John Steinbeck on San FranciscoPosted: August 23, 2022 Filed under: San Francisco, Steinbeck, the California Condition Leave a comment
Thomas Wolf took that one for Wikipedia.
Can you remember anywhere in John Steinbeck’s fiction where he discusses San Francisco? Whole books about Monterey, but does he even mention the place? I couldn’t remember. A friend’s been working on Steinbeck’s letters, he couldn’t think of any mention either.
Turns out Steinbeck does talk about San Francisco in Travels with Charley in Search of America. The chapter begins:
I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many – one printed over another until the whole thing blurs.
He mentions growth:
I remember Salinas, the town of my birth, when it proudly announced four thousand citizens. Now it is eighty thousand and leaping pell mell on in mathematical progression – a hundred thousand in three years and perhaps two hundred thousand in ten, with no end in sight.
(The population of Salinas is, in 2022, 156,77.)
Then he writes some about mobile home parks, and property taxes, concluding:
We have in the past been forced into reluctant change by weather, calamity, and plague. Now the pressure comes from our biologic success as a species.
Then he gets going on San Francisco:
Once I knew the City very well, spent my attic days there, while others were being a lost generation in Paris. I fledged in San Francisco, climbed its hills, splet in its parks, worked on its docks, marched and shouted in its revolts. In a way I felt I owned the City as much as it owned me.
A city on hills has it over flat-land places. New York makes its own hills with craning buildings, but this gold and white acropolis rising wave on wave against the blue of the Pacific sky was a stunning thing, a painted thing like a picture of a medieval Italian city which can never have existed.
Steinbeck can’t stay though. He has to hurry on to Monterey to cast his absentee ballot (it’s 1960; he’s voting for John F. Kennedy).
Alice MarblePosted: August 17, 2022 Filed under: California, San Francisco, the California Condition Leave a comment
(Paul T. submitted this photo to FourSquare)
Several times in walks around San Francisco I’ve stopped at the Alice Marble Tennis Courts, at the top of Russian Hill, for the view from Alcatraz to the bridge.
Alice Marble was a tennis champ of the 1930s and ’40s. Wikipedia informs us:
For a brief time after retirement, she worked on the editorial advisory board of DC Comics and was credited as an associate editor on Wonder Woman. She created the “Wonder Women of History” feature for the comics, which told the stories of prominent women of history in comic form.
In her second autobiography Courting Danger (released after her death in 1990), Marble mentions that, back in the 1940s, she had married Joe Crowley around World War II, a pilot, who was killed in action over Germany. Only days before his death, she miscarried their child following a car accident. After an attempt to kill herself, she recuperated, and in early 1945, agreed to spy for U.S. intelligence. Her mission involved renewing contact with a former lover, a Swiss banker, and obtaining Nazi financial data. The operation ended when a Nazi agent shot her in the back after chasing her while she was trying to escape in a car, but she recovered. Few details of this operation have been corroborated by journalists and authors who tried to investigate this part of her life in the years from the time of her death to the present. No Swiss banker has been discovered, leading to suspicions that this man of mystery might have been a Nazi, someone who Marble may have been trying to avoid having had an association.
Marble greatly contributed to the desegregation of American tennis by writing an editorial in support of Althea Gibson for the July 1, 1950 issue of American Lawn Tennis Magazine. The article read “Miss Gibson is over a very cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope to loosen a few of its staves with one lone opinion. If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentle-people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites…If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it’s only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts.”
Female tennis champs of that era are honored all over San Francisco. Alice Marble’s career followed that of Helen Willis Moody, painted by Diego Rivera in his mural inside the former Pacific Stock Exchange. It’s cool that California is still producing world class tennis champs.
The Alice Marble courts are surrounded by George Sterling Park:
Kevin Starr (1973) wrote:
The uncrowned King of Bohemia (so his friends called him), Sterling had been at the center of every artistic circle in the San Francisco Bay Area. Celebrated as the embodiment of the local artistic scene, though forgotten today, Sterling had in his lifetime been linked with the immortals, his name carved on the walls of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition next to the great poets of the past.
Lots of people around George Sterling’s life died of poison, including finally the man himself, who poisoned himself inside the San Francisco clubhouse of the Bohemian Club. Next time I’m up there, I’ll have to stop by the Bohemian Club and see the bronze relief by Jo Mora.
The style of poetry Sterling practiced is no longer really in fashion:
The winds of the Future wait
At the iron walls of her Gate,
And the western ocean breaks in thunder,
And the western stars go slowly under,
And her gaze is ever West
In the dream of her young unrest.
Her sea is a voice that calls,
And her star a voice above,
And her wind a voice on her walls—
My cool, grey city of love.
How did the Bohemian Club go from being a scene of outré artists to having like Richard Nixon as a member? Probably the same way Carmel went from being an out there semi-commune to being a rich person retirement place. And the same way San Francisco was a cool place to drop out in 1965, and is now unaffordable unless you’re making mid six figures programming algorithms.
A lesson from California history: wherever the outcast artists are setting up camp, you’d be wise to buy real estate, and hang onto it for a hundred years. Although maybe that kind of thinking is contrary to the Bohemian Club motto:
Weaving spiders come not here.
San Francisco (and Los Angeles)Posted: July 15, 2020 Filed under: America Since 1945, California, San Francisco, the California Condition Leave a comment
Earlier this year, you moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco. How is the transition going?
It felt like the opening minute of Randy Newman’s song “I Love L.A.” Looking back on the twentieth century, I recall it was Los Angeles that was always the city of the future, and the city of craft and guilds. Every movie was essentially a six-month startup that brought together know-how and expertise from so many different areas: art, set design, costume, carpentry—and all the weirdly named professions like grips, gaffers, and boom operators. That ethos still lives on in the spirit of the place. With SpaceX and other aerospace companies making headway, I wouldn’t discount Southern California in the race to become the next big creative cluster. Of course, Sacramento may ruin the entire state before that happens. But that’s another story.
Michael Gibson (had never heard of) in City Journal. Gibson wrote a piece for City Journal where he called San Francisco “America’s Havana.” He pointed out inarguable problems with San Francisco, which is a shocking mess.
But, like Havana, San Francisco is also magical. There’s just something about it. Maybe it’s the drastic geography, set on hillsides over a bay that’s both perfect and hidden. The sea air is part of it, for sure, and the lushness of the flora. In both Havana and San Francisco, the very air is magical.
When you read the history of San Francisco, a certain tolerance of criminality always seems to have been part of the mix. Stepping over a druggie passed out on the street wouldn’t’ve been unfamiliar to a resident of Gold Rush-era San Francisco or Barbary Coast San Francisco, or the 1940s San Francisco that inspired all the noir movies.
I’ve had in my files this bit by Lillian Symes from a 1932 Harper’s, reprinted from the archive:
The city of cheap yet superb living:
When I got to LA in 2004, I found the living superb. It was cheaper than New York City, but I’m not sure it could really be called cheap. And it’s gotten less cheap. Readers, where would you say, these days, the living is cheap yet superb?
San Francisco scenes:
What do these buildings have in common?Posted: October 10, 2016 Filed under: California, money, New York, San Francisco Leave a comment
One Beacon Street, Boston
425 Market Street, San Francisco:
11 Times Square, New York:
Along with a lot of other buildings in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Paris, London and elsewhere, they’re all 47% or so owned by the Norwegian people, in the form of their nation’s sovereign wealth fund.
They own a lot of other stuff, too. $21 mill worth of Buffalo Wild Wings, for instance.
And 1.5% of Whole Foods:
In a tiny way, every Norwegian helps Marc Maron, because they own about a million bucks worth of Stamps.com.
San FranciscoPosted: January 7, 2016 Filed under: America Since 1945, assorted, California, San Francisco, the American West, the California Condition, the ocean Leave a comment
Right before Christmas had a chance to visit San Francisco — always great!
In San Francisco you can really feel like you’re halfway in the ocean.
Finding myself with an idle hour I went to go check out Diego Rivera’s mural Allegory of California over at the City Club in the former Pacific Stock Exchange building. The City Club was all done up for a Christmas party.
Pictures of the mural often leave out the amazing ceiling part:
Rivera painted this one in 1931, He modeled the lady on tennis champ Helen Wills Moody, who was at that time one of California’s most famous daughters:
She was a painter herself:
Wills was an artist by avocation. She received a degree in fine arts along with a Phi Beta Kappa key from the University of California, and painted throughout her life. She was delighted to be chosen as the model for Diego Rivera’s two-story mural “The Riches of California,” commissioned for $2,500 in 1930. Wills and the first of her two husbands, the financier Frederick Moody, invited Rivera and his wife, the painter Frieda Kahlo, to a celebratory tea after the mural’s unveiling at the former San Francisco Stock Exchange.
For Wills, who confessed to suffering the intangible pangs of “a restless heart,” tennis and painting were the best antidotes for melancholy. She maintained an artist’s studio at her residences in San Francisco and later in Carmel, once sold 40 paintings for $100 each and illustrated her own articles for The Saturday Evening Post.
Here’s one of her own drawings:
Lifting that one from San Francisco’s Lost Art Salon. Reader Schoboats calls our attention to a good detail from Wills Moody’s NY Times obit:
Perhaps Wills’s most infamous match, and certainly the one she extolled as the focal point of her playing career, was her only meeting with Lenglen, the queen of the continent, in a much ballyhooed showdown at Cannes in 1926. Lenglen was 26 and tactically superior; Wills was 20 and physically stronger. Lenglen won the raucous encounter, 6-3, 8-6.
There was a prizefight atmosphere, with tickets scalped at a then-shocking rate of $50 each, and an international gallery of spectators that included King Gustaf, a group of stowaway French schoolboys in a eucalyptus tree at one end of the court and Wills’s future husband, Frederick Moody, who introduced himself to her after the match. Wills was fond of noting that although she lost the match, she not only gained perspective on necessary changes to her game, which tended to be without nuance and relied on battering her opponents into submission with repetitious forehand ground strokes, but also gained a husband.
Maybe next time I’m up there I will get to see Making Of A Fresco:
Pacific-Union Club PunchPosted: April 2, 2012 Filed under: California, how to live, people, San Francisco 1 Comment
This is the Pacific-Union Club, at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco:
Are you going to tell me you can walk by that building and not think, “I want to make their famous punch!”
For a party of ten. Into a large punch-bowl place ten tablespoonfuls of bar sugar and ten tablespoonfuls of freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice. Add two jiggers of Curaçao and dissolve the whole in about a quart of effervescent water. Add two quarts of champagne and one bottle of good cognac. Stir thoroughly, ice, decorate and serve in thin glassware.
READER: be sure to use regular, orange Curacao, not blue curacao, or your punch will be a revolting green color.
That recipe is from William “Cocktail” Boothby’s 1908 book, The World’s Cocktails and How To Make Them. Let’s take a look at Boothby’s resume, just to make sure he’s for real:
- Minstrel performer.
- Bartender in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Kansas City.
- Bartender at Byron Hot Springs.
- Bartender (or in his terms “presiding deity”) at Hotel Rafael, San Rafael, California, in “the gay days when Baron von Schroeder was making history over there”.
- Bartender at the Silver Palace, San Francisco
- Bartender at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco.
- Saloon owner.
- Assemblyman in California in 1895. The 1908 edition of The World’s Drinks & How To Mix Them begins “To the liquor dealers of San Francisco who unanimously assisted in my election to the Legislature by an unprecedented majority.”
- Soda drink counter supervisor, Olympic Club, during Prohibition