San Francisco, California in 1916

It is curious what a difference of opinion there is in regard to him. I have heard Californiacs say in their one moment of humility, “Why is it, when we turn out such magnificent women, that our men are so undersized?” Now I know nothing about average male heights and weights. I have never seen any comparative statistics. I can say only that the average Californian seems bigger than the average man. And often in walking through the San Francisco streets the eye, ranging along the crowd of pedestrians of average California stature, will strike on a man who bulks a whale, a leviathan, a dread-naught, beside the others, and rises a column, a monolith, a tower above them.

Wells Fargo Bank, San Francisco

Wells Fargo Bank, San Francisco

He is certainly upstanding, this average California male – running to bulk and a little to flesh. Often the line of feature is so regular that it suggests the Greek. He has eyes like mountain lakes and a smile like a break of sun. He generally flashes a dimple or two or three or more (Californians are speckled with dimples). He manufactures his own slang. And he joshes and jollies all day long. In fact, he’s – Oh, well, go West, young woman!

Beyond its high average of male beauty California has, in its labor-man, produced a new physical type. It is different from the standardized American type, of which Abraham Lincoln of a past and the Wright brothers of a present generation are perfect specimens – the ugly-beautiful face, long and lean, with its harshly contoured strength of feature and its subtly softening melancholy of expression.

The look of labor in California is not so much of strength as of force, an indomitable, unconquerable force. Melancholy is not there, but spirit; that fire and light which means hope. It is as though they were molded of iron – those faces – but illuminated from within. And with that strength goes the California  comeliness.

Pulchritude begins in childhood with the Californian, grows and strengthens through youth to middle age. Even the old – but there are no old people in California. Nobody ever gets a chance to grow old there. The climate won’t let you. The scenery won’t let you. The life won’t let you.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

All this picturesqueness, beauty and charm form the raw materials of the most entertaining city life in the country. For whatever San Francisco is or is not, it is never dull. Life there is in a perpetual ferment. It is as though the city kettle had been set on the stove to boil half a century ago and had never been taken off. The steam is pouring out of the nose. The cover is dancing up and down. The very kettle is rocking and jumping. But by some miracle the destructive explosion never happens. The Californian is easy-going in a sense and yet he works hard and plays hard. Athletics are feverish there, suffrage rampant, politics frenzied, labor militant. Would that I had space here to dilate on the athletic game as it is played in California – played with the charm and spirit and humor with which Californians play every game. Would that I had space to narrate, as Maud Younger tells it – the moving story of how the women won the vote in California. Would that I had space to describe the whirlwind political campaigns when there are at least four candidates in the field for every office, and when you are besought by postal, by letter, by dodgers, by advertisements in the papers and on the billboards to vote for all of them. Would that I had space – but here I must take the space -to tell how the Californian plays.

Remember always that California has virtually no weather to contend with. For three months of the year rain appears; for the remaining nine months it is eliminated entirely. And so, with a country of rare picturesqueness for a background, a people of rare beauty for actors, everybody more or less permeated with the artistic instinct and everybody more or less writing poetry – California has a pageant for breakfast, a fiesta for luncheon and a carnival for dinner. They are always electing queens. In fact any girl in California , who hasn’t been a queen of something before she’s twenty-one, is a poor prune.

In the country, especially in the wine districts where the merrymaking sometimes lasts for days, these festivals are beautiful. In the city it depends largely, of course, on how much the commercial spirit enters into it; but whether they are beautiful or the reverse, they are always entertaining.

Single streets, for instance, in San Francisco, are always having carnivals. The street elects a king and queen, plasters itself with bunting, arches itself with electric lights, lines its curbs with temporary booths, fills its corners with shows, sells confetti until the pedestrian swims in it -and then whoops it up for a week. All around, north, south, east, west, every other street is jet-black, sleeping decorously, ignoring utterly that blare of color, that blaze of light, that boom of noise around the corner. They should worry – they’re going to have a carnival themselves next week. Apropos, a San Francisco paper opened its story of one of these affairs with the following sentence: “Last night (shall we call him Hans Schmidt?) was crowned with great pomp and ceremony king of the – Street Carnival, and fifteen minutes later, with no pomp and ceremony whatever, he was arrested for petty larceny.” Billy Jordan was made King of the Fillmore Street Carnival. Now Billy Jordan, who was over eighty years of age, had served as announcer for every big boxing contest in San Francisco since – well, let’s say, since San Francisco was born. He always ends his ring announcement with the words, “Let her go!” The reporters say that in the crown and scepter, the velvet and ermine of a king, he opened the Fillmore Street Carnival with “Let her go!”. And for myself, I choose to believe that story. The queen of this carnival – her first name was Manila, by the way – a pretty girl of course, was a picturesque detail in the city life for a week. In velvet, ermine and brilliant crown, she was always flashing from place to place in an automobile, surrounded by a group, equally pretty, of ladies in waiting. When the deep, cylindrical cistern-like reservoir on Twin Peaks was finished, they opened it with a dance; when the Stockton street tunnel was finished, they opened it with a dance; when the morgue was completed they opened that with a reception.

The San Francisco papers reflect all this activity, and they certainly make entertaining reading. For one thing, the annual crop of pretty girls being ten times as large there as anywhere else, and photography being universally a fine art, the papers are filled with pictures of beautiful women.

They are the only papers I have ever seen in which the faces that appear on the theatrical page pale beside those that accompany the news stories. The last three months of my stay in San Francisco I cut out all the pictures of pretty girls from three newspapers. They included all kinds of women – society, club, athletic, college, highbrow, low-brow; highway-women, burglaresses, forgeresses and murderesses. I have just counted those pictures three hundred and fifty-four – and all beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *