A tour guide par excellence

And who better? Somewhere along the way, and I can’t remember when or where, I came across an autographed copy of ‘Herb Caen’s New Guide to San Francisco’, originally published in 1957. If you could go back into time, it would be about the best tour book you could find. It’s still a wonderful guide, but a lot of it now is nostalgia. It covers mostly San Francisco, but the updated 1958 publication includes a little of other locations in the Bay Area. The drawings throughout the book by Earl Trollander are all San Francisco locations, and I updated a few of them with photographs to match the drawings as closely as I could. I’ll include some of the descriptive passages by, also columnist par excellence, Herb Caen, in brackets. (Thumbnail images)

The Ferry Building and Bay Bridge from Telegraph Hill: {Turn left on Columbus to Lombard Street, then turn right and follow it up Telegraph Hill to Coit Memorial Tower, where you may park (if you’re lucky) and drink in one of the world’s great views – an overwhelming panorama of bridges, Bay, ocean, mountains, and. of course, Alcatraz, the prison island.}

Union Square, looking toward the Dewey Monument: {If you pick this as your jumping-off place for strolling and shopping, you might start with a look around Union Square itself. (“What a town,” jazzist Dizzy Gillespie once observed. “They even have a union for squares!”) The origin of the name is officially unknown, but the strongest theory has it that Union supporters rallied there during the Civil War.}

Looking across Washington Square from Columbus Avenue and Union Street: {This is in North Beach, which isn’t a beach, isn’t on Washington Street, isn’t a square, and doesn’t contain a statue of Washington but of Benjamin Franklin.}

Old St. Mary’s Church in Chinatown, from Quincy Alley: I had to take my picture closer to California Street in order to get most of Old St. May’s in because of the newer building on the left in the alley today. {Drive down California to Grant Avenue, turn left (past Old St. Mary’s Church, over one hundred years old) – and you’re in Chinatown, with its ornate lampposts, its bazaars, its tinkling Oriental sounds.}

Commercial Street, looking toward the Ferry Building: {Walking along Grant Avenue in Chinatown, you may glance down an alley called Commercial Street, and see, to your surprise, the Ferry Building, standing sentinel-straight on the Embarcadero. For tiny Commercial and mighty Market streets have one thing in common: they are the only streets you can look straight down – and see the Ferry Building.}

Market, Kearny and Third Streets, with Lotta’s Fountain on the left, looking toward the Hearst Building: Lotta’s Fountain was much taller in 1958. {San Francisco has a horrific traffic problem, especially in the tightly knit downtown area, where the main street, Market, slashes diagonally from the Ferry Building to Twin Peaks, making virtual dead ends of most of the other arteries. Watch out for Market. It’s a tricky devil, jammed with streetcars, busses, traffic islands, cops, and more “No Left Turn,” No Right Turn,” “No-“ this and No-“ that signs than you thought ever existed.}

6 thoughts on “A tour guide par excellence

  • What on earth were those trees in Union Square?! They look sort of like Lombardy poplars, which are seriously weedy trees. Many years ago, they and other poplars were used as quick greenery, and then removed before they got big enough to be a problem. By that time, the more desirable trees were getting established. It was a commonly practiced technique until relatively modern history, when tree preservation ordinances protected the poplars as they continued to grow, heave concrete, overwhelm and disfigure more desirable trees, and then suddenly die. Yes, that is one of several disadvantages of tree preservation ordinances. Anyway, the eucalyptus trees around Coit Tower are interesting also, not directly, but because the drawings show their form at the time, which is still evident now.

    • I searched all of the information I could find on Union Aquare, Tony, but I couldn’t find an answer on what those tall trees were. They show up in every postcard of Union Square from the 1940s when the garage was built underneath the Square until at least the 1970s. I’ll keep checking.

      • Oh, I did not intend to cause you more work. If they were Lombardy poplars, they were likely temporary and considered to be unimportant anyway. However, if they were there for three decades, they could have been something more important, like columnar lindens. Do they seem to be evergreen, or do you see pictures of the defoliated?

      • OH MY! They are Irish yew,Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’! I should have guessed that, or remembered it from old pictures. It is an old classic evergreen for formal gardens, and could have gotten very old if not removed. They are completely opposite of what Lombardy poplar is.

      • Somehow, when I was responding to your comment on the next post, Tony, I accidentally deleted it and I don’t know how that happened. My apologies. Yeah, I think it’s a Valiant, as well. I got a kick out of that Trade Center sign too, although I doubt if that Furniture Exhibition is still going on.

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