Did you know?

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.









3 thoughts on “Did you know?

  • That last picture on Page Street (before the cartoon) is a trip. It shows that redwoods or firs were once more popular in San Francisco. There are not many now because they get too big. The trees in the background of the newer picture are Monterey cypress, which also get too big. They are common in San Francisco though. The dracaena palm, Cordyline australis, in the big pot to the far right was trendy at the time. Several specimens of it were planted as creepy looking street trees on Winchester Boulevard in front of the Winchester House. I can not imagine why, since they were not proportionate to the road, even at that time. It is interesting that the old bronze cultivar ‘Atropurpurea’ was available back then. It does not get as big as the more typical green sort that were in front of the Winchester House, but develops striking color, which was considered to be more striking back then, prior to the development of even more striking colors. When I was in school in the late 1980, those two old dracaena palms were the primary two that were available. If there were any cultivars back then, I was not aware of them. Nowadays though, there are many cultivars. Some are darker bronze or purplish. Several are striped with white, pink or yellow. Some stay low like ornamental grass. Anyway, I am getting carried away. I just happen to notice the old flora.

    • I noticed the difference in the trees as well, Tony. I think I’m learning from your comments to pay closer attention to the natural world of San Francisco. It looked as though Golden Gate Park was more rugged and dense in those days. Maybe that kid driving the old roadster didn’t have too hard of a time shaking the cops when he ran into that forest.

      • Golden Gate Park was well planned from the very beginning, but like Guadalupe Gardens in San Jose, it was not developed all at the same time, or at least not so refined from the very beginning. Some regions were planted very densely to make it look well forested, with the intention of thinning the trees out as they matured. It is a horticultural responsible technique that is not only passe, but vilified now. I have worked with landscapes that were designed and installed with such intentions as late as the late 1970s, but then not maintained properly. For example, a condominium complex in western San Jose was outfitted with well situated Norway maples (a non-invasive cultivar that matched some of the street trees of the neighborhood). Because the Norway maples take several years to mature, poplars were added to grow up and provide shade fast. The poplars were not situated so well because they were temporary, and intended to subordinate to the maturing Norway maples. (Poplars are very problematic trees.) However, by the time the poplars matured, San Jose required permits to remove them, but would not grant permits for trees that were healthy, stable and well structured. The Norway maples were disfigured under the overwhelming canopies of the poplars. The poplars displaced pavement with their aggressive roots, and destroyed much of the landscapes, . . . and then died suddenly like poplars typically do. So, the landscape was very well designed, but destroyed by tree preservation ordinances. Now it is outfitted with ‘microtrees’, which are trees that are too small to cause any problems, but not big enough to provide any shade. Anyway, enough of that rant. San Francisco has been much more practical about tree preservation, and accommodating for trees that must be removed. However, like everywhere else, there are so-called ‘environmentalists’ who object to the removal of any tree. One of them has a blog about it. It is quite infuriating to read.

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