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Chinatown and Foreign Colonies
From its beginning as a Spanish trading post to the present time there has always been something essentially foreign about San Francisco. Always there have been foreign elements, with well-marked colonies, districts or haunts.
To visitors Chinatown appears to exercise the greatest appeal among the foreign colonies. The Latin Quarter, the Spanish and Mexican districts out toward the end of Powell street at the Bay, the Japanese streets east of Fillmore, and the Greek settlement centering around Third and Folsom are all, however, highly expressive of their habitants.
With its pagoda-like roofs, its bazaars, its restaurants of amazing orchestration and stranger East-West decoration, it is easy to. understand why Chinatown sways the imagination of wayfarers in San Francisco. Every street and alley in it is obviously exotic. Life appears here like a festival, and both the eye and the ear are beguiled by fantastic nuances.
Silks, ivories, porcelains and bronzes peer from the shop windows at hesitant purchasers like the articles of virtu flung before the bewildered gaze of readers by Balzac in his Wild Ass's Skin.
You are diverted by the bizarre on all sides, Grant avenue, the main artery of Chinatown, stretching before you in a many-hued arabesque of shop fronts, no two quite alike in tone or in the stuff they have to sell.
The shops of the jewelers, who perform miracles of craftsmanship in gold fliagree and in jade, are especially interesting, the sensitive-fingered artisans working at benches set in the windows in full view of passersby. The meat and fish stalls, the apothecaries, the cobblers who work on the sidewalks, the lily and the bird vendors, the telephone exchange where Chinese girls operate the switchboard, the headquarters of the Six Companies, the Joss House and the Chinese theatre, spilled over into the Latin Quarter, are among the sights much written about by globe-trotting notetakers in the quarter. Organized sightseeing tours may be made through Chinatown with licensed guides, but visitors can wander securely about at will. It is no longer the subterranean Chinatown of opium-scented years, but it is still the most interesting foreign quarter in America. Charles Dana Gibson called it a bit of Hongkong and Canton caught in a Western frame.
By continuing out Grant avenue to Columbus avenue the stroller visiting Chinatown reaches the street that places him in the heart of the Latin Quarter, its Italian and French restaurants, and its manners and customs that make it an epitome of Naples and Rome.
In the Greek settlement in the vicinity of Third and Folsom streets you will see narghile water pipes displayed in the windows alongside Russian brasses and Byzantine ware. If you crave the cooking of Attica and the honey-sweets of the Grecian archipelago you can get them here.
A bit of Hongkong and Canton caught in a Western frame