"The Barbary Coast, Pacific Street," photographer unknown, c.1910. Larger.
San Francisco—like other great cities—presents an attractive face to the world, a useful and diverting countenance when you have a few secrets to hide.
Journalist Will Irwin
was writing for the New York Sun
when news of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake hit the city room. He immediatly drafted a loving remembrance of "old San Francisco," but he didn't neglect to mention its seamier sides.
The Barbary Coast was a loud bit of hell. No one knows who coined the name. The place was simply three blocks of solid dance halls, there for the delight of the sailors of the world. . . .
Until the last decade almost anything except the commonplace and the expected might happen to a man on the waterfront. The cheerful industry of shanghaiing was reduced to a science. A citizen taking a drink in one of the saloons which hung out over the water might be dropped through the floor into a boat, or he might drink with a stranger and wake in the forecastle of a whaler bound for the Arctic. . . . This life of the floating population lay apart from the regular life of the city, which was distinctive in itself.
Will Irwin's "The City that Was
" originally appeared in the New York Sun
and was later reprinted as a booklet.
"Will Irwin," photographer, date unknown. Larger.
It's a rare Californian who's never felt the earth jolt, but few of us are prepared for the kind of blanket devastation caused by killer quakes like the 1906 San Francisco
earthquake. When news of that disaster hit the city room of The New York Sun,
reporter Will Irwin
—once of the San Francisco Chronicle
—wrote a timeless memorial to the city and its people.
Written immediately after the quake, Irwin packed his tribute with his recollections of San Francisco's urban terrain, the marine climate that lent charm to the Golden Gate, and especially the people who made the City memorable for strangers.
Hospitality was nearly a vice. As in the early mining days, if they liked the stranger the people took him in. At the first meeting the San Francisco man had him put up at the club; at the second, he invited him home to dinner. As long as the stranger stayed he was being invited to week end parties at ranches, to little dinners in this or that restaurant and to the houses of his new acquaintances, until his engagements grew beyond hope of fulfillment. Perhaps there was rather too much of this kind of thing. At the end of a fortnight a visitor with a pleasant smile and a good story left the place a wreck. This tendency ran through all grades of society—except, perhaps, the sporting people who kept the tracks and the fighting game alive. These also met the stranger—and also took him in.
Will Irwin wrote magazine articles, novels, plays, and poems; he was a war correspondent during the first world war; and he completed a biography of his college friend, Herbert Hoover