The Joice Street Stairway on the hillside of Nob Hill in San Francisco. The stairway connects Pine Street to California Street in the block between Stockton and Powell Streets.Threading the lee of Ern Hill, Fern Hill, or the Hill of Golden Promise, as Nob Hill was known for the ﬁrst twenty years of its civic existence, is an obscure three—block-long shelf called Joice Street, where Time, like any…
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The Almost Unknown Joice Street in San Francisco
Threading the lee of Ern Hill, Fern Hill, or the Hill of Golden Promise, as Nob Hill was known for the ﬁrst twenty years of its civic existence, is an obscure three—block-long shelf called Joice Street, where Time, like any other climber, stopped to take a deep breath before going on to the top.
Joice Street is a modest street, uncommercial and almost unknown. For 120 years the frantic life of downtown San Francisco has swirled about it madly. In all that time the changes have been so reassuringly few that any walker can retrieve the threads of continuity that link the surreal present with the more civilized recent past.
Begin this walk in Chinatown on Clay Street below Powell, across from the Commodore Stockton grammar school. It was down Clay Street at 5 A.M., August 2. 1873, that Andrew S. Hallidie, his partners and a gripman named Jimmie made the historic test run in the first cable car ever built. By the time they reached Joice Street, they were in a dense fogbank, tense and eager to stop rolling. The trip was a success. The Clay Street Railroad Company, since absorbed by the Muni, had launched what has become San Francisco’s best—loved anachronism.
Look down Joice Street before you begin to walk it. It has a noticeable backdoor ubiety, narrow and appropriate to service entrances and stable-door access. San Francisco’s first exclusive residential section grew up just downhill on Stockton Street. Children who walked to Dr. Ver Mehr’s Episcopal parish school along this lane in 1850 must have watched with excitement as “Gold was found” in “the sand taken from a great depth in sinking wells in Stockton Street.“
Two years later, “Stockton Street was being ornamented with many handsome brick tenements, which were intended for the private residents of some of the wealthier citizens.” One of them, 806 Stockton, was the home of Francis L. A. Pioche, pioneer ﬁnancier and bon vivant credited with giving to San Francisco an appreciation of fine food. He imported many French chefs and a cargo of vintage wines. His stables fronted Joice Street, as several carports and tree-shaded parking areas do today.
One parking lot formerly held the refuge house of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission, long a sanctuary for broken lilies from old Canton, Cameron House, at the southeast corner of Sacramento and Joice, is named in honor of Donaldina Cameron, whom the Chinese called “Lo M0,” the mother, for her lifetime of work freeing singsong slave girls. Her long—time assistant, Lorna Loga, was later social work director and reported that the last slave came to the community center in 1934. Go inside to see beautiful old carved cornices, calligraphy and paintings.
As you cross Sacramento, look downhill toward the Stockton Sireet tunnel where a bucolic cottage hides on the cliff face. A great swing hangs from its wonderful front—yard willow tree, one of the most unexpected visual delights to be found in this part of the city.
At California before you reach the corner, look uphill to see the silken ﬁsh kites, a gift of Japan Air Lines, which decorate the rear garden of the Von Lowenfeld Agency. Across broad California Street, which led grandly to the great mansions of the “nabobs” Who gave Nob Hill its name, Joice Street eases along quietly. For another half block, then drops precipitously to end at Pine in a garden-like oasis with another surprise. There in the heart of the City, shyly hidden in the shrubs that line the steps, is a well tended wayside shrine. It was built, with love and devotion, by Ronald Teller, who lived on Joice Street for many years, and it is still tended by friends, relatives and admirers, long after his death.
In 1878, railroad millionaire Charles Crocker decided to buy up the lots surrounding his mansion on San Francisco’s Nob Hill to improve his view of the surrounding vistas. He reached agreements with all the neighbors except for German undertaker Nicholas Jung, who refused to sell. When Crocker tried to buy this property, in the early 1870s, he and Jung were good friends. Crocker offered $5,000,…
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Fight over a Fence in Nob Hill
In 1878, railroad millionaire Charles Crocker decided to buy up the lots surrounding his mansion on San Francisco’s Nob Hill to improve his view of the surrounding vistas. He reached agreements with all the neighbors except for German undertaker Nicholas Jung, who refused to sell. When Crocker tried to buy this property, in the early 1870s, he and Jung were good friends. Crocker offered $5,000, but Jung wanted $12,000. Neither would yield, and hence the feud.
The Jung lot is the only portion of the block bounded by California, Taylor, Sacramento and Jones streets which Charles Crocker was unable to secure, when he erected his mansion there. Nicholas Jung, who was in the undertaking business and who was comfortably fixed, although not wealthy, preferred to stay in his Nob hill home. He and his family enjoyed the view and the other advantages of the situation as much as did Crocker, and he saw no reason why he should trade his residence for some other property which Corcker offered him, and emigrate. Crocker was willing to give him $6000, but Jung would not sell, even when the blasting on the Crocker site sent rocks flying around his house and the grading left his place up in the air.
Finally Crocker threatened to fence in the Jung home, and at last Jung said he would sell for $12,000. Jung did not consider the price he asked exorbitant, it was being said that Flood paid $25,000 for a similar lot when he wished to get a complete block on Nob Hill.
“I would have been happier than a condor in the sky,” Crocker wrote, “except for that crazy undertaker.”
Crocker’s solution was pure spite now: He built a 40-foot fence around Jung’s cottage on three sides, spoiling his view in hopes that he would sell. The fence cost about $3000, but Crocker was a millionaire, did not mind the expense, and he had the satisfaction of driving the Jung family away from their home. Their house was boxed up and the sunlight shut out, and Jung was compelled to move the dwelling to another lot which he owned on Broderick street. The tall fence destroyed the value of the Sacramento street lot, which for about a quarter of a century has remained unused and unsightly.
“How gloomy our house became, how sad,” Jung’s daughter later wrote. “All we could see out our windows was the blank wood of the rich man’s fury. … The flowers in the garden all died, and our lawn turned brown, while inside the house everything felt perpetually damp.”
The Jungs tried to get the city to provide them justice, but Crocker was too wealthy and influential and kept the legal system from providing relief. Jung became so frustrated, he eventually mounted a coffin brought home from work on his roof facing the Crocker residence as one last measure to upset the Crockers.
When the Jungs moved away and subsequently had their lot graded the Crockers reduced the height of the fence somewhat, and now it was about twenty-five feet high. The reduction was made because the wind at times threated to lay the lofty fence low, and thus show what the spirit of the elements thought of Crocker’s fence. Had not the Crockers kept the fence strongly braced, it would have been demolished by the winds quickly.
Jung held out nonetheless, didn’t sold the property regardless, and the two maintained a senseless deadlock for years. Jung died in 1880 and Crocker in 1888.
When Jung’s widow, Rosina, died in 1902, the lot was valued at $80,000. Finally in 1904, the descendants of the Jungs sold the property to the descendants of the Crockers and the fence came down. Two years later, the fire following the massive San Francisco Earthquake consumed the Crocker mansion.
Today Grace Cathedral occupies the same block, certainly a fitting structure for the site of the former 28-year fence of hate.
Nob Hill, a legacy from the nabobs who out-Horatioed Alger to the expense-account princes our Affluent Age, is synonymous at San Francisco with rank, swank and status. Its crest is an altar of the American cult called business to the goddess, sweet Success. It is also our best known hill and pleasant indeed to walk about. (more…)
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Nob Hill - A Legacy from the Nabobs
Nob Hill, a legacy from the nabobs who out-Horatioed Alger to the expense-account princes our Affluent Age, is synonymous at San Francisco with rank, swank and status. Its crest is an altar of the American cult called business to the goddess, sweet Success. It is also our best known hill and pleasant indeed to walk about.
The word Nob, is derived from and is a contraction of the Hindu word nabob or nawwab: “a person, especially a European, who has made a large fortune in India or another country of the East; a very wealthy or powerful person.” In the late 1800’s, when the millionaires began building their palaces on it, and the hill became internationally known as the home of California’s super-wealthy Bonanza Kings and Big Four Railroad barons. An English cockney satirically called it Nob Hill, a “nob” in cockney meaning an ostentatious snob. The name stuck.
For Nob is a man‘s hill, with power in the air, privilege in a stair and prestige in a chair. Its square heart is a stolid old brown stone mansion built in 1886 by bonanza king James C. Flood to prove he’s made the grade from corned beef to caviar. Its periphery is a wreath of establishments that could be grouped under one word: singular.
Begin this walk, as history did in 1856, at the corner of California and Powell Streets, the crossroads of two cable cars. Here, on the site of the Fairmont Hotel, Dr. Arthur Hayne built a home for his bride, actress Julia Dean, after cutting a trail uphill though chaparral.
Men of wealth soon followed his trail. Within a few years Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin had all constructed elaborate palaces.
The steep block that goes uphill on California to Manson Street will show you why they waited for the arrival of the California Street cable car to build them. Horses found the pull as steep as the walker will.
All the vainglorious display, except the Flood mansion, now an exclusive men’s club, went down in the ‘1906 fire. The foundations of the palace James G. (Bonanza Jim) Fair had planned to build to outshine all the rest were later incorporated into the Fairmont Hotel. “Tessie” Fair Oelrichs built the hotel in 1906 and rebuilt it in 1907 to immortalize her father, and it is still the grandest tiger in the jungle.
Across the street, the Mark Hopkins mansion was ﬁrst replaced by an Institute of Art, which now lives on nearby Russian Hill., and later by the hotel whose tower view tourists treasure. Walk around the Pacific Union Club to reach Huntington Park, once the site of another millionaire’s show place and now a much used breathing spot.
Grace Cathedral close, across the street, a gift from the Crocker family, replaced the redwood homes that once stood here. The Masonic Temple, whose stark white seems paradoxical next to the Gothic of the Cathedral and the Edwardian architecture of the Flood mansion, is on the sites of more bygone glory, the homes of A. N. Towne (whose portals are now a garden ornament in Golden Gate Park), Robert Sherewood and George Whittell. All, all id gone, the old familiar houses. Today Nob Hill has halls, church, lodge, club, apartment buildings and hotels, and Lo! It equals the pomp of yesteryear.
The Ferry Building, the twinkling click tower, water gate and romantic way station of San Francisco, is to the City what the Statue of Liberty is to the New York Habor and the Palace of the Doges is to Venice – a symbolic and romantic belle of the bay. (more…)
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The Ferry Building of San Francisco
The Ferry Building, the twinkling click tower, water gate and romantic way station of San Francisco, is to the City what the Statue of Liberty is to the New York Habor and the Palace of the Doges is to Venice – a symbolic and romantic belle of the bay.
To get some idea of her role, let imagination carry you back to 1914 when 10.000 commuters ebbend and flowed through the building every time the clock in the toy like Giralda inspired tower told 24 hours. The traffic was comparable at the time only to Charing Cross station in London. Old timetables list 170 daily arrivals and departures of ferry boats in the eight slips at the water‘s edge. From the Gold Rush until the 1930s, arrival by ferryboat became the only way travelers and commuters—except those coming from the Peninsula—could reach the city.
Architect Arthur Paige Brown had reason to be proud of his arcaded terminal for it handled its crowds gracefully. So did the ferries. Unlike today‘s punitive bumper-to-bumper harassment, the daily commute could offer a restful interlude, a time of happy companionship, a fog-shrouded adventure, unexpected music, comedy, moonpaths and mystery. The fair was 10 cents.
Architect Brown drew up plans for a large, 840-foot-long steel-framed building. However, when the construction estimates came in for the foundation (of pilings and concrete arches) the actual length had to be reduced to 660 feet by removing planned twin entrances at either end. Brown included a 245-foot-tall clock tower modeled after the 12th century bell tower in the Seville Cathedral in Spain to serve as a welcoming beacon on the Bay. As it was, Brown’s foundation—which has supported the entire steel-framed structure in such a remarkably dependable manner through two earthquakes (1906 and 1989)—became the largest such foundation for a building over water anywhere in the world.
When the bridges came at the end of the 1960s, the party was over. The Embacadero Freeway made a wallflower out of her. For three decades, it funneled heavy traffic from the Bay Bridge into and around the city.
The Freeway was a double-decker viaduct built through San Francisco’s historic eastern waterfront and was built in 1958 as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plan to modernize automobile transportation and create an interstate highway system. The Embarcadero Freeway was a gloomy, two-tiered behemoth that separated the city from its own waterfront and blighted the entire area. Like most freeways, it had less charm than a penitentiary. People railed against the concrete structure as soon as it was completed.
In 1986, San Francisco became engaged in debate over the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. Opponents, who won the dispute, argued that its removal would cause gridlock. While it seemed the discussion was over and the freeway there to stay, the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 damaged the freeway, re-opening the debate. As the freeway was closed due to these damages and gridlock did not become a problem, opponents’ specious arguments against highway removal proved to have no merit. So, in 1991, the Embarcadero Freeway was removed.
The city rebuilt the Embarcadero as a tree-lined boulevard that blends alternative modes of transportation, including a perfect pedestrian promenade, a bicycle corridor and a popular streetcar line that runs to tourist destinations like Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. Plaques in middle of road mark the location where freeway columns once stood.
The open layout also provides easy access to the refurbished Ferry Building, which reopened in 2003 as a center for gourmet and natural foods. After a 4-year restoration process, the nave of the building was carefully returned close to its original form: “a classic turn-of-the-century transit hall with the dramatic industrial dimensions favored at the time”. Private retail spaces, mainly selling food, fill the now-famous indoor marketplace.
The Ferry Building is as hospitable as the day she opened in 1898, she still offers to the walker at no charge a stimulating excursion. A new public plaza in front of the building is the site of the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. (Not to be confused with the permanent food vendors inside the Ferry Building). Ferry service is expected to expand in the coming decades, as San Francisco continues to invest in alternative modes of transportation.