San Francisco's recent history is probably best captured by three seismic
events—the 1848 gold rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the 1967
Summer of Love. All three events have to do with the amassing of treasure,
although not necessarily of the same kind.
Let's start with the gold. In 1848 gold nuggets were discovered in the
Sierra foothills northeast of San Francisco where a Swiss immigrant named
Johann Augustus Sutter—known as John Sutter in English—was
building a saw mill. The discovery prompted thousands of speculators to surge
into San Francisco. Its population increased from some 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000
by the end of 1849. Moreover, the crews of sailing vessels dropping anchor in
San Francisco harbor during this period often deserted their vessels to seek
Most gold seekers, however, found only enough gold to pay for their daily
expenses. Even Sutter, who had wanted to create a utopian agricultural
settlement, was quoted in 1857 as saying, "What a great misfortune was
this sudden gold discovery for me!.... From my mill buildings I reaped no
benefit whatever, the mill stones even have been stolen and sold."
By the start of the 20th century, San Francisco had struck it rich again.
Its U.S. mint, located on the corner of Fifth and Mission streets, contained a
third of the country's gold supplies. It was the largest city on the West
Coast, the financial center of the West, and famous for its ostentatious
mansions, stately hotels, and flamboyant style.
Misfortune struck on April 18, 1906, when a powerful earthquake struck San
Francisco. As buildings collapsed, ruptured gas lines ignited fires that
rapidly spread throughout the city. Several thousand residents died. More than
half of the city's population of some 400,000 were left homeless. This
earthquake was the worst incident that the American insurance industry
experienced up to September 11, 2001—almost a century later.
But San Francisco rose from the ashes and once again became a financial
powerhouse. In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, not a single San
Francisco-based bank failed. Even at the height of the Great Depression, San
Francisco undertook two major civil engineering projects—the building of
the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the summer of 1967, San Francisco acquired wealth of a less tangible
nature than gold or currency. Thousands of young people—so-called
hippies or flower children—flocked into the city's Haight-Ashbury
neighborhood. The migration was named the Summer of Love.
"It was sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and those were all fun,"
Paul Krassner, an author and social satirist, was quoted as saying in the May
23, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle. "But at the core of the
counterculture was a spiritual revolution, in a sense of leaving the Western
religions of control and exploring the Eastern disciplines of
And as Angela Alioto, a civil-rights lawyer, was quoted as saying in the
same issue of the Chronicle, "The Summer of Love really
stressed the principles of St. Francis of Assisi, the guy who loved the
environment, loved animals, loved the sick and poor, and was against war....
The Summer of Love was flat-out beautiful!"
Then a San Francisco influenced by the 1967 love fest, as well as by the
1960s black civil-rights and feminist movements, helped mobilize, beginning in
1970, the national gay rights movement. In 1977 Harvey Milk was elected to the
Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. He was the first openly gay man to be
elected to political office in the United States. In 1978 San Franciscans, as
well as other Californians, defeated Proposition 6, which would have banned
homosexuals from teaching in public schools. Today San Francisco has the
highest percentage of gay and lesbian residents of any American
city—estimated to be about 15 percent.
Reverberations from San Francisco's 1848 gold rush and from its 1906
earthquake and fire have long vanished. But its 1967 Summer of Love still
resonates to some degree. The San Francisco of 2009 is largely a bastion of
liberation, tolerance, and affability for all people. Come see for
More information about San Francisco's history is posted at<www.zpub.com/sf/history/sfh2.html>.▪