Commemorating Regional Empire, Part II: “A Pacific Metropolis,” San Franciscan Visions of Urbane Grandeur
September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Imagining an Urban Utopia
(Part I @ “Commemorating Regional Empire“)
In Part I, we introduced the concepts of the Pioneer Myth and its interpretive framework. According to much of the historiography, San Francisco as the “Pacific Metropolis” was not codified in local and popular rhetoric until after the turn of the century and especially in the wake of the Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915). However, in the 1890s this urban identity seemed to already dominate many of the leading civic, business, and cultural elites’ rhetoric, including the largest newspapers of de Young and Spreckles. In 1897, the rush to the Klondike Gold Rush in particular, as well as European and Asian imperial conflicts, dominated the foreign media coverage in the papers. The reporting of these stories and the editorials that followed revealed an entrenched awareness of San Francisco as the regional metropolis of the Pacific coast. As I had mentioned in a previous post, “Commemorating Regional Empire, Part I,” San Francisco’s commercial-civic elite were especially vocal about their city’s regional dominance on the Pacific coast. What was it that the commercial-civic elite were so eager to express? What was it about San Francisco and its past that they thought was so exceptional? How did they explain the roots of their present success? And how did these ideas relate to the understanding of American Exceptionalism expressed in national politics and the media of the late 19th century?
Throughout the headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle, Call, and Examiner, the rush north to the Yukon Territory was framed and seemingly appropriated as what they saw as a naturally Californian and particularly San Franciscan event. Their understanding of San Francisco’s dominance over the Pacific Coast region led them to think it was only natural that the city would encapsulate and integrate the emerging markets into its urban grasp. The city’s dominance in western mining, and its advantages as a supply route of the explosive Klondike market were expressed very forthrightly and implicitly in editorials, reports, and published opinions throughout November and December, 1897. The crisis in the Yukon Territory at Dawson City during the winter of 1897-98 becomes, for example, an opportunity for the editors of the Call and Chronicle to demonstrate not only their superior coverage of an event in a distant land, but also the logistical abilities of the city to come to the starving community’s aid. Only San Francisco, they argued, had the ability to mount and successfully outfit such a grand humanitarian operation to rescue the starving miners at Dawson City.
This understanding of the city’s significance was also expressed at the expense of other regional hubs like Seattle and Los Angeles. One troubled relief effort for Dawson City by western regional competitor Seattle, for instance, leads to a media discussion of how the San Franciscan effort will be much more successful due to its superior people and natural urban advantages. Daily and weekly updates of ships in and out of the bay bolstered their claims of the superiority of San Francisco’s port and her sister city, Oakland with its supporting role. Interestingly, this urban identity demonstrated by the pages of the Chronicle and Call silences the fact that many of the migrants to the Arctic Circle were of many nations and ethnicities and in fact did not travel through San Francisco. Yet since many, and according to their claims the vast majority, would consume products transported by San Francisco on their way to the Klondike, these migrants would be commercial surrogates for San Francisco’s imperial grandeur in expanding markets.
September 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
The Call’s New Era of San Francisco
Published on December 19, 1897 to commemorate the paper’s move into its new headquarters, the “New Era Edition” of the San Francisco Call was distributed across the state and the nation. By 1897, the San Francisco Call had been a longstanding institution in San Francisco since 1856. The front-page of this massive 80pg issue displayed a full illustration of the new structure christened the ‘Claus Spreckels Building.’ The image depicts an imposing steel and stone structure which stands in stark contrast to the pedestrian human landscape in its shadow, a clear vision of urban grandeur. Throughout the paper’s headlines the Call reports a “New Era” has come for not only the newspaper but for the city itself. The migration of the paper into the one of the largest and imposing structures in the city declared their own confidence and evaluation of San Francisco’s significance in the West.
All through the pages in the fall of 1897, the Call reported an economic resurgence in the city and across the state. The chaos of the 1870s and the stagnation of the 1880s, they argued, were behind them. Bolstered by positive economic reports in local, regional, and national markets, the editors presented a vision of the city as the Pacific metropolis. From articles on culture, arts, manufacturing, and agriculture, the Call argued for the continued dominance of the city in the region and downplayed competitors like Seattle and Los Angeles. Reporting on December 21, the Call was not at all disappointed by the overwhelmingly positive response from much of the state’s leading newspapers for the New Era Edition paper. In a way the reviews expressed a general consensus in the Call’s assessment of the region’s progress from its rough mining past. The trajectory of the region would not be slowed, according to the Call:
The earliest mode of travel to the Golden Gate was that known as coasting, for in no other way could California then be reached. San Francisco’s first settlers came hither by water, and although the pony express and overland stage which followed later were succeeded by railroad facilities for passenger and freight transportation, the coast trade of California has always been of vast importance to the people and the State, and will continue to occupy a position of steadily increasing value in the world of commerce as time goes on.
September 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Citizenship & Civil Religion at the Dawn of the Progressive Era:
162 years ago California was admitted as the 31st state in the Union. Does admission day (September 9) mean anything anymore?
Certainly contemporaries in 19th century California saw a great significance in celebrating the admission of their Pacific Coast republic. As it was celebrated by the Native Sons of the Golden West in San Francisco, parades, speeches, and entertainment enlivened a mass community to celebration. During the 1890’s California’s Admission Day celebrations were huge affairs of historical pageantry, carnival, and expositions. Most significantly, Admission Day also provided a public venue for elite sanctioned versions of the history of California. For instance, many attractions at Admission Day’s would carry interpretations of the significance of the Anglo-gold rush to San Francisco and the state. It emphasized the removal of the Mexican nation from sovereignty in Alta California, and California’s significance overall to national prestige.
September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
Regional Identity and Historic Legacies:
As 1897 was fading into memory, the Society of California Pioneers of San Francisco saw a unique opportunity for next year’s celebration of Marshall’s gold discovery on the American River. It had been 50yrs since the Golden State began its evolution into an American place. Every year in January, the Society celebrated the time, place, and people of the California Gold Rush. Composed of individuals present (or descended from) in the earliest days of American occupation of Spanish, an then Mexican California, the Society sought to preserve and disseminate the history which fueled the energy and growth of San Francisco of the 1890s. The Pioneer Myth that emerged as the narrative of the state’s development, needed little reinforcement in the city which came to dominate regional mining, commerce, and culture by the 1880s. Why did San Francisco hold such a commanding presence in the memory of the inhabitants of California and the city of San Francisco? Why were organizations like the Society of California Pioneers still celebrating this event fifty years later? In short, Marshall’s discovery was but the first in a long series of events which led first to American occupation of California, then statehood, and finally the region’s economic and social development. San Francisco was the city that exemplified this transformation. And there would be no place more appropriate, the Society of California Pioneers thought, to commemorate such a seminal event in California’s history.
March 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
During the period which has become known as the Progressive Era in American History, San Francisco’s commercial-civic elite operated within this progressive impulse in an attempt to promote a more harmonious, efficient, and progressive social development. Especially in San Francisco and California, the social, economic, and class chaos of the 1870s and 1880s had a profound impact on the city’s leadership, civic and commercial. Business leaders, politicians, and influential individuals began to operate in a new social paradigm which attempted at base to preserve the benefits of the Second Industrial Revolution and Corporate Capitalism, but also to regain a semblance of social cooperation, harmony, and stability. While the benefits of the new economy were clearly apparent with the rise of general material prosperity among the population, the depths of poverty, strife, and conflict grew even deeper through all classes. During the 1870s and 1880s, workers clashed with workers, capitalists debated capitalists, and reformers from both sides worked against themselves and the other. Emerging from this dramatic period and pace of change was a sense that something had been lost in this economic paradigm shift. If liberty, community, and family were the foundations of a harmonious and self-sufficient society, how in the trend away from these practical ideals, can society continue to fulfill the ideas of the Revolution of 1776? Industrialization, corporate capitalism, and a clear class based society produced, not community, but discontinuity in American society.
In San Francisco during the 1890s, this progressive impulse led many of the city’s commercial-civic elite to initiate programs that would foster social harmony and cooperation among a diverse and clearly divided urban society. One way that commercial and civic leaders attempted to foster these ideals of cooperation and harmony was to promote widespread participation in events which celebrated the city and its people. Civic celebrations like California Admission Day, the Fourth of July, and the anniversary of James W. Marshall’s discovery of gold, presented opportunities for the commercial-civic elite to shape society in their own Progressive image. By fostering civic cooperation among classes, businesses, and peoples, the elites saw it as a program of in socialization – or more rightly Americanization. If the traditional ties that bind peoples together were weakening – community, family, and religion – a new civil program must replace it to maintain a cohesive American urban society, they thought. In planning civic celebrations and events in this period, San Francisco’s commercial-civc elite attempted to order their society en mass.
To get a sense of the ideology and percepts of this progressive impulse, I have posted numerous sources of San Francisco’s elite reporting their programs of cultural ordering and Americanization. (Under keyword “collective identity“) Another, from Edward Coleman, a very influential individual among San Francisco’s elite, illustrates the duties and responsibilities of citizens in celebrating their city and its progress. Calling for widespread participation in California’s Golden Jubilee (1898), Mr. Coleman appealed not to individuals or groups, but to the populace as a whole and explained the duty they had in celebrating and funding Marshall’s discovery of gold fifty years prior. It was the duty of these citizens to celebrate what the city’s elites saw as a shared historical precedent.
The San Francisco Call, December 1, 1897:
During the recent meeting of the California State Miners’ convention in this city the suggestion was made that California should fittingly commemorate, on January 24, 1898, the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of gold in the state.
March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
Faith of the Pioneer Myth:
As California approached its 50th birthday of statehood, its most renowned “poet of the Sierras” penned what would be the motto of remembering the California Gold Rush. Published in the official pamphlet of California’s Golden Jubilee, most visitors and many of the state’s residents would be exposed to this prose. In remembering the Gold Rush, California’s residents referred to the lines in bold (below) for reflection, assistance in commemoration, and in some ways social retribution when invoked in the name of reforming California’s savage past. But more than anything else, Joaquin Miller’s words became a significant temporal linkage. Those who wanted to invoke the Pioneer Myth of California simply had to recite the few words, “The days of old, the days of gold, the days of ’49.”
We have worked our claims,
We have spent our gold,
Our barks are astrand on the bars;
We are battered and old,
Yet at night we behold
Outcroppings of gold in the stars.
Tho’ battered and old,
Our Hearts are bold.
Yet oft do we repine
For the days of old,
For the days of gold.
For the days of forty-nine. (my emphasis)