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The question has been oftener asked than answered, why Chicago should have grown in wealth and population so much faster than St. Louis, or New Orleans, or San Francisco. It is not enough to point to her position on the lakes, the wide extent of contributory industries, and the convergence of railways; other cities have at their command as great natural advantages with like limitless opportunity. As to location, city sites are seldom chosen by convention, or the fittest spots favored. Chicagoans assert that a worse place than theirs for a city cannot be found on the shores of Lake Michigan. New York would be better up the Hudson, London in Bristol channel, and San Francisco at Carquinez strait. Indeed, it was by a Yankee trick that the sand-blown peninsula secured the principal city of the Pacific.
It happened in this way. General Vallejo, Mexican comandante residing at Sonoma, upon the arrival of the new American authorities said to them: "Let it bear the name of my wife, Francesca, and let it be the commercial and political metropolis of your Pacific possessions, and I will give you the finest site in the world for a city, with state-house and residences built and ready for your free occupation." And so it was agreed, and the general made ready for the coming of the legislature.
Meanwhile, to the American alcalde, who had established his rule at Yerba Buena, a trading hamlet in the cove opposite the island of that name and nucleus of the present San Francisco, came Folsom, United States army captain and quartermaster, to whom had been given certain lots of land in Yerba Buena, and said: "Why not call the town San Francisco, and bring hither ships which clear from various ports for San Francisco bay?" And so it was done; the fine plans of the Mexican general fell to the ground, and the name Benicia was given to what had been Francesca. A year or two later, with five hundred ships of the gold-seekers anchored off the cove, not all the men and money in the country could have moved the town from its ill-chosen location.
Opportunity is much the same in various times and places, whether fortuitous or forced. More men make opportunity than are made by it, particularly among those who achieve great success. Land being unavailable, Venice the beautiful was built upon the water, while the Hollanders manage to live along the centuries below sea level.
The builders of Chicago possessed varied abilities of a high order, not least among which was the faculty of working together. They realized at an early date that the citizens and the city are one; whatever of advantage they might secure to their city would be returned to them by their city fourfold.
"Oh, I do love this old town!" one of them was heard to exclaim as, returning from the station, his cab paddled through the slushy streets under a slushy sky. He was quite a young man, yet he had made a large fortune there. "It's no credit to us making money here," he added, "we couldn't help it." So citizenized, what should we expect if not unity of effort, a willingness to efface self when necessary, and with intense individualism to subordinate individual ideas and feelings to the public good? In such an atmosphere rises quickly a new city from the ashes of the old, or a fairy creation like the Columbian Exposition. Imagine the peninsula of San Francisco covered by a real city equal in beauty and grandeur to the Chicago sham city of 1893.
The typical West-American city builder has money-created, not inherited, wealth. But possession merely is not enough; he gives. Yet possessing and giving are not enough; he works, constantly and intelligently. The power which wealth gives is often employed in retarding progress when the interests of the individual seem to clash with those of the commonwealth; it is always lessened by the absence of respect for its possessor. But when wealth, intelligence, honesty, and enthusiasm join hands with patriotism there must be progress.
Time and place do not account for all of Chicago's phenomenal growth, nor do the distance from the world's centres of population and industry, the comparative isolation, and the evil effects of railway domination account wholly for San Francisco's slow growth toward the end of the century. For, following the several spasms of development incident to the ages of gold, of grain, and of fruit, and the advent of the railway incubus, California for a time betook herself to rest, which indeed was largely paralysis. Then, too, those who had come first and cleared the ground, laying the foundations of fortunes, were passing away, and their successors seemed more ready to enjoy than to create. But with the opening of a new century all California awoke and made such progress as was never made before.
Coming to the late catastrophe, it was well that too much dependence was not placed on promises regarding rehabilitation made during the first flush of sympathy; the words were nevertheless pleasant to the ear at the time. The insurance companies would act promptly and liberally, taking no advantage of any technicality; congress would remit duties on building material for a time, and thus protect the city-builders from the extortions of the material men; the material men roundly asserted that there should be no extortion, no advance in prices, but, on the contrary, all other work should be set aside and precedence given to San Francisco orders; eastern capitalists were to cooperate with the government in placing at the portal of the Pacific a city which should be a credit to the nation and a power in the exploitation of the great ocean.
None of these things came to pass. Indeed it was too much to expect of poor human nature until selfishness and greed are yet further eliminated. Never to be forgotten was the superb benevolence which so promptly and so liberally showered comforts upon the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the houseless until it was feared that the people might become pauperized. But that was charity, whereas "business is business."
The insurance companies, themselves stricken nigh unto death, paused in the generous impulse to pay quickly and in full and let the new steel city arise at once in all its glory. They began to consider, then to temporize, and finally, with notable exceptions, to evade by every means in their power the payment of their obligations. The loss and the annoyance thus inflicted upon the insured were increased by the uncertainty as to what they should finally be able to do. Congress likewise paused to consider the effect the proposed remission of duties would have on certain members and their lumber and steel friends. Thus a hundred days passed by, and with some relief half a hundred more.
Outside capital was still ready, but San Franciscans seemed to have sufficient for present needs. Capital is conservative and Californians independent. Even from the government they never asked much, though well aware that since the gold discovery California has given a hundredfold more than she has received. Her people were accustomed to take care of themselves, and managed on the whole to get along. A general conflagration was not a new thing. Four times during gold-digging days San Francisco was destroyed by fire, and each time new houses were going up before the ashes were cold. True, there was not so much to burn in those days, but it was all the people had; there was not so much to rebuild, and there were no insurance companies to keep them back. San Francisco would be grateful, and it would be a graceful thing for the government to do, to keep away the sharks until the people should get their heads above water again, not as charity, but for the general good. The exaction of duties on lumber from British Columbia was simply taking money from the San Francisco builders and thrusting it into the plethoric pockets of the Puget Sound people, who at once advanced their prices so as seriously to retard building and render it in many cases impossible. Even as I write word comes of another advance in the price of lumber, owing to the apathy at Washington and elsewhere, after twice before raising the price to the highest limit.
Meanwhile, in and around the burned district, traffic never ceased. The inflow of merchandise from all parts continued. Upon the ashes of their former stores, and scattered about the suburbs, business men established themselves wherever they could find a house to rent or a lot to build upon. Shacks were set up in every quarter, and better structures of one or two stories were permitted, subject to removal by order of the city at any time they should appear to stand in the way of permanent improvement. Some business houses were extinguished, but other and larger ones arose in their stead. Rebuilding was slow because of the debris to be removed and the more substantial character of the permanent structures to be erected.
Around the bay continues the hum of industry. The country teems with prosperity. Never were the services of the city needed so much as now. There are no financial disturbances; money is easy, but more will be required soon; claims are not pressed in the courts. Any San Francisco bonds thrown upon the market are quickly taken by local capitalists. Customs receipts are larger than ever before, and there is no shrinkage at the clearing house. Land values remain much the same; in some quarters land has depreciated, in other places it has increased in price; buyers stand ready to take advantage of forced sales.
Labor is scarce in both city and country; wages are high and advancing. Five times the present number of mechanics can find profitable employment in the city, and it will be so for years to come, as there is much to be done.
With the advance of the labor wage and of lumber, rents are advanced. Mills and factories are running at their full capacity. Orchards and grain fields are overflowing, and harvesters are found with difficulty. Merchants' sales were never so large nor profits so good. Prices of everything rule high, with an upward tendency, the demand at the shops being for articles of good quality. Oriental rugs and diamonds are conspicuously in evidence. Insurers are paying their losses to some extent, and many people find themselves in possession of more ready money than they ever had before. They are rich, though they may have no house to sleep in. It is a momentary return to the flush times of the early fifties, though upon a broader and more civilized scale, and without their uncertainty or their romance.
In view of the facts it seems superfluous to discuss questions regarding the future of San Francisco. That is to say, such questions as are propounded by chronic croakers: Will the city be rebuilt? If so, will it be a city of fine buildings? Will not the fear of earthquakes drive away capital and confine reconstruction to insignificance?
Let us hasten to assure our friends that the day of doom has not yet come to this city; that the day of doom never comes to any city for so slight a cause, or for any cause short of a rain of brimstone and fire, as in the case of Sodom. Whether of imperial steel or of imperial shacks; whether calamities come in the form of such temblores as are here met occasionally in a mild form, or in the far more destructive form of hurricanes, floods, pestilence, sun-striking, and lightning, so common at the east and elsewhere, and from which San Francisco is wholly free, there will here forever be a city, a large, powerful, and wealthy city.
Every part of the earth is subject at any time to seismic disturbance , and no one can truthfully say that California is more liable to another such occurrence than any other part of the United States. Indeed, it should be less so, the earth's crust here having settled itself, let us hope, to some centuries of repose. Never before has anything like this been known on our Pacific seaboard. Never before, so far as history or tradition or the physical features of the country can show, has California experienced a serious earthquake shock-that is to say, one attended by any considerable loss of life or property. Nor was the earthquake of April last so terrible as it may seem to some. Apart from the fire there was not so very much of it, and no great damage was done. The official figures are: 266 killed by falling walls, 177 by fire, 7 shot, and 2 deaths by ptomaine poisoning-452 in all. The property damage by the earthquake is scarcely worth speaking of, being no more than happens elsewhere in the world from other causes nearly every day; it would have been quickly made good and little thought of it but for the conflagration that followed.
Compare San Francisco casualties with those of other cities. Two hundred and sixty-six deaths as the result of the greatest calamity that ever happened in California! Not to mention the floods, fires, and cyclones common to St. Louis, Chicago, Galveston, and all mid-continent America, the yellow fever at New Orleans and along the southern shore, or the 25,000 deaths from cholera in New York and Philadelphia in less than twenty-five years, or the loss of 1,000 ships on the Atlantic coast in the hurricane of August, 1873-not to mention the many extraordinary displays of vindictive nature, take some of the more commonplace calamities incident to most cities except those along the Pacific coast.
Every year more people and more property are destroyed by lightning, floods, and wind-storms on the Atlantic side of the Rocky mountains than are affected by earthquakes on the Pacific side in a hundred years. Every year more people drop dead from sunstrokes in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other eastern cities than are killed by earthquakes in San Francisco in a thousand years, so far as we may know. Yet men and women continue to live and build houses in those cities without thought of running away.
Nor can California claim the whole even of United States earthquakes. In 1755 all New England was shaken up, and Boston housetops and walls were set dancing, the horror coming in "with a roaring noise, like that of thunder," as the record has it, "and then a swell like the roaring sea"; and yet, and notwithstanding the great fire later, the city still shows vitality, the people are not afraid, and property is valuable. And so in regard to New York and London and all cities. In Missouri, in 1811, the earth shook almost continuously for several months along a stretch of three hundred miles, throwing up prairies into sand hills and submerging forests. Chicago and New York, and all the country between, were visited by earthquakes in 1870. Then there are Virginia and the Carolinas, Alabama Texas and Colorado-there is not a state in the union that has not had a touch of well-authenticated earthquakings at some time in its history.
To one who knows the people and the country, the people with their magnificent energy and ability, their indomitable will and their splendid courage; the country with its boundless natural wealth and illimitable potentialities; the city, key to the Golden Gate, which opens the East to the West and West to East; the bay, mistress primeval, through which flows the drainage of six hundred miles in length of interior valley, the garden of the world; to one who has here lived and loved, assisting in this grand upbuilding, thoughts of relinquishment, of lesser possibilities, of meaner efforts, do not come.
What would you? If there is a spot on earth where life and property are safer, where men are more enterprising and women more intelligent and refined, where business is better or fortunes more safely or surely made, the world should know of it. The earth may tremble now and then, but houses may be built which cannot be destroyed, fires are liable to occur wherever material exists that will burn, but fires may be controlled.
As for the city, its life and destiny, there is this to be said. The few square miles of buildings burned were not San Francisco, they were only buildings. Were every house destroyed and every street obliterated, there would still remain the city, with its commerce, its manufactures, its civilization, a spiritual city if you like, yet with material values incapable of destruction-an atmosphere alive with cheerful industry; also land values, commercial relations, financial connections, skilled laborers and professional men, and a hundred other like souls of things. In a thousand ideas and industries, though the ground is but ashes, the spirit of progress still hovers over the hills awaiting incarnation. Dependent on this pile of ashes, or the ghosts thereof, are fleets of vessels sailing every sea; farms and factories along shore and back to and beyond the Sierra; merchants and mechanics here and elsewhere; mines and reclamation systems, and financial relations the world over.
The question now is not as to the existence or permanency of a central city on the shores of San Francisco bay. That fact was established beyond peradventure with the building of the bay, and nothing short of universal cataclysm can affect it. It is rather to the quality of that city that the consideration of the present generation should be directed. The shell has been injured, but the soul of the city is immortal; and in the restoration it would be strange if our twentieth-century young men cannot do better in artistic city building than the sturdy gold-seekers and their successors of half a century ago.
If history and human experiences teach anything; if from the past we may judge somewhat of the future, we might, if we chose, glance back at the history of cities, and note how, when the Mediterranean was the greatest of seas, Carthage and Venice were the greatest of cities; how, when the Atlantic assumed sway, Ghent, Seville, and London each in turn came to the front; or how, following the inevitable, as civilization takes possession of the Pacific, the last, the largest in its native wealth as well as in its potentialities the richest of all, it is not difficult to see that the chief city, the mistress of this great ocean, must be mistress of the world.
But this is not all. A great city on this great bay, beside this greatest of oceans, centrally situated, through whose Golden Gate pass the waters drained from broad fertile valleys, a harbor without an equal, with some hundreds of miles of water front ready for a thousand industries, where ocean vessels may moor beside factories and warehouses, with a climate temperate, equable, healthful, and brewed for industry; a city here, ugly or beautiful, fostered or oppressed, given over to the sharks of speculation or safeguarded as one of the brightest jewels of the nation, is an inexorable necessity; its destiny is assured; and all the powers of graft and greed cannot prevail against it. It is a military necessity, for here will be stationed the chief defenses and defenders of the nation's western border. It is an industrial necessity, for to this city three continents and a thousand islands will look for service. As the Spanish war first revealed to America her greatness, so the possible loss of San Francisco quickly demonstrates the necessity of her existence to the nation. It is an educational necessity, whence the dusky peoples around the Pacific may draw from the higher civilization to the regeneration of the world. In the University of California, standing opposite the Golden Gate, with its able and devoted president and professors, this work is already well established, the results from which will prove too vast and far-reaching for our minds at present to fathom.
And in all the other many byways of progress the results of the last half-century of effort on our sand-dune peninsula are not lost. Earthquakes cannot destroy them; fire cannot burn them. San Francisco grew from the Yerba Buena hamlet in sixty years. In a new and untried field city-building then was something of an experiment; yet population grew to half a million, and wealth in proportion; and never was improvement so marked as just before the fire. With wealth and population but little impaired, and with the ground cleared for new constructive work, there would be nothing strange in a city here of three or four millions of people in another sixty years. Actual progress has scarcely been arrested. We are rudely hustled and awake to higher and severer effort. No house or store or factory or business will be rebuilt or established except in a larger and more efficient way, and that is progress.
In and around the city are already more people than were here before the fire, and soon there will be twice as many, for from every quarter are coming mechanics and business men, attracted by high wages and the material requirements of the city. Hundreds of millions of money from the insurance companies and from local and outside capitalists are finding safe and profitable investment. And this is only the beginning.
San Francisco is already a large manufacturing city; it will be many times larger. Around its several hundred miles of bay shore and up the Carquinez strait will be thousands of industries to-day not dreamed of, and all ministering to the necessities of the thousand cities of the Pacific. There is no place in the world better adapted for manufacturing. All sorts of raw material can be gathered here from every quarter of the earth at small cost, lumber, coal, iron, wool, and cotton for a hundred factories, and mineral ores for reduction. Likewise labor at a minimum wage, congress and the lords of labor permitting. Add to these advantages a climate cool in summer and warm in winter, where work can be comfortably carried on every day in the year, and a more desirable spot cannot be found.
Industrially San Francisco should dominate the Pacific, its firm land and islands, upon whose borders is to be found more natural wealth, mineral and agricultural, than upon those of all the other waters of the earth combined, and the exploitation of which has scarcely begun. Here in abundance are every mineral and metal, rich and varied soils, all fruits and native products, fuels and forests, for some of which we may even thank earthquakes and kindred volcanic forces. Manufactures compel commerce, and the commerce of the Pacific will rule the world. The essentials of commerce are here. Intelligence and enterprise are here and open to enlargement.
For the late severe loss the city may find some compensations-as the cleansing effect of fire; much filth, material and moral, has been destroyed. Yet one is forced to observe that the precincts of Satan retain their land values equal to any other locality. The greatest blessing of the destruction, however, is in the saving from a life of luxury and idleness our best young men and women, who will in consequence enter spheres of usefulness, elevating and ennobling, thus exercising a beneficial influence on future generations. Already work has become the fashion; snobbism is in disgrace; and some elements or influences of the simple life thus reestablished will remain.
When all has been said that may be regarding the present and the future, regarding purposes and potentialities, the simple fact remains that the city of San Francisco will be what people make of it, neither more nor less. The fruitful interior and the pine-clad Sierra; the great ocean, its islands and opulent shores, with their fifty thousand miles of littoral frontage, and every nation thereon awaiting a higher culture than any which has yet appeared; the Panama canal, the world's highway, linking east and west, all these will be everything or nothing to those who sit at the Golden Gate, according as they themselves shall determine. For the glory of a city is not altogether in its marble palaces and structures of steel, though these have their value, but in its citizens, its men and women, its men of ability, of unity, of energy, and public spirit, and its brave and true women. And has not this city these? Surely, if in the late catastrophe all that is noble, benevolent, and self-effacing did not appear in every movement of our people, then no such qualities exist any-where. The manner in which they rose to meet the emergency argues well for the city's future. Before the calamity was fairly upon them they sprang to grapple it and ward it off so far as possible. It was owing to them and to the military that the city was saved from starvation, anarchy, and disease. It also speaks well for men so severely stricken to be the first to send aid to a similarly stricken city, the metropolis of Pacific South America.
All this leads us to the highest hopes for the future. What we need most of all is a centralization of mechanical industries around the shores of this bay. Let everything that is made be made here, and the requirements of all the peoples facing this ocean here be met. The Panama canal will be a blessing or a curse to California in proportion as she rises to the occasion and makes opportunities. Manufactures and commerce tell the whole story. Let us have the city beautiful by all means-it will pay; Paris makes it pay; but we must have the useful in any event-this, and a municipality with its several parts subordinated to a general scheme. What we can do without is demagogism, with its attendant labor wrangles, and all the fraud, lying, and hypocrisy incident to a too free government. We want a city superior to any other in beauty, as well as in utility, and it will pay these United States well to see that we have it. If we build no better than before, we gain nothing by this fire which has cost many a heartache.
The game of the gods is in our hands; shall we play it worthily? Two decades of inaction at this juncture, like those which followed the advent of the overland railway, would decide the fate of the city adversely for the century, and the effect of it would last for ten centuries. When the shores of the Pacific are occupied as the shores of the Atlantic now are, when all around the vast arena formed by America, Asia, and Australia are great nations of wealth and culture, with hundreds of Bostons and Baltimores, of Londons and Liverpools, the great American republic would scarcely be satisfied with only a porter's lodge at her western gateway.
It is not much to say that the new city will be modern and up to date, with some widened streets and winding boulevards, gardens banging to the hillside, parks with lakes and cascades, reservoirs of sea water on every hilltop; public work and public service, street cars telephones and lighting being of the best. Plans for such changes were prepared before the fire; they can be extended and carried out with greater facility since the ground has been cleared from obstructions. All this and more may easily be done if the government can be made to see where the true interests of the people lie, to regard a west-coast metropolis with an eye for something of beauty as well as of utility, an eye which can see utility in beauty, and withal an eye of pride in possession. A paltry two or three hundred millions judiciously expended here by the government would make a city which would ever remain the pride of the whole people and command the admiration and respect of all the nations around this great ocean.
Of what avail are art and architecture if they may not be employed in a cause like this? Here is an opportunity which the world has never before witnessed. With limitless wealth, with genius of as high an order as any that has gone before, with the stored experiences of all ages and nations-what better use can be made of it all than to establish at the nation's western gate a city which shall be the initial point of a new order of development? Away back in the days of Palmyra and Thebes the rulers of those cities seemed to understand it, if the people did not-that is to say, the value of embellishment. And had we now but one American Nebuchadnezzar we might have a Babylon at our Pacific seaport. For a six-months' world's fair any considerable city can get from the government five or ten millions. And why not? There's politics in it. Can we not have some of "those politics" for a respectable west-coast city? Would it not be economy to spend some millions on an industrial metropolis which should be a permanent world's fair for the enlightenment of the Pacific? The nation has made its capital beautiful, and so established the doctrine that art, architecture, and beautiful environment have a value above ugly utility. May we not hope for something a little out of the common for the nation's chief seaport on the Pacific, a little fresh gilding for our Golden Gate?
End of the Project Gutenberg Etext of Some Cities and San Francisco and
Resurgam by Hubert Howe Bancroft