San Francisco; a city that, anyone who has spent any amount of time visiting or living in comes away with an impression that is unmistakable. San Francisco has always been a city of contrasts and character. It’s also a city that has been fearful its character will eventually vanish at some point.
This 1963 description of the city, given by author and resident Herb Gold, was a verbal blueprint for what was a projected film documentary on San Francisco. A project that may or may not have come to fruition, but what leaves behind is a vivid description of a town and its inhabitants at a specific period of time.
What is fascinating, and maybe alarming, are the numbers of landmarks that no longer exist today in 2019. The character of the city, made up largely of a diverse and somewhat haywire cast of individuals and movements, breathed lifeblood into San Francisco – something it has always been known for – something not so much known for now.
The loose and Bohemian spirit of the city; those picturesque and evocative landmarks are mostly gone today. Victims of either natural disasters (the Loma Prieta Earthquake did a lot to eradicate some architectural treasures) or developers bulldozers. The neighborhoods and the ethnic communities have been carved up and displaced; scattered throughout the city or on to other cities.
But this was a concern even in 1963. Those turn-of-the-century landmarks, the ones that survived the great Earthquake of 1906, were being torn down and replaced by what were considered distortions in 1963’s eyes. Fears that the romantic aspects of San Francisco, those quirky tributes to eccentricity (The Sutro Baths, for one example), would one day vanish along with the stories and the people who walked those streets and breathed that air.
It’s a little over an hour, and it was recorded for the sole purpose of being edited and transcribed into a treatment for a film. It’s not rehearsed, nor is it written out, nor is it professionally produced – it’s a raw and unfiltered look at a city as it was during the early 1960s – years before Haight-Ashbury became a mecca for the counterculture – a period of time in transition, not only for a city but the world in general.
The names and places may be very unfamiliar to you – these were people who were the social backbone and the Bohemian heart of the city. Names like Margo St. James or Pierre de Lattre may not ring many current bells, but if you look them up, as well as the other names and places mentioned in this piece, you may unearth a story of a city you never heard about before. A very unique city that has always been just a little bit skewed, and a lot special.