For Native San Franciscans

I just sent this out to my high school friends:

A couple of things:

1. A friend told me to check out the Camera Obscura at the Cliff House, which I’d never done. It’s a small building down below the restaurant, with a rotating lens that gives you a moving 360° panorama of the beach and Seal Rocks. Also, in the Cliff House, on the left side of the bar, there’s a large monitor with photos of early San Francisco, including Sutro Baths, the original (and spectacular) Cliff House circa 1900, and Playland at the Beach*. You can get a beer and watch the procession of old photos.

2. Last week I got a book titled The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld by Herbert Asbury. I didn’t realize how lawless and violent San Francisco was in its early days. It was like Deadwood, the TV series.

Here are a few other books (I know there are hundreds) on San Francisco:

•San Francisco Memoirs: 1835-1851: Eyewitness Accounts of the Birth of a City By Malcolm E. Barker

•Carville-by-the-Sea: San Francisco’s Streetcar Suburb by Woody La Bounty: “…In the 1850s and ’60s local San Francisco transit companies used horse-drawn railcars on city streets. The arrival of cable cars and electric streetcars spelled the doom of the equine-pulled variety. Many of these vehicles were dumped on the then-unsettled sand dunes near Ocean Beach. In 1895 the Market Street Railway Company placed a newspaper advertisement in the San Francisco Examiner offering horse cars for $20 ($10 without seats). By September of that year the cars were already put to a wide variety of uses, including: a backyard children’s playhouses, a real estate office, and a shoemaker’s shop. Also notable was ‘The Annex’, a ‘coffee saloon’ operated by Colonel Charles Dailey in one of three cars he rented from Adolph Sutro.”

I knew nothing of this. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, and used copies are rather expensive.

The Discovery of San Francisco Bay: The Portolá Expedition of 1769-1770, The Diary of Miguel Costansó. For 250 years, the Spanish galleons returned from the East with their cargoes of silks and spices and made their way down the West Coast, around Baja California, and then to Veracruz. In all that time they never discovered the Golden Gate or the vast bay beyond it. In 1769, a Spanish expedition was heading on foot north along the coast and a group of hunters walked up onto a ridge in what is now Pacifica, and looked down on the bay. What a sight!

•The Gate: The True Story of the Design and Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge by John Van der Zee. Struass wasn’t the designer at all. It was engineer/artist Charles Ellis. This is a great story of our magnificent bridge.

Growing up in San Francisco, I thought the whole world was like this. Little did I know.

*Laughing Sal is now on display at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

3 Responses to For Native San Franciscans

  1. I would also recommend the book “The Frisco Kid” by Jerry Kamstra. It was published in the ‘70s and is available used from Amazon. I lived in SF from ’71 to ’81 and worked at the Ferry Building. The book is mostly about North Beach in the ‘50s and mentions several streets that no longer exist. It also mentions the old produce market that was just north of the Embarcadero Center. The brick entrance facade is still there on the west side of Sydney Walton Square. Playland was still open when I first moved there in ’71. I regret not spending more time checking it out. I remember buying It’s Its from the original shop at Playland on several occasions. I bought the first copy of Shelter way back when and I enjoy reading your blog. Regards, Bob Switzer, Sullivan, NH

  2. Thanks for the book recs, I was happy to find The Barbary Coast in our library.

    One of the most interesting books about Mexican CA is Two Years Before The Mast by Richard Henry Dana. A good deal of the book concerns their travels and trading in hides up and down the coast of CA between 1834-36 with stops in SF, Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Diego. He describes the coastal Indigenous peoples, the Mexican Californios' culture, and the immigrants and traders influences from other locales. His writing is just as fresh today as it was back then, it really is fascinating to witness life in the wild paradise that was CA at that time. There is an afterword written when he returned in 1859 ten years after the Gold Rush. He revisits many of the locales from his earlier journey and marvels at the complete transformation of the state and SF in particular. This classic is well worth reading today.

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