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Posts Tagged ‘Panama-Pacific International Exposition’


Untroubled by any afternoon fog, the sun slides towards the Golden Gate before retiring for the night.

White swans glide across the placid lagoon. A small boy runs after a ball, inadvertently kicking it forwards each time he reaches down to pick it up, whilst his mother checks her e mails on her new smart phone. Even the ubiquitous dogs and joggers appear to float past as if in a dream.

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I glance to my left at the crippling climb up Lyon Street to privileged Pacific Heights, and feel that I could not be more blessed sat here on this bench, watching the day draw serenely to its close, than if I were observing it from above in the manicured garden of a multi-million dollar Victorian.

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Built, along with ten other structures, on land created with sand dredged up from the bay for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts was designed to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal, but it quickly became a demonstration of San Francisco’s stunning revival after the devastating earthquake and fire of nine years earlier.

A wonderful place to re-charge your energies, meditate or wind down, especially in the final hour of daylight, the reflecting lagoon, once a frog pond, and the structures that tower over it, form a beautiful classical harmony.

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The forty metre high rotunda with its golden dome, visible from both the hill above and the Golden Gate Bridge to the west, may appear incongruous in a city still so young, but it is a nonetheless glorious sight, beloved of residents and visitors alike. The adjoining colonnade, with its groups of columns depicting weeping maidens “crying over the sadness of art”, and decorated with incomplete stairways and funeral urns, complements it perfectly.

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The work of Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck, who aimed to convey a sense of “sadness, modified by the feeling that beauty has a soothing influence”, it was built of plaster over wood fashioned to resemble stone or marble. Intended to represent a Roman ruin, ironically it survived alone of all those buildings of the much lauded Exposition.

It was allowed to stand for decades whilst crumbling into decay, befitting the air of “timeless melancholy” that its founders had aimed for. It helped too that, unlike the remaining edifices, it was built on Army land and escaped the prompt demolition that befell those in the dash to create the Marina residential district.

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Over the intervening decades it served as tennis courts, a motor pool for army vehicles and diplomatic limousines, a warehouse for city park supplies, telephone books, flags and tents, and as a temporary headquarters for the Fire Department.

And then in 1957 Assemblyman Caspar Weinberger succeeded in securing $2 million from the state, which was matched two years later by philanthropist, Walter S. Johnson, who lived across the street. This roused further latent public, private and City support for its restoration. It was torn down and replaced by one in reinforced concrete at a cost of $7.5 million, and was re-dedicated on 30th September 1967.

However, lumps of concrete subsequently fell from the rotunda, necessitating nets being built to protect visitors, and the lagoon became a swamp-like dump. Prompted by then Mayor Willie Brown, Donna Ewald Huggins, a historian and publicist, led a further project to restore it once more. As a result, the Palace as we see it today was dedicated on 14th January 2011.

It takes little suspension of disbelief to understand why it is so popular as a location for wedding shoots and film sets.

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As the balmy bay breeze gives way to the chill of twilight, I rise to leave. The tranquility is temporarily interrupted by another small boy, this time in a toy car chasing a pair of understandably agitated ducks around the perimeter of the lagoon. Needless to say, he loses, and peace is restored as darkness falls.

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A First Time Visitor’s Guide to San Francisco


I am regularly asked by friends, personally and on social media sites, for advice on what are the best things to see and do on their upcoming,  and invariably first, trip to San Francisco. Rather than continue to respond on a one to one basis, I have listed below my current recommendations so that anyone can refer to them when they need to.

I should stress that the selections below reflect my personal views, though I have still included other celebrated attractions that would not necessarily be on my list if I only had a few days in the city. But the focus is on the first time visitor.

I must put my prejudices aside for this exercise! They are arranged in  no particular order.

1. Golden Gate Bridge

  • Drive it and take in the views from Vista Point, but much more spectacularly, the Marin Headlands (below), which you access by going under the road just after the end of the bridge;

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  • Note that you have to register in advance for the toll (credit card is charged when you return to city);
  • While you’re there, pop into Sausalito only a few miles away for lunch or coffee and fine views of the city;
  • Walk it or bike it too for more wonderful photo opportunities;
  • If you can, approach it by walking along the Marina, past Fort Mason, from Fisherman’s Wharf – it’s quite a trek and usually very bracing, but it affords great views of the bridge and Alcatraz.

2.  Golden Gate Park

  • Two splendid museums: the California Academy of Sciences and the modern art de Young Museum;
  • Japanese Tea Garden (it may be twee but it is set in lovely grounds and provides tasty oriental teas and snacks in the café);

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  • Stow Lake (lovely to walk round, grab a hot dog at the boat house or book a pedal boat);

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  • Visit the moving National AIDS Memorial Grove and the steamy Conservatory of Flowers;
  • The buffalo paddock (the creatures are rather shy) and the Dutch Windmill are also worth exploring at the other end of the park.

3. Ferry Building

  • Fantastic selection of indoor food and gift stores, and the sixth best Farmers’ Market in the world (according to a recent survey) outside on certain days;

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  • Nice bookshop and great wine bar.

4. Cliff House

  • Drive or take the 38 bus from downtown to cean Beach for two fine restaurants with stunning views over the Pacific;
  • Stroll along the beach for miles;
  • explore the remains of Adolph Sutro’s great public baths and watch the sea birds on Seal Rock;

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  • Take the short walk to the western end of Golden Gate Park.

5. Chinatown

  • Witness the largest Chinese community outside Asia going about their daily business;
  • Grant Avenue is best for gifts whilst Stockton contains the markets at which the Chinese women shop for produce not seen anywhere else!;

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  • You must eat here at least once during your stay – I recommend the Great Eastern, after all the Obamas eat there, and the R & G Lounge;
  • Don’t forget the side streets too with their views of the Bay Bridge and Financial District – and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory!

6. North Beach

  • Traditionally the Italian quarter adjacent to Chinatown;
  • Plenty of excellent cafés and restaurants – Trieste the most famous but Tosca, Greco and Puccini are really good too;
  • We have enjoyed meals at the North Beach restaurant, Calzone, Sotto Mare, Firenze at Night and others;
  • Rest awhile at Washington Square Park watching the dogs and their humans at play under the shadow of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul;

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  • Have a glass or two at the Vesuvio Café, our favourite bar – historic haunt of the Beats, e.g. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, in the fifties and sixties;
  • Peruse the unique shelves of the City Lights Bookstore, one of the most famous in the world, opposite Vesuvio;

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  • On the opposite corner on Columbus, Broadway is the home to many of San Francisco’s more famous fleshpots;
  • Reserve seats in advance for Beach Blanket Babylon, another thing you really should do – but best to book in advance

7. Palace of Fine Arts

  • The only remaining building from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrating the resurrection of San Francisco from the Earthquake and Fire of nine years before;
  • Beautiful classical structure with a tranquil swan-filed lagoon attached;

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8. Haight-Ashbury

  • Whether you’re an old hippie (like me) or not, it’s a fascinating place with lots of “head” shops, stores selling retro clothes, good cafés, a massive record shop (Amoeba) and not a few “characters”;
  • Close to Golden Gate Park, it is possible to visit both on the same day.

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9. Alcatraz

  • It may be touristy but no visit to the city is complete without a visit to the most feared federal penitentiary of them all;
  • It is very popular so you should book in advance, preferably before you travel;
  • The day tour is good but the evening (sunset) one is even better!

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10. Bay Cruise

  • Enjoy an hour or two on the bay, remembering to take suncream, as much for the wind as the sun;
  • Stop off at Sausalito for a drink and a promenade, or even go on to Angel Island and Tuburon;
  • The Rocket Boat is tremendous fun, though not for the faint- hearted!

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11. Castro

  • Ground zero for San Francisco’s large gay and lesbian community, rainbow flags are fluttering everywhere;
  • Good shops and bars;

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  • It boasts a great movie house, the Castro Theatre, with its own wurlitzer;  if you can, book tickets for a film. You might even get lucky and be able to participate in a sing-a-long version of either The Sound of Music, Grease or The Wizard of Oz.

12. Alamo Square

  • Position yourself to take the perfect picture of the famous Painted Ladies Victorian houses with the modern city looming behind.

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13.  Mission

  • Boisterous, funky, and, at night, edgy Latino and Hispanic neighbourhood;
  • Great for cheap clothing and inexpensive Central and South American food;
  • Take the pilgrimage to the original Mission Dolores church where it all started;
  • But a picnic for Dolores Park and savour the great views, not only of the city but also of your fellow humans (some of which may be naked – you have been warned!).

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14. Coit Tower

  • Fire nozzle shaped monument provided for the city by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in honour of the brave firefighters of the Earthquake and Fire of 1906;
  • Take in the wonderful views over the bay, including Alcatraz;
  • See and hear the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill (though they do frequent other parts of the city too now);

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  • Climb up at least one set of steps – there are several to choose from, including those that run past beautiful urban gardens.

15.  Twin Peaks

  • The most visited spot for panoramic views of the city, though there are others e.g. Bernal Heights just as good in my opinion.

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16. Civic Center

  • Home to magnificent City Hall and several other public buildings, including the symphony/opera and library;
  • Good, cheap farmer’s market on Wednesdays.

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17. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

  • The most popular tourist spots on the bay, not my favourite but you cannot deny that it is a place of fun and energy;
  • See,  listen and laugh at the crazy sea lions on Pier 39;

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  • Wander round the myriad of gift shops for presents for those back home;
  • Sample seafood at the many restaurants and wharfside stalls – we have eaten well at the Franciscan, Neptune’s Palace and McKormick & Kuleto’s;    
  • The Hard Rock is here too if that is more your scene;
  • The Gold Dust Lounge, relocated from Union Square, is a good watering hole with live music;
  • The Musée Mecanique (vintage amusement arcade) and Hyde Street Pier (collection of classic ships), are two of the best deals, not only on the waterfront, but in the whole of the city; 

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  • Beware the World Famous Bushman!

18. Union Square

  • San Francisco’s “modern” shopping heart is very popular with tourists and locals alike, though I use it more as a thoroughfare from Market to Chinatown and North Beach;

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  • There are a number of good diners and grills in the vicinity, including John’s Grill, Tadich Grill and Daily Grill;
  • It borders both the Tenderloin and Civic Center, so don’t be surprised by the number of homeless people, some of which may approach you for money.

19. Bay Bridge

  • Many, including my wife, prefer this to the Golden Gate Bridge and love driving on both its upper and lower decks;

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  • The new span that replaced the old one destroyed by 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake has recently opened and is stunning;
  • It is spectacularly lit up at night.

20. MUNI

  • San Francisco’s public transit system is loved and hated at the same time by both locals and visitors;
  • The cable cars are not merely tourist toys, many locals use them too, and you must ride them;

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  • The lines may be long but it’s well worth the wait – hurtling down Nob or Russian Hill is a thrilling experience;
  • The historic F Streetcar that runs along Market and the Embarcadero from the Castro is charming if uncomfortable. Don’t expect, however, to get anywhere quickly;

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  • All human life is there on the buses!

21. Sports

  • Candlestick Park, home of the 49ers, is one of the most famous football stadia in America, and the 49ers won’t be there much longer, so get there quick!
  • Even if it is baseball close season, take the tour of the Giant’s home, AT & T Park, dubbed the most beautiful sports stadium in America with wonderful views over the bay;

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  • You can get your (ice) hockey fix too by taking the train from the Caltrain station at 4th and King to San Jose where the Sharks will be waiting to entertain you.

This is not an exhaustive list and I have not even mentioned the many day trips out of the city that can be made, for example to Napa, Muir Woods, Berkeley, Monterey and Carmel. But I think what I have included will keep any first time visitor occupied for a couple of weeks at least!

I would be happy to answer any questions arising from this post.

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Washington may have had its Art Buchwald, London its J.B. Morton (“Beachcomber”) and Dublin the mercurial Myles Na gCopaleen, but few cities can have been as fortunate as San Francisco in having a chronicler (no pun intended) as prolific, urbane and popular as Herb Caen who wrote in its daily newspapers about life in the city, for almost sixty years.  With more than 16,000 columns of over 1,000 words each, lifelong friend, author and restaurateur, Barnaby Conrad, estimated that if “laid end to end, his columns would stretch 5.6 miles, from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge”.

Herbert Eugene Caen was born on 3rd April 1916 in Sacramento, though he claimed to have been conceived on the Marina in San Francisco during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition as his parents spent the summer there “complaining about the cold”.

He joined the Sacramento Union as a sports reporter in 1932 on graduating from high school.  Four years later he was hired to write a radio column for the San Francisco Chronicle, beginning an association that was to last for 50 of the next 61 years.

On the scrapping of the radio column he persuaded the editor, Paul Smith, that he could write a daily column on the city, and  It’s News to Me duly debuted on 5th July 1938, appearing thereafter for six days a week.

When the U.S. entered the Second World War in 1942 he joined the Air Force, assigned to communications, and reached the rank of captain.  Returning to his Chronicle column, he continued to record and comment upon the foibles of local government and personailities.

Caen often referred to San Francisco as Baghdad-by-the-Bay,  a term he coined to reflect the city’s exotic multiculturism.  A collection of his essays bearing the same title was published in 1949, going through seven printings.  In 1953 he published the book Don’t Call it Frisco after an Examiner news item of the same name on 3rd April 1918 when Judge Mogan, presiding in a divorce case, stated that “No one refers to San Francisco by that title except people from Los Angeles”.  Emperor Norton had previously raged against the use of the term and issued one of his imperial proclamations to that effect.

However, a year later, Caen left the Chronicle for higher paid work at the San Francisco Examiner, for which he worked until 1958 when he was persuaded to return to his former employer on the promise of a better salary.  His “homecoming” column was published on 15th January of that year.

In 1976 he published One Man’s San Francisco, a fine collection of some of the best writing from his columns.  In 1988, the fiftieth anniversary of the column was marked by a special edition of the Chronicle’s “Sunday Punch”.  At the age of 75 he decided to slow down by reducing his output from six to five days a week!

Caen was hugely popular and a highly influential figure in San Francisco society.  He was described by the Chronicle as a “major wit and unwavering liberal who could be charming, outspoken and, at times, disagreeable.”

He called his work “three-dot journalism”, in reference to the ellipses by which he separated his column’s short items, all composed on his “Loyal Royal” typewriter.

His writing was imbued with a gentle, dry wit and an intimate knowledge of the politics, society and culture of his adopted city and the wider Bay Area. Hardly a show, party or any other significant event in San Francisco was complete without Caen’s gregarious presence, and his clever, sometimes acerbic, comments on it the next morning in his column.  Conrad said that “he seemed to know everyone in the world; he somehow made them honorary San Franciscans and let us, his readers, have the privilege of knowing them, too”.

His witticisms and plays on words would fill another ten features, but here are a few:

  • “the trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around”;
  • “I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there”;
  • “cockroaches and socialites are the only things that can stay up all night and eat anything”; and
  • “the only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever”.

The Bay Bridge was “the car-strangled spanner”, City Hall “Silly Hall” and Berkeley was “Berserkeley”.

Whilst many of his invented words have passed into history, others have become not only synonymous with San Francisco but entered the everyday language.  On 2nd April 1958, in a Pocketful of Notes, he reported on a party hosted by 50 “Beatniks” which spread to “over 250 bearded cats and kits”.  This is the first known use of the word.  And during the Summer of Love in 1967 he contributed more than anybody to popularising the term “hippie”.

In 1996 he was the recipient of a special award from the Pulitzer Prize Board which acclaimed his “extraordinary and continuing contribution as a voice and conscience of the city”.  On 14th June of the same year 75,000 people, including Walter Cronkite, Robin Williams, Willie Mays, Don  Johnson and Mayor Willie Brown who presided over the event, celebrated Herb Caen Day.

He espoused many liberal causes over his career, including a life long opposition to the death penalty.  He was also one of the first mainstream newspaper men to question the Vietnam War.  But it is to his beloved San Francisco that we return for one of his most passionate campaigns, namely to have the hideous and excessively busy Embarcadero Freeway, or “Dambarcadero” as he called it, demolished.  Success came, but from an unexpected source.  The Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 damaged it so severely that the decision was taken to pull it all down.  A three mile sweep  of the Embarcadero is now named “Herb Caen Way” in his honour.  The wide promenade is the most eastern street in San Francisco, curving round its northeast corner, proceeding along the waterfront, and ending near AT & T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, the team Caen adored.

Despite a terminal lung-cancer diagnosis, Caen continued to write almost until his death on 1st February 1997, though his output understandably shrunk over time. His funeral six days later was held in the Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, attended by 250 people with hundreds more outside listening to the hymns and eulogies over loudspeaker.

Caen had willed to the city a fireworks display which was given in Aquatic Park in front of Ghiradelli Square, concluding with a pyrotechnic image of a typewriter on the bay.  This tribute was attended by many of his friends and fans, who gathered on Herb Caen Way… on the Embarcadero, lit candles protected from the wind by dixie cups, and walked north along the waterfront to Aquatic Park.

And all this for a local hack!

John Steinbeck wrote that he “made a many-faceted character of the city of San Francisco….It is very probable that Herb’s city will be the one that is remembered”.

But the last fitting words should be left to Caen himself:

“One day if I go to heaven…I’ll look around and say ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco'”.

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Charming, charismatic, successful businessman and whorehouse owner, “Sunny Jim” Rolph was the longest serving mayor in San Francisco history.

He was born to British parents in the city on 23rd August 1869 and educated in the Mission District where he  also lived in adult life in a large mansion at the corner of San Jose and 25th Streets.  After jobs as a newsboy, clerk and messenger he entered the shipping business in 1900, forming a partnership with George Hind.  For the next ten years he served as President of two banks, one of which he established, as well as founding the Rolph Shipping Company and James Rolph Company.  He also directed the Ship Owners and Merchants Tugboat Company and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to his country’s entry into the First World War he supplied coal and ships to the Allied Countries.  With an estimated wealth of $5 million he bought a ranch west of Stanford University.  It is reported that the Department of Public Works made all the improvements to the ranch at the taxpayers’ expense, not the last time his appropriation of public funds for his own personal gain was mooted.

In 1911 Rolph was encouraged to run for Mayor against the incumbent P.H. McCarthy who had failed to curb the corruption that was rife in the city.  Following a six week campaign categorised by egg throwing, fist fights and police riots, he won comfortably.

His first major project was the construction of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, designed not only to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal but, equally importantly, to showcase the remarkable renaissance of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.  It was  during the latter that he he had earned the gratitude of the city by, as head of a relief committee, delivering water and supplies with his horse and wagon.

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He opened the Exposition by, pied piper style, leading 150,000  followers down Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street to the Fairgrounds, now the Marina District.  The profits from the highly successful event were used to build the Civic Auditorium.

As Mayor, he personally oversaw the construction of City Hall, and on the day it was dedicated in 1915, climbed the golden dome, “beamed at the astonished faces below”, and ran up the American flag.

His nickname derived from his relentlessly cheerful, gregarious disposition.  With a theme song entitled “There Are Smiles That Make You Happy” he paraded about town in, alternately a stovepipe silk or derby hat, dapper black suit with a flower, usually a carnation, in the buttonhole, smiling and “pressing the flesh” of the city’s residents as if he were on a continuous election campaign trail. He would often pick up pedestrians on his way to City Hall and drive them to their destination.  He was known as the “Mayor of All the People”, relating to people of all races, religions and political parties.  He even invited Communist protestors into his office for a chat.

He had time for everyone as he “popped up” at just about every public event, seeing it as a photo opportunity to promote himself.  His role was primarily as the charming figurehead for city government, leaving the day to day running of his administration (which bored him), including several major public works projects such as the Bay Bridge, Hetch Hetchy water system, which supplies most of the city’s water,  and San Francisco Airport, to trusted colleagues.

Rolph’s affable manner and the spectacular but costly festivities he arranged to celebrate major political events may have endeared him to the man in the street, but he presided over a “lawless, debauched city”in which “gambling and prostituion thrived”.  Moreover, he contributed personally towards this by owning the Pleasure Palace, an “entertainment hideout”at 21st Street and Sanchez on Liberty Hill.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he made only half-hearted attempts to clean up the city.  This, along with his lax stance on enforcing Prohibition, may have partly accounted for his four re-elections and nineteen years in office.

His flamboyant image extended to appearances in several films, notably the 1915 documentary Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco, directed by Fatty Arbuckle and the short, Hello Frisco.

Rolph’s drinking and alleged affair with movie star, Anita Page, however, scarred his final term in office.  He missed meetings at City Hall and drivers would be despatched to find him. When he did turn up he appeared drunk and patently unwell.

He was elected the 27th Governor of California from 6th January 1931 when he resigned as San Francisco Mayor.  However, the advent of the Great Depression and the budgetary constraints that that inevitably imposed upon the State, had serious personal and political consequences.  Moreover, laregly as a result of his shenanigans over a previous gubernatorial campaign, his contract to build three new ships for the Federal Government was cancelled and he was banned from selling ships to foreign governments, accelerating his financial ruin.

His political inadequacies were also regularly exposed, provoking a recall movement against him within two years of taking office.  His tenure was dogged by controversy, not least when he publicly praised the citizens of San Jose, whilst promising to pardon anyone involved, following the November 1933 lynching of the confessed murderers of Brooke Hart, the son of a wealthy local merchant.  He was thereafter known as “Governor Lynch”.

As he fell into serious debt his health failed, although he continued to make personal appearances against medical advice.  Following a number of heart attacks he died on 2nd June 1934 at Riverside Farm, Santa Clara County.  He was brought home to lie in state in the City Hall rotunda.

Notwithstanding his many flaws, Rolph’s popularity in his home town was unquestioned. and illustrated in the decision to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that had begun to be built under his stewardship, the “James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bridge”.

Finally, I am particularly indebted for much of the detail in this article to the historical essay on Rolph written by Daniel Steven Crofts.

 

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