The Lure of San Francisco
Elizabeth Gray Potter and Mabel Thayer Gray
Produced by David A. Schwan
The Lure of San Francisco
A Romance Amid Old Landmarks
Elizabeth Gray Potter
Mabel Thayer Gray
Audley B. Wells
Paul Elder & Company
Publishers San Francisco
Copyright, 1915, By
Paul Elder & Co.
To Our Mother
The average visitor considers California's claim to historic recognition
as dating from the discovery of gold. Her children, both by birth and
adoption, have a hazy pride in her Spanish origin but are too busy with
today's interests to take much thought of it. They know that somewhere
over in the Mission is the old adobe church. They rejoice that it
escaped the fire but have no time to visit it. They will proudly tell
their eastern friends of its existence and that the Presidio received
its name from the Spaniards but further narration of the heritage is
lost in exclamations over the beauty of the drives and the views, while
the historic significance of Portsmouth Square is smothered in the
delight over Chinese embroideries, bronzes and cloisonne.
May this little book aid in the general awaking of the dormant love of
every Californian for his possessions and be a suggestion to the casual
visitor that we are entitled to the dignity of age.
The Mission and its Romance
A view from Twin Peaks--The city with its historic crosses. A visit
to the old church--Its past, and the romance of Lueis Argueello.
The Presidio, Past and Present
The Spanish Fortifications and the love story of Concepcion and
The Plaza and its Echoes
A Chinese restaurant. Yerba Buena and the reminiscences of a
Telegraph Hill of Unique Fame
The Latin quarter. The signal station of '49 and a view of the city
as it was. The Golden Gate.
List of Illustrations
"The modern structures crowd upon the low adobe building."
Prayer Book Cross
"A granite cross just visible above the trees in Golden Gate Park."
At Lotta's Fountain
"We watched the people purchasing flowers on the corner."
The Officer's Club House at the Presidio
"Of a different generation from its neighbors."
A Street in Chinatown
"We must take a look at the spot where the first house stood."
"The entire history of San Francisco was made around this Plaza."
A Fountain in the Latin Quarter
"Stooping to drink from his hand on the edge of a little pool."
A Sunset Thro' the Golden Gate
"The last rays gilded the cliffs on either side."
A view from Twin Peaks--The city with its historic crosses. A visit to
the old church--Its past, and the romance of Lueis Argueello.
The Mission and Its Romance
"Tickets to the city, Sir?" The conductor's voice sounded above the
rumble of the train. As my companion's hand went to his pocket he
glanced at me with a quizzical smile.
"I should think you Oaklanders would resent that. Hasn't your town put
on long skirts since the fire?" There was an unpleasant emphasis on the
last phrase, but I passed it over unnoticed.
"Of course we have grown up," I assured him. "We're a big flourishing
city, but we are not the city. San Francisco always has been, and always
will be the city to all northern California; it was so called in the
days of forty-nine and we still cling affectionately to the term."
"I believe you Californians have but two dates on your calendar," he
exclaimed, "for everything I mention seems to have happened either
'before the fire' or 'in the good old days of forty-nine!' 'Good old
days of forty-nine,'" he repeated, amused. "In Boston we date back to
the Revolution, and 'in Colonial times' is a common expression. We have
buildings a hundred years old, but if you have a structure that has
lasted a decade, it is a paragon and pointed out as built 'before the
fire.' Do you remember the pilgrimage we made to the historic shrines of
Boston, just a year ago?"
"Shall I ever forget it!" I exclaimed.
He smiled appreciatively. "Faneuil Hall and the old State House are
"Oh, I wasn't thinking about the buildings! I don't even recall how they
look. But I do remember the weather. I was so cold I couldn't even
"Impossible!" he cried, "you not able to talk!"
"But it's true! My cheeks were frozen stiff. I wore a thick dress, a
sweater, a heavy coat and my furs, and, still I was cold while all the
time I was thinking that the fruit trees and wild flowers were in
blossom in California. If it hadn't been for the symphony concerts and
the opera, I never could have endured an Eastern winter."
"A fine compliment to me when I spent days taking you to points of
I sent him an appreciative glance. "It was good of you," I acknowledged,
"and do you remember that I promised to take you on a similar pilgrimage
when you came to San Francisco?"
He laughed. "And I was foolish enough to believe you, since I had never
been to the Pacific Coast."
The train came to a stop in the Ferry Building and we followed the other
passengers onto the boat. "San Francisco is modern to the core," he
continued. "Boston dates back generations, but you have hardly acquired
your three score years and ten."
"If you don't like fine progressive cities, why did you come to
California?" His fault-finding with San Francisco hurt me as if it had
been a personal criticism.
"You know why I came," he said gently, with his eyes on my face.
I felt the blood creeping to my cheeks and turned quickly to look for an
out-of-doors seat. In the crowd we were jostled by a little slant-eyed
man of the Orient, resplendent in baggy blue silk trousers tied neatly
at the ankles and a loose coat lined with lavender, whose flowing
sleeves half concealed his slender brown hands.
"There's a man who has centuries at his back." My companion's eyes
traveled from the soft padded shoes to the little red button on the top
of the black skull cap. "Even his costume is the same as his
"If you are interested in the Chinese, I'll show you Oriental San
Francisco. It lies in the heart of the city and its very atmosphere is
saturated with Eastern customs. It is much more sanitary but not as
picturesque as it was before the fire." I flushed as I saw his
amusement, and quickly called his attention to the receding shores where
the encircling green hills had thrown out long banners of yellow mustard
and blue lupins. To the right was Mt. Tamalpais, a sturdy sentinel
looking out to the ocean, its summit pressed against the sky's blue
canopy and its base lost in a network of purple forests. In front of the
Golden Gate was Alcatraz Island, like a huge dismantled warship,
guarding the entrance to the bay, and before us, San Francisco rested
upon undulating hills, its tall buildings piercing the sky at irregular
intervals. We made our way to the forward deck in order to have the full
sweep of the waterfront.
"You should see it at night!" I said, "it is a marvelous tiara. The red
and green lights on these wharves close to the water's edge are the
rubies and emeralds, while above, sweeping the hills, the lights of the
residences sparkle like rows and rows of diamonds."
A crowd of passengers surged around us as the boat poked its nose into
the slip. "There was nothing left of this part of the city but a fringe
of wharves, after the fire." I bit the last word in two, for it was
evident the expression was getting on his nerves. I was thankful that
the clanging chains of the descending gang plank and the tramp of many
feet made further conversation impossible.
"Hurry," he urged, "there's the Exposition car." We were in front of the
Ferry Building and the crowd was jostling us in every direction.
"You surely are not going to the Exposition!" I exclaimed in mock
"Of course I am. Where else should we go?"
"But, my dear Antiquary, those buildings are only a few months old!"
He laughed good naturedly. "It ought to suit you Westerners, anyway," he
retaliated. Then taking my arm, "Let us hurry! Look, the car is
"I am going to take the one behind," I announced. "There must be
something old in San Francisco and I am going to find it."
"You'll have a long hunt," rejoined the skeptic, and with his eyes still
on the tail of the disappearing Exposition car, he reluctantly followed
"Lots of strangers in San Francisco for the Fair," he remarked, as from
the car window he watched the big turban of a Hindoo bobbing among the
crowd on the sidewalk; then his eyes wandered to a Japanese arrayed in a
new suit of American clothes and finally rested on a bright yellow lei
wound about the hat of a swarthy Hawaiian. I smiled as I nodded to the
Japanese who had worked in my kitchen for three years, and recognized in
the dusky Hawaiian one of the regular singers in a popular cafe.
The train had now left commercial San Francisco behind and was climbing
the hills to where the nature loving citizens had perched their houses
in order to obtain a better view of the bay. We abandoned the car and
following an upward path, finally stood on the lower shoulder of Twin
Peaks. Tired from our exertions we sank upon the soft grass. The hills
had put on their festival attire, catching up their emerald gowns with
bunches of golden poppies and veiling their shoulders in filmy scarfs of
blue lupins. The air was filled with Spring and the delicate blush of an
apple-tree told of the approach of Summer. Below, the city, noisy and
bustling a few moments ago, now lay hushed to quiet by the distance and
beyond, the sun-flecked waters of the bay stretched to a girdle of
verdant hills, up whose sides the houses of the towns were scrambling.
To the left, resting on the top of Mt. Tamalpais, could be seen the
"sleeping maiden" who for centuries had awaited the awakening kiss of
her Indian lover.
"What a glorious play-ground for San Francisco." His voice rang with
enthusiasm. "Look at the ferryboats plowing up the bay in every
direction. A man could escape from the factory grime on the water front
and in an hour be asleep under a tree on a grassy hillside."
"It is a splendid country to tramp through, but if a man wants to sleep,
why not spend less time and money by selecting a nearer place? There are
plenty of trees and grassy mounds in the Presidio and Golden Gate Park."
His eyes followed mine to the green patch edging the entrance to the bay
and then ran along the tree-lined avenue to the parked section extending
almost from the center of the city to the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly he
stood up and took his field glasses from his pocket.
"There's a granite cross just visible above the trees in Golden Gate
Park." He focused his glasses for a better view. "It's quite elaborate
in design and seems to be raised on a hill."
He offered me the glasses but I did not need them. "It's the Prayer-Book
Cross and commemorates the first Church of England service held on this
Coast by Sir Francis Drake in 1579. I think it is a shame that we
haven't also a monument for Cabrillo, the real discoverer, who was here
nearly forty years earlier. If Sir Francis hadn't stolen a Spanish
ship's chart, he would never have found the Gulf of the Farallones.
Cabrillo sailed along the coast more than half a century before
Massachusetts Bay was discovered," I added maliciously.
"I had forgotten the old duffer," he smiled back at me. Raising his
glasses again, he scanned the sombre roofs to the right. "There's
another monument," he volunteered, "rising out of the heart of the
I followed the direction indicated to where the outstretched arms of a
white wooden cross were silhouetted against the sky.
"If I were in Europe," he continued, "I should call it a shrine, for the
sides of the hill on which it stands are seamed with paths running from
the net-work of houses to the foot of the cross."
"It is a shrine at which all San Francisco worships. Wrapped in mystery
it stands, for when it was placed there no one knows. It comes to us out
of the past--a token left by the Spanish padres. Three times it has
fallen into decay, but always loving hands have reached forward to
restore it, and as long as San Francisco shall last, a cross will rise
from the summit of Lone Mountain."
"The Spanish padres!" The ring in his voice bespoke his interest. "Are
there any other relics left?"
I pointed to the level section below. "Do you see that low red roof
almost hidden by its towering neighbors? That is the old Mission San
Francisco de Asis, colloquially called Dolores, from the little rivulet
on whose bank it was built."
Through his field glasses he scrutinized the expanse of substantial
houses and paved streets. "I can't find the rivulet," he announced.
"Of course you can't, you stupid man!" I laughed. "If you'll use your
imagination instead of your glasses you will see it easily. The stream
arose, we are told, between the summits of Twin Peaks, and tumbling down
the hill-side, made its way east, emptying into the Laguna."
"I don't see a laguna!" Again the skeptic surveyed the field of roofs.
"Put down your glasses and close your eyes," I commanded. "When you open
them the houses from here to the bay will have disappeared and the
ground will be covered with a carpet of velvety green, dappled here and
there by groves of oak trees and relieved by patches of bright poppies."
"And fields of yellow mustard," he supplemented.
"No, your imagination is too vivid. The padres brought the mustard seed
later. A little south of the present mission," I continued, "you will
see a group of willows bending to drink the crystal waters of the Arroyo
de los Dolores, so named because Anza and his followers discovered it on
the day of our Mother of Sorrows, and to the east is the shining
"It's clear as a San Francisco fog," he laughed. "I'd like to take a
look at the old building! Is there a car line?"
"Let's follow in the footsteps of the padres," I begged. "They used
often to climb this hill and it isn't very far."
He looked dubiously down the rugged side and mentally measured the
distance from the base to the low tiled roof.
"All right," he said at last, "if you'll let me take a ten minutes nap
before we start." He stretched himself at full length on the soft grass
and pulled his hat low over his eyes.
I was glad to be quiet for a time and let my imagination have full
sweep. I seemed to see, toiling up the peninsula, a little band of
foot-sore travelers, the leathern-clad soldiers on the alert for hostile
Indians, the brown-robed friars encouraging the women and children, and
the sturdy colonists bringing up the rear with their flocks and herds.
At last the little company come to a sparkling rivulet and stoop to
drink eagerly of the cool water. The commander examines his chart and
nods to the tonsured priest who falls on his knees and raises his voice
in thanksgiving. Stretching out his arms in blessing to his flock, he
exclaims: "Rest now, my children. Our journey is at an end. Here on the
Arroyo de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, we will establish the mission
to our Father San Francisco de Asis."
"If we want to see the old building before lunch time, we shall have to
be moving," said a sleepy voice at my elbow.
"Come on, then, I'll be your pathfinder," and we raced down the
hill-side until the paved streets reminded us that city manners were
We followed the former course of the Arroyo de los Dolores down
Eighteenth to Church street, then turned north. Two, blocks further on I
laid a detaining hand on my companion's arm.
"Hold, skeptic," I whispered, "thou art on holy ground."
He looked up at the two-story dwelling house before us, let his eyes
wander down the row of modest residences and linger on the pavements
where a tattered newsboy was shying stones at a stray cat; then his
glance came back to my face with a smile. "My belief in your veracity is
unlimited. I uncover." He stood for an instant with bared head. "Just
when did this sanctification take place, was it before the fire or--"
"It was on October 9th, 1776," I tried to speak impressively, "the year
the Colonies made their Declaration of Independence. The procession
began over there at the Presidio," I pointed to the north. "A
brown-robed friar carrying an image of St. Francis led the little
company of men, women and children over the shifting sand-dunes to this
very spot where a rude church had been erected. Its sides were of mud
plastered over a palisade wall of willow poles and its ceiling a leaky
roof of tule rushes but it was the beginning of a great undertaking and
Father Palou elevated the cross and blessed the site and all knelt to
render thanks to the Lord for His goodness."
"But I thought you said the church still existed." His eyes again sought
the row of dwelling houses.
"This was only for temporary use and later was pulled down. Six years
after the fathers arrived, a larger and more substantial church was
built one block farther east. But before you see that you must get into
the spirit of the past by imagining a square of four blocks lying
between Fifteenth and Seventeenth streets and Church and Guerrero, swept
clean of these modern structures and filled with mission buildings. At
the time when you New Englanders were pushing the Indians farther and
farther into the wilderness, killing and capturing them, we Californians
were drawing them to our missions with gifts and friendship. While you
were leaving them in ignorance we were teaching them--"
He stooped to get a full look at my eyes. "I never knew a Spaniard to
have eyes the color of violets. Look up your family tree, my dear
enthusiast, and I think you will find that you are we."
"I'm not," I declared indignantly. "I'm a Californian. I was born here
and even if I haven't Spanish blood in my veins, I have the spirit of
the old padres."
"But the spirit has not left a lasting impression. Indeed civilization
whether dealt out with friendly hands or thrust upon the natives at the
point of the bayonet seems to have been equally poisonous on both sides
of the continent."
"True, philosopher, but would you call the work of these padres
impressionless, when it has permeated all California? The open-hearted
hospitality of the Spaniards is a canonical law throughout the West, and
their exuberant spirit of festivity still remains, impelling us to
celebrate every possible event, present and commemorative."
We had reached Dolores Street, a broad parked avenue where automobiles
rushed by one another, shrieking a warning to the pedestrian. Suddenly I
found myself alone. My companion had darted across the crowded street to
a little oasis of grass where a mission bell hung suspended on an iron
"It marks 'El Camino Real,'" he reported as he rejoined me.
"The King's Highway," I translated. "It must have been wonderful at this
season of the year, for as the padres traveled northward, they scattered
seeds of yellow mustard and in the spring a golden chain connected the
missions from San Francisco to San Diego. Over there nearer the bay," I
nodded toward the east where a heavy cloud of black smoke proclaimed the
manufacturing section of the city, "lay the Potrero--the pasture-land
of the padres--and the name still clings to the district. Beyond was
Mission Cove, now filled in and covered with store-houses, but formerly
a convenient landing place for the goods of Yankee skippers who,
contrary to Spanish law, surreptitiously traded with the padres."
We turned to the massive facade of the old church, where hung the three
bells, of which Bret Harte wrote.
"Bells of the past, whose long forgotten music
Still fills the wide expanse;
Tingeing the sober twilight of the present,
With the color of romance."
As we entered the low arched doorway, we seemed to step from the hurry
of the twentieth century into the peace of a by-gone era. Outside, the
modern structures crowd upon the low adobe building, staring down upon
it with unsympathetic eyes and begrudging it the very land it stands on,
while inside, hand-hewn rafters, massive grey walls, and a red tiled
floor slightly depressed in places by years of service, point mutely to
the past, to the days when padres and neophytes knelt at the sound of
the Angelus. Within still stand the elaborate altars brought a century
ago from Mexico, before which Junipero Serra held mass during his last
visit to San Francisco. On the massive archway spanning the building,
can be seen the dull red scroll pattern, a relic of Indian work.
"Sing something," my companion suggested. "It needs music to make the
"It does," I assented, "but you must stay where you are," and climbing
to a balcony at the end of the building, I concealed myself in the
He glanced up at the first notes, then sat with bowed head. I filled the
old church with an Ave Maria, then another. As I sang, the candles
seemed to have been lighted on the gilded altars, and the brown friars
and dusky Indians took form in the dim enclosure.
"More," he urged, but I would not, for I feared that the spell might be
broken. So he came up to see why I lingered, and found me mounted on a
ladder peering up at the old mission bells and the hand-hewn rafters
tied with ropes of plaited rawhide.
My song must have attracted a passer-by, for a voice greeted us as we
"Did you see the bells?" he asked eagerly. "They're a good deal like
some of us old folks, out of commission because of age and disuse, but
nevertheless they have their value. One has lost its tongue, another is
cracked and the third sags against the side wall, so they're useless as
church bells, but still they seem to speak of the days of the padres and
"Were there many Indians here?" questioned the Bostonian.
"Often more than a thousand. I was born in the shadow of this building,
in the year when the Mission was secularized, but my father knew it in
its glory and used to tell me many stories about the good old padres."
Seeing the interest in our faces, the dark eyes brightened and he patted
the thick adobe wall affectionately. "This church was only a small part
of the Mission in those days. The buildings formed an inner quadrangle
and two sides of an outer one, all a beehive of industry. There were the
work rooms of the Indians, where blankets and cloth were woven; great
vats for trying out tallow and curing hides, and also huge storehouses
for grain and other foodstuffs, all built and cared for by the Indians."
"Quite a change from their lazy roving life," suggested the Easterner.
"Still the padres were not hard taskmasters," insisted the stranger.
"The work lasted only from four to six hours a day and the evenings were
devoted to games and dancing. All were required to attend religious
services, however, and at the sound of the Angelus, they gathered within
these walls. There was no sleeping through long prayers in those days,"
he added with an amused smile, "for a swarthy disciple paced the aisles
and with a long pointed stick aroused the nodding ones, or quieted the
too hilarious spirits of the small boys."
"A good example for some of our modern churches," remarked my companion,
as we followed our guide to the altar at the end of the chapel. The
light streaming through the mullioned window fell full upon the carved
figure of a tonsured monk clad in a loose robe girdled with a cord. "It
is our father, St. Francis," explained the old man. "It was in
accordance with his direct wish that this Mission was founded."
"Yes?" questioned the skeptic.
"When Father Junipero Serra received orders from Galvez for the
establishment of the missions in Alta California, and found that there
was none for St. Francis, he ex-claimed: 'And is the founder of our
order, St. Francis, to have no mission?' Thereupon the Visitador
replied: 'If St. Francis desires a mission, let him show us his port,'
and the Saint did!" the old face with its fringe of soft white hair was
transformed with religious enthusiasm. "He blinded the eyes of Portola
and his men so that they did not recognize Monterey and led them on to
his own undiscovered bay. And in spite of the fact that the Mission has
been stripped of its lands, we know that it is still under the special
protection of St. Francis, for it was not ten years ago that the second
miracle was performed."
"The second miracle!" we wonderingly repeated.
"Yes, it was at the time of the fire of 1906. The heart of San Francisco
was a raging furnace. The fireproof buildings melted under the
tremendous heat and collapsed as if they had been constructed of lead;
the devouring flames swept over the Potrero; they fell upon the brick
building next door and crept close to the walls of this old adobe, when
suddenly, as if in the presence of a sacred relic, the fire crouched and
died at its very doors."
We passed the altar and the old man crossed himself, while in our hearts
we, too, gave thanks for the preservation of this monument of the past.
"You must not go until you have seen the cemetery," said our guide as we
moved toward the entrance, and throwing open a door to the right he
admitted us to the neglected graveyard. Here and there a rude cross
marked the resting place of an early Indian convert and an almost
obliterated inscription on a broken headstone revealed the name of a
Spanish grandee. Shattered columns, loosened by the hand of time and
overthrown in recent years, lay upon the ground, while great willow and
pepper trees spread out protecting arms, as if to shield the silent
company from the inroads of modern enterprise. We picked our way along
vine-latticed paths, past graves over which myrtle and roses wandered in
untrimmed beauty, to where a white shaft marked the resting place of Don
Luis Argueello, comandante of the San Francisco Presidio for twenty-three
years and the first Mexican governor of California.
"How splendidly strong he looms out of the past," I said. "His keen
insight into the needs of this western outpost and his determined
efforts for the best interests of California will forever place him in
the front rank of its rulers. I wonder if his young wife, Rafaela, is
buried here also?" I drew aside the tangled vines from the near-by
headstones. "She was always a little dearer to me than his second wife,
the proud Dona Maria Ortega, perhaps because Rafaela belonged
pre-eminently to San Francisco. Her father, Ensign Sal, was acting
comandante of the Presidio when Vancouver visited the Coast, and Rafaela
and Luis Argueello grew up together in the little adobe settlement."
"Go on," said the skeptic, leaning comfortably against a tree trunk.
"This old Mexican governor seems to have had an interesting romance."
"He wasn't old," I protested, "only forty-six when he died. He was a
splendid type of a young Spanish grandee, tall and lithe of form, with
the dark skin and hair of his race. He combined the freedom born of an
out-of-door life with the courtly manners inherited from generations of
Spanish ancestry. To Rafaela Sal, watching the soldiers file out of the
mud-walled Presidio, it seemed that none sat his horse so straight nor
so bravely as did Don Luis Argueello. And at night to the young soldier
dozing before the campfire in the forest, the billowy smoke seemed to
shape itself into the soft folds of a lace mantilla from which looked
out the smiling face of a lovely grey-eyed girl, framed in an exquisite
mist of copper-colored hair.
"There was no opposition on the part of the parents to the union of
these young people. The elder Argueello loved the sweet Rafaela as if she
were his own daughter, and Ensign Sal was proud to claim the splendid
young soldier as a son-in-law. So the betrothal was solemnized, but
since Don Luis was a Spanish officer, the marriage must await the
consent of the king, and forthwith papers were dispatched to the court
of Madrid. California was an isolated province in those days and the
packet boat, touching on the shore but twice a year, frequently brought
papers from Spain dated nine months previous, so the older people
affirmed that permission could not be received for two years, while Luis
and Rafaela declared that if the king answered at once--and surely he
would recognize the importance of haste--word might be received in
"After a year and a half had passed the young people could talk of
little besides the expected arrival of the boat with an order from the
king. Frequently Luis would climb the hills back of the Presidio where
the wide expanse of the ocean could be seen. At last a sail was
discovered on the horizon and the little settlement was thrown into a
turmoil of excitement. Luis was first at the beach and impatiently
watched the ship make its way between the high bluffs that guarded the
entrance to the bay, and nose along the shore until it came to anchor in
the little cove in front of the Presidio. Had the king's permission
come? he eagerly asked his father, who was running through the papers
handed him by the captain. But the elder man shook his head, and Luis
turned with lagging steps to tell Rafaela that they must wait another
six months. It seemed a long time to the impatient lovers and yet there
was much to make the days pass quickly at the Presidio. The door of the
commodious sala at the home of the comandante always stood wide open,
and almost nightly the feet of the young people which had danced since
their babyhood tripped over the floor of the old adobe building. Picnics
were planned to the woods near the Mission and frequently longer
excursions were undertaken; for El Camino Real was not only, the king's
highway to church and military outposts, but also the royal road to
pleasure, and when a wedding or a fiesta was at the end of a journey, no
distance was counted too great. Luis watched his betrothed blossom to
fuller beauty, fearful lest someone else might steal her away before
word from the king should arrive.
"A year passed, then another. Packet boats came and went every six
months, bringing orders to the comandante in regard to the
administration of the military forces, concerning the treatment of
foreign vessels, and of numerous other matters, but still the king
remained silent on the one subject which, to the minds of the two young
people, overshadowed all else. Luis rashly threatened to run away with
his betrothed, while Rafaela, frightened, reminded him that there was
not a priest in California or Mexico who would marry them without the
king's order. And so each time the packet boat entered the harbor their
hearts beat with renewed hope and then, disappointed, they watched it
disappear through the Gulf of the Farallones, knowing that months would
pass before another would arrive.
"Thus six years had gone by since permission had been asked of the king;
six interminable years, they seemed to the lovers. Again the packet boat
was sighted on the distant horizon. Luis saw the full white sails sweep
past the fort guarding the entrance; he heard the salute of the guns and
watched the anchor lowered into the water before he made his way slowly
down to the shore. It would be the same answer he had received so many
times, he was, sure, and he dreaded to put the question again. Ten
minutes later he was racing over the sand-dunes to the Presidio, his
face radiant and his hand tightly clasping an official document. It had
come at last--the order from the king! Where was Rafaela? He hurried to
her house and, folding her close in his arms, be whispered that their
long waiting was at an end; that she was his as long as life should
"But, oh, such a little span of happiness was theirs! Only two brief
years, and then the cold hand of death was laid upon the sweet Rafaela."
For a moment my companion did not move. A bird sang in the tree above us
and the wind sent a shower of pink petals over the green mound. Then,
stooping, he picked a white Castilian rose from a tangle of shrubbery
and laid it at the base of the granite shaft. "In memory of the lovely
Rafaela," he said softly; I unpinned a bunch of fragrant violets from my
jacket and placed, them beside his offering, then we silently followed
the shaded path to the white picket gate and were once more on the noisy
"A fitting resting place for the first Mexican governor of California,"
he said, glancing back at the heavy facade of the church, "so simple and
dignified. Yet if Luis Argueello had lived in New England, we should have
considered his house of equal importance with his grave and have placed
a bronze tablet on the front, but you Westerners have, so little regard
"If you would like to see the home of Luis Argueello, I will show it to
you. It is at the Presidio."
"A hopeless mass of neglected ruins, I suppose. But still I should like
to see the old walls, if you can find them."
"Shall we take the Camino Real on foot, just as the old padres used to?"
"Not if I have my way. I'll acknowledge that the Spanish friars have
left you Californians one legacy that no Easterner can vie with, that is
your love of tramping over these hills. I've seen streets in San
Francisco so steep that teams seldom attempt them, as is evident from
the grass between the cobblestones, and yet they are lined with
"Houses that are never vacant," I assured him. "We like to get off the
level, and value our residence real estate by the view it affords."
Noticing that the sun was now high, my companion drew out his watch.
"Luncheon time," he announced. "Shall it be the Palace or St. Francis
"Let's keep in the spirit of the times and go to a Spanish restaurant,"
I suggested, and soon we were on a car headed for the Latin quarter.
"May I replace the violets you left at the Mission?" he asked, as
stepping from the car at Lotta's fountain, we lingered before the gay
flower stands edging the sidewalk.
Before I had a chance to reply a fragrant bunch was thrust into his
hands by an urchin who announced: "Two for two-bits."
"Two-bits is twenty-five cents," I interpreted, seeing the Easterner's
"I'll take three bunches." His eyes rested admiringly on the big purple
heads as he held out a dollar bill.
"Ain't you got any real money?" asked the boy, not offering to touch the
Again the man's hand went to his pocket and drew out some small change,
from which he selected a quarter, a dime and three one-cent pieces. The
urchin turned the coppers over in his palm, then, diving below the heap
of violets, he pulled out several California poppies. "We always give
these to Easterners," he announced as he tucked them in among the
"I wonder how that boy knew I was an Easterner?" the Bostonian reflected
as we turned away. Then gently touching the golden petals, he asked:
"Where did you get the odd name 'eschscholtzia' for this lovely flower?"
"It was given by the French-born poet-naturalist, Chamisso, in honor of
the German botanist, Dr. Eschscholz, who came together to San Francisco
on a Russian ship in 1816. However, I like better the Spanish names,
dormidera--the sleepy flower--or copa de oro--cup of gold," I added
as I pinned the flowers to my coat. The man's glance wandered around
Newspaper Corners, when suddenly his look of surprise told me that he
had discovered on this crowded section of commercial San Francisco a
duplicate of the old bell hung in front of the Mission San Francisco de
"We are following El Camino Real from the Mission to the Presidio," I
We turned toward the shopping district, but the lure of the place made
our feet lag. We watched the people purchasing flowers at the corner,
and the little newsboys drinking from Lotta's fountain.
"A tablet," he exclaimed delightedly, examining the bronze plate
fastened to the fountain. "I didn't know you Westerners ever indulged in
such things. 'Presented to San Francisco by Lotta, 1875,'" he read.
"Little Lotta Crabtree," I explained, "the sweet singer who bewitched
the city at a time when gold was still more plentiful than flowers, and
her song was greeted by a shower of the glittering metal flung to her
feet by enthusiastic miners. But read the second tablet," I suggested.
"It was placed there with the permission of Lotta."
"Tetrazzini!" his voice rang with surprise.
"Can you picture this place surging with people as it was on Christmas
night five years ago, when Tetrazzini sang to San Francisco?" I asked.
"The crowd began to gather long before the appointed time--the wealthy
banker from his spacious home on Pacific Heights, the grimy laborer from
the Potrero and the little newsboy with the badge of his profession
slung over his shoulder. Flushed with excitement, the courted debutante
drew back to give her place to a tired factory girl and close to the
platform an old Italian, who had tramped all the way from Telegraph
Hill, patiently waited to hear the sweet voice of his country woman.
'Tetrazzini is here,' they said to one another; Tetrazzini, who had been
discovered and adored by the people of San Francisco when, as an unknown
singer, she appeared in the old Tivoli opera house. At last she came,
wrapped in a rose-colored opera coat, and was greeted with shouts of joy
from a quarter of a million throats. She was radiant; smiling and
dimpling she waved her handkerchief with the abandonment of a child. The
storm of applause increased, rolling up the street to the very summit of
Twin Peaks. Suddenly the soft liquid notes of a clear soprano fell upon
the air, and instantly the great multitude was wrapped in silence. Out
over the heads of the people the exquisite tones floated, mounting
upward to the stars. It was the 'Last Rose of Summer,' and as she sang
her opera coat slipped from her, leaving her bare shoulders and white
filmy gown silhouetted against the sombre background. She sang again and
again, while the vast throng seemed scarcely to breathe. Then she began
the familiar strains of 'Old Lang Syne,' and at a sign, two hundred and
fifty thousand people joined in the refrain."
"There is not a city in all the world except San Francisco which could
have done such a thing," enthusiastically rejoined my companion, but the
next instant the eccentricities of the place struck him afresh.
"Furs and apple blossoms!" he exclaimed, observing a woman opposite.
"What a ridiculous combination!" Then, turning, he scrutinized me from
the top of my flower-trimmed hat to the bottom of my full skirt until my
cheeks burned with embarrassment. "Why, you have on a thin summer silk,
while that woman is dressed for mid-winter!"
"Of course," I assented. "She's on the shady side of the street."
But still his face did not lighten. "We've been in the sun all morning,"
I continued to explain. "People talk about San Francisco being an
expensive place to live in, but really it is the cheapest in the world.
If a woman has a handsome set of furs, she wears them and keeps in the
shadow, or if her new spring suit has just come home, she puts that on
and walks on the sunny side of the street, being comfortably and
appropriately, dressed in either."
"Great heavens!" he cried, "what a city!"
We passed through the shopping district and lingered for a moment at the
edge of Portsmouth Square. My eyes rested affectionately on the
clean-cut lawns and blossoming shrubs. Then I turned to the skeptic, but
before I could speak, he had dismissed it with a nod.
"Too modern," he commented. "Looks as if it had been planted yesterday.
Now the Boston Common--"
A rasping discordant sound burst from a near-by store and the Easterner
sent me a questioning glance.
"A Chinese orchestra," I replied. "We are in Oriental San Francisco."
"That park was doubtless made as a breathing place for this congested
Chinese quarter," he glanced back at the green square. "A good civic
"That park is a relic of old Spanish days and one of the most historic
spots in San Francisco," I said severely.
He stopped short. "You don't mean--I didn't suppose there was anything
old in commercial San Francisco."
"Portsmouth Square was once the Plaza of the little Spanish town of
Yerba Buena, and the public meeting place of the community when there
were not half a dozen houses in San Francisco."
"Let's go back." He wheeled about abruptly and started in the direction
of the square, but I protested.
"I am hungry and I want some luncheon!" "Then we'll return this
afternoon." There was determination in his voice.
"We will hardly have time if we visit Luis Argueello's home at the
Presidio," I objected.
"All right, we'll take it in tomorrow, then."
Hastening on, we were soon in the midst of the huddled houses of the
Latin quarter. Tucked away between two larger buildings, we found a
quaint Spanish restaurant. As we opened our tamales, my companion again
referred to Portsmouth Square.
"Tell me about it," he demanded. "Does it date with the Mission and
"No, it is of later birth, but still of equal interest in the history of
San Francisco. The city grew up from three points--the Mission"--I
pulled a poppy from my bouquet and placed it on the table to mark the
old adobe--"the Presidio"--I moved a salt cellar to the right of the
flower--"and the town of Yerba Buena," this I indicated by a pepper box
below the other two. "Roads connected these points like the sides of a
triangle and gradually the intervening spaces were filled with houses."
"Go on." He leaned back in his chair, but I had already risen. "It will
be more interesting to hear the story on the spot tomorrow," I assured
him as I drew on my gloves.
The Spanish Fortifications and the Love Story of Concepcion and Rezanov
The Presidio Past and Present
We hailed a car marked "Exposition" and were soon climbing the hills to
the west. Between the houses, we had fleeting glances of the bay with
its freight of vessels. Here waved the tri-color of France, while next
to it the black, white and red flag of Germany was flung to the breeze,
and within a stone's throw, Johnny Bull had cast out his insignia. At a
little distance the ships of Austria and Russia rested side by side, and
between the vessels the bustling little ferry-boats were churning up the
"It is difficult to picture this bay as it was in early Spanish days," I
said, "destitute of boats and so full of otter that when the Russians
and Alaskan Aleuts began plundering these waters, they had only to lean
from the canoes and kill hundreds with their oars."
"But what right had the Russian here? Why didn't the Spaniards stop
them? Otter must have brought a good price in those days." There was a
ring of indignation in his voice, that told his interest had been
"San Francisco was helpless. There was not a boat on the bay, except the
rude tule canoes of the Indians--'boats of straw'--Vancouver called
them, and these were no match for the swift darting bidarkas of the
"And Luis Argueello in command!"
"I saw my idol falling, and hastened to assure him that the Comandante
had built a boat a short time before, but the result was so disastrous
that he never tried it again. The Presidio was in great need of repair
and the government at Mexico had paid no heed to the constant requests
for assistance, so Comandante Argueello had determined to take matters
into his own hands. The peninsula was destitute of large timber, but ten
miles across the bay were abundant forests, if he could but reach them.
He, therefore, secured the services of an English carpenter to construct
a boat, while his men traveled two hundred miles by land, down the
peninsula to San Jose, along the contra costa, across the straits of
Carquinez and touching at the present location of Petaluma and San
Rafael, finally arrived at the spot selected. In the meantime the
soldiers were taught to sail the craft, and the first ferryboat, at
length started across the bay. But a squall was encountered, the
land-loving men lost their heads, and it was only through Argueello's
presence of mind that the boat finally reached its destination. For the
return trip, the services of an Indian chief were secured, a native who
had been seen so often on the bay in his raft of rushes, that the
Spaniards called him 'El Marino,' the Sailor, and this name, corrupted
into Marin, still clings to the land where he lived. Many trips were
made in this ferry, but the comandante's subordinates were less
successful than he, for one, being swept out to sea, drifted about for a
day or two until a more favorable wind and tide brought him back to San
Francisco. The Spaniards called the land where the trees were felled
'Corte Madera,' the place of hewn-wood, and a little town on the site
still bears the name."
"But what became of the boat? You said--"
"Governor Sola was furious that any one should dare to build a boat
without his orders. He called it 'insubordination.' How did he know what
was the real purpose of the craft? Might it not have been built to aid
the Russians in securing otter or to help the 'Boston Nation' in their
My companion straightened with interest, "The Boston Nation?"
"Yes, even in those days the Yankee skippers, who occasionally did a
little secret trading with the padres, told such marvelous stories of
Boston that the Spaniards thought it must be a nation instead of a
little town. In fact, the United States does not seem to have been
considered of much importance by Spain, for when the American ship
'Columbia' was expected to touch on this coast it was referred to as
'General Washington's vessel.'"
"Go on with your boat story," a smile played about the corners of his
mouth. "What became of the craft?"
"The Governor ordered it sent to Monterey and commanded Argueello to
appear before him. The Comandante was surprised to have his work thus
suddenly interrupted but hastened to obey orders. On the way his horse
stumbled and fell, injuring his rider's leg so seriously that when
Argueello reached Monterey, he was hardly able to stand. Without stopping
to have his injury dressed, he limped into the Governor's presence,
supporting himself on his sword.
"'How dared you build a launch and repair your Presidio without my
permission?' exclaimed the exasperated Governor.
"'Because I and my soldiers were living in hovels, and we were capable
of bettering our condition,' was the reply.
"Governor Sola, not noted for his genial temper, raised his cane with
the evident intention of using it, when he noticed that the young
Comandante had drawn himself erect and was handling the hilt of his
"'Why did you do that?' the Governor demanded.
"'Because I was tired of my former position, and also because I do not
intend to be beaten without resistance,' Argueello answered.
"For a moment the Governor was taken back, then he held out his hand.
'This is the bearing of a soldier and worthy of a man of honor,' he
said. 'Blows are only for cowards who deserve them.'
"Argueello took the outstretched hand and from this time he and the
Governor were close friends. But the boat proved so useful at Monterey,
that it was never returned."
The Jeweled Tower of the Exposition came into view. "So it is to be the
three months' old World's Fair, after all, instead of the home of the
first Mexican Governor of California?"
But I did not rise. "The Presidio is just beyond," I explained. Then
seeing him glancing admiringly at the green domes: "Perhaps you would
"No," he answered me, "I'm an antiquary and I want to see the old adobe
Leaving the car at the Presidio entrance, we passed down the shaded
driveway and along the winding path that led to the old parade ground.
"This military reservation covers about the same ground as the old
Spanish Presidio," I explained. "At that time, however, it was a sweep
of tawny sand-dunes, for the Spaniards had neither the ability nor the
money to beautify the place. After it came into possession of the
Americans, lupins were scattered broadcast as a first means of
cultivation and for a time the undulating hills were veiled in blue.
Later, groves of pine and eucalyptus trees together with grass and
flowers were planted, until now it may be regarded as one of the parks
of San Francisco. This was the original plaza of the old Spanish
Presidio," I continued, as we emerged onto the quadrangle, "and it was
then lined with houses as it is today, only at that time they were crude
adobe structures. Surrounding these was a wall fourteen feet high, made
of huge upright and horizontal saplings plastered with mud, and as a
further means of protection, a wide ditch was dug on the outside. Here
Luis Argueello was Comandante for twenty-three years."
Our eyes wandered over the substantial structures with their
well-trimmed gardens and rested on a low rambling building opposite,
protected from the gaze of the curious by an old palm and guarded by a
quaint Spanish cannon. The building's simple outlines, even at a
distance, bespoke it as of a different generation from its more
aggressive neighbors, even though its red-tiled roof had been replaced
by sombre brown shingles, and its crumbling walls replastered. We
crossed over the parade ground, and peering within, found that the
building had been converted into an officers' club house.
"Did you see the bronze tablet on the front?" I demanded.
"Yes," he admitted rather sheepishly, turning to examine the deep window
embrasure that showed the width of the walls.
"There's an atmosphere of romance about the old place--"
"And well there may be," I broke in, "for it was here that Rafaela Sal
came as a bride, and that Rezanov met Luis Argueello's beautiful sister,
Concepcion, and a love story began which may well take place with that
of Miles Standish and Priscilla."
"Rezanov," he repeated, searching his memory. "I recall that there was a
romance connected with his visit to San Francisco but the details have
escaped me. Please sit down on this bench and tell me the story just as
if I had never heard it before."
"More than a century ago there dwelt in this old adobe house a beautiful
maiden," I began. "Her father was Comandante of the Presidio, 'el
Santo,' the people termed him, because of his goodness. Concepcion, or
Concha, as she was affectionately called by her parents, was only
fifteen years old when our story begins--a tall, slender girl with
masses of fine black hair and the fair Castilian skin, inherited from
her mother. So lovely was she that many a caballero had already sung at
her grating, but she would listen to none of them. Her lover would come
from over the sea, she declared, someone who could tell her about the
wide outside world.
"'Then you will die unmarried,' said her mother, kissing the soft cheek,
'for travelers seldom come as far as San Francisco.'
"'A ship! a ship!' sounded a cry from the plaza. A vessel had been
sighted off Cantil Blanco, the first foreign ship seen since Vancouver's
visit fourteen years before.
"'It is the Russian expedition which Spain has ordered us to treat
courteously,' exclaimed Don Luis, bursting into the house, his face
aglow with excitement. 'Since father is in Monterey and I am acting
Comandante, I must receive these strangers,' he continued as he threw
his serape over his shoulders, his eyes flashing with his first taste of
"'Be careful,' cautioned his mother, 'we have had no word from Europe
for nine months and the last packet boat from Mexico brought a rumor of
war with Russia.'
"But the foreign vessel had come only with friendly intentions. The
Russian Chamberlain Rezanov, in charge of the Czar's northwestern
possessions, had found a starving colony at Sitka and had brought a
cargo of goods to the more productive southland with the hope of
exchanging it for foodstuffs. To be sure, he knew the Spanish law
strictly forbidding trade with foreign vessels, but it seemed the only
means of saving his famishing people and he trusted much to his skill in
"A few hours later, Concha, on the qui vive with excitement, saw her
brother approaching with a little company of men, among whom was a tall
well-built Russian officer, whose keen eyes seemed to take in every
detail of the little settlement.
"Don Luis conducted his guests to the old adobe building, draped in pink
Castilian roses, and into the cool sala, which, although provided with
slippery horse-hair chairs and plain whitewashed walls ornamented with
pictures of the Virgin and saints, was a pleasing contrast to the ship's
cabin. Here he presented his guests to his mother, a woman whose face
still reflected much of the beauty of her youth in spite of her cares
which had come in the rearing of her thirteen children. Beside her stood
Concepcion. Her long drooping lashes swept her cheeks, but when she
raised her eyes in greeting Rezanov saw that they were dark and joyous.
He was a widower of many years, a man of forty-two, who had given little
thought to women during his wandering life, but now he found himself
keenly alive to the charms of this radiant girl. Simple and artless in
her manners, yet possessing the early maturity of her race, she set her
guests at ease and entertained them with stories of life on the great
ranchos, while her mother was busy with household duties.
"It was ten days before Don Jose Argueello returned from Monterey and in
the meantime no business could be transacted. During these days Rezanov
saw much of Concepcion, for there was dancing every afternoon at the
home of the Comandante and frequent picnics into the neighboring woods.
It was not long before the Russian learned that Concepcion was not only
La Favorita of the Presidio, but also of all California, for although
born at San Francisco, she had spent much time in her childhood at Santa
Barbara, where her father had been Comandante. With a chain of missions
and ranchos extending from San Diego to San Francisco, there was much
interchange of hospitality, and Concha was a favorite guest at all
fiestas. So the dark eyed Spanish girl had danced her way into the heart
of many a youth as she was now doing into that of this powerful Russian.
"Often he would stand in the shadow of the deep window casement and
watch her lithe young figure bend in the graceful borego, occasionally
catching a glance from beneath the sweeping lashes that would send his
blood surging through his veins and make him almost forget the purpose
of his voyage. Sometimes he would draw her aside to talk of his hope
that the Spaniards would furnish him bread-stuffs for his starving
colony and he marveled at her keen insight into the affairs of state,
while his heart beat the quicker for her warm sympathy. Often their talk
would wander to other things and as she occasionally flashed a smile in
his direction, showing a row of pearly teeth, his blood tingled and he
thought that the flush on her cheek was not unlike the pink Castilian
rose that was nightly tucked in the soft coils of her shadowy hair. At
times he imagined her clad in rich satin, with a rope of pearls about
her delicate throat, and as he drew the picture he saw her as a star
among the ladies of the Russian court.
"When Don Jose Argueello returned, Rezanov asked him for the hand of his
daughter in marriage, but the Comandante indignantly refused. Although
liking the distinguished Russian for himself, he would not listen to
such--a proposal. Give his daughter to a foreigner and a heretic!
Never! It was not to be thought of for an instant. Concha must be sent
away. She must not see this Russian again! He would have her taken to
the home of his brother, who lived near the Mission, until the foreign
ship was out of the bay. While the father talked, the mother hurried to
the padres to beg the good priests to forbid such a union.
"But Concha was no longer the docile girl of a month ago. She was a
woman and her heart was in the keeping of this sturdy Russian. She would
have him or none, and nothing the padres or her parents could say would
change her. Don Jose had never crossed his daughter before, and now as
she flung her arms about his neck and begged for her happiness he
weakened. After all, this Russian was a splendid fellow, and perhaps it
might be an advantage to Spain, rather than a detriment to have an ally
at Petrograd. In the end the pleading of Concha and the arguments of
Rezanov won. Comandante Argueello yielded and the betrothal was
solemnized, but there were many obstacles before the marriage could be
consummated. The permission of the Czar of Russia and the King of Spain
must be obtained, and this would take time, as well as involve a long
and dangerous trip. But nothing could daunt the spirits of the lovers.
Concepcion's brother, Luis, had already waited six years for permission
to marry Rafaela Sal and if Rezanov traveled with haste he could return
in two. He must go first to Petrograd to ask the consent of the Czar and
then to the Court of Madrid to promote more friendly relations between
the two countries, finally returning to claim his bride, by way of
Mexico. But before he could start on his journey, his starving Alaskan
colony must be provided for, and after considerable discussion,
arrangements were made for an interchange of commodities, and the hold
of the Russian ship, 'Juno' was packed with foodstuffs for the Sitkans,
while the ladies at the Presidio were resplendent in soft Russian
fabrics and the padres were rejoicing in new cooking utensils for their
large Indian family.
"At length the 'Juno' weighed anchor and the white sails filled with the
afternoon breeze. As the Russians came opposite Cantil Blanco, the fort
which had scowled so menacingly upon them on their entrance forty-four
days before, now smiled with friendly faces. There was much waving of
hats and many shouts of farewell from the little group on the shore, but
Rezanov saw only the figure of a tall graceful girl with the soft folds
of a mantilla billowing about her head and shoulders and heard only the
murmur of love from the rosy lips. 'Two years,' he whispered back to
her, as the ship passed out through the Gulf of the Farallones and
became but a speck on the sunset sky.
"The two years passed and still there was no sign of the returning
vessel. Luis Argueello had been married to the lovely Rafaela and a
little son had come to bless their household, and yet Concepcion looked
out over the ocean watching for the white sail of a foreign ship. The
sweet grey eyes of Luis' young wife were closed in death and Concha's
heart and hands went out in sympathetic love and deeds to the stricken
family, all the while trying to still in her own breast the fear that a
like fate had overtaken her loved one. The verdant hills were again
streaked with golden poppies and once more turned to tawny brown and
still no ship nor word came from over the sea.
"It was eight or ten years before even a rumor of the fate of her lover
reached Concepcion, and not until she met the Englishman, Sir George
Simpson, twenty-five years after Rezanov sailed out of San Francisco
bay, did she learn the details of his death. It was almost winter when,
leaving Alaska, he crossed the ocean and began his perilous trip through
Siberia. Frequently drenched to the skin and undergoing terrible
privations, he traveled for thousands of miles on horseback, now lying
at some wayside inn burning with fever and again pushing on until he
dropped prostrate at the next village. A fall from his horse added to
his already serious condition, which resulted in his death in the little
village of Krasnoiark, and he lies now buried beneath the snows of
"Although many sought her hand in marriage, Concepcion remained faithful
to her Russian lover. There being no convent for women in the country at
that time, she donned the grey habit of the 'Third Order of St. Francis
in the world,' devoting her life to the care of the sick and the
teaching of the poor. Later when a Dominican convent was established," I
added, rising, "she became not only its first nun, but also its Mother
"A romance that may well take a place with such world-famed love stories
as those of Abelard and Heloise; and Alexandre and Thaeis. I should like
to make a pilgrimage to her grave," he added as we left the old adobe
"You can," I replied. "It's tucked away in a corner of the Benicia
Cemetery, marked by a marble slab carved with her name and a simple
We entered a grove of eucalyptus trees, which now and again divided,
giving marvelous views of the bay and the Marin shore.
But my companion's mind still dwelt on the story he had heard. "So
Concepcion suffered in the uncertainty of hope and despair for ten
years," he said, "but ten months of it brought me to the limit of
endurance. Do you think if Rezanov had returned and Concepcion had
married him and gone to Petrograd she would have been happy?"
"Of course she would."
"Still Petrograd is a cold, dreary place compared to California."
"But what difference would that make? A woman would give up everything
and count it no sacrifice for the man she loved."
"And you said only yesterday--"
"Oh, but that was different," I assured him, my cheeks burning under his
gaze. "Rezanov loved California. He thought it so wonderful that he
wanted it for a Russian province, and he would have brought Concepcion
back to visit--"
"Boston is nearer than Petrograd and not so cold. Don't you think you
could teach me to love California, too?"
"Perhaps," I acknowledged. Then anxious to turn the conversation, I
asked: "Would you like to see the location of the old Spanish fort?" He
nodded and we took the road leading to the present Fort Point. "I can't
show you the exact location," I confessed, "because the United States
cut down the bold promontory, Cantil Blanco, in order to place the
present fortification close to the water's edge, but if you will use
your imagination and picture a white cliff towering a hundred feet above
the water at the point where Fort Winfield Scott now stands, you will
see the entrance to the bay as it was in Spanish days. Here was located
the old fort, called Castilla San Joaquin, which guarded the harbor for
many years. Made of adobe in the shape of a horseshoe, so perishable
that the walls crumbled every time a shot was fired, still it answered
its purpose, as it was never needed for anything but friendly salutes,
and even these were at times, perforce, omitted. The Russian, Kotzebue,
states that when he entered the harbor he was impressed by the old fort
and the soldiers drawn up in military array, but wondered that no return
was made to his salute. A little later, however, the omission of the
courtesy was explained when a Spanish officer boarded the vessel and
asked to borrow sufficient powder for this purpose. Moreover, Robinson
tells us that frequently during the afternoon's siesta a foreign ship
would pass the fort, drop anchor in Yerba Buena Cove, and spend several
days in the bay before the Presidio officers would know of its presence.
But this was after the time of Luis Argueello."
One by one the palaces of light in the Exposition grounds below us burst
into radiance. The Horticultural dome turned to a wonderful iridescent
bubble and the Tower of Jewels caught and reflected the light that
played upon it. Wide bands of color streaked the sombre sky,
transforming the clouds to shades of violet, yellow and rose. "The
rainbow colors of promise," he said gently as he drew closer. "I shall
take them as a message of hope that I shall win the love of the woman
who is dearer to me than all else in life!"
A Chinese Restaurant. Yerba Buena and the Reminiscences of a Forty-Niner
The Plaza and its Echoes
"Be careful," I warned, "you'll get your feet wet."
We stood on the corner of Montgomery and Commercial Streets, having
carried out our resolution of the day previous to continue our search
for old landmarks. The Bostonian moved uncomfortably under the warmth of
the noonday sun, and glanced down at the dry, glaring pavement; then he
stooped to turn up his trousers.
"All right," he announced, "is it an arroyo or has the hose used in
putting out 'the fire' suddenly burst?"
"Neither. The arroyo was a block further south. It ran down what is now
Sacramento Street, and you ought to know enough about the fire to
realize that we couldn't use our fire hose, because the earthquake broke
the water mains."
"Then there was an earthquake!" He shot an amused glance at me. "You're
the first Californian I've heard acknowledge it."
"Oh yes, there was an earthquake--but it didn't do much damage," I
hastened to add. "Just 'knocked down a few chimneys and rickety
buildings that the city was going to pull down anyway. It was the fire
that destroyed the city."
"So Mother Nature was just favoring 'Frisco by lending a helping hand to
the city officials," he laughed. "Well, you see I'm prepared for the
deluge." He indicated his upturned trousers. "But if it isn't an arroyo--"
"It's the bay," I explained. "It used to touch the shore about where we
are standing, forming a little inlet called Yerba Buena Cove."
"But," objected the man, mentally measuring the distance down the
straight paved street to where the slender shaft-like tower of the Ferry
Building broke the sky line, "it must be seven blocks from here to the
present waterfront, two thousand feet at least."
"Yes, fully that," I agreed. "A large part of the business section of
San Francisco stands on made-land. The water along the shore, here at
Montgomery street, was very shallow, and at the time of the gold rush,
when seven or eight hundred vessels were waiting in the bay to discharge
their freight and passengers, a corporation of energetic Americans built
a long wharf from here to the deep water, where the ships were anchored.
Look down Commercial Street to the Ferry Building and, instead of the
houses on either side, imagine it open to the water. Then you will see
Central Wharf as it was in 'forty-nine.'"
"Central Wharf!" The name had caught his interest.
"Yes, it was called that from the one you have in Bost."
"Bost?" he repeated, mystified. "Bost?"
"Yes, Bost!" I answered. "You called our, city 'Frisco, not five minutes
ago, so why shouldn't I--"
"I beg your pardon," he said humbly. "I will never offend in that way
"But the building of the wharves and the filling in of the waterfront
belong to a later time and we are back in Spanish days. When Vancouver
landed he tells us that he cast anchor within a small inlet surrounded
by green hills, on which herds and cattle were grazing. Historians say
that his ship lay about where the Ferry Building now stands and that the
crew put off for the shore in small boats. This place was a waste of
sand-dunes and chaparral but the Englishmen were refreshed by the cool
waters of the arroyo and spent a pleasant morning shooting quail and
"Quail, grouse and chaparral," he repeated, as his eyes traveled up and
down the solidly built blocks and rested on the pedestrians hurrying in
and out of the buildings. "Let's take a look at the bed of the arroyo."
We paused at the corner and for a moment watched the car laboriously
climb the Sacramento Street hill and disappear over the crest; then we
turned for another look at the mass of buildings now resting on the
solid ground which had taken the place of the shining waters of Yerba
"It was about here," I announced, "that the arroyo opened out into the
Laguna Dulce, a little fresh water pool where Richardson's Indians
delighted to take a cold plunge on leaving their steaming temescal."
"Richardson? Hardly a Spanish name!"
"No, but a Spaniard by naturalization and marriage. He was an Englishman
who had come to the coast in the whaler 'Orion,' and being fascinated by
the country and the carefree Spanish life, had married a lovely little
senorita, the daughter of Lieutenant Martinez, later Comandante of the
Presidio. Richardson settled on a ranch at Sausalito and in 1835, when
Governor Figueroa decided to establish a commercial city on the shore of
Yerba Buena Cove, he appointed as harbor master, this Englishman, who
was already carrying on a small business with the Yankee skippers, and
the future town was made a port of entry for all vessels trading up and
down the coast. Richardson built the first house in the little
settlement of Yerba Buena, afterwards San Francisco."
"Since this is an historic pilgrimage, we must take a look at the spot
where the first house stood. Is it far?"
"Only a few blocks," I assured him. "But we shall have to venture into
the heart of Chinatown."
We made our way up Sacramento Street, where the straight-lined grey
business blocks gave way to fantastic pagoda-like buildings gaily
decorated in green, red, and yellow. Bits of carved ivory, rich lacquer
ware and choice pieces of satsuma and cloisonne appeared in the windows.
In quiet, padded shoes, the sallow-faced, almond-eyed throng shuffled
by, us; here a man with a delicate lavender lining showing below his
blue coat, there a slant-eyed woman with her sleek black hair rolled
over a brilliant jade ornament, leading by the hand a little boy who
looked as if he had stepped out of a picture book with his yellow
trousers and pink coat.
We turned to the right at Grant Avenue, passing a building conspicuous
on account of its elaborately carved balconies hung with yellow lanterns
and ornamented with plants growing in large blue and white china pots.
The Bostonian looked curiously at the Orientals lounging about the door,
then his face brightened as he read the words, "Chop Suey."
"It's a Chinese restaurant," he exclaimed delightedly. "Let's go in for
a cup of tea, as soon as we have taken a look at your historic
On the northwest corner of Grant Avenue and Clay Street, we paused
before a dingy four-story brick building on whose sides were pasted long
strips of red paper ornamented with quaint Chinese characters. I
secretly wished that the building had been designed as a gay pagoda with
bright colored, turned-up eaves like many of those in Chinatown and that
its windows had displayed the choice embroideries and carved ivories of
some of its neighbors, but as we peered through the glass, we saw only
utilitarian articles for the coolie Chinaman.
"Rather a sordid setting for my story," I bemoaned. "The first house in
commercial San Francisco stood here. It was only a sail stretched around
four pine posts, but two years later was replaced by a picturesque,
red-tiled adobe, so commodious that the Spaniards called it the Casa
Grande. I am afraid the building now occupying the spot where the second
house stood will be equally disappointing," I said ruefully, as we
recrossed the street to where a Chinese butcher and vegetable vender was
displaying his wares. We gazed curiously at the dangling pieces of dried
fish, strings of sausage-like meat, unfamiliar vegetables, lichee nuts
and sticks of green sugar cane.
"Somewhat different from the silks, satins and laces displayed on this
spot by Jacob Leese in Spanish days," I reflected. "He was a Bostonian,
who like Richardson had become an adopted son of California and settled
at Yerba Buena for the purpose of trading with the American vessels."
"This must have been a lively business center." The man raised his voice
above the rumble of the wagons and cars. "Two little houses in the midst
of a sea of sand-dunes and no settlement nearer than the Mission."
"Oh, it didn't take the American long to make things hum," I assured
him. "He arrived here on July second. Two days later he had built a
house and was entertaining all the Spaniards from miles around, at a
grand Fourth of July celebration."
"Quick work even for a Yankee," laughed my companion. "But rather hard
on his English neighbor, I should think. Did Richardson attend?"
"Of course he did! Delivered the invitations, too! Leese was busy
building his house, so the Englishman, in his little launch, called at
all the ranchos and settlements about the bay and invited the Spaniards
to come to Yerba Buena for a Fourth of July fandango."
We retraced our steps and a few doors beyond entered the gay, balconied
restaurant, in quest of a cup of tea served in Oriental style. Climbing
the steep stairs, we passed the first floor where laborers were being
served with steaming bowls of rice; then mounted to the more
aristocratic level where we were seated at elaborately carved teakwood
tables, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. While waiting for our tea, we
stepped onto the balcony which we had regarded with so much interest
from the street. Above us hung the gorgeous lanterns, swaying like
bright bubbles in the breeze, and below moved the silent blue-coated
"So there was a Fourth of July celebration here even in Spanish times?"
said the man. "Somewhat prophetic of the American days to come, wasn't
We caught a glint of color in the street and leaned far over the balcony
to watch a violet-coated Chinese girl thread her way among the sombre
"It must have been just below us that the early festivities were held,"
I suggested. "Leese's house was not large enough to accommodate his
guests, so a big marquee surmounted by Mexican and American flags, and
gaily decorated with bunting, was spread about where the street now
runs. Can't you picture it all? The dainty little senoritas in their
silk and satin gowns, with filmy mantillas thrown over their heads and
shoulders, and the men not less gorgeous in lace-trimmed velvet suits
and elaborate serapes. I can almost hear the applause and the booming of
the cannon that followed General Vallejo's glowing tribute to
Washington, and see the graceful Spanish dancers as they assembled for
the evening ball. It was doubtless at this time that Leese met General
Vallejo's fascinating sister, whom he married after a short and
"Short, and she a Californian?" He sent me an amused glance.
"Perhaps Leese thought delay dangerous," I suggested, "for Senorita
Maria Rosalia was one of the belles of the new military outpost at
Sonoma and more than one gaily clad caballero was suing for her hand."
"No wonder the American pushed the matter," laughed my companion. "Did
many Boston men marry Spanish Senoritas?"
"Nearly all who came to the Coast," I answered. "The California women
were among the most fascinating in the world and held a peculiar charm
for these sturdy New Englanders."
"I can understand that," he said, bending for a better look at my face.
"But what could the dainty senoritas see in these crude; raw-boned
"Just what any woman would see," I declared. "Men of sterling character,
working against terrible odds, with that courage which does not know the
word failure. They saw men of perseverance, energy and brains who were
bringing into the country the indomitable spirit of New England."
"I am glad you have a good word for the early Yankees," he said, "and I
wish your enthusiasm extended to a later generation."
He turned toward me and I felt the telltale color sweep my cheeks as I
became conscious that I was thinking less of Leese and his compatriots
than of the Bostonian at my side.
"It wasn't the New England spirit," he declared, "that gave these early
settlers the strength and determination to succeed. It was the women who
had faith in them. A man can accomplish anything if the woman he loves--
" My companion had moved close to my side, and his voice was low as he
bent over me. "Little girl," he began, "last year in Boston when you
came into my life--"
The harsh jangle of a Chinese orchestra broke the dull murmur of the
street and in an instant the little balcony was crowded with gazers
eager to catch a glimpse of the musicians through the windows opposite.
My companion and I moved aside for the new corners and turned again
toward the interior. Through the open door we could see the waiter
placing steaming cups of tea upon the table we had deserted, and
re-entering the room, we seated ourselves in the big carved arm-chairs.
Sipping the delicious beverage, we glanced toward the other tables,
where groups of Chinamen were talking in a curious jargon and
dexterously handling the thin ebony chop-sticks. On the wide
matting-covered couches extending along the sidewalls, lounged
sallow-faced Orientals, while in and out among the diners noiselessly
moved the waiters, balancing on their heads, large brown straw trays.
Snowy rice cakes, shreds of candied cocoanut, preserved ginger and brown
paper-shell nuts with the usual Chinese eating utensils were placed
before us. We tried the slender chop-sticks with laughable failure and
then, declaring that fingers were made first, we had no further trouble.
We took a farewell look at the gilt carved screens and long banners,
which in quaint Chinese characters wished us health and happiness. Then
following our smiling attendant to the door, we were bowed down the
stairway. A Chinaman leaned over the railing and called the amount of
our bill to the attendant on the second floor, who like an echo took it
up and sent it on to the main entrance, where we settled our account.
Again on the sidewalk, we mingled with the Oriental throng whose
expressionless yellow faces gave no hint of joy or sorrow. At the corner
we turned east and made our way toward Portsmouth Square. I paused and
let my eyes run over my companion, from his emaculate linen collar to
his well-polished shoes.
"You'll look sadly out of place here," I warned. "No artist would ever
take such a well-groomed person for a model, nor would you be suspected
of belonging to the great army of the unemployed."
"Are they the only classes allowed? Then I speak now for the purchasing
right of your portrait."
"Oh, I'll pose very well as the 'Amelican' teacher of those little
Chinese butterflies fluttering after that kite. Aren't they attractive
in their lavender, pink, and blue sahms?" I said, as we seated ourselves
on the bench.
"To be honest, to be kind, to earn a little, to spend a little less,'"
he read from the face of the fountain standing against a clump of trees
whose soft foliage drooped caressingly over it. "Why, that's from
Stevenson's Christmas sermon. Look at that unappreciative brute! He
drank without reading a word!" exclaimed the man indignantly.
"Yes, but he feels the better for coming here. He received the
refreshment most needed and that is what Stevenson would have wished.
Some other may need and will receive the spiritual help."
"Why is it here?" he asked.
"Because Stevenson loved this place and came often to sit on the benches
and study the wrecked and drifting lives of the men who lounged in the
"And the gilded ship on top with its full blown sails--that must
suggest his Treasure Island, doesn't it?"
"Yes, and also the Manila Galleon, that splendid treasure-ship ladened
with silk, wax and spices from the Philippines and China, which once
each year made its landfall near Cape Mendocino and followed the line of
the coast down to Mexico."
He leaned with arm outstretched along the back of the bench and surveyed
"This, you said, was the old Spanish Plaza. What was here then?"
"At first just a sweep of tawny sand-dunes, surrounded by scrub oak and
chaparral." I dropped my eyes to the gravel walk, that I might shut out
the emerald green lawns, and flowering shrubs. "Over the shifting
hillocks wandered a little minty vine bearing a delicate white and
lavender flower not unlike your trailing arbutus. It was from the
medicinal qualities of this plant that the little settlement was named
Yerba Buena, the good herb. Over there on the northwest corner where
that dingy Chinese restaurant now floats the flag of Chop Suey stood the
old adobe Custom House, the first building erected on the Plaza, and it
was in front of this that the Stars and Stripes were run up when General
Montgomery, who had arrived in the sloop-of-war Portsmouth, took
possession in the name of the United States."
"So that is where the square got its name--from the ship 'Portsmouth?'"
His voice rang with the joy of discovery.
"Yes, but the new name never completely replaced the old. We love the
terms which come to us from Spanish days, and so, to many of us, this is
still the Plaza."
"I presume there was a great outcry when Montgomery pulled down the
Mexican flag and ran up the American. But I understand the country was
"Yes, it was poorly fortified, and the Californians had known for some
time that Mexico was losing its hold, so the event was not unexpected.
But there was no flag to pull down for the receiver of customs,
realizing that resistance was useless, had packed the Mexican flag in a
trunk with his official papers for safe keeping, so without opposition
General Montgomery marched with seventy men accompanied by fife and drum
from the waterfront to the Plaza, and raised the Stars and Stripes on
the vacant flag pole. Thus the country came into the possession of the
Americans and our historic pilgrimage is at an end," I concluded,
But my companion seemed loath to leave the place. We sauntered by
dark-eyed Italian girls lolling on the benches, shaggy bearded old
sailors, whose scarred faces told of fierce battles with the elements,
and stopped to examine the plaster casts presented for our inspection by
a weary-eyed street vender. At a distance, a laughing gypsy girl in a
white waist and much beruffled red plaid skirt was enticing the crowd to
cross her hand with silver that she might tell their fortunes.
"What need have we for gypsies?" he demanded pulling me down on a bench.
"I'll, read your palm."
"Can you tell fortunes?" I questioned as I drew off my glove.
"I can tell yours," he declared straightening out my fingers in his big
strong hand, and examining the lines.
"He's a tall dark man, wearing glasses--"
Instinctively I looked up into the uncovered brown eyes, then dropped
mine in confusion as I met his laughing gaze.
"Only when he reads," added the Bostonian, holding on to my fingers, as
I tried to withdraw my hand.
An angry voice broke the silence and we sprang to our feet to see an old
man shaking his fist in the face of a young Irish policeman.
"You let me alone!" he shouted. "You let me alone!"
For a moment the officer hesitated. Then he seized the old man by the
collar. "Come along quietly! There ain't no use making a howl. There's a
vagrancy law in this city and I'll show you it ain't to be sniffed at.
I've been watching you ever since I've been on this beat and you ain't
done nothing but sit around this Plaza."
"And ain't I a right to sit 'round this Plaza?" The man pulled himself
free and again defied the officer of the law with a clenched fist.
"Didn't I help make it? When you were playing with a rattle in your crib
over in Dublin, I was a-stringing up a man to the eaves of the old
Custom House over there on the corner. And now you try to arrest me--me
a Vigilante of '51--" His fury choked him, and with a quick turn of the
hand, the officer again had him by the collar. But the old man wrenched
"You keep your hands off me." He raised his angry voice in warning. Then
drawing a bundle of papers from his pocket he thrust them into the
officer's face. "Look at that--and that--and that--biggest business
blocks in San Francisco. If I choose to wear a loose shirt and sit
'round the Plaza it isn't any business of yours. In the good old days of
I touched the Bostonian on the arm. "Let's go to the Exposition," I
suggested. "We've seen everything here."
"There's no need to hurry! We've all the afternoon before us." He edged
a little closer to the old man, about whom a crowd was gathering.
"In the good old days of forty-nine," rang out again and I glanced
nervously at my companion. "We didn't have any dipper-dapper policemen
making mistakes." He snapped his fingers in the officer's face. "We had
good red-shirted miners who knew their business."
The policeman moved uneasily and handed back the papers. "I guess
they're all right," he acknowledged. "The law doesn't seem to touch
"Touch me! Well, I guess not!" The officer moved off and the old man
returned to his bench. Before I realized my companion's intention, we
were seated beside the miner. He was still muttering maledictions on the
head of the Irish policeman.
"The scoundrel!" He dug his stick into the gravel path. "Had the nerve
to arrest me! Me, who strung up Jenkins in the first Vigilante
Committee, and Casey and Cora in the second."
"You must have come here in early days," remarked the Bostonian.
"Early days," echoed the miner, "well, I guess I did. I'm a
forty-niner." He straightened himself proudly and looked to see the
effect of his words.
"I think we had better go." Again I touched the Antiquary's arm but he
gave no heed to my signal.
"There must have been some stirring times here in the days of the gold
"You bet there were," agreed the forty-niner, "and the entire history of
San Francisco was made around this Plaza. Here were built the first
hotel, the first school-house, the first bank; within a stone's throw
the first Protestant sermon was preached, the first newspaper was
printed and the first post office was opened. It was through the Plaza
that Sam Brannan ran with a bottle of yellow dust in one hand, waving
his hat with the other and shouting, 'Gold! gold! from the American
River!' It was here that the big gambling houses sprang up, where
fortunes were made and lost in a night, and here the first Vigilance
Committee met and executed justice." The old man paused for breath.
I was on the edge of the bench ready for flight. All my good work of the
last two days was rapidly being undermined. I heard again the skeptic's
contemptuous tone of yesterday. "It's either before the fire" or "in the
good old days of forty-nine."
"We--we must go," I stammered, "it's getting very late." The Bostonian
looked at his watch. "Not three o'clock yet." He leaned back
comfortably. "You ought to be interested in this. Your grandfather was a
I looked at him searchingly. I ought to be interested! I, who cherished
every memory of pioneer days! I, who had bitten my lips a dozen times
that afternoon, and was glorying in the tact and strength of mind which
had avoided this period of our history!
The miner, apparently aware of my presence for the first time, sent me a
piercing glance from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. "So your grandfather--"
"He wasn't exactly a forty-niner," I acknowledged. "He arrived outside
the Heads the night of December thirty-first but there was a heavy fog
and the vessel didn't get inside until the next morning."
"Hard luck," sympathized the old man, "coming near to being a
forty-niner and missing it."
"But it's practically the same thing," persisted the Bostonian. "Only a
"The same thing!" scornfully repeated the miner. "There's as much
difference as between Christmas and Fourth of July. A forty-niner's a
forty-niner, and a man that came in fifty--well, he might as well have
come in sixty or seventy, or even in the twentieth century. It's the
forty-niner that counts in this community." He drew himself up proudly.
Then plunging his hand deep into his pocket, drew out a nugget.
"Picked that up off my first claim," he explained, "but the dirt didn't
pan out so well. I've carried it in my pocket all these years, just for
the sentiment of the thing, I suppose. Many a time I was tempted to
throw it on a table in the El Dorado, but I hung on to it."
"The El Dorado?" questioned the Easterner.
"Yes, one of the big gambling places here on the Plaza. Everybody took a
chance in those days, even some of the preachers. You met all your
friends there, and heard the best music and the latest news."
"Did they gamble with nuggets?" my companion led the old man on.
"Well, I guess they did! and gold dust in piles. The few children in
town used to pan out the dirt of the Plaza in front of the Temples of
Chance every morning after the places were swept out. The Californians
put up parts of their ranchos, too, sometimes."
"How high did the stakes run?" Evidently this descendant of the Pilgrims
had not lost all the sporting blood of his earlier English ancestors.
"Often as high as five hundred or a thousand dollars. The largest stake
I ever saw change hands was forty-five thousand. Many a miner went back
to the placers in the spring without a dollar in his pockets. But
everybody was doing it and you could almost count the nationalities in
the crowd around the table by the kinds of coins in the stacks. There
were French francs, English crowns, East Indian rupees, Spanish pesos
and United States dollars. The dress was as different as the money. We
miners wore red and blue shirts, slouch hats and wide belts to carry our
dust. The Californians were gorgeous in coats trimmed in gold lace,
short pantaloons and high deer-skin boots, and the Chinese ran a close
second in their colored brocaded silks. You knew the professional
gamblers by their long black coats and white linen--real gentlemen, many
of 'em and the most honest in the country.
"Ever see a picture of the Plaza in forty-nine," he asked abruptly.
The miner drew a square on the gravel path with his stick. "The El
Dorado was here, the Veranda here and the Bella Union here," he said,
punching holes on the three corners of Kearny and Washington. "They were
the finest and they had the best locations in town. The El Dorado paid
forty thousand dollars a year for a tent and twenty-five thousand a
month for a building on the same site later." The end of his stick
deepened the hole on the southeast corner.
My eyes wandered from the plan to the real location. "Why, there is the
name 'Veranda' over there now," I exclaimed as the black letters on a
white awning caught my eye.
"Yes, it is pretty near the old site, but it's a poor substitute for its
predecessor," he added scornfully. "There was great style in those days
--fine bars, lots of glass and mirrors and pictures worth thousands of
dollars. The doors were always open from eleven in the morning 'til
daylight the next morning, and a steady stream of people were pouring in
and out all the time. Everybody was there. There weren't no special
inducement to stay home nights, when your residence was a bunk on the
wall of a shanty and the fellers over you and under you and across the
room weren't even acquaintances. I got a pretty good room after awhile
in the Parker House"--he drew a small oblong south of the El Dorado--
"for a hundred dollars a week, but I didn't stay long."
"I should think not--at that price."
"Oh, it wasn't the price. One of my friends paid two hundred and fifty.
But you see it got pretty warm at the Parker House, that Christmas eve,
and so we all moved. They cleared away the hot ashes of the hotel and
built the Jenny Lind Theatre on the spot. That was the first big fire.
We had them right along after that, every few weeks. Six big ones in
eighteen months, with lots' of little ones in between."
"Then the last fire wasn't a new experience for you," the Bostonian
"Lord, no! Rebuilding was a habit with us early San Franciscans. We
didn't begin to feel sorry for a man 'til he'd lost everything he owned
three times. The Jenny Lind Theatre went down six times and the seventh
building was sold for the City Hall. It stood right there"--he pointed
to the handsome new Hall of Justice--"until it went up in the last
"You are sure it wasn't the earthquake that finished it?" inquired the
"Certainly not," I flared. "The Relief Committee met there that morning
to lay their plans while the fires were raging south of Market Street."
He acknowledged defeat by changing the subject. "Was the old Spanish
Custom House here?" he asked, pointing to the western side of the
"Yes," assented the miner, and he traced an oblong on the northern end,
"and just behind it, on Washington Street, was Sam Brannan's house. He
was the Mormon leader, you know, and brought a shipload of his followers
to establish a settlement in forty-six. He published our first
newspaper, the 'California Star,' in his house."
"Was it where that little green Chinese building with the bracketed
columns and turned-up eaves is?" I interposed.
"The telephone exchange, you mean? Exact spot. They used to ring a hand
bell in the Plaza on Sunday mornings to call the Mormons to hear Brannan
preach in the Casa Grande."
"Richardson's house!" My companion sent me an appreciative glance.
"Sure, but that was before most of 'em, including Sam, went back on
their faith. Next to the Custom House on the south," he continued, "was
the Public Institute. It wasn't much to look at--just pine boards--but
it was considerable useful. They held the Public School there and had
preaching on Sundays 'til the teacher, the preacher and all the audience
went off to the mines. They tried the Hounds there, too."
"The Hounds?" my friend looked dazed.
"Yes, the Sidney Coves that lived in Sidneyville, along there on Kearny
near Pacific." Light had failed to dawn.
"Here on the corner of Kearny," continued the Forty-niner, "was an old
adobe building with a red-tiled roof and a veranda around it."
"The City Hotel!" I exclaimed delightedly.
"How did you know?" He eyed me curiously.
"My grandfather was a near-forty-niner," I reminded him.
"Oh yes. Too bad! Too bad!" he added sympathetically. "It was the house
and store of a fellow named Leidesdorff," he continued, "who did a lot
of trading with the Yankee skippers in Mexican days, and it was turned
into a hotel in the gold rush. It was always the swell place for
blowouts. They had a big banquet and ball there for Governor Stockton,
I'm told, after the procession and speeches in the Plaza, and another
the next year for Governor Kearny; the first Relief Committee met here,
called by Brannan, Howard and Vallejo, to send rescuers to the Sierras
for the survivors of the Donner Party. There wasn't much of any
importance in the way of gathering that didn't happen there."
We instinctively looked across at the square, three-story, pressed-brick
home of the Chinese Consulate and bank.
"Every big fire took at least one side of the Plaza, and the sixth, in
June of fifty-one, wiped out the whole square. That adobe was the last
link between the Spanish village of Yerba Buena and its American
successor, San Francisco," he regretted, "but it was a good thing for
the city, for they began to build with stone and brick after that. Did
you see the Parrott Building, as you came along, on California and
Montgomery?" he asked.
The Easterner turned to me. "You didn't show me that," he said,
"No, why should I? It wasn't built until fifty-two."
He ignored my insinuation and turned back to his informer. "What about
the Parrott Building? It sounds like an aviary."
"Not exactly," he smiled. "It was made of granite blocks, cut and
dressed and marked in China and then shipped over and set up by the
'China Boys,' as the Orientals here called themselves."
"It's a curious coincidence," I ventured, "that the Hong Kong Bank now
occupies the lower floor. What a freak of the winds it was that swept
the big fire around that and the Montgomery block, and left them both
"Your fire seemed to have had a special veneration for historic
structures," the Easterner commented. "It respected the Mission in like
"Yes, somewhat," returned the miner, "but it might have had a little
more respect and spared the Tehama House and the What Cheer House. I
hated to see them go."
"And the Niantic Hotel and Fort Gunnybags," I added.
"Here! Here! I rise for a point of information," cried the alien. "Did
the cheer inebriate and what is the technical difference between
gunny-sacks and carpet bags?"
"Oh, that was our Vigilance Headquarters of fifty-six, where we hung
Casey and Cora," elucidated the Forty-niner.
"Help," gasped the Bostonian, sinking upon the bench.
"Tell him," I nodded to the miner.
"The Tehama House, on the waterfront at California and Sansome, was the
swell hotel for army and navy people and all the Spanish rancheros when
they came to town. You couldn't keep even your thoughts to yourself in
that house, for it had thin board sidings and cloth and paper
partitions, but it had lots of style, and Rafael set a great table. They
moved it over to Montgomery and Broadway to make room for the Bank of
California, and the fire caught it there. The What Cheer House," the old
man's eyes brightened, "was on Sacramento and Leidesdorff, and that's
where we miners went, if we could get in. Woodward was a queer chap.
Took you in whether you could pay or not. But it was only a man's hotel.
There wasn't a woman allowed about the place. He had the only library in
town and everybody was welcome to use it. I've often seen Mark Twain and
Bret Harte reading at the table."
"And the sacks?" queried the Bostonian.
But the old man had leaned back on the bench and his eyes wandered over
the green grass and trees of the square. "It's much prettier than it
used to be," he admitted, "but nothing happens here now. The Chinese
children fly kites and the unemployed loaf on the benches and the grass,
and I'm one of them. I wish you could have seen it in the early days."
His eyes kindled with excitement. "It was only a barren hillside, but
there was always something doing then. All the town meetings were held
here in the open air and all the parades ended here for the speeches.
The biggest celebration was in 1850, when the October steamer, flying
all her flags, brought the news that California was admitted to the
Union. We went wild, for we had waited for that word for more than a
year. Every ship in the harbor displayed all her bunting and at night
every house was as brilliant as candles and coal oil could make it.
Bonfires blazed on all the hills and the islands and we had music and
dancing all over the town 'til morning."
He paused in reminiscence. "But it wasn't so gay that moonlight night,
the next February, when we hung Jenkins. He was a Sidney Cove and had
just stole a safe, but that was the least of his crimes and of the whole
gang. When we Vigilantes heard the taps on the firebell here in the
Plaza, we gathered in front of the committee rooms. Nobody was excited;
we just had to drive out the Sidney Coves and put an end to crime. We
marched Jenkins here and hung him over there to the beam on the south
end of the Custom House. Forty of us pulled on the rope, while a
thousand more stood 'round as solemn as a prayer meeting to give us
moral support and shoulder the responsibility. It wasn't no joke hanging
a man, but it had to be done, if decent men was to live here."
He shook off his depression. "Everybody was in the Plaza sometime in the
day, and once a month when Telegraph Hill signaled a steamer, everybody
"Telegraph Hill? I never heard of it," he cast an accusing glance in my
"It belongs to forty-nine," I retorted.
"All the shops closed immediately," continued the miner, "and Postmaster
Geary was the most important man in town. The post-office was a block up
the hill at Clay and Pike Streets, but the lines from the windows
stretched down into the Plaza, and over among the tents and chaparral on
California Street Hill. Men stood for hours, sometimes all night, in the
pouring rain, and many a time I sold my place for ten dollars, and even
twenty, to some fellow who had less patience or less time than I.
"But you should have been here on election day in fifty-one." The miner
threw back his head and laughed aloud. "Colonel Jack Hays was running
for sheriff," he resumed, "and his opponent hired a band to play in
front of his store here on the Plaza as an advertisement. It worked
fine! He was polling all the votes and the Colonel was about out of the
running, 'til he got on his horse that he'd used on the Texas ranges and
came cavorting into the square. He showed 'em some fancy turns they
weren't used to and kept it up 'til the polls closed."
"Did he win?" I asked excitedly.
"Well, I guess he did! Hands down. But a sheriff ain't no use when the
laws won't stick. That's why we had to have the Vigilance Committees."
I arose. That was a long story and the afternoon was fast going. My
companion took the hint. He extended his hand and grasped the old
"I thank you," he said, "you have opened up a new epoch to me and I
shall not soon forget you. I shall come again and the place will have
lost much of its interest if you are not here."
"Oh, I'll be here," laughed the old fellow. "It's home to me."
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
"Would 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
"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 cortege,
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
"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 facade 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
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 Senora 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
"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 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
"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 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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Could Fremont 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 Fremont
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,
The lights became blurred and the night seemed suddenly to have grown
"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
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
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