Commemorating Regional Empire, Part I: San Francisco’s Golden Jubilee, 1898

September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Regional Identity and Historic Legacies:

Newspaper reproduction of handbill for California’s Golden Jubilee

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.[1] It had been 50yrs since the Golden State began its evolution into an American place.[2] 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.[3] 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.

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James H. Budd: The Governor Codifies the State’s Golden Past

January 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Golden California Holiday:

Image of the title page of the official pamphlet for California's Golden Jubilee, 1898

Printed below is the transcription of a declaration by James H. Budd, Governor of California (1895-1899), that January 24th, 1898 would be declared a legal California holiday. According to newspaper reports, this was not his idea but a request by the leading organizations of the California Golden Jubilee Executive Committee. The members of this committee included San Francisco’s most prominent figures in politics, culture, and industry. James D. Phelan, J. H. Jewett, and T. J. Parsons, respectively, led the push to declare January 24th a legal holiday.

Exemplified in a speech opening the Mechanics’ Fair in 1896 (Click here for full speech), James D. Phelan held a particularly strong view of San Francisco’s providential destiny in which would be codified into California’s newest holiday. Where he wrote:

No longer let it be said, then, of San Francisco, that, in the words of Bret Harte, she is “serene, indifferent to Fate,” but let it rather be known that she is alive to her interests, conscious of her duties, and prepared to merit her destiny manifest, but, as yet, unearned and unwon.

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Urbanity & Workings of Urban Social Power

January 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Visions of Urbanity:

[From an earlier post, revised and republished:]

This image in 1897 of the construction of the San Francisco Call building illustrates the dramatic pinnacle that SF had reached by the late 19th century in urban development and construction.  Finished in 1897[?] it was seen as a model of engineering for decades. While the transcontinental railroad brought LA economic dominance by the turn of the century, San Francisco still remained the dominant cultural force in California – especially urban culture, journalism, banking, and manufacturing. How was this urban development understood by the various inhabitants of the city?

[From the OAC: the image on the right is captioned with “1898?”, yet in the “New Era Edition” of The San Francisco Call dated December 19, 1897, the building is already completed.  While this is likely a cataloguing error, it is still useful to point out.]

To those who resided in San Francisco in the 1890s, the city seemed to be the meeting place of modernity and industrialization. Modern, in that the City Beautiful Movement came to dominate thinking about urban space, leisure, and social class among the commercial-civic elite; especially under James Duval Phelan as mayor after 1896. San Francisco industrialization and development was fueled first by the California Gold Rush, then by the Transcontinental Railroad, and later the Comstock Load. Later mining strikes like the Klondike Rush after 1896-97, only reinforced the city’s collective understanding of the city’s pioneering and mining past. By the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair, the commercial-civic elite saw a city and urbane landscape that rightfully dominated California economicy, the Pacific Slope, and even the entire Pacific Basin from Alaska, round Hawaii, to Souther America.

To live in such a dominant city and cultural hub influence ones social and individual identity. The established narrative of the city’s existence is something that all residents must reconcile within their own self-awareness. But these questions are more diffucult to answer then presented. As a non-elite, do you still owe fealty to the image and vision of the powerful? What are the ethnic and class limits of an established regional identity? How far does an urban society exist into its hinterlands, beginning the question – how does one define formal and informal boundaries of the urban. Do minority groups and individuals who live within the established urban narrative express fealty to the city’s identity which silences many aspects of their own lives? My debt of course remains with William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis, (@wcronon) and what his methodology reveals of San Franciscan urban culture in the late-19th century.

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