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.









Welcome back the F Line

The vintage streetcars of the MUNI F Line that runs from the Castro District to Fisherman’s Wharf began running again this May, and it’s great to hear them rattling past again. (Thumbnail images)


Vintage streetcars are once again rolling past the Ferry Building, a couple of them almost as old as the ones in the 1900 picture.

Number 1079 rumbles past the Ferry Building where buses used to turn around during the 1950s:

Muni driver, Cheri, was kind enough to let me use her friendly smile for an update of a 1942 picture from the Muni History site.

Number 1814 turns onto Market Street from Steuart in a reverse angle shot of a 1942 picture from opensfhistory.org, taken at the same location:


Long ago, there used to be another F Line that ran along Stockton Street, seen here exiting the south end of the Stockton Tunnel during the 1940s in a photo from streetcar.org.


Market Street at Fifth during the early 1970s in a vintage photo from SF Gate:


A ginormous bus on display on Market Street at the cable car turnaround on Powell Street during the early 1970s photo from SF Gate. You can see a cable car on the turnaround in both photos.


Baseball is back in San Francisco, the Giants are in first place, and it’s great to see the cable cars appreciating it. They’ll be running again soon, as well.

Open City

No, I’m not referring to Rossellini’s 1945 film ‘Open City’, which is undoubtedly a masterpiece of a movie, but I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never seen it. This post is about the gradual reopening of San Francisco, all but shut down one year ago by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The few times I’ve been able to get over to the City since the 2021 tax season began, and is still in progress, San Francisco has opened up more and more. Also, it’s no longer a depressing town, as it was so often when I visited in 2020. This isn’t to forget the 534 people from San Francisco who, as of this writing, will never get to see San Francisco come back to life because they lost theirs to CIVID-19. I’ll dedicate this post to them. Last Monday, I had a chance to leave the office for awhile for a walk around some of Downtown San Francisco to appreciate the difference in the last week of April, 2021 to the last week of April, 2020. Updating a few vintage pictures from the opensfhistory.org photograph collection seemed a fitting way to enjoy the reopening of a city. (Thumbnail images)

I started out at California and Market Streets, looking toward Spear and Market and the old Southern Pacific Building. I have no idea what that lookout tower on the corner of Market and Spear Streets in the 1924 picture was for, but it must have been an interesting job.

I walked down Drumm Street to Sacramento Street. Before the 1970s, Sacramento Street cut all the way through to the Embarcadero before the Embarcadero Center and the Justin Herman Plaza stopped the street at Drumm. The 1957 photo is looking toward the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building in 1957. Construction on the soon to be opened Embarcadero Freeway was nearing completion.


Hopping on on the Muni #1 bus on Sacramento, I rode up Nob Hill and got off at the Powell Street intersection, seen in 1935 in the vintage photo.


I crossed over California Street along Powell and headed down the south side of Nob Hill to breakfast at Roxanne’s Café on the corner of Bush Street and Powell. It was great to see the café almost pre pandemic full with smiling and hungry people. After breakfast, I did a quick update from Anson Place Alley next to Roxanne’s looking toward Powell. The vintage picture is circa 1948. It would have been nice to catch a cable car passing by, but there not back running just yet.


From Anson Place I headed back to Bush Street and wandered down to the Stockton Tunnel. This is classic Maltese Falcon territory. Sam Spade looked down from where I’m at here to Stockton Street from the roof of the tunnel near the spot where his partner, Miles Archer was shot.

{Spade crossed the sidewalk between iron-railed hatchways that opened above bare ugly stairs, and resting his hands on the damp coping, looked down into Stockton Street. An automobile popped out of the tunnel beneath him with a roaring swish, as if it had been blown out, and ran away.}


Just yards from Stockton Tunnel is Burritt Street Alley, where Miles Archer was shot, and this plaque near the entrance to the alley


Two blocks south of the Stockton Tunnel will bring you to the friendly sight of Union Square, seen in the vintage picture in 1958. It was unsettling and almost haunting last May to walk through the empty Square and not hear the clanging of cable car bells, the tour bus barkers beckoning, cars honking, people talking, and music.


The little stretch between Kearny and Stockton Streets known as Maiden Lane will probably never be as popular as it once was with all of the quaint shops like Robinson’s House of Pets or the Union Square Lounge gone now, but it’s still a pretty alley, and fun to walk through during the Holidays. The vintage picture looking east is from 1953.


Stockton and Market Streets in 1938 and a rare picture of the Call Building’s dome being removed, and the building being remodeled into what is now the Central Tower: I headed back to the office on BART from here feeling all the better for the day from my visit.

Circa 1989: San Francisco around the time of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. (Thumbnail images)

Broadway at Columbus Ave. The Sexsational, Totally Nude Girls on Stage, and the Love Act are gone now. And they call that progress!!! (Vintage photos by Santi Visalli)

Columbus was still discovering Coit Tower.

The Fairmont Hotel Lobby is a little easier on the eyes now than it was back then.

The Giants were still playing out at Candlestick Park; in fact, they were playing out there when the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit. I got a chance to explore Candlestick one last time in 2014 while the 49ers were playing their final season there. The ballpark was demolished in 2015.

‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ was packing them in at the old Geary Theater. The Geary Theater was severely damaged during the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Looking through the Neiman Marcus Rotunda toward the old Union Square before the 2002 remodeling of the Square:

Another look back to the 1980s (Thumbnail images)

I’ve only been able to get over to San Francisco twice since this one-of-a-kind tax season began back in February, but both visits were a tonic.


Boat Tram 228 and Streetcar #1 on 17th Street near Hartford in 1983: This was around the time they began running historic streetcars again around San Francisco. (Wikipedia)


Alcatraz and the Hyde Street Pier from Larkin Street and North Point in the 1980s: That’s the old sailing ship, the Balclutha, docked at the Hyde Street Pier now. (SF Gate)

562 Green Street: The Columbus Café, along with other restaurants on this block, has reopened with lots of sidewalk seating after the COVID-19 Pandemic forced them to close in 2020. (Bold italic)

During the 1980s, Lotta’s Fountain still had the bronze column that was added to the monument in 1916 to match the height of the streetlights on Market Street. It was restored to its original height in 1999. (Opensfhistory.org and Wikipedia)


Tower Records at Columbus and Bay, was still THE place to buy the latest Billy Idol, Toto, or any other popular collection from the 1980s, or albums from the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, or even Elvis from earlier periods. (SF Gate)

Elegant Ladies still, peek into the shop next to 2447 Mission Street just like they did in Janet Delaney’s 1984 picture; especially if they’re a friend of mine and I ask them to do it for effect.

The Boat Lagoon at Fisherman’s Wharf in June of 1987: That little tyke on my left holding on to my leather jacket is my niece, Stacy. She came out from Texas for a visit in March, and we got a chance to update the picture.


The Jeremiah O’Brien comes home

Yesterday, the World War Two Liberty Ship, the Jeremiah O’Brien sailed back from Pier 35 to Pier 45, where she was nearly destroyed in the disastrous fire on May 23, 2020. My brother, Kevin, who is part of the Jeremiah O’Brien crew, was able to send me some pictures of the move. KRON TV covered the story, as well. Check out the YouTube video of the voyage at the end of the post. (Thumbnail images)

The Liberty Ship pulled away from Pier 35 at 9:00 AM, escorted by Fireboat #3, the S.F.F.D. St. Francis.

Looking southwest toward Nob and Russian Hills as the O’Brien docks back at Pier 45. The top photo I took from the top of the ship in September of 2018. Shed C was completely destroyed by the fire.

Looking west over the top of Shed C toward Aquatic Park from the Jeremiah O’Brien in 2018 and yesterday as she docks back at Pier 45:

The top picture I took on March 21, 2020, four days after the shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 Pandemic took effect. The Jeremiah O’Brien had closed up to visitors at this point. Two months later the fire would gut this area, and force the Liberty Ship to move over to Pier 35 for maintenance and repairs. In the bottom photo is the Jeremiah O’Brien returning here yesterday.


Looking over the World War Two submarine, the USS Pampanito, from the top of the O’Brien toward Telegraph Hill at sunset in October of 2018: Views like this is one of the reasons that the Jeremiah O’Brien is back where she belongs.

Out on Irving and 16th (Thumbnail images)

A few years ago, I stumbled across an old gas station in the Sunset District that I thought was pretty cool. I took some pictures of it and later in the office, I found an old photo of it on the internet to do a then and now. (opensfhistory.org)

Built on the southeast corner of Irving and 16th in 1926, they don’t make gas stations like this anymore.


Here’s another vintage photo of the old filling station, courtesy of OpenSFHistory.org and outsidelands.org.


Another look at the service station during the 1960s: On the Sunday before last, the last Sunday of February, I got a chance to get out of the office and spend the day in San Francisco with visiting family members from Texas. We drove by the corner on the way out to Ocean Beach near sunset time. They just couldn’t find a way to save the little building since I first saw it, fenced off and lonely looking when I took my pictures in 2016. I don’t know why I thought they would save it, I should know better by now. (Western Neighborhoods Project)



Fond memories of the Cold War

About thirty miles southeast of San Francisco is my hometown of Castro Valley. Almost everybody from my generation who grew up in Castro Valley remembers hearing about the nuclear guided missile site above Lake Chabot; officially called Site SF-31. I think the first person to tell me about it was one of my childhood friends named Ron. I think he embellished it a little by telling me he had seen test rockets fired from there, but that probably didn’t happen. However, even as a kid I was smart enough to know that if the base was a missile site, it was also a target site. However, I decided not to run away. Yesterday morning I took an e-bike ride up to the old missile site. (Thumbnail images)


A nice view of Lake Chabot on the way up: 

Looking over the missile base toward Lake Chabot in an old photo from Military Historian, Dan Sebby of the California Military Department:


I wanted to get to the top so I rode past this first RESTRICTED AREA sign, risking a ticket. 50 years ago I probably would have been shot for doing that.


The heliport at the top must still be in use. They probably had frequent high-profile visitors arriving here at this spot when the base was active; you know, like Nikita Khrushchev.


This was where the nuclear missile launching pads were; straight on back past the green trucks. I decided not to risk getting a ticket this time, and didn’t go beyond this point.


Another aerial photo of the base from Military Historian, Dan Sebby, taken in 1965: I stopped at the entrance to the Missile Warhead Building area.


Still plenty of old barbed wire fencing at the top.


The type of missiles on standby at SF-31: (Dan Sebby)









A Super Bowl Sunday, Saturday (For Amber)

Along Columbus Avenue; at least for now: The name may be changed someday due to accusations that Christopher Columbus massacred Native Americans. Although some historians disagree on that, his character certainly is in question. However, even if they change the name of the street to Queen Isabella Boulevard or something, I’ll still call it Columbus Avenue. Likewise, if they change the name of the Cliff House to Land’s End Lodge possibly when the Cliff House reopens, it will always be the Cliff House to me. Also, Willie Brown Bridge, although it was renamed after someone who I think was a classy San Francisco Mayor, will always be the Bay Bridge when I refer to it. Anyway, yesterday, the day before today’s Super Bowl, I took a bike ride along Columbus Avenue. It was great to see San Francisco coming back to life; people eating outdoors at restaurants, social distance gathering in parks, and taking drives. We’re heading in the right direction, finally. (Thumbnail images)


Like Market Street, Columbus Avenue runs diagonally through San Francisco. It starts at Washington and Montgomery Streets and ends at Beach Street, or visa-versa based on the direction you’re heading. This then and now is where Pacific Avenue crosses Kearny St. and meets up with Columbus Avenue, looking south  down Kearny past the Columbus Tower Building, (that may be renamed too). The old Hall of justice Building can be seen in the back ground of the vintage photo. (opensfhistory.org)


Broadway, looking east from Columbus in the 1970s, the height of its nighttime entertainment era:


Even though Broadway has many historic locations, it will be remembered best as for where Carol Doda started a sensation as a topless dancer at the Condor Club. Carol is seen here on the southeast corner of Broadway and Columbus in 1966, across from the Condor Club she made famous. (SF Chronicle)


Where Grant Avenue runs north from Columbus in 1968: (San Francisco Blog pictures)


A poetry reading at Washington Square in the heart of North Beach in 1960: This was at the height of the beatnik era, which would evolve into the hippie era seven years later. (opensfhistory.org)

Now we’re in Joe DiMaggio country. “Joltin’ Joe” played baseball in the playground here as a kid before breaking in with the Yankees. The playground, seen here looking towards Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, has been extensively remodeled since the vintage picture was taken. (ebay.com)

Back to Square one

There are lots of fine Squares in San Francisco; Alamo Square, Washington Square, although that one is more of a Square with the southwest piece chipped off, Jefferson Square, which is more of a rectangle, and Portsmouth Square where San Francisco actually began. Union Square is my number one Square. The title to this post, ‘Back to Square one’ is misleading; it implies a return after an interval of separation, but truth is I visit Union Square almost every time I go to Downtown San Francisco. It’s been relatively empty since March of 2020, and I notice myself feeling depressed often now when I stop there. Like so many other places in San Francisco, the quiet of Union Square these days leaves me with an empty feeling, missing the way things used to be. Herb Caen loved Union Square, as well, although he would criticize the pigeons and crowded parking lot. As with thinking about the cable cars, the Cliff House, and Herb Caen, I get a lonely feeling of something missing in San Francisco more in Union Square than anywhere else in town. But enough of this lamenting, let’s take another visit to the Square. (Thumbnail images)


A trip to Union Square usually begins for me with a BART trip to Hallidie Plaza at the Powell Station, seen here in a vintage picture from the 1970s. The elevator shaft in the Plaza today prevents a perfect line up with the older picture. (sanfranciscodays.com)

Crossing along Powell Street over Geary Blvd. into Union Square during the 1960s: The St. Francis Hotel is on the left. (Pinterest)


One block further north from the previous picture is the intersection of Post and Powell Streets, looks like during the 1950s. The City of Paris Department store can be seen behind the Dewey Monument, Macy’s was a lot smaller then, a cable car rattles past, and, a gentle reminder that it’s time for a shot of Old Crow Whisky. (Vintage Everyday)


I’ve mentioned in the past that this website is not about my pictures, pleasant snapshots at best, but about the interesting vintage photographs in the posts. I could make an exception with this one; this 1940s one has to be the ugliest picture of Maiden Lane I’ve ever seen. Still I find it intriguing. I don’t know it that’s an artistic inclination with me or a problem! (Vintage Everyday)


The I Magnin Department Store on the corner of Geary Blvd. and Stockton Streets, now a part of Macy’s, under construction in 1947: (SF Chronicle)


One of the best Union Square pictures I’ve seen, looking toward the northwest corner of the park during the late 1950s: The New Millennium make-over took away the 1940s look and feel of the Square, but it’s probably for the best in the long run. (Reddit)


This picture was labeled “The Christmas Extravaganza of 1980” but I doubt if it topped the Christmas of 2020 light show of floating snow crystals at Union Square (SF Chronicle)