by Frank Dunnigan
As local activities begin to resume a post-pandemic sense of normalcy, some people may have forgotten what it is like to see large crowds gathered together. Here are some examples from the OpenSFHistory files that are guaranteed to jog memories back to the days before social distancing.
NOTE: With so many images from large San Francisco gatherings to be found on OpenSFHistory.org, it was not possible to include them all, but you will find some representative samples below.
Up until the 1960s, San Francisco had been a Republican stronghold for about 50 years. It was also the center of power on the West Coast, so candidates of all political persuasions always found time to stump in San Francisco, seeking votes and cash. Although it had been eclipsed by Los Angeles as the most populous city on the West Coast by the time of the 1960 election, San Francisco still retained a lot of political power and candidates made their obligatory treks to the City that year. Republican Richard M. Nixon drew a large crowd to an outdoor rally in Union Square in September 1960.
However, Democrat candidate John F. Kennedy also drew a huge crowd to an early November rally at the Cow Palace shortly before the election. In a sign of the changing times in San Francisco, Kennedy trounced Nixon by over 50,000 votes in the City. Nixon won the state though by a narrow 35,000 vote margin that year. San Francisco has remained a liberal stronghold ever since, but candidates of both parties continue to seek favor in the City and region in every national election and still draw big crowds when they campaign here.
For the first half of the 20th century, major sports leagues were pretty much confined to the Eastern half of the country. Nonetheless, sports thrived here, drawing the masses to college and minor league games. Kezar Stadium hosted the East-West Shrine Game featuring college football all-stars for many years, while Cal and Stanford played their Big Game in the City several times as well. These football games drew huge crowds. Meanwhile, baseball aficionados saw future superstars like Joe DiMaggio play for the minor league San Francisco Seals before they reached the majors.
Eventually, the major leagues found their way to San Francisco and fans were delighted. First the San Francisco 49ers was founded in 1946 as part of the All-American Football Conference before being absorbed into the NFL in 1950. Next, the Giants arrived from New York in 1958 to continue their baseball rivalry with the Dodgers on the West Coast. They initially played their games in the old Seals Stadium, which had its capacity increased to 22,900 people for the Giants’ games and frequently drew a full compliment.
Two years later, the Giants opened up a new stadium at Candlestick Point, appropriately called Candlestick Park, with an initial baseball capacity of over 43,000. 40 years after that, they moved downtown to a new ballpark in China Basin called Pacific Bell Park (later SBC Park, AT&T Park, and now Oracle Park). The new stadium had a capacity of nearly 41,000 before later being increased to 42,000. It has also enjoyed regular sell-out crowds. Finally, the Warriors brought NBA basketball to San Francisco in 1962, playing initially at the Cow Palace and San Francisco Civic Auditorium. They would then move to Oakland (and change their name to the Golden State Warriors), before returning for the 2019-2020 season in the new Chase Arena not far from the Giants ballpark.
In the space of less than 50 years, San Francisco was home to three world fairs, though none were actually called that. The first was the 1894 Midwinter Fair. San Francisco had begun planting and building Golden Gate Park in 1870. After a little more than 20 years, the Park was really taking shape and San Francisco decided to invite the world to see it with the six-month long Midwinter Fair. Approximately two and a half million people visited in that time.
Following the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco was forced to rebuild. In the early 1910s, the City began looking for a way to show the world it was ready for tourism to return. Another world’s fair was their answer. The stated reason for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition was to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, but really San Francisco just wanted people to come visit again. The festival lasted more than ten months and attracted nearly 19 million visitors.
In the 1930s, transportation into San Francisco took a great leap forward with the construction of the two great spans, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Construction of the latter included the creation of an artificial island to the north of Yerba Buena Island. Eager to show off the bridges, San Francisco celebrated by putting on the Golden Gate International Exposition on the newly created Treasure Island. It was open for seven months in 1939 and another four months in 1940, drawing over 15 million visitors.
MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT
San Francisco has long been the cultural center of the West Coast, despite what Los Angeles may believe now. Musicians, artists, and actors have long made the trek to the City to entertain. Enrico Caruso famously was here performing in a production of Carmen at the time of the 1906 earthquake. Another Italian opera star, Luisa Tetrazzini once announced she would perform on the streets of San Francisco if she had to while experiencing legal issues that prevented her from performing in New York. After winning that case, she did come to San Francisco to sing in front of hundreds of thousands of people clogging the streets around Lotta’s Fountain.
With the advent of motion pictures, theaters sprung up all over town. Unlike today’s cineplexes, the City was once dotted with grand movie palaces, such as the Alexandria, the Alhambra, the Castro, the Coliseum, the Coronet, and the Fox (see above) to name a small few. These theaters often seated thousands of people. Large venues for music and plays also opened to bring all of the best entertainment to the City.
With large stadiums for the local sports teams, even bigger crowds gathered for music events, like the Rolling Stones at Candlestick Park seen above. These big festivals routinely draw many thousands of fans.
San Francisco has many large churches that can seat a lot of people, but on occasion, there are religious events that draw huge crowds. In 1987, for example, Pope John Paul II came to San Francisco. The Pope held a mass at Candlestick Park that 70,000 worshippers attended. As seen above, William Randolph Hearst’s funeral in 1951 saw an overflow crowd at Grace Cathedral.
Sometimes, important religious services drew crowds so big, the overflow spilled out into surrounding streets and parks. As seen here, some attendees at the Good Friday services at Old St. Mary’s Church in 1940 had to stand outside on the sidewalk or across the street in St. Mary’s Square (before there was a parking garage there). In 1961, Father Patrick Peyton brought his Family Rosary Crusade, long a radio and television staple, to the Polo Fields where an estimated 500,000 people celebrated the rosary with him.
In the course of human events, crowds often come together in protest or celebration, sometimes planned and other times organically. Typically, but not always, it is the celebrations that are organic, such as the Victory in Japan throngs that celebrated on Market Street to mark the end of World War II.
Crowd on Market Street celebrating Giants win over Dodgers to take 1962 National League pennant, October 3, 1962. (wnp28.6146; Andrew Petrishin, photographer – SF Examiner Negatives / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Sports often provide incentive for organic celebrations, like when the Giants beat the Dodgers to win the 1962 National League pennant. Similar crowded festivities occurred after Giants’ World Series wins in the last decade, 49ers’ Super Bowl wins in the 1980s and 90s, and Warriors’ NBA titles in 1975 and 2010s. These wins also featured planned parades on Market Street to celebrate the championships. Market Street has often been the site of planned parades for everything from welcoming world leaders to San Francisco to 50 years of Pride parades.
Protests also have brought thousands of people together over the years. The 1960s in particular featured a number of large civil rights marches where people filled the Civic Center or Kezar Stadium or Golden Gate Park. Protests against the Vietnam war continued to bring thousands together into the early 1970s. Just in the past year, many thousands came together as part of the Black Lives Matter protest movement at Dolores Park, downtown streets, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Even before the 1960s protest marches, there were a number of labor strife rallies where large groups of union workers came together to strike or fight for greater rights and working conditions. Some 3000 Longshoremen and Teamsters came together in 1937 in a dock dispute between the unions. Their respective leaders debated the issues over loudspeakers to the assembly. A general strike in 1934 lasted over two months and completely shut down the City’s docks for four days.
Hardly a year has gone by in San Francisco’s history without crowded gatherings for one reason or another. Even during this past pandemic year, they did not completely disappear, but will likely again happen more often now as the world opens up again.
Additional text provided by Arnold Woods
by Arnold Woods
In a speech to Western ambassadors at the Polish embassy in Moscow on November 18, 1956, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev famously said: “About the capitalist states, it doesn’t depend on you whether or not we exist. If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!” In the end, history may not have been on the communists’ side with the Soviet Union eventually disintegrating into numerous sovereign nations. However, despite the implied threat, whether real or not, in his “we will bury you” statement, the West nevertheless did issue an invitation to the communist leader. This resulted in the first state visit by a Soviet leader when Khrushchev came to the United States in 1959. As part of his American tour, Khrushchev visited San Francisco in September 1959.
The early part of Khrushchev’s tour was on the East Coast in Washington, D.C. and New York. Then he headed for California. After spending some time in Los Angeles, including the obligatory meal with Hollywood stars, Khrushchev got on a train and headed north. The special luxury train arrived at the Southern Pacific Bayview Yard at approximately 6:10 p.m. on September 20, 1959.
Mayor George Christopher was at the train yard to greet the Soviet First Secretary. The Mayor had a warm welcome for Khrushchev and a hug and bouquet of flowers for his wife, Nina.1 The public was not permitted at this welcoming, but a small official contingent was present to greet Khrushchev. Mayor Christopher delivered short remarks, stating that the Soviet Premier “is not here to take issue with us and we are not here to take issue with him.” The Mayor added that he “wanted [Khrushchev] to know that San Francisco, being a cordial city, being a city of hospitality and a city of international fame for this hospitality, will accord to His Excellency the fullest hospitality of our city.”
After Christopher’s remarks, Khrushchev addressed the gathering. He replied, “I am grateful to you for this welcome. I am grateful to all the citizens of San Francisco who correctly understand the significance of my visit as guided by the desire to establish friendship and relations of love between our two peoples.” When the speaking was done, the gathered officials and Soviet visitors got into a motorcade of Cadillacs and headed for Nob Hill.
Awaiting Khrushchev’s arrival was a crowd of 10,000 people on Nob Hill. It was a friendly crowd that cheered and clapped for him upon his appearance at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Khrushchev would be staying in the Royal Suite at the Mark Hopkins,2, but first he delighted in the adoring crowd. He slipped away from his security contingent several times to shake hands with spectators. After heading upstairs to his 16th floor suite, he stepped out to the balcony to wave some more to the crowd. Then Khrushchev headed for dinner with American labor leaders that U.S. government officials were specifically not invited to.
The next day, Khrushchev did some sight-seeing and he started by making a surprise visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf area.3 Instead of checking out the new Marina Safeway store, he dropped in on the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union Hall where he exchanged his fedora for a longshoreman’s white stevedore’s cap. In brief remarks, he asked if he could call the union men “comrades” and received a big cheer from the assembly. They cheered further when he told them that peace was not enough, but “enough work and a good wage” was also necessary. Khrushchev clearly knew his audience.
After the union visit, Khrushchev headed for Pier 43 and a ride on a Coast Guard cutter for a bay cruise. Then it was on to San Jose for a tour of an IBM plant.4 He apparently was more interested in their self-service cafeteria–where he lunched on Southern fried chicken–than he was in their computer technology. On the return to San Francisco, he made another unscheduled stop, this time at the Quality Foods supermarket in Stonestown. Word got out quickly though, and the store was soon crowded leading to some fights and display wreckage. Khrushchev took it all in stride, shaking hands with staff and customers.
Back in the City, the Premier attended another dinner, this one at the Sheraton Palace Hotel with some 3000 guests in several ballrooms that included California governor Edmund G. Brown.5 Khrushchev kept his remarks light, citing some Russian proverbs, an old song, and even the New Testament. For his part, Governor Brown expressed his hope that “increasing knowledge of each other’s way of life will tend to reduce the exchange of hackneyed cliches about communism and capitalism.” Mayor Christopher and U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge also spoke.
With that, Khrushchev’s Bay Area sojourn was over. He flew out of San Francisco on Tuesday morning, September 22, 1959,6 headed for Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Camp David to complete his American expedition. His time in the City went smoother than some other stops on the tour, particularly Los Angeles where the mayor had angered the Soviet leader.7 Perhaps as a result, Khrushchev described San Francisco as the best city he visited in the U.S. We don’t disagree with him on that assessment.
1. “‘K’ Here–Cheered,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 1959, pp. 1, 10.
2. “Premier To Arrive Tonight,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1959, p. 1.
3. “ILWU Cheers Nikita During Surprise Visit,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1959, p. 1A.
4. “Russ Leader Plays The Jolly Tourist,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1959, pp. 1, 1A.
5. “Premier Sees Hope For Peace In U.S.,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1959, pp. 1, 4.
6. “S.F. Adieu–‘Best City For Summit,'” San Francisco Chronicle, September 23, 1959, p. 1.
7. “Premier Blows Up At L.A. Dinner,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1959, p. 1.
by Arnold Woods
Today we know Nob Hill as the home to some of San Francisco’s ritziest hotels and one of its finest cathedrals. Both the name and its reputation as home for the wealthy elite are a result of the decision of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad, collectively known as “The Associates” or “The Big 4,” to build their homes there in the mid-to-late 19th century. The hill was originally known as California Hill because California Street went over it.
The Central Pacific Railroad was incorporated on June 28, 1861 and then chartered by Congress in 1862 to build the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Big 4 were then Sacramento businessmen. The president of the new railroad company was Leland Stanford, who was elected governor and then took office on January 10, 1862. The vice-president was Collis Huntington, who was in business with Mark Hopkins, selling mining supplies and hardware during the Gold Rush and thereafter. Hopkins was the treasurer for the venture and had bookkeeping and business managerial experience before starting Huntington Hopkins and Company with Huntington. The final member of the Big 4 was Charles Crocker, who was placed in charge of construction of the railroad, likely because of his experience working in and owning an iron forge. In 1868, the Big 4 bought a controlling interest in the Southern Pacific Railroad and later merged the two rail lines.
Stanford was the first to build on California Hill. After he moved his family to San Francisco in 1874 so he could take over the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company, he picked a spot at California and Powell and began to build a mansion.1 The house at 905 California Street was designed by Samuel C. Bugbee & Son, Architects, a San Francisco firm.2 Completed in 1876, it offered a great view of the downtown area. Although the Clay Street Hill Railroad cable cars provided access up the steep grade to the top of California Hill, it was two blocks away from Stanford’s home. Perhaps wanting service to his front door, Stanford started the California Street Cable Railroad which began operation on April 10, 18783 and is the oldest still operating cable car line today.
Hopkins was the next to head to California Hill. While known for being a spendthrift, Hopkins’ wife convinced him to construct a somewhat ostentatious mansion at the corner of California and Mason, 999 California Street, just a block up the hill from the Stanford residence. It was designed by George Sanders and John Wright, English architects who opened up a practice in the City in 1868.4 Construction on the house was completed in 1878, but Hopkins never got to enjoy it. Before it was completed, he died on March 29, 1878.5 Hopkins’ wife Mary moved to Massachusetts sometime after his death. The house was later left in trust to the San Francisco Art Institute, which began operating the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art at the location in 1893.
Soon after Hopkins, Crocker started building his own mansion on California Hill at 1100 California Street, about a block away from the Hopkins’ house. Crocker went with the same architecture firm as Stanford, Bugbee and Son.6 Although his property was already large, Crocker wanted the entire block for his personal enjoyment. However, there was one holdout. When Nicholas Yung refused to sell his property to him, Crocker built a 40-ft high “spite” fence around three sides of Yung’s property.7 After Yung’s death in 1880, his heirs later sold the property to Crocker and he tore down Yung’s house and the fence.
Huntington was the last to buy property on California Hill, but his home predated the others. It was another house designed by Bugbee and Son, but was built in 1872-73 for David Colton, who was the chief legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad and president of the Rocky Mountain Coal & Iron Company.8 Colton sought and received a statement home for his property at the northeast corner of California and Taylor Streets, across the street from where Crocker would later build his mansion. After Colton’s premature death on October 9, 1878 due to a fall from a horse,9 the Big 4 sued his widow Ellen, claiming Colton had committed fraud against the railroad, while Ellen sued them for swindling her out of company securities owned by her husband. The Coltons daughter and her husband lived in the house after Colton’s death, but after the daughter died, the house was sold to Huntington and his wife Arabella in 1892.10 Huntington and his wife lived in New York by then though and spent very little time in it, instead letting their nephew, H.E. Huntington, a board member for the Southern Pacific Railroad, live there.
By 1900, all of the Big 4 had passed away with their companies and homes passed on to their heirs or other hands. The mansions, however, suffered their own deaths all at the same time. On April 18, 1906, the great earthquake struck San Francisco. The subsequent fire swept across Nob Hill leaving destruction in its wake.
The Stanford mansion burned down to its foundation. The property was later purchased by Lucien H. Sly who built a large apartment building that he called the Stanford Court Apartments which opened in 1914. Later owners would gut and remodel the building into the Stanford Court Hotel that you see today.
The Hopkins mansion, by then the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, was also completely destroyed in the post-earthquake fire. George D. Smith bought the site and retained the Weeks and Day architectural firm to design a hotel that he would build there. The 19-story structure, called the Mark Hopkins Hotel, featured elements of French and Spanish architecture and formally opened on December 4, 1926.11 In 1939, the 19th floor was converted into the Top of the Mark restaurant.12
After the destruction of the Crocker mansion, his family went in a different direction. Instead of rebuilding a home or selling to investors seeking to build a hotel, the Crocker family donated the site to the local Episcopal Diocese, which had lost their Grace Cathedral in the earthquake and fire.13 The diocese engaged London architect George Frederick Bodley to design a large English Gothic-style cathedral.14 Bodley died before completing the job, so it was finished by other architects in his London firm and local architect Lewis Hobart,15. The cornerstone for the new Grace Cathedral was laid on January 24, 1910,16 and services began in small completed section several years later. However, the full cathedral you see today was not fully finished until 1964 and it was consecrated on November 20, 1964.17
In the aftermath of the Huntington mansion burning down, the property was used temporarily to house some earthquake refugees in tents. In 1915, Huntington’s widow donated the site to the City for use as park.18 Today’s Huntington Park on top of Nob Hill across from Grace Cathedral was the result of that gift.
So how did California Hill become Nob Hill? Though not used as much today, nabob is a word used to denote people of great wealth and/or status. With the Big 4 and some other members of San Francisco elite living in huge mansions on California Hill, locals took to calling it Nabob Hill, which was quickly shortened to Nob Hill. References to it as Nob Hill began showing up in the newspapers in 1876. The name is just as relevant today as it was toward the end of the 19th century.
1. “Jottings About Town,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 1875, p. 3.
3. “The California-street Railroad,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 1878, p. 2.
5. “Mark Hopkins,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1878, p. 3.
7. “Crocker’s Fence,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 1878, p. 3.
9. “Death of D.D. Colton,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1878, p. 3.
10. “The Colton House,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 1892, p. 3.
11. “Society Gathers at Many Dinner Parties at Formal Opening of Mark Hopkins,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 5, 1926, p. CCC13.
12. “New Lounge Opens Today,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 1939, p. 12.
13. “Will Give Site For A Cathedral,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 15, 1906, p. 27.
14. “London Architect To Draw Cathedral Plans,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 1907, p. 7.
15. “Episcopal Cathedral To Be Built Shortly,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 11, 1909, p. 20.
16. “Corner Stone Laid and Thousands Sing Hymns of Praise,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 1910, p. 11.
17. “Consecration of Cathedral,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 1964, pp. 1, 7.
18. “Deed Is Given By Mrs. Huntington,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 1915, p. 8.