Book Review: This Date in San Francisco

July 16, 2012

San Francisco’s rich journalistic tradition got off to a rocky start. In 1848, two early San Francisco publications, the Star (founded in 1847) and Californian (founded in 1846 in Monterey) suspended publication when their readership largely deserted the City for the gold fields to the east. Actually, more than the paper’s readers left town. So had Edward Cleveland Kemble, the editor of the Californian. Like so many others, he hoped to strike it rich in search of gold.

When Kemble returned in 1849, he joined with two recent arrivals and affected a merger with the defunct Star and Californian to form the Alta California – the first newspaper in the State to continue for any length of time.

This Date in San Francisco

This Date in San Francisco

The Alta California began publication on January 4, 1849. This early San Francisco newspaper started out as weekly before becoming a tri-weekly and then a daily. It was San Francisco’s only major morning paper until The Morning Callbegan in 1856, followed by theChronicle in 1865. In 1887, twenty four year old William Randolph Hearst took over the Examiner and built it up and  soon surpassed all competitors –  including the Alta California, which folded in 1891 after 43 years recording the City’s colorful history.

All that’s according to local historian John C. Ralston, whose 713 page This Date in San Francisco – 366 Days in the History of Our Fascinating Beloved City(Ralston Independent Works) has just been published.

What else happened on the fourth of the month?

On February 4, 1937 the coast’s longest maritime strike came to an end. On March 4, 1887 William Randolph Hearst began publishing the Examiner. On April 4, 1870 the state legislature designated land for Golden Gate Park. On May 4, 1850 San Francisco’s second great fire destroyed entire blocks around Portsmouth Square. On June 4, 1892 the Sierra Club was incorporated. On July 4, 1867 San Franciscan Stephen T. Mather was born; this descendant of Cotton Mather would go on to become the Director of the National Park Service. On August 4, 2003 the City of San Francisco took title to the old United States Mint. On September 4, 1911 Ishi visited San Francisco. On October 4, 1908 city supervisor Charles A. Murdock proposed a solution to San Francisco’s confusing street name problem. On November 4, 1949 Gerald Coleman, Lowell High alumnus and New York Yankees second baseman, was named American League Rookie of the Year. And on December 4, 1978 Dianne Feinstein became Mayor of San Francisco.

In This Date in San Francisco, Ralston uncovers fascinating, curious and unusual facts about local history. For example, on January 10, 1852 San Francisco’s first recorded amateur baseball game took place. On February 3, 1918 Sunny Jim Rolph drove the first streetcar through the Twin Peaks Tunnel. On February 25, 1896 the Examiner reported the first x-ray diagnosis on the Pacific Coast. On March 19, 1892 the first University of California – Stanford football match was played at the Haight Street Ball Ground. On May 5, 1880 the Call newspaper reported on the world’s first screening of a “motion picture.” On July 30, 1854 the first German-language opera was performed in San Francisco. On August 7, 1967 Beatles George Harrison toured the Haight. And one year earlier, on August 29, 1966 the Beatles gave their last public concert at Candlestick Park.

Richly detailed – each date in history gets a page or more, illustrated with unusual images, full of anecdotes both familiar and obscure, and ranging across civic history and popular culture – Ralston’s engaging book tells the story of this fascinating city we call home. Ralston will discusses his new book on Thursday, January 26 at 7:00 pm at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park. (On that date in 1959, the Board of Supervisors vetoed building any more freeways in the City.)

Saving San Francisco

Saving San Francisco

Speaking of local history, former San Francisco firefighter Andrea Rees Davies has recently authored Saving San Francisco: Relief and Recovery After the 1906 Disaster(Temple University Press). Davies, now an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at California State University, Northbridge will discuss her new book at Book Passage in Corte Madera on January 5th, 2011.

Combining the experiences and accounts of ordinary people with fresh research into urban politics and local history, Davies’ book challenges the long-held belief that the great earthquake and fire of 1906 leveled social differences just as it leveled much of the city. Many of the class, race and gender distinctions in place before the great disaster, Davies notes, were largely put back into place as the City was rebuilt – despite challenges to what was then perceived to be a biased relief policy.

Saving San Francisco: Relief and Recovery After the 1906 Disaster
 is a work of revisionist history which breaks new ground in the recounting of local history. Reading it, one can’t help but think about another more recent disaster and the bungled relief efforts which followed Hurricane Katrina. Davies will speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Thursday, January 5th at 7 pm.


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