BY-WAYS - 5/8/47 - San Francisco - Telegraph Hill

If you want to see San Francisco, the beautiful bay and islands therein, and neighboring cities, climb to the top of Telegraph Hill. A gleaming white fluted shaft, Coit Tower, on its crest now replaces the old telegraph station, which was a city landmark for decades. The telegraph station in turn replaced the old semaphore of which Bret Harte wrote in "The Man At the Semaphore." This ancient signal was one of three in a long chain that signalled the approach of incoming vessels. When the great, gaunt arms of the semaphore were extended at right angles, that meant "side-wheel steamer" and "letters from home." Just as Robert Louis Stevenson called the district around Fisherman's Wharf "Little Italy," so might Wallace Irwin have called "Telegraph Hill" "Little Ireland." For he wrote:

"The Irish they live on the top av it, And the Dagoes they live on the base av it And the goats and the chicks and th' brickbats and sheiks Is joombled all over th' face av it..."

It's a very orderly and well-groomed hill now, though here and there, just for old times' sake, they have either retained or bowed to the will of an Irish descendant to retain a sun-browned shanty propped on posts against the hill. The winding asphalt road is bordered with beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers. The wind blows hard on Telegraph Hill. A Long Beachite, once a resident of San Francisco, heard me rave about the city; he interrupted the paean of praise to grumble, "Yeah, in San Francisco, on the fourth of July you wear a straw hat and an overcoat." From the glass-enclosed top of Coit Tower a charming Italian woman pointed out to us the famous hills and landmarks: Russian Hill, the haunt of the city's artists and writers in days gone by - Joaquin Miller, Gelett Burgess, Charles and Kathleen Norris, Peter B. Kyne, Will and Wallace Irwin - and many others; Nob Hill, inspired by those "nabobs" of commerce and finance, who built their mansions there, and looked down from its crest, "Hill of Palaces," it was called; where Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, E.J. (Lucky) Baldwin and a few others lavished their railroad and mining millions in unbridled display. These mansions were all destroyed, I understand, in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Towering apartment buildings now take their place.

Looking north and east we could see the rectangular "fingers" on the hand of San Francisco - her piers - 38, I counted, where the great steamships come and go - and where thousands upon thousands of our American boys sailed west to fight a treacherous foe. Through the telescopes we watched the traffic glide along on the San Francisco-Oakland Bridge - that amazing piece of engineering. 8-1/4 miles long, with six lanes for automobile traffic on its upper deck; three lanes for bus and truck traffic and two tracks for electric trins on its lower deck. The bridge cuts through a tunnel blasted out of Yerba Buena Island's 140 acres of rock. It then veers off almost at right angles - to the east - in a long stretch, to reach Oakland. To the north of Oakland lies Berkeley, the home of the University of California. And of course the residents of all the Bay region capitalize and underscore the word "The." Just to the north of Yerba Buena Islands lies Treasure Island, a man-made island from dirt and sand scooped out of the Bay. There they held the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. During the war it was converted into a great navy yard. We could see the great array of long, low buildings. Just since our visit there a disastrous fire has destroyed many of those buildings.

Close by, rising clear-cut out of the blue waters of the Bay stood "The Rock" - Alcatraz. It gave one a turn to see it so close at hand. Everything hard about it - the rock base, the severe buildings, and the country's most hardened criminals inside. But, looking through the telescope, you could see lovely orchid-pink flowers bordering the building. Who knows how much good God may see in those warped and twisted minds! We hurried down to the Civic Center - that we might take in those beautiful buildings before Virgil Jr. would have to catch his boat. The city hall is really outstanding, with its gold-painted dome. It is fully as impressive as some state capitols. I never saw such beautiful stairways in a city building. To the west of it stands the Veterans' Memorial Building, where the United Nations was born - and the beautiful opera house. To the west are the Civic Auditorium, a beautiful library, a Federal Building, and even a State Building. Perhaps Sacramento cannot handle all the state business. Like all good things, this wonderful visit with our boy in friendly San Francisco had to end much too soon. But another time I will give you a glimpse of Golden Gate Park and the interesting ride along the coast. Good-by for this week.

Florence B. Taylor.

Next - 5/22/47 - San Juan Capistrano.
By-Ways Table of Contents