Home -> James H. Barry Press -> The Great Diamond Hoax - Chapter XIV

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Chapter XIV.

Decade Between 1860 and '70, Next to the Gold Age, One of the Most Stirring Times in History of State.

Realization Had Come That Mineral Riches Formed Smallest Part of Resources; Outlook Was Bright.

Late in the summer of 1865, I took up my residence in San Francisco. The war was over, the country settling down after the intoxication of a terrific struggle. But one fever was only followed by another, so far as I was concerned. I was barely 25, but far older than my years. In fact, I never had any youth at all. From the time when I ran away from college to join Walker's expedition against Nicaragua, I was called on to meet problems that required a man's decision, and so became one, long ahead of time. But I was brimful of a restless ambition to make my mark - to become one of the great central figures in working out the destiny of the Pacific Coast.

Those were stirring times, indeed. Few seem to understand that the decade between 1860 and 1870 was, next to the gold age of the '50's, the most important in the history of California. It was the period of transition from the fierce exploitation of the pioneers who looked only on the region as a thing to be despoiled of its treasures and to be abandoned. It saw the silent valleys changed to broad oceans of waving grain. It saw the foothills crowned with thrifty vineyards, saw the sure foundations laid of a great fruit industry, saw the beginning of systematic irrigation. It saw the port of San Francisco crowded with masts of vessels to carry its new-found wealth to distant lands, saw a mighty foreign commerce develop, saw the treasures of the Comstock Lode unlocked, saw a railroad stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And men arose to meet the new conditions. A splendid line of merchants seized the opportunities of trade. Isaac Friedlander opened the markets of England for our wheat. Macondray Brothers built up great business interests in the Orient. The trade mark of William T. Coleman & Company was a guaranty of their goods throughout the civilized world. These names are only typical of many. A new race of mighty miners developed, men like George Hearst, J. B. Haggin, Lloyd Tevis, Alvinza Hayward, G. W. Grayson and others, whose activities extended to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Montana and to distant Mexico, pouring a fresh river of gold and silver into California.

The drift of population of the growing city also changed and the westward movement began, which will only be bounded by the ocean.

In short, nearly all we have in Northern California to-day in the way of industries and enterprise can trace the starting point to that age.

It was an intense, booming, hopeful decade, a period of great events and great men, when everyone at last realized that gold was the smallest part of the State's resources and the outlook as broad as the horizon of midocean. I do not wish to interrupt the narrative to dip into general history, but it may interest the reader to have a glimpse, as we jog along, of real things and the live people of what I may be pardoned for calling the old but recent times.

All old Californians can recollect the now faded glory of Montgomery street. Stretching barely from the foot of Telegraph Hill, at Jackson street, nine blocks, to a full stop at Market street, it was really the whole town. During the busy hours of the day you could meet there every man worth knowing in San Francisco, and in the afternoon, every woman with a pretty face or a handsome gown to show. This gave a wonderful facility for acquaintance and general goodfellowship. Everybody knew everybody. That was what made the old San Francisco the most charming and fascinating city in the world from a social standpoint. It was not alone the most brilliant society I ever encountered in an experience that has covered most of the world, but there was a freedom and heartiness in general intercourse that could only be explained by the conditions under which people lived.

Into those nine blocks, and, to a less extent, into one block on either side of some of the intersecting streets like California, Pine and Bush, a vast business was huddled no less remarkable for its vast extent than for its cosmopolitan, or rather heterogeneous character. Banks, commercial houses, stock exchanges, brokers' offices, courts, public buildings, the leading hotels, retail stores, public libraries; theaters, music halls, the two great social clubs, nearly all the lawyers in town, the leading doctors and probably the finest saloons in the world, were mixed up inextricably like a huge human menagerie broke loose. Not to be on Montgomery street, or within half a block of it, was to be classed as a business, professional or social pariah.

Of course real estate values soared skyward. It was hard to estimate what Montgomery street frontage was really worth, but there were actual transactions as high as $6,000 a front foot, nearly as high as the present selling price of choice realty on Market street. Rents likewise were enormous. Considering how little the landlord gave in the way of conveniences to his tenants, these rents were much higher than they are today.

To relieve this tremendous congestion was one of the problems of San Francisco in the 60's. No one had the perspective to forecast cable and trolley cars climbing all kinds of grades and peopling the hills with homes. All we could see was an extension south and for that purpose the city was badly laid out.

The battle cry in the early 60's was "Montgomery street straight." The all but universal wish was to run the great street, broadened to a wide avenue, in a direct line to Connecticut street, far to the south. Tremendous efforts were made to carry through this project in a peaceful way. Several times it was near accomplishment, but just as often fell through, owing to some recalcitrant property owner. The main obstacle was the large block of land on Market street where the Palace Hotel now stands. This was owned by the Catholic Church and had been reserved for the construction thereon of a great religious edifice.

As soon as I got my bearings in San Francisco, I saw at once what a vital question was involved and what a grand opportunity was there to win not alone fortune, but fame. I carefully surveyed the situation from every standpoint and finally hit upon a scheme which would carry out the original design of "Montgomery street straight," and avoid the opposition hitherto evolved. As what follows forms one of the interesting bits of San Francisco's history, hitherto untold, and the city's present status was greatly influenced by my plans, which, however, were only carried out in part, I will give an outline of one of the largest real-estate transactions, of a far reaching character, ever conceived and partly completed in the history of San Francisco.

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