Press "Enter" to skip to content

This Is San Francisco (1951)

A thousand miles of trolley wires, five thousand miles of telephone cables, ten thousand miles of neon tubing, four hundred thousand telephones, eight hundred thousand people — and a million and one pieces in a puzzle we call Baghdad-by-the-Bay … The dingy, dust-blown hotels along Third Street — and the clean white wash flapping from the clotheslines on their roofs … The newly painted light standards along Market, suddenly becoming dirty again, even as you stand there admiring them … Turk Street, born in the tawdry tip of the tenderloin, finding a new and exciting life for itself as it spreads out beyond Divisadero, where the new white houses are growing as thick as stucco flowers. … The inveterate pigeon-feeders hard at work in Civic Center — as much a part of the Sanfranscenery as peanuts at baseball games and New Year's firecrackers in Chinatown and fleas in musty old bedrooms. … The foghorns moaning at midnight somewhere in the Bay — still a sound that spells San Francisco to your ears, even though it has been overworked to death on the movie and radio thrillers. 

The far and hidden reaches of the outer Mission District — where the people resent being thought of as “different,” but secretly revel in the distinction they know they possess; for in this melting pot of a city, these, more than any others, are the typical San Franciscans. … The empty windows of the deserted, padlocked stores along Kearny Street — gloomy monuments to the death of many a little man's dream. … The sloping, tree-lined hills of Pacific and Broadway and Vallejo in Pacific Heights, where those who have the good taste to be successful live their graceful, remote lives — a discreet block or two from reality. … The dangerous excitement that always hangs heavy in the air around the Post-Fillmore sector — a tin-panorama of girls in dresses that are too short, and fat men in cars that are too long, and panhandlers with eyes that are too empty, and sharpies who can lead you to back rooms that are open too late; a district where life is not pretty — but never dull. 

The tired old walls of yesteryear, crumbling into dust along Pacific near Grant Avenue as a great wide way is cleared for a housing project; thus do the landmarks fade to make way for newer, brighter ones. … The endless rows of secondhand shops on McAllister, their innards cluttered with the trinkets that were once treasures to someone: the picture albums filled with dead faces, the hideous lamp that once gave light in a room now dark, the sagging chairs that can barely hold themselves together, even when there is no one to sit in them.

The old woman, over seventy, who wears an ancient bonnet on her mass of gray hair and walks, walks, walks all day every day — from early in the morning until late at night, from far out on Third Street to Kearny to Columbus Avenue to the Marina and back, speaking to no one, looking neither to the right nor the left — a restless mystery of Baghdad-by-the-Bay. The almost-medieval ramp that curves up to Francisco from Leavenworth, leading you into a little lost world of spacious homes and lawns under spreading trees — making you feel, somehow, as though you’d stumbled across the key to a secret garden. … The World Theater on Broadway, whose marquee tells you in blunt black letters that in San Francisco the Chinese are as native as anybody else — something we have always known and been glad for; the sign reads: “Chinese and Foreign Films.”

That strange little house, complete with shutters, on Jones between Post and Sutter — somebody's private home, in the midst of apartment houses and hotels that are anybody's home. … On a still, unreal day, the Bay and the sky blending into one solid shade that plays tricks on your eyes — until suddenly it seems as though the bridge is hanging in mid-air. … The wonderful hurly-burly and hustling bustle of Market Street at two thirty on a Sunday morning, when the midnight movies call it a day and shoo their bleary-eyed patrons out of their dreams and into the coldness of here and now. … The 1950 version of the era when cable cars used to stop in front of the homes of steady patrons: the F car, slowing down on Fourth between Folsom and Harrison — so the free-riding coppers can jump off in front of the Southern police station.

The tremendous glare of red neon in the night air along Geary's “cocktail row” — where the signs are as big and bright as some of the saloons are dark and empty; whistling, you might say, in the light. The ultra-streamlined redwood front on the “new Cliff House, effectively killing an old tradition — and perhaps creating a new one for tourists who don't care about its yesterdays as long as today's Cliff House has good food and drinks and the same old view of Seal Rocks, all of which it has. … The downtown cigar stores that blandly peddle “inside” tips on racehorses you can’t bet on — unless you know the wrong guy who’ll lead you to the right guy. … The traffic cops on their ridiculous three-wheeled motorcycles, weaving in and out of parked cars at twenty-five miles per hour and never missing a tire with their chalk-on-a-stick; they'd make great polo players, these grown-up men playing Boy Scooter. 

The cable cars whose cheery clang will one day turn into a death knell. … The busses whose contemptuous snorts are echoed by those who have to ride them. … The old-time restaurants that seldom change a menu or a tablecloth — and the new ones that contribute nothing to San Francisco's reputation for good food, and therefore starve to death. … Montgomery Street's muddle of million-dollar skyscrapers and white-collar workers whose cuffs are frayed, the ghostly Ferry Building reigning serenely over its retinue of empty piers in the world’s greatest landlocked harbor, the traffic snarling around in a nightmare of signs that all start out with a “no” that nobody looks at — all this is San Francisco, a city filled with critics who long ago made up their minds that they’d never be happy … anywhere.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *