San Francisco is the tail that wags California and most of America.
Although only 46.9 square miles in area and 805,000 in population, San Francisco’s power rumbles throughout our nation’s political and economic corridors.
California’s three most powerful posts – governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general – are filled by politicians from the San Francisco Bay area. Both U.S. senators for California, until recently, lived in San Francisco, and the U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader is also from the city.
The nation’s largest appellate court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is based in San Francisco. This court has appellate jurisdiction over nine states and two territories.
Silicon Valley, on the south edge of the San Francisco Bay area, has the highest concentration of millionaires and billionaires in America. Plus, if you add in the banks and financial institutions, San Francisco is one of the top producing cities in the world.
How did San Francisco ever achieve such a powerful status?
The Spanish first built a fort and a mission on what is now San Francisco in 1776. A nearby settlement was named Yerba Buena. The biggest problems for the new settlement was the scarcity of three necessities: water, wood, and food. These had to be carted into the settlement.
In 1821, after gaining its independence from Spain, the area came under the rule of Mexico. Twenty-six years later, Mexico then ceded the area to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War. It was then renamed San Francisco.
At the time America took over San Francisco in 1847, it was a settlement of approximately five hundred people. Although the Bay was a strategic port and military base, the inhospitable geography and weather patterns of the area caused families to shy away from living there.
Then, in 1848, the California Gold Rush hit.
Ships from all over the world headed to San Francisco loaded with men who had gold fever. At first, San Francisco was itself a ghost town as shop owners and military personnel fled to the gold fields. But soon, new merchants set up shop and prospered in the city.
With the influx of people, the population of San Francisco jumped to 25,000 by the end of 1849. The male-female demographics were extremely lopsided, in that there were only 300 women in the city, and of these, two hundred were prostitutes. It took many years for San Francisco to become a family oriented city.
As with most boom to bust mining towns, the social climate in the city was chaotic. Committees of Vigilance took over the city in 1851 and 1856 because of crime and government corruption. Each time, after the city was cleaned up, power was relinquished back to the people.
But one area that was not cleaned up was the Barbary Coast. This nine block area was famous for its prostitution, crime, opium dens, dance halls, and complete debauchery. Many lonely men, searching for love, ended up having bumps on their heads and their pockets picked. Or worse yet, they were shanghaied and woke up on ships heading overseas.
The Barbary Coast was almost completely destroyed in the massive 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Yet, within months, the bars were rebuilt and business continued as usual. It wasn’t until 1917, that the Barbary Coast was finally shut down.
San Francisco has always prided itself on its wild frontier spirit and ribald character, but it is these exact traits which have proved to be the city’s spiritual downfall, especially in the mid-1900’s.
(Continued in Part 3)