet all through this materialism runs a fugitive thread of humanitarian tenderness; a reverence for culture, often uncritical; a...

    • III. San Francisco’s By-gone Days
      (pp. None)
  9. III. Around the World in Sun Francisco

    • Civic Center
      (pp. 161-173)

      SAN FRANCISCO’S Civic Center constitutes a Beaux Arts monument to the city’s cultural tradition, its achievements in democratic government, and its proud position among the commercial centers of the Nation. Dominated by the massive, symmetrical pile of the City Hall—whose dome, surmounted by a gilded lantern, soars high above the city—the wide plaza with its fountains, its trim shrubbery and acacias, its central concourse paved with red brick has been for the last quarter-century the focal point for all public demonstrations. The Civic Center has been the scene of welcome for so many celebrities and so many parades...

    • Metropolitan Scene
      (pp. 174-203)

      TIMES SQUARE and Picadilly Circus recall the metropolitan grandeur of New York and London. Although San Francisco has no single spectacular landmark by which the world may identify it, the greatest cities have long since welcomed it into their company. Portsmouth Square, the Palace Hotel, and the Ferry Building, which served successively as symbols of civic vanity, no longer resound with much more public clamor than many another plaza, hostelry, or terminal. Only Market Street accents for the casual observer San Francisco’s metropolitan character.

      Southwestward from the Ferry Building to Twin Peaks Tunnel, Market Street’s wide, unswerving diagonal bisects the...

    • IV. Downtown
      (pp. None)
    • Landmarks of the Old Town
      (pp. 204-219)

      THE MARVEL is not that so little but that so much of the city’s venerable and homely architecture has escaped time’s vicissitudes — of which not the least was the fire of 1906. Recalling the great fire of 1851—in which the El Dorado gambling saloon was saved by the citizenry’s desperate stand—one may suppose that the area around Portsmouth Square was spared, less by a shift of wind, than by San Franciscans stubbornly defending the cradle of their traditions. Unlike the carefully preserved Vieux Carré of New Orleans, however, it survives, not through care, but through sheer neglect....

    • Chinatown
      (pp. 220-235)

      A QUARTER of old Canton, transplanted and transformed, neither quite oriental nor wholly occidental, San Francisco’s Chinatown yields to the ways of the West while continuing to venerate a native civilization as ancient as the Pyramids. Grant Avenue, its main thoroughfare, leads northward from Bush Street through a veritable city-within-a-city—alien in appearance to all the rest of San Francisco—hemmed within boundaries kept by tacit agreement with municipal authorities for almost a century.

      Chinatown enjoys a measure of civil autonomy unique among San Francisco’s foreign sections. Though police protection, public education, and public health are directed by municipal authorities,...

    • Latin Quarter: Telegraph Hill and North Beach
      (pp. 236-251)

      BETWEEN the two steep hills that loom abruptly from the Peninsula’s northeastern bulge—on the east, Telegraph Hill; on the west, Russian Hill—ringed with their tiers of buildings, a narrow valley runs northwestward from the fringes of the financial district to the water front of North Beach. Along its bottom cuts the diagonal of Columbus Avenue, which begins among the clustering shops, cafes, and night clubs at the southern base of Telegraph Hill and ends among the gasworks, warehouses, and smokestacks at the northern base of Russian Hill. Up from this traffic-crowded artery, where stucco-fronted commercial buildings with their...

    • Lords of the Hilltops
      (pp. 252-259)

      WHENEVER the builders of San Francisco could not go forward, they went up. In Currier and Ives’ bird’s-eye view,The City of San Francisco—1878, they already had leaped that crescent-shaped barrier of hills which swings from Telegraph Hill on the northeast to Twin Peaks in the middle of the Peninsula. Persistently the long files of houses climbed to the crests and down the other side. Where the heights defied scaling even by the cable car, the city’s uphill progress was facilitated by steps.

      No San Franciscan was amazed to behold even that doughty railroad builder, Collis P. Huntington, being...

    • Embarcadero
      (pp. 260-270)

      THE story of San Francisco is largely the story of its water front. As if it had grown up out of the sea, the original town clung so closely to the water’s edge that one might almost have fancied its settlers—newly landed from shipboard, most of them—were reluctant to take to dry land. For years all the city’s traffic passed up and down the long wooden wharves, sagging with business houses that ranged from saloons to banks. Many of the old ships lie buried now beneath dry land. Above the level of the tides that once lapped the...

    • V. Street Scenes
      (pp. None)
    • South of Market
      (pp. 271-281)

      HISTORY has played fast and loose with that great segment of the city which sprawls southward from Market Street to the San Francisco-San Mateo County line. Athwart historic Rincon Hill, fashionable residential quarter of Gold Rush days, the streamlined approach to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge rises from an area of factories, machine shops, railroad terminals, “skid-road” hotels, and Greek restaurants. Westward from the water front—lined to Hunter’s Point with warehouses, stockyards, and shipbuilding plants—the district spreads across Potrero Hill to the heights of Twin Peaks, Buena Vista Park, Mount Olympus, and Mount Davidson. A broad residential district...

    • Western Addition
      (pp. 282-303)

      LIKE the backyard of some imposing but superannuated mansion, the Western Addition is cluttered with the discarded furniture of the city’s Gilded Age. It is a curious district whose claim to distinction is its disdain of all pretense. It is not beautiful, and yet San Franciscans refer to it almost affectionately as “The Fillmore,” the name of its busiest thoroughfare, and love it, as Charles Caldwell Dobie says, “for its supreme grotesqueness.”

      Once it was what its name implies—the “western addition” to the old town—but now it lies in the very middle of the city. Its eastern boundary...

    • Rim of the Golden Gate
      (pp. 304-328)

      194. Facing a little cove within the sheltering arm of Black Point, protected on the north and west by the semicircular sea wall that is Municipal Pier, is 34½-acre AQUATIC PARK (open 9-4; 10¢ for use of dressing room, locker, shower; suits not furnished), foot of Polk St. This $1,500,000 municipal recreation center was made possible by WPA funds, laborers, and artists. To create its quarter-mile stretch of clean sand and smooth surf, workmen excavated (1935-38) a large part of that area into which had been dumped in 1906 the debris from the ruins of Chinatown, uncovering jewelry and watches, pieces...

    • VI. The City’s Sight
      (pp. None)
    • Golden Gate Park
      (pp. 329-354)

      FEW demonstrations of man’s mastery over nature have been more convincing than the creation of Golden Gate Park: that long stretch of evergreen outdoors—nine city blocks wide and four and a half miles long—cutting a swath from the heart of the city to the ocean’s shore. Its grassy meadows and limpid lakes, its forested hills that alternate in the apparent confusion of a natural wilderness, interlaced with winding roadways, bridle paths, and foot trails—all are man’s handiwork. When the city set out to create a park here in 1870, these 1,017 acres were a windswept desert. “Of...

  10. IV. Around the Bay

    • The Harbor and its Islands
      (pp. 357-370)

      FOR two centuries before discovery of the Golden Gate the navigators of Portugal, Spain, and England carefully avoided the sea approaches to the Port of San Francisco. The forbidding coastline and frequent fogs were not alone responsible for its prolonged obscurity: the outer islands indicated the danger of submerged rocks and shoals in the Gulf of the Farallones. Although soundings were taken by Sebastian Cermeno in 1595, not until 180 years later was any mariner bold enough to steer his ship through the Golden Gate. When the master of theSan Carlosventured through the strait in 1775, he sent...

    • East Bay: Cities and Back Country
      (pp. 371-434)

      IN SPANISH times the distant shoreline opposite the Golden Gate was“la contra costa”(the opposite coast), to theconquistadores. Today between the shimmering cables and steel girders of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the eastward traveler sees a continuous panorama of home and industry, extending north and south with hardly a break and almost to the crest of the wooded hills in the background. The “opposite coast” is now the East Bay, a heterogeneous urban area comprising ten municipalities in two counties. The bridge is itself both a practical and a symbolical evidence of its close relationship to the...

    • VII. Across the Bay
      (pp. None)
    • North Bay Tour
      (pp. 435-459)

      The North Bay area is a land of contrasts. Gray fog swirls over its high mountain tops and down steep slopes forested with giant redwoods; highways wind through its flatlands past sleepy towns that doze in the sun; quiet creeks drain its valleys and clear streams rush down its dark canyons to Bay and ocean. Paved highways have replaced dusty roads; tiny vineyards of early winemakers have expanded to cover whole slopes and wide flatlands; orchards and gardens and modern chicken hatcheries spread over the valley floors. The Russian River, the sandy beaches and sheltered coves are popular vacation spots,...

    • Down the Peninsula
      (pp. 460-485)

      The wedge-shaped strip of territory known to all San Franciscans as “the Peninsula,” broad at its base in the south and pinched to a tip by ocean and Bay at its northern end, is a multicolored land. It embraces tall mountains darkly forested, white sandy beaches enclosed on three sides by steep rocky cliffs, peaceful farms with chaste white buildings, broad walled estates with stately old mansions, and busy towns bright with red and green roofs of modern stucco homes. Spanish explorers and Catholic mission builders, trudging north from established Monterey, were the first white men to look on its...

    • VIII. North and South of the Golden Gate
      (pp. None)
    • San Jose
      (pp. 486-492)

      Information Service:Chamber of Commerce, Civic Auditorium, W. San Carlos and S. Market Sts. American Automobile Assn. and California State Auto Assn., 1024 The Alameda. Convention and Tourist Bureau, Civic Auditorium.Railroad Station:Southern Pacific, 56 Cahill St.Bus Stations:Union Bus Station, 25 S. Market St., for Pacific Greyhound and Peerless Stages. San Jose Travel Bureau, 44 W. San Carlos St., for Airline Bus Co. and Dollar Line.Sightseeing and Charter Service:California State Auto Assn., 1024 The Alameda.Taxis:Rates 15¢ first ½ m., 10¢ each additional ½ m.Busses:Pacific City Lines (local and to Santa Clara),...

  11. V. Appendices

  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 532-532)