This is a collection of interesting stories concerning San Francisco’s history that you may not be aware of. Some of them are quite historic. (Thumbnail images)
On January 25, 1915, the first transcontinental telephone call was made from New York to San Francisco by the same two people who are credited with making the first telephone call ever in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson. You know, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” The call was made from Mr. Bell in New York to Mr. Watson, who was in the Telephone Exchange Building here on Grant Avenue. Alexander Bell even used the same expression, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” he used in the 1876 call to which Watson replied, “It would take me a week to get to you this time.” This building was heavily sandbagged just after Pearl Harbor when it was still the Telephone Exchange Building, then a vital communication center, in fear of Japanese bombs dropping on San Francisco. (Source, This Date in San Francisco by John C. Ralston)
Did you know that the record for the largest crowd ever to assemble on Market Street stood for almost 100 years when opera soprano Luisa Tetrazzini sang at Lotta’s Fountain on Christmas Eve, 1910. No Super Bowl Parades for the 49ers or even the celebration of the end of World War Two drew a larger crowd to Market Street. That record was broken on November 3, 2010 when an estimated one million plus people turned out for the victory parade celebrating the San Francisco Giants first World Series championship in San Francisco. I wonder if Luisa sang, “Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!” Come on, you guys remember that Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd opera cartoon.
Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s front page story of Luisa’s freebee show.
Today, Lotta’s Fountain stands at a spot that’s a few feet different from where it stood in 1910.
This old warehouse on the northwest corner of Sansome and Green Streets at the foot of Telegraph may not look like much today, but trust me, this building was and is of enormous importance to just about everybody in the world; from Howdy Doody to Lucille Ball, the Beatles to Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali to Joe Montana, President Truman to President Biden, or even myself, who spends most of his evenings at home these days watching reruns of ‘Gunsmoke’. You guessed it, it’s where television was invented. The vintage picture was taken in 1952 by Charles Cushman.
There’s a tarnished historical marker there today.
Did you know that “sideshows” are not unique to our time period? Here’s one on Vallejo Street, west of Mason, during the 1920s. Of course, they weren’t referred to as sideshows back then, they were just called “showing off”. (Shorpy Archives)
Did you know that the groundbreaking for what would become the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition was staged at the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park by William Howard Taft? “We’re sorry Mr. President, but there’s been an awkward mistake.” Actually the location was intentional and symbolic because the site for the exposition had not been designated yet. The date of the ceremony was on October 14, 1911, three years and four months before the world’s fair opened February 20, 1915 in the Marina District. Taft can be seen in the center of the vintage picture from opensfhistory.org. Later, President Taft went out to the Cliff House to have what I’m sure was a hearty lunch. Well, look at the size of him!
What was possibly the first stolen car incident in San Francisco occurred here on Page Street, just up from Stanyan Street and Golden Gate Park, on January 29, 1909. A Mr. C. P. Lane parked his car here and went into a building. Four kids, juveniles, jumped in the car for a joy ride. One of the kids knew how to start the automobile, and they took off. They drove down to Stanyan, turned right and then left into Golden Gate Park at Fell Street. Two mounted police officers; J. Mangan and James Harrington, spotted them and chased them on horseback. The driver Jumped out of the car and ran into the bushes and got away. The cops, who didn’t know anything about driving a car, tried to drive the kids to the station themselves in the automobile. According to John Ralston in ‘This Date in San Francisco’ the auto went off the road, crossed over ditches and flower beds, and back on to the road, careening all over the place. The three remaining kids in the car were terrified, and the officers eventually hitched the car to their horses and towed it to the Park Police Station. The three kids who were busted were sent to a Detention Home. The vintage picture at the spot where the car was stolen was taken just after the 1906 Earthquake, three years before the “boosting car” pioneer’s copper caper.(opensfhistory.org)
Two days later, on January 31, 1909, the San Francisco Examiner ran this cartoon showing the cops trying to drive the kids in the stolen car back to the station.