San Francisco Tour Guide Guild – 2008 Programs

San Francisco Tour Guide Guild – 2008 Programs
Craig’s San Francisco Moving Movie Tour
March 3, 2008
With all the anticipation of a first day kindergartner, I boarded a coach bound for “Days Gone By.” You could actually feel a positive vibration, almost a humming amongst the passengers. We, as tour guides, were about to embark on an eye-opening experience. We all love to show off our city, but to be able to visit locations throughout the city while simultaneously watching these same locations flicker by on the Silver Screen, brought a unique and new perspective to touring.
Using both modern movies and rare, seldom seen “talkies” and silent films, we were transported back in time to the early days of our city. Incredible! If you have not already guessed I am talking about the most recent program of the SFTGG. It was Craig Smith’s Movie Tour. We all know Craig is a wealth of information, but he is also a wonderful showman. It is my guess that is the first time 30+ tour guides were actually speechless for longer than 5 minutes. We were then treated to a delicious luncheon at Fog Harbor Fish House, which by the way is part of the Fog City Diner family of restaurants. The view from PIER 39 is beautiful and as luck would have it we had the “classic San Francisco day.” Cloudless blue skies, plenty of sunshine with slight maritime breezes.
After our repast our journey continued and we stopped for dessert at Mel’s Diner. They had no “fresh Oregon boysenberry sherbet,” which might have been just as well to judge from the expression on Spencer Tracy’s face when he tastes his first spoonful in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” Nevertheless, we all managed to throw down mass quantities of ice cream. The coach was groaning as it left Mel’s, as were quite a few of us. We finished up with more film clips and commentary. At the Westin St. Francis, not a person was ready to debark, but we did so with a new perspective on our beautiful city by the bay.
Thank you, Craig, just does not seem sufficient, but THANK YOU. For all of you who were not able to join us, I am sure by popular demand and Craig’s generosity we will be repeating this tour next year. Good news though, check your emails from SFTGG Programs co-chair Madelon. We have 3 tours scheduled and more in the works. One will be “Crimes in SF” hosted by Craig Smith. Be sure to come along with us on all of these informative and fun programs. Don’t miss out—sign up early! See you on the coaches, airports, and streets of San Francisco.
Submitted by Marilee Traynor
Haight is more than Hippies
April 25, 2008
Years ago, I led a city tour through the Haight-Ashbury with a very pleasant, but rather naive group of small-town Midwesterners. As many guides know, there is not always enough time to go through Haight-Ashbury during a city tour, so I always consider it something of a treat. Apparently, my group thought otherwise. Their leader, with a look of consternation on her face, asked if this was indeed necessary. I answered, “We don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to, but if you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you want to see the Haight?” She gave me a strange look, and answered, “We don’t want to go to a place called The Hate.” I can only surmise the tour leader assumed I was about to take the group through some sort of horrible, skid-row type area, filled with used syringes, graffiti, and horrible troublemakers. Naturally, if San Francisco is such a “far out” place, it follows that a place called The Hate (as she heard it) must be the craziest place of all! It occurred to me then that this colorful neighborhood has a bit of an image problem. Mary McCloy, a native of the neighborhood, helped us dispel the myth and give us the generally much more interesting truth.
We began our walking tour at the Park Branch of the San Francisco Public Library on Page Street. In order to help us in our epic pilgrimage of the antecedents to “hippiedom,” we received a few handouts. Mary showed us photos of the old streets and houses, which gave us the chance to do a bit of time travel in our minds. I had forgotten it was not just Golden Gate Park, but also most of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, that was built on the shifting sands of “the Outside Lands.” Mary gave a great description of the different types of Victorians, and also talked a bit about the Edwardian style, which is quite different. As the neighborhood changed, so did the houses. Even the walkways to the houses became longer, as the streets themselves were re-graded.
According to “Haight Street Dot Com,” the neighborhood was named after either Henry Huntley Haight (1825-1878), California’s tenth governor (1867-1871) who set aside land for the creation of a city park, or Fletcher Haight, a prominent lawyer and later U.S. District Judge who died in 1866, or Henry Haight, Fletcher’s brother who was instrumental in founding the Protestant Orphanage, and Monroe Ashbury (1818-1880) who served as a member of the Board of Supervisors from 1864 to 1870 along with Andrew B. Forbes and Frank McCoppin. It was during this term that Golden Gate Park had its beginning.
The colors of the homes were originally more conservative and austere, as one would imagine for a style named after Queen Victoria. They were primarily white, yellow, or gray, with black trim. The Victorians were built before the age of the automobile. This begs the obvious question, how did they add on the garages? There are a few ways of going about doing it, but most commonly by taking out the downstairs parlor and replacing it with a garage.
After the Victorian and Edwardian houses began to fall out of favor, the Spanish Revival style began to take over. There was a period wherein many would make “misguided improvements,” which was Mary’s hilarious euphemism for the various crimes against the original architecture such as adding siding to the exterior, stripping the beautiful wood-carved “gingerbread” touches, and getting rid of the “witch’s caps” on the Queen Anne towers.
The “Outside Lands” gradually became Golden Gate Park, or what the newspapers of the time derisively called “Great Sand Park.” As we observed the sand coming out from the broken sidewalk and front yard of an old Victorian undergoing an expensive-looking remodel, we heard about the original design of the park by William Hammond Hall, and the perseverance of John McLaren, supervisor for more than 50 years (1890-1943) working into his 90s. Some people find it difficult to believe, but yes, he was only five feet tall and that is a life-sized statue you see in the park! Sometimes forgotten in the history of Golden Gate Park is the short interlude involving the era’s most famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Widely known for his design of New York’s Central Park, he was consulted for this project. Apparently, he came to our site of shifting sand dunes, took one look, and said the equivalent of “Good luck.”
I knew that the Panhandle was the original nursery for the park, but I did not know the reason why. As it happens, the Panhandle had the most fertile soil, which is a nice way of saying it wasn’t covered in sand. A trick question: How many original plants in the park? Answer: None! Bonus question: Whatever happened to the one original tree, and what kind of tree was it? Answer: It was an oak, and it died. McLaren Lodge was McLaren’s home during his tenure. It is now home to the Parks Department. It also has great restrooms, and important fact to know if you lead groups through the park. Hammond Hall and McLaren did not get along well, which is the real reason Hammond Hall left after designing Golden Gate Park.
Tent Homes were constructed in the Panhandle after the Great Quake of 1906. Shacks were built by the Government to house the refugees, rather like an earlier incarnation of the temporary homes for victims of Katrina in New Orleans. The victims of the Great Quake had the option to offer the government the cash sum of $50, and were then allowed to take their temporary homes out of the Panhandle. You can still find some of these old temporary homes in parts of the Mission neighborhood.
When the Park was still considered the “Outside Lands,” many squatters resided in the park, and the original park rangers had to carry guns for their own safety. Historically, many of the original squatters in the area that became the Haight, and the Park, were actually paid to settle there. “Who would do a thing like that?” you may ask. The wealthy people who wanted to build houses there later, that’s who! One small problem they ran into was that the original squatters did not want to leave when the owners of the land came to start building. I guess the moral of the story is to never trust a squatter . . .
Hippies started camping in Golden Gate Park in 1965, and the homeless still do to this day. The famous Summer of Love was in 1967, and the whole hippie phenomenon itself was fairly short lived. “Hippie Hill” in the park was considered “the living room,” and the Panhandle was considered “the bedroom.” Mary did not tell us where “the bathroom” was located, and no one dared ask. Mary’s mother used to warn her, as a girl, “You can give them [the hippies] food, but don’t let them in the house!” Though the fun, high-spirits, and innocent experimenting with drugs were all right at first, as the hippies got into harder drugs, things started to go downhill rather quickly. There were many cases of drug over-dose at St. Mary’s Hospital and at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. The local residents of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood began to avoid walking through certain parts of the Haight and Golden Gate Park at night. I was intrigued to learn that the origination of the term “to panhandle” came from the Panhandle, but it turns out to be yet another urban legend. The expression has been part of the English language for at least a century, probably deriving from panhandle as a description of the beggar’s extended forearm.
The bohemian precursors to the hippies and the beats had gone through two world wars. While the beatnik movement exploded in the North Beach area, the somewhat younger hippies came about ten years later. The beats called the first hippies “junior hipsters,” which is how the name “hippie” came into being. The basic hippie philosophy was somewhat nihilist, and could be summed up in the phrase “no money, no religion, no war.” The residents of the Haight could tell that change was afoot when the local Woolworth’s became a head shop.
The original hippies were very friendly and were dubbed “Flower Children.” After the “Summer of Love” in 1967, the original spirit died away. Too many new hippies had come, and the original hippies had left. LSD, not yet a controlled substance and used in clinical studies for the treatment of mental illness, was taken recreationally. The hippies began experimenting with harder drugs, because they wanted to try new things to broaden their minds. Meth, heroin, and cocaine changed the scene from a group of young innocents to a group of hard-core drug-users. The movement died out rather quickly, and quite literally. 1968, ’69, and ’70 were hard years for the Haight and the hippies.
On the plus side, the San Francisco music scene began to explode. Most of it was based in and around the Haight. At one time or another, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and the Merry Pranksters were all residing in the neighborhood. A lot of musicians such as Joplin, originally from Texas, only “tuned in and turned on” after they were exposed to San Francisco, and specifically the Haight-Ashbury. Another positive affect of the hippies that has not diminished is a very strong community, with a tough merchants association. No chain stores were allowed in the neighborhood. Some of us couldn’t help noticing a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor right on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, but they donate 10% of their earnings to good causes, so the spirit of helping the community is still alive and well. Many Haight Street establishments have clever tongue-in-cheek names. The Herb Inn, a local bed and breakfast, is one such place. They have a fireplace in the garage, something not uncommon in the neighborhood. The reason many Victorians have this feature is that originally the garages were ground level parlors, only converted into garages after the proliferation of the automobile.
At the corner of Haight and Ashbury, the street signs were hung up higher than normal, because tourists kept stealing the original signs. One can only surmise that they want a special souvenir of San Francisco. There are many “head shops,” which are apparently still doing great business, as are the vintage clothing stores. Many music stores line the street, which is somewhat surprising in the era of the digital download. Perhaps the Haight-Ashbury music scene hasn’t died after all? “Positively Haight Street” is a good place to bring tourists and out-of-towners. The shop sells all sorts of hippie regalia and Haight Street related merchandise.
We walked by the famous sign in the Panhandle that is often quoted as “No adults allowed without accompanying children,” which usually gets a nice laugh from most tourists. I took the time to read the sign myself, and the actual wording is, “No loitering in children’s playground by adults.” Not as funny, I think, so I might just pretend I never read the sign and stick with the old quote . . . The granite curbsides around the neighborhood were put in between 1910 and 1920, and coincided with the introduction of cars. The nostalgic era of the wood footpath was now a thing of the past. We spotted a converted carriage house in between two Victorians, set a bit back from the road. The common practice was to have the whole block share one carriage house between them. Most San Francisco homes and the vast majority of the Victorians were built in the same signature style: a long hallway takes you from a small front to the end of a rather deep house, with a nice yard in the back. Side yards were considered more prestigious, due to their rarity. The lots were called “railroad car flats,” due to their long, narrow shape. The reason for this was quite logical. You could fit more houses per block!
Since the Victorians were built of redwood, fire-safety was paramount. A law was instituted after 1906 that no house could be built that was not at least one inch from another. This was also a good idea in earthquake country, but it wasn’t the primary consideration. One peculiar aspect of many Victorians is the rather long stairway one must climb in order to reach the front door. In many cases the stairs seemed to have been lengthened at one point. At one point, the streets were re-graded, so it was necessary to put in new stairs in order to reach the new street. Many of the Victorians originally had a triangular-shaped front porch, which seems a bit odd until you consider that it made it a good deal easier to bring your horse-drawn carriage right up to the base of the stairs. Some bought “Pelton Houses,” which were Victorians you could build out of kits. Many homebuilders cared about the Haight Street community. In fact one was quite instrumental in the killing the proposal to build the Central Freeway, which would have cut right through the Haight, and no doubt ruined the neighborhood. Many homes were built to conform to the shape of the lot, which in turn, had to conform to the shapes of the intersecting streets, and gave rise to the flatiron style.
Mary showed us old photos of the area just outside Buena Vista Park. It is virtually unchanged, which is rare in this town. Except, perhaps, for one detail: where the road before was virtually empty, now Haight Street is filled with parked cars. Buena Vista is one of the oldest parks in the city, and is well named, since “buena” in Spanish means good, and “vista” means view. In the ‘60s, many of the hippies lived in the park. You could smell them cooking bacon on some mornings. The gutter around the park has a lot of old bits of broken up stones, some with cryptic lettering on them. On closer inspection, they reveal the names of the dead. They are the broken off remains from old tombstones in the neighborhood, left over from abandoned graves, left from the time when many cemeteries moved out of San Francisco to Colma, due to lack of space. The “Buried Hippie” is buried somewhere in Buena Vista Park. Don’t cry any tears over him; he wasn’t a real hippie, but only an effigy, who represented the end of the hippie era in 1968.
In 1968, at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, Hippies began to throw things down at the police and the police cracked down on squatters and swept through the neighborhood removing those who did not legitimately live there. The end of the sixties was coming, and the Haight would change, yet again, into its current manifestation.
Addresses to remember: 710 Ashbury – Grateful Dead House; 635 Ashbury – Janice Joplin House.
Submitted by Michael Crowe
San Francisco Crime Tour
December 4, 2008
On a crisp, sunny San Francisco morning we gathered at 9:45 at the St. Francis to start our crime tour. Our Tour Guide, Craig, was dressed as Detective Smith. He exclaimed, “San Francisco is a beautiful city and also a city of crime. There were 2,000 murders committed here between 1849 and 1859.“
As we passed Union Square and Chinatown, Craig started recounting some of the various murders. We heard about a gruesome one committed in 1930 in an apartment between Chinatown and Nob Hill of the beautiful socialite widow Rosetta Baker by her Chinese servant Lui Fook. He got away with it and moved back to China.
We focused on three famous cases – the Durrant Murders known as “The Belle in the Belfry” in 1895, “The Strange Case of Constance Flood” and the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk in 1978. Craig also pointed out various locations of importance in the film “Maltese Falcon”- e.g., Dashiell Hammett’s apartment on Geary Street and Bridget O’Shaunessy’s Building at 1201 California.
As we drove by Nob Hill, Chinatown, Downtown and the Mission, Craig reeled off interesting facts and weird cases: the first witness to be murdered in a court room was shot in 1917 during the Hindu-German conspiracy trial in the federal court house at 7th and Mission streets; a persistent rat problem in the Old Mint at 5th and Mission necessitated hiring a dedicated rat disposal person who was later caught using the dead rats as a cover for smuggling gold coins out of the building.
We stopped at City Hall to follow in the footsteps of Dan White, the man who shot Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. It was particularly timely since the movie “Milk” had just come out. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the U.S.
Milk moved to San Francisco in 1972 from New York and settled in the Castro District. He led the gay political movement in fierce battles against anti-gay initiatives. Milk was elected city supervisor in 1977 after San Francisco reorganized its election procedures to choose representatives from neighborhoods rather than through citywide ballots.
Dan White, an ex-police officer and former firefighter, was also a city supervisor; he had recently resigned his position and now wanted it back. Both Milk’s election and the events following his assassination demonstrated the liberalization of the population and political conflicts between the city government and a conservative police force.
Milk has become an icon in San Francisco and a martyr for gay rights. His goal was to give hope to disenfranchised gays around the country.
An interesting aside was the fact that Dan White did not drive and came to City Hall that fateful day in a chauffeur driven car. We walked up the beautiful marble staircase and saw the commemorative busts of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. We walked through the hallways passing the supervisors’ offices. Dan White casually walked from the shootings to the car. He then had himself driven to St. Mary’s for confession and after that to the police station to turn himself in. The police were heard to cheer when they were told of the murders. So intense was the dislike for the gay community in SF at that time!
William Henry Theodore (“Theo”) Durrant was a 24-year-old medical student. He also belonged to the Emmanuel Baptist Church in the Mission District, where he taught Sunday school and assisted with church services. He was liked and well respected in the community. In April of 1895, however, he revealed a different side. Durrant took a young lady, 21-year-old Blanche Lamont who was studying to become a schoolteacher, into the church library and strangled her, violating her before and possibly after death. He then dragged her naked body into the church belfry where he arranged it on the floor in the manner in which cadavers are frequently placed in medical school. When the police questioned him about Blanche’s disappearance, Durrant feigned ignorance and suggested that she had been kidnapped by one of the white slavery gangs then common in San Francisco. Nine days later, while the police investigated this possibility, Durrant murdered another girl, Minnie Williams, in the church library. Her body was found the next day. The case attracted considerable publicity, with the San Francisco newspapers exclaiming that it was the “Crime of the Century.” The evidence against Durrant was overwhelming, except for the motive behind the murders. Durrant’s lawyers relied on the lack of motive as their primary defense during the trial. Durrant’s only motive was an impulse to vent his sexual urges through murder. The defense retorted that Durrant’s good character and outstanding reputation in the community made it implausible that he could have acted out of such a twisted motive. The Durrant trial was the sensation of the West Coast. The courtroom was filled to capacity with spectators every day. Despite the gruesome crimes Durrant was accused of committing, many of these spectators were young women attracted by Durrant’s good looks. The public sentiment favored him, as they could not imagine him being a sexual deviant and a murderer. He was, however, found guilty, sentenced to death and hung at San Quentin.
We then stopped in the Flood Building built in 1904 and used as one of the backdrops in the “Maltese Falcon.” James L. Flood was a Silver Baron who had built a home in Menlo Park known as Linden Towers as well as the Flood Mansion on Nob Hill. His son, James C. Flood, built the Flood Building. We were told the story of “The Strange Case of Constance Flood.” It involved a young woman who lived with James C. Flood and his first wife. She mysteriously appeared in their home as a baby; James C. treated her as his own daughter and insisted that she take his name. The Floods couldn’t have children and “adopted” the little girl, but never legalized the relationship. When his first wife died, he married her younger sister, Maude. Now age 6, Constance was sent to a convent to live there until she was 20 years old. After James C. died in 1926, Constance resurfaced to claim part of the 18 million dollar estate. Being unsuccessful, she brought a civil lawsuit with the first trial starting in 1931. The case had all the notoriety associated with a famous, well to do family pitted against an impoverished woman. And whose daughter was she? Was she really the daughter of James C. Flood? Although most people were convinced that Constance’s real father was James Cannon, a lighting man in the theater, the paternity question was never answered definitively and Constance’s case against the Flood heirs was eventually settled.
We had a lovely lunch at John’s Grill and were treated to a short enactment of the “Maltese Falcon” by talented Guild members Alan Oakley as Dashiell Hammett a/k/a Sam Spade and Diane McNeely as Bridget O’Shaunessy. We even got a chance to handle a copy of the famous bird. Dash also told us that before becoming a writer he had worked on the Fatty Arbuckle scandal for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Alan and Diane were joined by professional impersonator Robert Martin as Charlie Chaplin.
We ended our tour with visits to the Wells Fargo Museum and the Union Bank of California. We had a docent tour in the Wells Fargo Museum with its new exhibit “CSI – Black Bart;” it’s a good place to stop on any city tour with a group and a great escape if you are caught in bad weather.
Next door, the Union Bank of California attracts visitors with its Gold Museum. Several infamous deadly affairs in San Francisco are featured. In one display case, you can see the actual pistols used in the 1859 duel between U. S. Senator David C. Broderick and State Supreme Court Chief Justice David S. Terry (Broderick was killed, probably the victim of a dirty trick). Another display tells the story of the publisher of the Evening Bulletin, James King of William, whose outspoken criticism of corrupt politicians got him killed and whose killer was hung by the Committee of Vigilantes. A third notorious case on display is that of William Ralston whose “accidental death by drowning” may well have been murder.
I think we all felt that this was one of the most interesting tours we have had and felt fortunate to have taken part in this adventure. Thanks Craig!
Submitted by Deborah Huth