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THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1922: Flappers in the newspapers May 19, 1922 Flappers Right off the bat I have to admit the fact that -- to paraphrase Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck -- what I don't know about San Francisco in the 1920s is a lot. I did know that all sorts of great Prohibition and gangster stuff must have gone on, though, so I starte…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1879: Stoddard, Stevenson, and Rincon Hill Sometime in 1879: The house on Rincon Hill Last week I read to you from In the Footprints of the Padres, Charles Warren Stoddard's 1902 reminiscences about the early days of San Francisco. That piece recounted a boyhood adventure, but this book is full of California stories …
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1854: A future poet's boyhood outing Spring 1854 Charles Warren Stoddard In 1854, the down-on-their-luck Stoddard family set off from New York City to try their luck in that brand new metropolis of the West: San Francisco. Charles Warren Stoddard was just 11 years old, and San Francisco -- still in the throes of the …
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1906: Hotaling's Whiskey is spared by the Great Fire and Earthquake April 20th, 1906 The deliverance of Hotaling's Whiskey As of Friday the 20th, San Francisco was still on fire. The Great Earthquake had happened two days earlier, but the Fire (or fires) that devastated the city were still well underway. The eastern …
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1958: The Giants play the Dodgers in the first major league baseball game on the West Coast April 15, 1958 Major League Baseball in San Francisco! Exactly fifty-one years ago today, two New York City transplants faced each other for the first time on the fertile soil of the West Coast. Decades of storied rivalry alre…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1871: The fall of a hoodlum king April 9, 1871: A hoodlum king's power is broken, and all because he hated the sound of music. Apparently. This isn't going to come as a surprise, but one of my favourite histories of this fair city is Herbert Asbury's Barbary Coast, first published in 1933. That's where I ran into the…
 
THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:The San Francisco “Cocktail Route” 1890-something The Cocktail Route — “Champagne Days of San Francisco” Spring is most definitely in the air right now, which has brought my thoughts back to one of the great phenomena of San Francisco’s pre-earthquake era, the “Cocktail Route”. I know I’ve mentioned the “Cocktail Rout…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: Slumming the Barbary Coast 1871 "A Barbary Cruise" I've been thinking about the fact that -- just like our out-of-town guests inevitably insist that we take 'em to Chinatown or Fisherman's Wharf -- in the 1870s, visitors from back in "the States" just had to go slumming in the infamous Barbary Coast. The piece I'm ab…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: America's "Master Birdman" makes his final flight March 15, 1915: "The Man Who Owns the Sky" It was the year of the legendary Panama-Pacific International Exposition. San Francisco had once again earned that phoenix on her flag by rising from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire -- and just nine years later, the…
 
THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1956: Gold medals or Gold records? An athletic crooner makes a life-changing choice 1956: “Send blank contracts” Of course you know Johnny Mathis. The velvet-voiced crooner is a fixture of the softer side of American pop culture, providing reliably romantic background music for cuddling couples for over sixty years. …
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1852: English adventurer Frank Marryat pays a visit to a San Francisco Gold Rush barbershop. 1852: A Gold Rush shaving-saloon I love personal accounts of the goings-on in our little town more than just about anything. The sights, the smells, the daily routine ... I want the nuts and bolts of what it was like to live …
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1921: the cornerstone of the Palace of the Legion of Honor is laid ... but what was underneath? February 19, 1921 Ghosts of Lands End On this date the cornerstone for San Francisco's spectacular Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum was levered into place. The Museum was to be a vehicle for the cultural pretensions of…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1869: the fashionable neighborhood of Rincon Hill is sliced in two. February, 1869 The battle for Rincon Hill is over There aren't too many people living who remember this now, but Rincon Hill was once the fanciest neighborhood in San Francisco. You know the place, right? It's south of Market Street, an asphalt-cover…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1849: As the fateful year of 1849 begins, a newspaper editor scrutinizes San Francisco's gold rush future. February 1, 1849 The eye of the Gold Rush hurricane The spring of 1849 -- dawn of a year forever branded into the national consciousness as the era of the California Gold Rush. And so it was -- but that was back…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1847: Thanks to a Spanish noblewoman and the quick thinking of Yerba Buena's first American alcalde, San Francisco gets its name. January 30, 1847: Yerba Buena becomes San Francisco Yerba Buena That was the name given to the tiny bayside settlement back in 1835, a name taken from the wild mint growing on the sand dun…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1890: Nellie Bly blows through town; 1897: "Little Pete" (the King of Chinatown) is murdered in a barbershop. January 20, 1890 Miss Nellie Bly whizzes past San Francisco I got a hot tip that this was the anniversary of the day Miss Nellie Bly stopped by on the home stretch of her dash around the world. But as it turn…
 
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1861: the notorious countess Lola Montez dies in New York; 1899: a small boy defends himself in a San Francisco courtroom. January 17, 1861 Countess Lola Montez -- in Memorium As was undoubtedly marked on your calendar, San Francisco's patron saint Emperor Norton died last week, January 7, 1880. But his was not the o…
 
THIS WEEK: San Francisco's notorious "Demon of the Belfry" goes to the gallows. January 7, 1898: The execution of Gilded Age San Francisco's most notorious criminal Sure, Jack the Ripper had set a certain tone for serial killing just a few years earlier, but the crimes of Theodore Durrant were even more shocking. See, Jack's victims had been prosti…
 
THIS WEEK: the fiery fate of the first Cliff House, and the case of a parrot who would not sing. Click the audio player above to listen in, or just read on ... December 25, 1894: First San Francisco Cliff House burns On Christmas Day, 1894, the first San Francisco Cliff House burned to the ground. As the Chronicle poetically reported the next morni…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. THIS WEEK:a couple of items from the newspaper files, and an escape from Alcatraz -- perhaps! December 15, 1849: The London Times looks west As I perused the pages of an 1849-era copy of the Alta California this week, I ran a…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. THIS WEEK: a hanging from 1852, and a Miss Goldie Griffin wants to become a cop in 1912. December 10, 1852: San Francisco's first official execution It certainly wasn't for any lack of local mayhem that it took so long for Sa…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. THIS WEEK: In 1856, the birth of a great newspaper; and in 1896, a legendary gunfighter referees a boxing match. December 1, 1856: Birthday of the "San Francisco Call" One of San Francisco's Gilded Age newspaper giants begins…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. November 24, 1899: Collars, ties, and Butchertown mayhem Our first item flowed from the pen of some long-forgotten San Francisco Chronicle beat writer, a piece in which a neighborhood dispute is lovingly detailed. Butchertown…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. November 10, 1849: Gold Rush ships choke Yerba Buena Harbor In the closing days of 1848, President Polk sent a message to Congress confirming the discovery of gold in California. This marked the beginning of the gold rush fro…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. November 7, 1595: The accidental naming of San Francisco Bay All right. Let's get serious about going back in time, way, way, WAY back, 413 years into the past. How can this even be related to San Francisco, you ask? Well, it…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. October 28, 1881: A murder in Chinatown A murder in Chinatown. Newspapers, particularly the often very nasty San Francisco Chronicle, were full of anti-Chinese propaganda in the last decades before the turn of the century. St…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. October 24, 1861 The transcontinental telegraph line is finished, literally uniting the United States by wire just as the country was disintegrating into Civil War. Just before the shooting started, Congress had offered a sub…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. October 18, 1851 On this date, after endless politicking and interminable delay, the mail ship Oregon steamed into San Francisco harbor with the news that California had been admitted to the Union. The reaction of San Francis…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. October 9, 1776 Two hundred and thirty-two years ago this week, the original "Mission San Francisco de Asis" -- better known as Mission Dolores -- was officially dedicated on the banks of Dolores Lagoon, in today's aptly name…
 
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. October 1, 1938 On a foggy Saturday in 1938, a swaybacked, 12-year-old horse named Blackie swam -- dog-paddled, really -- completely across the choppy waters of the Golden Gate. The horse not only made aquatic history with th…
 
September 24, 1855 The preserved head of Joaquin Murieta and the hand of Three-Fingered Jack were sold at auction today to settle their owner's legal problems. Joaquin Murieta was a notorious and romantic figure in the early history of California. With Jack, his right-hand man, Murieta led a gang of Mexican bandits through the countryside on a thre…
 
A little explanation is in order So. The schedule of Sparkletack production has fallen off a bit during the past year, and for that I apologize. I miss the show myself, so I've decided to tweak the format a bit. Here's my new plan. I started to think about the fact that every time the planet spins around its axis, it's the anniversary of some inter…
 
It’s one of San Francisco’s best-loved monuments — the figure of a heartbreakingly beautiful girl balancing lightly atop a granite column high above Union Square. She soars above both pedestrians and pigeons, gracefully clutching trident and victory laurels, lifting her shapely arms in triumph over the city of San Francisco. It was intended to memo…
 
To many of the thousands of gold-seekers pouring through the Golden Gate back in 1849, the word “Argonaut” was already a familiar one, drawn from the ancient myth of “Jason and the Golden Fleece”. “Argonaut” was the name applied to Jason’s band of heroic companions, combining the name of his ship — the “Argos” — […]…
 
What is Treasure Island? Why is it there? And where is it going? In the second episode of this 2-part podcast series, San Francisco’s plan for a mid-bay international airport is abruptly derailed by World War II. The US Navy seizes the island, transforming the former World’s Fair location into “Naval Station Treasure Island”. The […]…
 
Treasure Island is easily visible from San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a low-lying front porch jutting out towards the Golden Gate from Yerba Buena Island. Palm trees in a silhouetted row set off massive white buildings, dwarfed by the towering silver Bay Bridge marching across the water towards Oakland. That bridge carries over 130,000 people a day […
 
I’m addicted to the “moving images” section of the Internet Archive — particularly the Prelinger Archives, recently absorbed into the Library of Congress. This massive collection of “ephemeral films”, a term which covers just about anything not made for commercial entertainment (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) is a fantastic sour…
 
On a recent Pacific Heights walking tour I found myself standing atop Lafayette Park. As I admired the spectacular view, the guide told an unfamiliar story about a mansion that once occupied this hill. The building is long gone now, of course, but its history is a wild one. Here’s the story: Samuel Holladay, respectable […]…
 
You’ve seen the green and white signs in front of the “Lefty O’Doul Restaurant and Piano Bar” down on Geary Street, but who is Lefty O’Doul? Just another phony Irish name invented to sell beer? Absolutely not! The silhouette of that left-handed slugger on the sign is a clue. Lefty O’Doul was a baseball player, […]…
 
At the end of the Part One of this two part series, Abraham Lincoln had been elected president, the Civil War had broken out, and the question of California’s loyalty to the Union was in grave doubt. The youthful Unitarian minister from Boston was a newcomer to the scene, but his powerful voice had been […]…
 
Over 100,000 people a day travel the Geary Street corridor. But how many glance over and notice the grey statue standing watch at Franklin Street? Only a very few look even further, and notice the low, stone sarcophagus nestled in front of the gothic Unitarian Church. Walk right up to it and you’ll discover that […]…
 
History is rife with bizarre confrontations and grand feuds, but in San Francisco none were more bizarre than the showdown between Charles Crocker (bellicose railroad robber baron) and Nicholas Yung (unassuming German undertaker). Call it “a tale of two egos”. It was over a very small piece of land, but this property was located on […]…
 
In this week’s podcast we’ll marvel at beautiful Lotta Crabtree, quintessential star of the late 1800s. She was the protege of Lola Montez, the highest paid performer on Broadway, the darling of the entire nation, and the most popular comedienne of her era. As you may already suspect, her story begins right here in California, […]…
 
This week’s podcast chooses just one of the many thousands of individual stories to emerge from the catastrophe, following the eccentric Italian superstar and the storied hotel through their respective trials and tribulations. One survives… but the other does not. For further edification: » “The San Francisco Earthquake” – Gordon Thomas, Max Morgan…
 
This week’s podcast grapples with the unbelievable legend of Lola Montez, the gorgeous Irish peasant girl with the soul of a grifter and the heart of a despot. She lived about three lifetimes’ worth of adventure, turning Europe upside down and provoking a revolution in Bavaria before conquering Gold Rush-era San Francisco with her scandalous […]…
 
The history of one of these hidden layers is, however, little known and rarely spoken of – I refer of course to the San Francisco trolls. Though some hold that the trolls are a primitive people original to this area, and were in the hills even before the native american Ohlone, other, more reputable sources […]…
 
This week’s podcast explores the history of the millionaire philanthropist who gave so much to our city and whose story is — amazingly — almost forgotten. For further edification: » The Western Neighborhoods Project– outsidelands.org » Sutro bio from 1898 – sfmuseum.org » Sutro Baths – National Park Service » Sutro Baths – San Francisco […]…
 
In an attempt to answer the oft-voiced question "what is that thing, anyway?", in this week’s podcast a visit is finally paid to this sumptuous Victorian repository for cremated remains, the baroque center of what was once a 167 acre cemetery in the center of San Francisco. It’s a spectacular building, but the real discovery […]…
 
The Park Service website reads simply "sing traditional working songs aboard a floating vessel." The songs? Sea chanteys. The vessel? A majestic iron-hulled squarerigger called the "Balclutha". I had no idea how inspiring the experience could be, nor how powerful. It turned out I had inadvertently wandered into a 25 year old San Francisco tradition…
 
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