How San Francisco’s society folk were housed and entertained years ago
Fashionable districts that have faded into obscurity
Where and how the smart set of the fifties lived
Suppose that all the new houses of San Francisco could be knocked over as if they were toys of wood; and that in their places could be set up the homes of the people who have made history here on our little peninsula.
Then you would never dream for a moment that you were in San Francisco, for never did a city change by such swift magic as this.
The distinctive type of the early day house was a rambling wooden structure, either cottage form or square, with balconies above and below. Of this class, in the northern part of the city, were the homes of General JP Haven on Powell Street, near Union (he was the well known “funny man” of the town and one of the first major generals of San Francisco’s militia); Colonel JD Fry, on Pacific Street, near Mason; Judge HT Thornton and his son-in-law, Judge James D Thornton, recently of the Supreme Court, on Green Street, near Stockton; SM Wilson, also on Green Street, in whose house were born his numerous sons, several of whom are present legal luminaries; George Hearst, on Lombard Street; WHV Cronise, and William Sharon on Green Street.
Although the homes of our early day residents were scattered all over th ecity of that period, the fashionable portion of the north side of the town was beyond question that part of Stockton Street lying between Clay and Green and its immediate vicinity. Many of the houses are still in existence, the buildings looking, in the main, outwardly as they did forty years ago. It is in the interiors that the most startling changes have taken place, and to one who may retain pleasant recollections of the home life and hospitality of that quarter at that period a visit there now is an actual shock. Outward and visible signs of Chinese occupancy are on every hand, and the dilapidation which follows in its train is but too evident.
Take, for example, what was the handsome, imposing home of Thomas O Larkin, on the east side of Stockton Street, between Pacific and Jackson. It was one of the city’s most elegant residences in the early sixties, and in its spacious parlors was married, in 1862, Mr Larkin’s only daughter, Carolyn, to Sampson Tams. Miss Larkin enjoyed the distinction of being the first white child born of American parents in San Francisco. It is now a Chinese lodging-house, with scarcely a whole window pane to be seen in the entire structure.
On the opposite side of the street other prominent early day homes have met a similar fate. Here stand a couple of brick houses. In one of them dwelt — about 1860 — Judge JP Hoge and his family. The twin house was occupied by Judge M Hall McAllister of the United States Circuit Court and his large family of sons and their wives.
Mrs McAllister the elder was the soul of hospitality, and the McAllister house was one of the most delightful in town to visit; the entertainments were legion. Next in occupancy came the French Consul, M Gautier, and his family, who kept up the house’s reputation for brilliant festivities until the recall of the Consul by his government. The first French consulate was on the corner of Jackson and Mason streets. It was a square three-storied house, the lower story far below the grade and most dilapidated in appearance.
Of the two extremities of the town, it is a question which it is the most sadder for an old timer to contemplate. The erstwhile fashionable quarter at the north end of the city has been absorbed by the Chinese, that on the south seems to have fallen into decay.
One of the most noted residences in this vicinity was the home of Thomas H Selby. Built above the grade on Harrison Street (or, rather, the street was graded down from the land upon which it was built early in the fifties), access to it was gained by a series of long flights of stairs, and as the Selbys entertained a great deal these stairs were always canopied and looked like a succession of tunnels winding up the side of the hill.
The house itself was a two-storied double frame structure, to which some time about the middle sixties was added a spacious ballroom — the only one that embellished a private dwelling in the city, which was the scene of many brilliant entertainments, such as the reception given in honor of the Japanese Ambassador Iwakura; the weddings of Cornelia Selby and Captain Kempf of the navy, to say nothing of the yearly grand ball and innumerable smaller receptions that Mrs Selby gave each month during the season.
South Park was designed and laid out about 1853, after the plan of English crescents, by the late George Gordon, one of our best known early pioneers, and it was for many years the nucleus around which gathered a goodly portion of the social system of that period.
Within its limits were the dwellings of the founder, George Gordon; Commodore Watkins, Horace P Janes, John H Redington, Lloyd Tevis, Isaac Friedlander, Charles de Ro, Captain Richard Whiting, Alexander Forbes, the steamship agent; Russian Consul Kostrimetinoff; James Bell, founder of the house of Falkner, Bell & Co; Dr RP Ashe (father of Porter), George C Johnson, Mrs Martha Ritchie, James Otis, William M Lent, etc. This colony — for it was one — far removed from the other parts of the city, was very sociable within its own circle, and among others boasted three young ladies whom one of the wits of the day dubbed “the world, the flesh and the devil.” They were Miss Lottie Hall, Miss Rosa Gore and Miss Patsie Ritchie, who were the trio thus nicknamed. South Park still remains, but fashion has long since deserted it.