City of Fog & Fear: The History of San Francisco
Old HistoryBefore the white man came the area now known as San Francisco had long been home to a group of Native Americans known as the Yelamu. For countless years they lived along the shores as fishermen and hunters. Legend says that the fog spirts protected them. Many European ships had sailed past the area and while it was claimed by Spain in the early 16th century it remained unknown to the white man for quite some time. San Francisco’s characteristic foggy weather and geography led early European explorers, including the famous Sir Francis Drake, to bypass the area and miss sighting San Francisco Bay. It wasn’t until 1769 that the veil of fog around the bay was pierced.
In 1769 a Spainish exploration party finally saw past the obscuring mist around the bay. It would spell doom for the Yelamu people. Seven years later, they came back and built a mission to convert the heathen indians to Catholicism. Within two generations the hardships of forced labor building the mission to convert them and the effects of disease drove the Yelamu into extinction.
The area would change hands several times untill the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed over all of California to the United States. It was then that the area around the Mission was renamed San Francisco.
The Golden Gate
The Discovery of gold in California in 1848 sparked a huge migration of people to the state. Most of which would come by sea, and that meant that small town San Francisco was about to become a major harbor. Immagrants flooded the area, railroads and cable cars were built. Many of the neighborhoods we associate with the city began here. Stately mansions began to adorn Nob hill, Chinatown held the oriental immagrants looking to get in on the gold rush, or just make a living building the railroads, the Barbary Coast became the citys seedy side feeding the cities vice for gambling and prostitution. San Francisco was now the most important city on the western coast. Before the civil war struck the government built two forts to secure the area one on Alcatraz and another at Fort Point.
“Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone.” – Jack London
5:12 am on April 18, 1906 a time forever etched into the memory of the city. San Francisco was struck by a major earthquake, some 3,000 people were killed and billions done in property damage. The worst part of the quake wasn’t the shaking, it was the flames. For four days and four long nights fires would rage out of control decimating the city.
The city lay in ruins, but it would not remain so. San Francisco rose like a phoenix from the ashes. The destroyed mansions of Nob Hill became grand hotels. City Hall rose once again in splendorous Beaux Arts style, and the city celebrated its rebirth at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.
In ensuing years, the city solidified its standing as a financial capital; in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, not a single San Francisco-based bank failed. Indeed, it was at the height of the Great Depression that San Francisco undertook two great civil engineering projects, simultaneously constructing the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, completing them in 1936 and 1937 respectively. It was in this period that the island of Alcatraz, a former military stockade, began its service as a federal maximum security prison.
During WWII San Francisco would be a major port of call for the Navy. Hunters Point Naval Shipyard became a hub of activity, and Fort Mason became the primary port of embarkation for service members shipping out to the PacificUrban planning projects in the 1950s and 1960s saw widespread destruction and redevelopment of west side neighborhoods and the construction of new freeways, of which only a series of short segments were built before being halted by citizen-led opposition. The Transamerica Pyramid was completed in 1972, and in the 1980s saw extensive high-rise development downtown. Port activity moved to Oakland, the city began to lose industrial jobs, and San Francisco began to turn to tourism as the most important segment of its economy. The suburbs experienced rapid growth, and San Francisco underwent significant demographic change, as large segments of the white population left the city, supplanted by an increasing wave of immigration from Asia and Latin America. Over this same period, San Francisco became a magnet for America’s counterculture. Beat Generation writers fueled the San Francisco Renaissance and centered on the North Beach neighborhood in the 1950s. Hippies flocked to Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, reaching a peak with the 1967 Summer of Love.
These days San Francisco is no longer the major city on the West Coast, but it still has alot to offer. With a wildly diverse culture, and liberal views the City of the Bay has quite a few nooks and cranys to explore.