‘Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip’

Gelett Burgess wrote one silly poem in 1895 that caught on somehow and became a favorite of such notables as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt among many others.

I never saw a Purple Cow,

I hope to never see one;

But I can tell you, anyhow,

I’d rather see than be one.

If that was the only thing he wrote he wouldn’t have received a mention on my blog, but in 1901 when cable cars were at the extent of their use in San Francisco he wrote the ‘Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip’ about the cable car line that climbs and descends Hyde Street on Russian Hill. It’s a wonderful poem that moves along like a waltz and ranks right up there with Jeanette MacDonald singing ‘San Francisco’ to stir my passion for the City. Read his poem and then take a ride here for yourself on “The Hyde Street Grip”.

Oh, the rain is slanting sharply, and the Norther’s blowing cold,
When the cable strands are loosened, she is nasty hard to hold;
There’s little time for sitting down and little time for gab,
For the bumper guards the crossing, and you’d best be keeping tab!
Two-and-twenty “let-go’s” every double trip
It takes a bit of doing, on the Hyde Street Grip!

Throw her off at Powell Street, let her go at Post,
Watch her well at Geary and at Sutter, when you coast,
Easy at the Power House, have a care at Clay,
Sacramento, Washington, Jackson, all the way!
Drop the rope at Union, never make a slip
The lever keeps you busy, on the Hyde Street Grip!

Foot-brake, wheel-brake, slot-brake and gong,
You’ve got to keep ’em working, or you’ll soon be going wrong!
Rush her on the crossing, catch her on the rise,
Easy round the corners, when the dust is in your eyes!
And the bell will always stop you, if you hit her up a clip
You are apt to earn your wages, on the Hyde Street Grip!

North Beach to Tenderloin, over Russian Hill,
The grades are something giddy, and the curves are fit to kill!
All the way to Market Street, climbing up the slope,
Down upon the other side, hanging to the rope;
But the sight of San Francisco, as you take the lurching dip!
There is plenty of excitement, on the Hyde Street Grip!

If you had to drive a penny bus from Chelsea to the Strand
You’d see Westminster Abbey, and you’d say that it was grand!
If you had to pass the Luxembourg and the Place de la Concorde
Atop a Paris omnibus, no doubt you’d thank the Lord!
But the Frenchy’d give his chapeau and the Cockney’d give his whip
For a sight of San Francisco from the Hyde Street Grip!

Oh, the lights are in the Mission, and the ships are in the Bay:
And Tamalpais is looming from the Gate, across the way;
The Presidio trees are waving, and the hills are growing brown,
And the driving fog is harried from the Ocean to the town!
How the pulleys slap the rattle! How the cables hum and whip!
Oh, they sing a gallant chorus, on the Hyde Street Grip!

When the Orpheum is closing, and the crowd is on the way,
The conductor’s punch is ringing, and the dummy’s light and gay;
But the wait upon the table by the Beach is dark and still
Just the swashing of the surges on the shore below the mill;
And the flash of Angel Island breaks across the channel rip,
As the hush of midnight falls upon the Hyde Street Grip!





Fixing things up

fixwindmilluseBy the 1970’s the Murphy Windmill at the southwestern edge of Golden Gate Park, built in 1908, had completely fallen apart and restoration work planned in the 1960’s had not began on it yet. The fixing up began in 2002 and the windmill reopened in 2012.

FixEllisuseThis old Victorian house in the Western Addition sitting under the hangman’s noose and waiting to be demolished in the late 1960’s was not only fixed up and saved at the eleventh hour but was moved over to Ellis Street near Divisadero. (Dave Glass)

FixfifthuseMarket Street near 5th, undated but it looks like the early 1960’s: Construction on BART began around this time so I’m guessing that this is the beginning of work on the system below Market Street. (Nolan Pelletier)

FixPostuseA little road work on Stockton Street near Post in 1955: At right center in the vintage photo is the beloved City of Paris Department Store and to the right is the I Magnin Store, now part of Macy’s. (SF Chronicle)

FixMasonuseWhatever needed fixing on O’Farrell Street at the intersection of Mason in 1955 was long ago taken care of. (SF Chronicle)

FixSutteruseStockton Street near Sutter in 1955: President William Howard Taft once called San Francisco “The city that knows how”. Well, sixty two years later and they’re still working on the road here! Lol! (SF Chronicle)

‘Experiment in Terror’ revisited (For Keith and Janet)

ExpopenuseI’ve done posts in the past on the 1962 thriller ‘Experiment in Terror’ but I watched it again this week on Turner Classic Movies and decided that it’s too good of a movie for me not to do a follow up on. Here’s the plot set up. Garland “Red” Lynch (Ross Martin) has threatened to kill Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) and her sister Toby Sherwood (Stefanie Powers) unless she steals $100,000.00 from the bank she works at, the Anglo Crocker Bank (now Wells Fargo) at Montgomery and Post Streets. Kelly contacts FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford). I’ll let the pictures take over from here.

ExpclockuseThe bank that Kelly, the teller on the right, worked at still has the old floor clock near the entrance to the bank that’s shown in the film

ExpGalleriauseAn alley that once ran behind the bank is now the location of the Crocker Galleria Mall.

ExpHydeuseExpHydetwouse After determining the suspect’s identity, FBI agents search the city to try to find the whereabouts of “Red” Lynch. Here, two agents jump off a cable car at the top of Hyde Street at Lombard. It’s not likely that FBI agents ride cable cars when they’re looking for criminals.

ExpLombarduseOne of the agents crosses over to a completely empty “Crookedest Street in the World”. It’s never that quiet here anymore.

ExpStFrancissisioneuse ExpAssisitwouse Ripley visits the Church at the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi on Vallejo Street. That’s him heading up the steps.

ExpAssisithreeuse The priest inside the church gives him a clue about a person the Lynch often visits. The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, established in 1849, has a claim to being the second oldest church in San Francisco after Mission Dolores. The bottom picture is the inside of the church nowadays.

ExpStephanieuseAt this point Lynch gets tired of Kelly’s stalling and kidnaps Toby on 25th Avenue near Clement.

ExpwharfoneuseKelly, learning of her sister’s kidnapping, steals the money Lynch demands and drives to Fisherman’s Wharf to await instructions on where to deliver the ransom.

Expwharftwouse ExpwharfthreeuseKelly parks in front of Alioto’s Restaurant and walks across Taylor Street to a telephone booth not knowing that she is being followed by the FBI who have never let her out of their sight.

Expwharffouruse“Hmm, I wonder if anybody is watching me.”

Well, only about half of the FBI in the Bay Area. That’s agent Ripley watching her from a car. The telephone booth would have been just behind where the motorcycles are.

ExptruckuseThe men loading the truck in front of #9 Fishermen’s Grotto are from the FBI, as well. She’s getting more FBI surveillance than Alger Hiss did!

ExpwharffiveuseAfter getting a telephone call from Lynch, Kelly walks past Ripley’s car toward Jefferson Street.

ExpwharfsixuseThe agents follow her. Either Kelly’s not very observant or they’re doing one heck of an undercover job!

ExpwharfsevenuseKelly gets into a taxicab at Jefferson and Taylor Streets in front of the Sea Captain’s Chest Gift Shop. I remember that gift shop as a kid.

ExpticketuseKelly finds Toby’s clothes and a ticket to a San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game at Candlestick Park in the taxi. Many of the scenes for the denouement of the movie were filmed during an actual Giants-Dodgers game out at “the Stick”.

ExpCStickuseAll’s well that ends well as Ripley shoots Lynch dead on the pitcher’s mound after the game and Kelly and Toby are reunited. I got a chance to take this comparison picture during a tour of Candlestick Park shortly before it was demolished. In case you missed the movie or don’t want to sit through the whole film, the link below will give you a brief review of the film with the Henry Mancini soundtrack from the opening credits.



The Solar Eclipse – Don’t take this post too seriously (For sun watchers Amy and Christie)

Leave it to a solar eclipse to mess up some good then and nows!

EclipsegirlsuseThe crowd begins to gather.

eclipseninifouruseJust after 9 AM the eclipse begins.

Eclipseninitwentuoneuse9:21 AM: Something’s starting to happen.

Eclipseninefortyuse9:40 AM, halfway to the high point: Either it’s getting darker or I’m falling asleep!

eclipsetenamuse10:00 AM: Traffic came to a halt due to the fading light.

EclipsecrowduseBecause of the dark, some people accidentally wandered into the wrong crowd than the one they came with, and are still missing.

Eclipsetentwentyoneuse10:21 AM, the high point of the solar eclipse: People were bumping into each other at this point because of the darkness, and flashlight vendors made a fortune!

The more things change……

…… the more they stay the same. Some of these vintage pictures parallel the events of today.

NextCityHalluseA march at Grove and Larkin Streets near City Hall during a pending war between Mao Zedong’s Peoples Republic of China and Chaing Kai-shek’s Republic of China: The demonstrators are urging the Eisenhower Administration to use caution to avoid the conflict. (San Francisco Chronicle)

NextDrummuseDrumm Street at Market in the 1950’s: I don’t know what was going on back then, but I hope they were clowning around; that’s a little too much like today! (San Francisco Chronicle)

NextUnionSquareuseLadies heading along Geary Blvd. to an air raid shelter under Union Square for a practice drill in 1952: I don’t know what all that was going on in Union Square today, but it wasn’t an air raid drill! (San Francisco Chronicle)

NextUSGarageuseA 1952 air raid drill at the Union Square Garage during the Cold War:

“Are you wearing your sunglasses so the flash from the nuclear blast won’t hurt your eyes?”

(San Francisco Chronicle)

NextUnionGarageuseSpeaking of the Union Square Garage in the 1950’s, look at those parking prices! (San Francisco Chronicle)

NextstreetcaruseMarket Street at Turk during the 1940’s: I’m getting a mental image of the streetcar driver in old #1002 thinking quietly back then, “Well, I suppose streetcars like mine will be gone forever one of these days!” (Outsidelands.org)

NextFairmontuseCalifornia Street at Powell during the 1950’s when KSFO operated out of the Fairmont Hotel: I guess that an air raid shelter was under the Fairmont Hotel back then!  (HemmingsDailey)

More ‘Things that you might not notice’

NoticeCliffHouseuseYou might not have noticed it when you went to the Cliff House in the 1950’s, but that was a fake rock on the side of Sutro Heights. I remember climbing up Sutro Heights as a teenager in the 1960’s, (Gawd, why we didn’t break our necks I’ll never know!) and much of the hill that faced the Cliff House was covered over with stucco! (Vintage picture from the Cushman Collection)

IronsideNobhill IronsideNobHill2useYou might not notice it if you watched this opening scene from a 1968 episode of ‘Ironside’ with Raymond Burr looking down California Street next to the Fairmont Hotel. As the camera pans in closer to Powell Street, and I can do that too, it still may not catch your eye. You’d probably notice that the Bank of America Building hadn’t been built yet, you might even notice the Fairmont Tonga Room, but you might not notice the little cone shaped cable car signal box on the corner of California and Powell Street that’s still there today.

NoticepizzauseYou might not notice it at first if you walk past the southwest corner of Union Street and Grant Avenue in North Beach and think to yourself, “Hey, what happened to North Beach Pizza?” like I did last weekend. You may think to yourself, “Man, that was great Pizza!” and then say out loud, “I didn’t know it closed! That sucks!” And then, like me,  you’ll turn around and notice that it’s across the street now. It has been awhile since I visited here.

NoticeJacksonuseYou might not have noticed it, but cable car numbers do not go as high as they did in the old days, like these two cable cars climbing Jackson Street near Mason. There are only about 60 cable cars in the entire cable car fleet today. If the numbers on the old cable cars were indicative of the number of cars available at the time, there were a lot more cable cars climbing “halfway to the stars” in the 1950’s.

noticeharrisonuseYou might not have noticed it, but George Harrison and Patti Boyd did make it back to the Haight-Ashbury after the “Summer of Love”.

Saying goodbye to the Embarcadero Freeway


Above is an aerial photo of the Embarcadero Freeway during the late 1950’s from the FoundSF website. Although I drove the freeway a lot, in fact, I was one of the last people to drive on it on October 17th 1989 trying to get back to the East Bay after the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit and the Bay Bridge and San Mateo Bridge were closed, I wasn’t sorry to see it go. The vintage photo shows the freeway before the Clay and Washington Street on an off ramps where added.  By the way, if you have an interest in San Francisco history and you haven’t yet bookmarked the FoundSf website, you should. Their vintage photographs and entertaining articles put together in an easy to navigate website make it a must for San Francisco lovers. Below is the link to their website.


1991Freeway1use In August of 1991 I took some slide pictures of the freeway demolition in progress. This view from Mission Street and the Embarcadero showed that the work on the dismantling of the freeway that began in February of 1991 had reached the Ferry Building by August.

1991eFreeway2useA closer look near the Ferry Building: We lost the Embarcadero Freeway, but we gained a vintage streetcar line, palm trees, and a beautiful waterfront. Like the lyrics in that song by the Who, “I’d call that a bargain, the best (we) ever had.”

1991FBuildinguseLooking south from the Ferry Building in 1991, shortly after this part of the Embarcadero Freeway was demolished: The freeway wrapped itself around the old YMCA Building (Harbor Court Hotel) and this view was obstructed since the 1950’s. The picture taken today shows people heading down to AT&T Park for an afternoon game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs. (The Giants won)

Lineup1use Lineup2use Lineup3use The best look on film that you’ll get of the Embarcadero Freeway is from the 1958 movie ‘The Lineup’. In the top image a car with hit men from the Mob is chased up on the unfinished Embarcadero Freeway by the police. The driver in the film makes a daring stunt by stopping the car just at the edge of the freeway. Construction of the freeway continued down the Embarcadero to Broadway from here. In the center image one of the hit men played by Eli Wallach tries to run on foot, taking a child, one of the hostages the bad guys have kidnapped, along with him. In the bottom image, when Wallach drops the child he is shot by police and falls to his death from the freeway. The lady running toward the police is the mother of the child. San Francisco film noir flicks don’t get any better than this one.