In 1957 Doubleday and Company published Herb Caen’s guide to San Francisco, aptly titled ‘Herb Caen’s San Francisco’. Very imaginative! It’s deliciously outdated and fun to read with entries like “STEINHART AQUARIUM, open 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily, no admission charge. Easily the most popular attraction in the park, the aquarium draws as many as ten thousand visitors a day, all walking around openmouthed in the semidarkness to stare at the openmouthed fish.” John Steinbeck once wrote, “It is very probable that Herb’s city is the one that will be remembered.” However, what interests me most about the book is the map on the inside of the front cover and first page. There is no explanation in the book as to why the route was laid out. In some areas it’s similar to the famous 49 Mile Scenic Drive, although shorter. Oddly, it bypasses some of San Francisco most visited tourist attractions, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Cliff House, Twin Peaks, Mission Dolores, and Union Square. The trail starts on Mason Street and ends on Mason Street. I followed the mysterious route over last weekend doing then and nows of photos along the way from OpenSFHistory.org. The OpenSFHistory.org site has one of the best, if not THE best, collection of vintage San Francisco pictures to be found. So let’s get our exercise and follow along on Herb Caen’s 1957 map from Mason Street to Mason Street.
We’re off! We’ll start on the west side of the Mark Hopkins Hotel with these two dapper gentlemen from 1958.
The trail heads down California Street turning north onto Grant Avenue. We’re in 1943 now with these ladies and next to Old St Mary’s Church.
We move past Commercial Street in the 1930’s. Commercial is one of two streets that leads straight to the Ferry Building, the other being Market Street; although, Commercial Street is cut off from reaching the Ferry Building now by the Embarcadero Center.
The route leaves Chinatown and heads northwest along Columbus Avenue. We’ve come forward a little in time to 1971 here at Columbus and Union Street. The 39 Bus is crossing Columbus Ave along Union and heading up to Coit Tower. The 39 line still passes by here and I wanted to get a picture of a coach going by in my photo, but the street is closed off now due to a massive fire that destroyed the building on the southwest corner of the intersection several weeks ago.
This is what’s left of the building now.
Like the 49 Mile Drive, the route heads up Lombard to Coit Tower, seen here in 1962 where Greenwich Street that runs next to Lombard ends. Hey, it’s going to be a long trip, so, I didn’t feel like going all the way to the top, okay?
The trail passes by the Fisherman’s Wharf boat lagoon on Jefferson Street, seen here in 1936. Oh, swell, it’s Mrs. Danvers! (cf. ‘Rebecca’) “Now, sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip” Don’t worry, that’s the ‘Lovely Martha’ not the ‘Minnow’. I’ve been out in the Bay on that boat. The building with CONSOLIDATED on it was demolished and was to the right of the little brown chapel in the background.
After leaving Fisherman’s Wharf the map moves over to Bay Street and takes a strange diversion from the 49 Mile Drive and runs south along almost the entire length of Van Ness Avenue to Fell Street. We’re watching President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s motorcade, here on Van Ness near Bay Street, pass by in 1938. Fort Mason is in the background.
At the other end of Van Ness, we’ll turn onto Fell Street. This is Van Ness at Fell after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The crumpled City Hall Building is in the background.
We’re heading west on Fell Street, the street that many people take to get to Golden Gate Park. The 49 Mile Drive does not move along any portion of Fell Street. This view is looking east down Fell from Fillmore Street in 1939.
The trail enters Golden Gate Park where we’ll stop and rest at McLaren Lodge like they did here in 1905. Superintendent John McLaren, the mastermind behind Golden Gate Park, lived here for forty seven years.
The route crosses through the park and exits near where Playland-at-the-Beach used to be, and was when the map was drawn. If we were in 1941 at Fulton Street and La Playa, like the vintage photo, we’d be looking at a terrific roller-coaster instead of these condominiums here today.
Now we’re back neck to neck with the 49 Mile Drive in a race south down the Great Highway. We’ll stop here at Ocean Beach near Kirkham in 1916 to look at the sad wreck of the Aberdeen on the beach. High winds caused the ship to capsize and wash ashore here taking all eight of her crew down with her.
Let’s move down the Great Highway to Taraval Street and look back up north three years later in 1919.
We’ll turn east on Sloat Blvd. and stop for awhile as they move an old train into Fleishhacker Zoo, now the San Francisco Zoo, at the old stone Works Progress Administration entrance in 1957. Hmmm, I’m suddenly hungry for a Doggie Diner hamburger.
Now, we’ll move on to Portola Drive and bypass Twin Peaks like Herb Caen’s map did. Hey, I love the view up there but there’s no parking! The old photo is Portola Drive at Twin Peaks Blvd. in 1929. You can see part of the old road that headed up to the top of Twin Peaks on the left.
Sneaking past Twin Peaks and dropping down a few notches will put us on Market Street heading toward Downtown San Francisco. Here we are at Market Street and Duboce Avenue in 1945 near the new, old U.S. Mint. We’re looking back toward Twin Peaks.
We’ve moved to the beginning of Market Street, or, if you were heading in our direction, the end of Market Street. It’s probably a sin for any respectable tour route to leave the Ferry Building out and this 1957 one doesn’t. We’re back in 1962 again, and this is where California Street meets Market. You can see the cable car tracks in the old picture, but not much activity.
We’re in the home stretch now and heading along Pacific Avenue, the heart of the old Barbary Coast. This is the old Engine #1 Fire Station Building seen here in 1917 and still there today.
Well, we’re back on Mason Street at Pacific Avenue in 1960 and looking up Nob Hill to where we started from. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired! I’m not walking up that hill! I’ll take the cable car.