California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877.
By Mrs. Frank Leslie.
Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33
THE PALACE HOTEL, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND THE STREETS.
ONE of the most interesting sights in San Francisco is the one that was first presented to our consideration, namely: the Palace Hotel. A certain Englishman described it as a huge building "broken out into bird-cages," thus figuring the impression produced upon his mind by the tier upon tier of bow-windows which, whether they be considered as disfiguring or ornamental to the general effect, are certainly very comfortable to the inmates of the rooms thus beautified; besides--and here we claim the congratulations of those friends who have denied us a practical turn of mind--besides securing to Senator Sharon a considerable area of territory not included in the ground-plan, which, nevertheless, covers a whole square, measuring about two acres and a half; and it will be a convenience to conscientious pedestrians taking their matutinal promenade to know that to go around the house upon the street is to walk a quarter of a mile; or if their taste is feline, to go around the roof is to traverse the third of a mile. Let us furthermore state, that the corridors collectively measure two and one-half miles; that twenty miles of gas-pipe are necessary to its illumination; that there are four hundred and thirty-seven bath tubs, and accommodations for twelve hundred guests. Having thus sacrificed on the altar of statistics, let us chronicle our own first impressions, which are never by any chance statistical.
Driving in through iron gates and a stone archway, we entered an almost regal inner court, reminding us of the Grand Hotel at Paris on an enlarged scale; seven tiers of balconies surround the four sides, ornamented with frequent tubs of flowering plants, cages of singing birds, and sofas and chairs, where groups of guests sit to chat, or promenade up and down. A glass dome covers the whole, giving a soft and tempered light during the day, while at night the place is brilliantly illuminated by gas. On the ground floor the court is faced with white marble, and a circular carriage-drive sweeps around the centre, where stand groups of palm and banana trees, and vases of beautiful flowers. Chairs and settees are dotted around the pavement, where sit the flaneurs who like to watch the constant arrivals of guests, and the visitors' carriages standing in waiting complete the lively and picturesque scene.
Mr. Warren Leland, that prince of landlords, welcomed us courteously and cordially, escorted us from the largest and most elegant reception-room, upon the easiest elevator in the world, to the suite of apartments on the second floor lately occupied by Dom Pedro; gave us the freedom of his kingdom, and at a later hour caused the courtyard to be illuminated from ground to dome, and a serenade to be given in honor of our arrival. That evening we did little but make the tour of the drawing-rooms and other principal apartments, which are as magnificent as befit a Palace Hotel, listen to the statistics elaborately set down above, satisfy ourselves of the comfort of the bathing tubs, and go to bed tired, happy, and full of anticipating delight for the morrow.
Next morning, after breakfast, we received the visits of several photographers, who have probably learned by inspiration the Chief's amiable weakness for this school of art and artists, and who propose to immortalize us in a group. Not fancying that style of immortality, however, we compromise for large numbers of individual portraits. Our attentive friends claimed, and we believe the fact is confessed, that San Francisco is the place of all places for the perfection of their art, the peculiar atmosphere lending itself most happily to the combination of their chemicals.
Like Rome, San Francisco is built on seven hills--the foothills of the Sierras; and nearly every street sweeps up a steep incline to a bold, rocky bluff, crested with villas and other buildings, giving a wonderfully picturesque look to the whole. There are some stone buildings, but more of wood, and few exceed two stories in height, the frequent earthquakes, or "shakes," as they are familiarly called, making higher pretensions dangerous. The style of architecture has been justly denominated as "San Franciscan," and the bow window is its exponent: not a house, from the Palace Hotel and the sumptuous mansion of the millionaire to the cozy nest of "two young lovers lately wed," but is studded with bow-windows, very many of them filled with flowers and bird-cages. A lady to whom we noticed this peculiarity explained that the climate of San Francisco is such as to seldom allow one to sit or lounge out of doors, the high, cold winds almost invariably coming in from seaward by noon, or earlier, and that after that time a sunny bow-window with a stand of plants was far more comfortable than a garden chair; and it is true that the sunshine is a luxury more highly appreciated in San Francisco than in most cities, for a room deprived of it is scarcely comfortable night and morning without fire during most of the year.
The most fashionable shops are on Kearney and Montgomery streets, the Broadway and favorite promenades of the city. The windows of these shops are large, and showily furnished, but the interiors are of limited extent, owing to the high price of land in these localities. Every imaginable object is to be brought in San Francisco, generally at very high prices; for, like most places of sudden growth, it is an extravagant place in dress, equipage, and general tone of living, the fortunes of the East becoming a modest competence here, and what would be comfort in Philadelphia or Baltimore dwindling to penury in San Francisco.
Many of the smaller shops are open to the street like booths, especially the cigar and liquor establishments, in one of which we saw a man throwing dice for a drink. Most of the sidewalks are of wood, and the street-car tracks are paved with that material, although we were told that none but the Nicholson pavement has proved a success here, as the long, dry heat of certain portions of the year, and the persistent dampness of others, shrink and swell, out of proportion, the blocks of all other kinds of wooden pavement.
The climate of San Francisco seems a point as difficult to settle as the standard of feminine beauty, or the intrinsic value of Wagner's music. Every one agrees that it is an exhilarating climate, that the air is more highly charged with ozone than in most localities, that the brain-worker can accomplish more here in a given time than anywhere else, and wear himself out faster; for dear Starr King died of exhaustion, of old age, in fact, after doing the work of a generation for his adopted State; and such a career as that of W. A. Ralston would scarcely have been possible in any city other than high-pressure San Francisco. But this ozone, this fourth-proof oxygen, is borne upon the wings of high, cold winds, piercing the very marrow of a sensitive form, and alternating with fogs and dampness, fatal to any rheumatic or neuralgic tendencies, and unfavorable to pulmonary complaints. A few hours of nearly every morning are charming out of doors, and the rest of the day a fire or a bow-window full of sunshine is still more charming. One person says, "The climate of San Francisco is all that keeps me alive"; and the next one shudders, "The climate is killing me; I must get out of town to warm my blood, or it will congeal altogether." All confess, however, that this is the chilliest and breeziest point upon the whole coast, for it stands in a gap of the hills, guarding the shore for miles above and below, and once in the sheltered valleys lying between this coast line and the Sierras, one comes into a tropical and paradisaical climate as enervating to the brain as the breezy air of San Francisco is exciting. Let us conclude that the climate, like the society, like the morals, and like the social habits of San Francisco, is a little mixed, and that a wise eclecticism is desirable in choosing a residence therein.
One feature of the street scenery in this city is the large proportion of foreign physiognomy and the accents of almost every language under the sun, which meet one's ear in all the crowded thoroughfares. The easy access of the Pacific coast from the other side of the globe has led thither a class of Oriental strangers who are seldom seen even in New York, and not only the Chinaman, but his neighbors of Asia and Africa--"Mede, Parthian and Scythian"--here find a home, a field of labor, and a share, however small, of the almighty dollar, which has proved more lovely in their eyes than the lands of the bul-bul and the rose.
To accommodate these various tastes, various amusements, shops, theatres, and especially restaurants, are established at every corner, and the Frenchman, scanning the menu of the Maison Doree, may fancy himself at the Trois Freres, in Paris; while the German finds his sauerkraut, the Italian his maccaroni, the Spaniard his picadillo, and the Welshman his leek, each at his own house of refreshment; and the Chinese eating-houses are a feature of their especial quarter, to be mentioned hereafter. To live in lodgings and to eat in a restaurant is San Franciscan as much as it is Parisian, and even families possessing houses and domestic conveniences are often to be found at one or the other of these establishments, dining or lunching, "just for variety"; and also, perhaps, to see and to be seen a little.
A fashionable restaurant for gentlemen is "The Poodle Dog"; "Campi's" is as Italian as Naples, and the "Maison Doree" is Delmonican in every respect. The code of social law in San Francisco permits young ladies to freely visit these establishments, even at the risk of occasionally encountering a male acquaintance, and a cynical observer may find more refreshment in quiet observation of the scenes around him than in meat or drink. Perhaps, on the whole, we would not advise the widowed mother of a family of lads and lassies to carry them to San Francisco for social training; the Prunes, Prisms, and Propriety system is not universal, and although there is a large class of charming, unexceptional, and rigidly moral society, there are several other classes shading into it by almost imperceptible degrees; and the bygone days, when every man was a law unto himself in this city, have left their impress in a certain recklessness and willfulness of feeling pervading every circle.
The style of street dress is more gay and showy than is consistent with the severest taste, and an afternoon promenade upon Kearney or Montgomery streets reminds one of a fashionable "Opening," when the lay figures have suddenly received life and the power of locomotion. It has been said that in other cities the demi-monde imitates the fashions of the beaumonde , but that in San Francisco the case is reversed, and the caprices of the former class are meekly copied by the latter. It may be a libel; but we certainly saw very elegant toilets, and very fine jewels, both in carriages and upon pedestrians to whom we had no letters of introduction.
Noticing a goodly proportion of churches among the handsome buildings of San Francisco, we inquired if anybody ever visited them, and were indignantly informed that religion was one of the most flourishing imports of the City of the Golden Gate. Everybody knows, of course, that it was originally founded as a mission by the Franciscan Fathers, the first of whom, the Padre Junipero Serra, scandalized that no station had as yet been dedicated to his patron saint, prayed to him for a fortunate harbor in his next voyage of exploration; and being led or driven through the Golden Gate, considered that the Saint thus indicated the spot where he would have his altar erected, and so named the waters upon which the mission vessel floated, "The Bay of San Francisco." The Mission House and Church were more elaborately styled "Los Dolores de nuestro Padre, San Francisco de Assissi," and is still called the Mission Dolores; while the presidio and fort erected to protect the good monks in their holy work was called San Francisco, and the town that languidly grew around them took the name of Yerba Buena, from a medicinal plant growing abundantly in the vicinity. It was not until 1847 that the name of San Francisco was formally given to the little town, then just upon the eve of its marvelous upward bound to the rank of a great city. The Romish faith thus planted has kept its ascendancy in the city of San Francisco d'Assissi, and claims to-day about one-half of the population. St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Francis's St. Patrick's and St. Ignatius's, are all with large and wealthy congregations, and there are ten more Roman churches in the city. The Presbyterians are most numerous among the Protestant denominations, and Calvary Church is one of the handsomest in the city. Grace and Trinity are the most prominent of the Episcopal Churches, and both claim large and fashionable congregations; and the Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, and other denominations are in a hopeful condition. Attendance at all of these churches for morning service is quite general, but the afternoon and evening of Sunday are devoted to amusement by the San Franciscan, and each in his degree seeks some place of public or private entertainment, or the day is spent in ruralizing, or in driving and visiting.
Returning from our first tour of the city we dined in the grand hall of the Palace Hotel, where stand four rows of tables, with space for three persons to walk abreast between them, the whole lighted by twelve great crystal chandeliers.
A note from Mr. Barton Hill, whose artistic ability, so well known at the East, is here united to a managerial position, invited us all to his theatre, where three boxes were set apart for our accommodation. The star was Alice Dunning, and our eyes were so abundantly feasted that the treat to the ears was a work of supererogation, the one sense absorbing all one's capacity for enjoyment. And so back to repose in Dom Pedro's sumptuous apartments and to dream of the morrow.
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