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Telegraph Hill

The Latin Quarter. The signal station of '49 and a view of the city as it was. The Golden Gate.

Telegraph Hill of Unique Fame

Decorative WWould you like to go up 'crazy owld, daisy owld Telegraft Hill,'" I asked in a softened mood as we moved away. "There is just about time."

"Indeed I should," he answered. "Can we take in some of the other things you archaeologists were mentioning on the way? I don't want to miss anything."

"We must leave the Parrott and Niantic buildings until some other day, but you can see the Montgomery Block if you wish," and we turned down Washington Street. "It was built on piles, by General Halleck's law firm. William Tecumseh Sherman's bank was nearby, but I suppose most of Boston's business men were generals-in-chief of the United States Army."

My irony was ignored and as we reached the corner of Montgomery, I continued: "It was on this spot that James King of William, editor of the 'Bulletin,' was shot down by James P. Casey, the ballot-box stuffer. The newspaper office was at the other end of the block on Merchant Alley, and that evening's editorial accused Casey of electing himself supervisor and stated that he was an ex-convict from Sing Sing. Within an hour after the paper appeared, Mr. King was carried dying to his room in the same building. It was this murder that brought the second Vigilance Committee into existence. While the immense funeral cortège, the largest San Francisco has ever known, escorted the body of Mr. King up this street toward Lone Mountain Cemetery, Casey and Cora, another criminal, were hung in front of the Vigilance, Headquarters on Sacramento near Front."

"You called it Fort Gunnybags ?" he queried.

"Yes, it was so named from the precautionary bulwark of sand-filled sacks piled up in a hollow square in front to protect the entrance. A bronze plate marked the old building before the fire."

We turned into Columbus Avenue. "Your beloved Stevenson used to live at No. 8, there on the gore where the Italian Bank is," I said. "We are coming to the Latin Quarter, a section that has always been given over to foreigners, for in early days 'Sidneyville,' peopled by ticket-of-leave men from the penal colony of Australia, and 'Little Chile' of the Peruvians and Chileans, clustered close around the base of Telegraph Hill."

"The very place Stevenson would choose, where life was flavored with history and the mystery of the foreign. But where are you going?" he exclaimed, stopping short as I began to ascend the steps by which Kearny Street climbs the hill.

"I thought you wished to see the site of the Marine Signal Station." I looked down at him from the fourth stair with feigned surprise.

"I do, indeed, but - can't we go up by a funicular and come down this way?" he compromised. "My Boston calves protest."

"Oh well, we can go by the level a little farther, but I thought you liked the 'flavor of the foreign.' Anyway, we ought to see Earl Cummings' old man," I remembered.

"What is his fatherland and his business?" he asked as his eye traveled over the shop signs "Sanguinetti, Farmacia Italiana," "Molinari & Cariani, Grocers;" "Oliva & Brizzolara, Real Estate."

"His birthplace is the World Universal, and his profession-leading us back to nature," I answered. Then, as we passed the spick and span concrete façade of the Patronal Church of St. Francis, with its rear of burned brick: "This is the direct descendent of the old Mission," I told him, "the first Parish Church of San Francisco. It was gutted by the fire and is being very gradually restored. A notice within administers an implied rebuke: 'The First Erected - the Last Restored.'"

We paused at the iron fence of the small green triangle cut off from Washington Square by the slant of Columbus Avenue, and peered at the fine bronze figure of a sinewy old man stooping to drink from his hand on the edge of the little pool.

"Mr. Cummings' message to his universal brothers," he commented. "None could fail to be refreshed by it. My strength is renewed. Let us ascend," and he turned up Filbert Street.

Dark-eyed women lounged in the doorways of the houses that cling to the perpendicular sides of the hill. "The Italian pervades," I volunteered, "but there are Greek, Sicilians, Spaniards and French." The whole was reminiscent of the South of Europe, but the Neapolitan scene of cleated walks and steep steps lacked the enlivening color notes of the homeland.

"Not even a red shirt on a clothes line," I regretted, but a flood of soft voweled Italian from a woman in a third story window, musically answered by a man in the street below, brought consolation.

"The opera's own tongue," the Bostonian commented.

"Well, you leave it to me," finished the man in the street.

"Sure, Mike, I will," responded the woman.

My companion halted in consternation.

"We make American citizens of them all," I asserted.

"Les petits enfants aussi," I added as a child ran past, shouting a response in irreproachable English to the Parisian command of her mother.

We turned through the rude stone wall into Pioneer Park and along the unkept paths shaded by eucalyptus, cypress and acacia trees and came upon the open height where the mountain-hemmed bay lay in broad expanse before us, dotted with islands and with ferries streaking their way across its blue-gray surface.

"Wonderful," he exclaimed under his breath.

'"O, Telegraft Hill, she sits proud as a Queen,
And th' docks lie below in th' glare,'"

I quoted from Wallace Irwin.

He lowered his gaze to the numerous wharves running out into the water, with teams appearing and disappearing at the entrances of the covered docks, like lines of busy ants.

"'And th' bay runs beyant her, all purple and green
Wid th' gingerbread island out there,'"

I continued the quotation.

"What are those terraced buildings?" he queried.

"It has been the military prison for years. It is Alcatraz Island."

He looked his inquiry.

"Spanish for Pelican," I answered, seating myself on a rock. "Ayala, the captain of the 'San Carlos,' the first ship to enter the bay, named it from the large number of the birds he found on it, and the big island to the right that looks like a portion of the main land is Angel Island, abbreviated from Ayala's Isla de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles."

"And Goat Island?" he questioned as he threw himself down on the grass.

"Yerba Buena," I corrected. "The other name was colloquially applied when Nathan Spear, being given some goats and kids by a Yankee skipper, put them over there. There were several thousand on the island in forty-nine, but the Americans killed them all off by night in spite of Spear's protests."

"Not all of them," he denied as he shied a stick at a white head reaching from below for a grassy clump.

"'And th' goats and chicks and brickbats and sticks
Is joombled all over the face of it,
Av Telegraft Hill, Telegraft Hill,
Crazy owld, daisy owld Telegraft Hill,'"

I laughed.

"I suppose the Spaniards must have had a name for this sightly hill," said the Bostonian, his eye tracing the rugged skyline across the bay, along the Tamalpais Range on the north, and the San Antonio Hills on the east.

"Yes, Anza christened it in 1776 when he climbed up here for a view after selecting the sites for the Presidio and the Mission. He called it La Loma Alta, and the High Hill it remained until the Americans put it to commercial use in forty-nine. The little town on the edge of the cove in the hollow of the hills was unconscious of a ship entering the harbor until she rounded Clark's Point, the southeast corner of this hill, and dropped anchor in full view - "

"Any relation to Champ?" he interrupted.

"No, Clark was a Mormon, although he afterward denied it, who had built a wharf in the deep water along the precipitous bluff, where ships could always disembark even when the ebb-tide uncovered mud-flats elsewhere along the shore of the cove.

"The American miners and merchants, eager for the earliest news of the approaching mails and merchandise, erected a signal station on the top of Loma Alta, about where that flag-pole is. When a vessel was seen entering the Golden Gate, the black arms of the semaphore on top of the building were raised in varying positions indicating to the watching town below, where every one knew the signals, whether it was a bark, a brig, a steamer or other kind of craft. This was the first wireless station on the coast.

"There comes a side-wheeler," I exclaimed, raising my arms upward in a slanting position, as a big liner from Yokohama entered the channel. "Now fancy every office and bank closed, every law-court adjourned, every gaming table deserted; the shore black with people and long lines forming from the post-office windows to await the anchoring of the vessel, the landing of friends and freight, and the sorting of the mail by Postmaster Geary."

My companion made a telescope of his two hands and examined the Nippon Maru. "You are discharged for inefficiency," he said. "You are reporting a side-wheeler for a screw-propeller."

"There is no signal in the code for such modern inventions," I retorted. "I suppose the fog of your practical realism is too obscuring for you to see that clipper just coming in," I continued, as a full-rigged ship spread its filled sails against the glowing sky of the late afternoon.

"The lady is a bit sarcastic, Billy," he addressed the goat, "but we'll examine it. Then peering through his telescoped hands again, "It's the clipper ship Eclipse," he announced, "built especially for speed, in the exigencies of the San Francisco trade, with long, narrow hull, and carrying an extra amount of canvas. She has made the trip from New York in three-quarters of the time required by any other kind of craft, and demands, therefore, nearly double the price for freight." He looked at me for approval.

"What a whetstone for the imagination the business sense is!" I commented. "Perhaps if your grandfather owned shares in the Eclipse, you will be able to see the second signal station erected the next year on Point Lobos, just beyond the Fort. From there a vessel could be decried many miles outside the Heads and the signal repeated by the station here on Telegraph Hill, relieved the inhabitants of several more hours of anxiety."

"Anxiety is a mild term if one couldn't hear for a whole month from the girl who had his heart," he commented. "It's bad enough when she won't write, even with a telegraph and railroad between." He was tracing some characters in the ground at my feet, with a stick. "Thirty-four days," I made out.

"If you've sufficiently recovered from the climb, shall we see how the city looks from up here?" I asked.

For answer he sprang up and assisted me to my feet. We walked to the opposite side of the park, where the city lay extended before us.

"Imagine a forest of masts here in the bay, about seven or eight hundred; the water laying Montgomery Street beyond the Merchants' Exchange - that yellow brick building with the little arched cupola; and wharves running out from every street to reach the ships lying in deep water, every one swarming with teams and men hurrying to and fro. Connect them with piled walks over the water on the lines of Sansome and Battery Streets and you have a picture of Yerba Buena Cove in forty-nine. Heap up freight and baggage on the shore, erect thousands of tents on the sand dunes around the edges of a town of shanties and adobes climbing over the hills and you have our miner's metropolis," I sketched for him.

"I see it," he said, shutting his eyes. "Now a wave of the magic wand and the scene is changed." He opened them again.

"The magic wand is a steam-paddy, working day and night leveling off the sand-hills and shoveling them into the bay. The wharves are converted into streets and many good ships, whose crews having deserted for the mines, being pulled up and used as storage ships, are caught by the rising tide of sand and converted into foundations for buildings. Such was the 'Niantic' at Clay and Sansome."

"Oh yes, the 'Niantic!"

"The third building on the site still retains the name."

"What was the case of assault that gave the belligerent name to Battery Street?"

"It was a precaution against assault," I corrected. "Captain Montgomery erected a fortification of five confiscated Spanish guns on the side of this hill overlooking the harbor after he had taken possession of the Mexican town. It was known as Fort Montgomery, or the Battery. It was on the bluff just where Battery Street joins the Embarcadero down there, for the hill came out to that point."

"Did the earthquake shake it down?" His question was tinged with triumph.

I crushed him with a look. "The ships that came loaded with freight and passengers took it away with them as ballast," I explained, "and of recent years some contractors blasted it off and paved streets with it until it was rescued from further demolition by some appreciative landmark lovers of a women's club."

"What a fortunate interference! But the despoilers got a good slice of it, didn't they? There wouldn't have been much of it left in a few years."

"No more than there is of Rincon Hill, over there at the southern corner of Yerba Buena Cove." I was considerably mollified by his appreciation. "It was the best residence quarter of the fifties, but the 'unkindest cut' of Second Street, which brought no good to anyone, not even its commercial promoters, left it a place of the 'butt ends of streets,' as Stevenson says, and inaccessible, square-edged, perpendicular lots whose only value lies buried underneath them. I fear its scars can never be remedied."

"You have several hills left," he consoled me as his eye traveled along the broken western skyline. "What is their role in this historic drama?"

"The ridge running down the peninsula is the San Miguel Range, crowned by Twin Peaks, with the Mission at its foot. Nob Hill, next, acquired its name in the sixties, when the bonanza and railroad kings erected their residences there. Before the fire" - I felt my color rising, but there was no shade of change in my companion's expression - "the mansions of the 'Big Four' of the Central Pacific - Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford and Crocker - and the Comstock millionaires - Flood, Fair and others - filled with magnificent works of craftsmen and artists, had more than local fame."

"From this distance, with three of the largest buildings in the city, the hill hardly seems to have fallen from its high estate," he observed.

"You are quite right. It still lives up to its name, for the Fairmont Hotel and the Stanford Apartments, christened for two of its former magnates, and the brown-stone Flood mansion, remodeled for the Pacific-Union Club, are no whit less nobby than their predecessors."

"The next hill?" He turned his gaze to the houses perched on the top and clinging part way down its steep sides.

"A little graveyard where the Russian gold-seekers were laid to rest gave its name. It is now the home of the artists and the artistic."

"A city built on the water and the hills, and rebuilt on the ashes of seven fires," he commented. "It is almost incomprehensible." After a moment's pause: "How much of the city was burned by the last fire?"

I glanced sharply at him. There was no shade of irony in his tone and his face showed only sincerity.

"All that you can see, from the fringe of wharves at the waterfront to the top of the hills and down into the valley beyond, except these houses here at our feet, saved by the Italians with wine-soaked blankets, and a few on the heights of Russian Hill."

"It was colossal!" he exclaimed. "Think of it! a whole city wiped out." I lowered my eyes to the goat nibbling beside us. "The courage and energy that rebuilt it is herculean." His enthusiasm was cumulative. "And rebuilt it in practically three years! No wonder you date all things from the fire."

Billy flickered his tail and solemnly winked at me.

"It is getting late," I said, "but the sun is just setting. Shall we watch it before we go?"

Without speaking, he followed me back to our first point of view. The crimson ball was sinking into the sea, with its Midas touch turning the water and sky to molten gold. The last rays gilded the cliffs on either side of the entrance to the bay, and burnished the heads of the nodding poppies at our feet. From the Presidio came the muffled boom of the sunset gun.

"Could Frémont have chosen a better name?" exclaimed the man at my side. "The Golden Gate it is, indeed!"

"It certainly is well named," I agreed, "for everyone can interpret its meaning according to his mood and character. Some see only what Frémont saw, an open door to commerce; to others it is the entrance to hoards of gold, stowed away in hills and streams; to the poet it speaks of the golden poppies that streak the hillsides, but I like to think of it as did the Indians, who called it 'Yulupa,' the Sunset Strait."

Silently we watched the lights of the city come out, one by one, until it seemed as if the heavens lay beneath us.

"I hoped when I left Boston that you would return with me," he said gently, "but I can't ask you to leave this. I didn't understand then, but now - "

The lights became blurred and the night seemed suddenly to have grown cold.

"Of course, you couldn't be happy - "

The voice did not sound like his. I had been in a dream for two days. I had thought he cared just as I did, but he couldn't, or he would realize that nothing counted but - I bit my lips to keep from crying out.

"Boston is too cold for a girl with the warmth of California in her heart."

Cold! Didn't he know that life with him would make an iceberg paradise? Didn't he realize - ? But, of course, he didn't care as I did! This was only a subterfuge. I straightened proudly.

"I can't ask you to go back with me," he was saying, "but I can stay here with you." His hand crept over mine. "Our business needs a manager on this coast. Will you help me make a home in San Francisco, dear?"

Below, the lights of the city danced with happiness and a glad new song rang in my heart.

Here ends 'The Lure of San Francisco. A Romance Amid Old Landmarks." Written by Elizabeth Gray Potter and Mabel Thayer Gray and Illustrated from Sketches in Charcoal by Audley B. Wells. Done into a book by Paul Elder and Company at their Tomoye Press in San Francisco under the supervision and care of H. A. Funke, in July, Nineteen Hundred and Fifteen

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