Missing Old San Francisco

A comment on this article illuminates the forgotten culture of old San Francisco:

“There is an entire subculture in San Francisco that many if not most transplants rarely come into contact with anymore. Even in my own time, SF was, although undeniably eccentric, a very American place. Hard for some to imagine now, but it was a huge fleet and army town. It was the maritime gateway to the Orient. It was Flicks and Larrabaru and KSFO and the trolleys. It was local men and kids (yes, there were kids and families living here) turning around the cable cars. It was the smell of the pine block brakes on the cablecars smoking pitch on the steep hills. It was always the rolling fog. Ever notice how many churches there are? People used them. The Embarcadero was for shipping and the Presidio shot the evening cannon. It was the bums on 4th and Howard breathing zippo lighter fluid on you, and the barkers on Broadway. It was not an interchangeable tourist venue full of contrived and precious ‘San Francisconess’. It was a Workingman’s town–the ‘City that Knows How’. It was home.”


9 thoughts on “Missing Old San Francisco

  1. Alas… San Francisco is always my gateway from the Orient when I return home, which I haven’t done since 2005. It’s a truly beautiful city. An attentive tourist can sometimes see glimpes of the ” subculture” the author writes of.

    Whatever we say about gays (and other left-liberals, to be fair, “inclusive,” and “gender-neutral”), they do do a good job in preserving Victorian architecture. They did so in Buffalo’s minuscule Allentown neighborhood, even if they insisted on painting the houses lavendar and lime-green.


  2. My dad would totally agree with you. He was born there, in 1941. His dad used to take him to see the bums on purpose to teach him that getting ahead in school and life would help him not end up with them. But he didn’t have to say it. It was understood. My grandfather was an architect, and his brother was an author. If you can find them, there are great boys books along the lines of Jim Kjelgaard, written by Frederick Lane. “Westward the Eagle” is based on the time of the CA missions. Your eldest might like his books. I know I did. We have a lot of copies here and there of different ones.


  3. Are there dogs in the Frederick Lane books? I ask only because of the reference to Kjelgaard, and because I ran out of dog stories to give my middle child.


  4. That picture is breathtaking. My husband’s grandmother was born in SF, about the turn of the 20th century, and raised there till she moved here to the central valley. She remembers roller-skating with her sister to the all-girl’s Catholic school they both attended. We spent almost a year living in the city when my son was in the hospital there, and in some lights you could still see what the city used to be like.


  5. Of course this isn’t news to you, Jeff, but being married to an Asian woman, I think I can safely observe that for immigrants for the orient, they still see SF as that gateway. Talk to any Chinese guy, anywhere in America, and they’ll tell you that San Francisco is the place to go to find what there is in America that’s most like home.

    I’d like to see San Francisco through those eyes some day.


  6. I asked my great aunt, who went to nursing school in SF as a young lady, if she could write something about her time there. She replied:

    “It would take more eloquence than I could ever dredge up to even begin to describe the enchanting quality of San Francisco in 1936-37, that magic that crept into one`s soul to never ever leave.”


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