The Broderick-Terry Duel: Re-enacting San Francisco History

The Re-enactment of the Duel, 2009 photo by Thomas Levinson

On September 13, 1859, California State Supreme Court Chief Justice David S. Terry mortally wounded U.S. Senator David C. Broderick in a duel at Lake Merced, just outside San Francisco’s city limits.

Tomorrow, the History Guild of Daly City / Colma will be staging a re-enactment of the duel on the shore of Lake Merced to mark the event’s 150th anniversary. I asked members of the the History Guild about the research methods they used to investigate the duel in the course of developing their performance. How did they go about identifying possible sources about the duel? How did they evaluate those sources in terms of their authority or reliability? Richard Rocchetta responded that they primarily used online content – especially an uncredited article that appears on the Anchor Steam Brewery website.

That article was written by David Burkhart, who told me that his sources included Carroll Douglass Hall’s 1939 publication, The Terry-Broderick Duel; James O’Meara’s 1881 publication, Broderick and Gwin (now available in full text on Google Books); and John S. Hittell’s 1878 history of San Francisco (also now available in full text on Google Books). Burkhart used the online database of historical New York Times articles (available for free to anyone with a San Francisco Public Library card) and articles about the duel that appeared in the San Francisco press in 1859 (microfilmed versions of these articles can be consulted on the 5th floor of the San Francisco Main Public Library).

Richard Rocchetta specified one other source used to develop tomorrow’s re-enactment: an article that appeared in the May 12, 2001 edition of The Independent, a now-defunct Redwood City newspaper.  Entitled “An Old Fashioned Political Shootout,” the article was authored by College of San Mateo history professor Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett. Anyone interested in reviewing the article can obtain a copy from the archives at the San Mateo County History Museum.

The Broderick-Terry duel is widely covered not only in scholarly literature and standard reference works in California history; primary source material is also available in Bay Area archives and can be discovered using union archival databases like the Online Archive of California. Yet in my work as an archivist, I frequently encounter researchers who do exactly what members of the History Guild of Daly City / Colma reported doing: relying primarily or exclusively on the Internet for content. That is instructive for any of us who curate archives or teach methods of historical research: it prompts us to ask ourselves how to make the wealth of valuable historical content that exists beyond the Internet discoverable even to those who might not wish to go looking any further than Google.

Tomorrow’s re-enactment of the Broderick-Terry duel will take place at 2:00 p.m. at 1100 Lake Merced Boulevard in Daly City. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (650) 757- 7177.

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Sutro Baths: Creating an Historical Map 2.0

"Sutro Baths" 2009 photo by Maggie Morrow

The Sutro Baths, whose ruins on the western headlands of San Francisco now form part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, were originally created by millionaire Adolph Sutro as an opulent 3-acre public baths featuring seven pools of varying temperatures, water slides, trapezes, springboards, and other attractions. It opened in 1896 and was able to accommodate approximately 10,000 bathers at a time. The Baths subsequently underwent many changes and eventually burned in 1966; the Golden Gate National Recreation Area acquired the site of the ruins in 1973.

This year, London resident and Brunel University student Adam Smith developed an online interactive map of the Sutro Baths after a visit to San Francisco. Smith researched historical photographs and blueprints of the Sutro Baths using the online resources available at the San Francisco History Center’s Historical Photograph Collection, Gary Stark’s Cliff House Project, and the Western Neighborhoods Project. Smith also drew from material in Marilyn Blaisdell’s 1987 publication, San Francisciana: Photographs of the Sutro Baths, a copy of which he discovered in Green Apple Books. Smith consolidated this material and used Google Maps to create an online interactive map. He concedes that his map is only an approximation of the layout of the original Sutro Baths, superimposed over the current location of the ruins. Nevertheless, Smith has succeeded in providing the user with a fairly detailed sense of the layout, complete with photographic views that can be clicked on from various vantage points. Furthermore, his map is interactive in that it allows users to rate the map, report problems, and leave comments.  In this way, Smith’s map provides an example of Web 2.0 – that is to say, a website in which users, as well as the creator, can provide original content and participate in the development of the site. Other examples of San Francisco history projects that involve Web 2.0 features are blogs such as Sparkletack and wikis such as FoundSF.

Given Smith’s facility for transforming historical content into a Web 2.0 format, it’s not surprising that his inital love for San Francisco was itself cultivated through participation in a Web 2.0 game called San Francisco Zero, in which participants challenge one another online to use public spaces around San Francisco in new and unexpected ways. Smith, who can be reached via his Google profile, hopes to re-locate to San Franciso upon completing his studies. For any of us who use San Francisco history, Smith’s map suggests new possibilities for how the Web can continue to be used to present historical content in a way that is not only interactive, but that also allows users the opportunity to contribute.


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The Palace Hotel: when history is part of your business model

Palace Hotel Garden Court, 2009 photo by Wally Gobetz

The Palace Hotel, situated on the corner of Market and New Montgomery Streets, will host programming now through December in celebration of the centennial of its 1909 re-opening following the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.  Central to this programming will be the invocation of the hotel’s history, which extends back to 1875.

The Palace Hotel was a project of William Ralston, who had made his fortune on the Comstock Silver Lode in Nevada and founded the Bank of California. Ralston had the ambition and resources to shape San Francisco. Scholars such as Barbara Berglund and Gray Brechin have discussed Ralston’s move to put San Francisco’s first world-class luxury hotel at Market and New Montgomery as a deliberate strategy to change the real estate market of 1870s San Francisco. By the time of the Palace’s opening in 1875, Ralston had recently died and the hotel was in the hands of fellow banker William Sharon. The Sharon family sold the hotel to Sharaton in 1954; it was later bought in 1974 by Kyo-ya Corporation (though Sharaton continues to manage the hotel). As reported by J.K. Dineen in the San Francisco Business Times, Kyo-ya is “controlled by Blackacre Capital Management, the real estate investment division of Cerberus Capital Management, a large privately held hedge fund run by financier Steve Feinberg.”

Carl Nolte reports in today’s San Francisco Chronicle that the management of the Palace conceeds that business is slow in the current economic climate. That the Palace has a history on which it can capitalize is suggested by the fact that no other hotel in San Francisco has a San Francisco City Guides walking tour or an Arcadia Press “Images of America” and “Postcards” book devoted exclusively to it. That the Palace management is ready to use that history to its business advantage is evidenced by the prominence given to images and accounts of that history on the hotel’s website, as well as the display cases on the ground floor of the hotel that exhibit artifacts from the hotel’s past.

Of the many ways San Franciscans use our history, pursuing profit is not the least of these.

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Time Capsules in San Francisco

Franklin statue, Washington Square Park, 2009 photo by Wally Gobetz

San Francisco is no stranger to time capsules. One example can be found in Washington Square Park at the base of the Benjamin Franklin statue commissioned by nineteenth-century millionaire and temperance advocate Henry D. Cogswell. The materials placed there in 1879 by Cogswell included personal papers and a sampling of publications that are now housed at the California Historical Society. After the original contents were exhumed in 1979 by then-mayor of San Francisco Dianne Fienstein, new materials replaced them for re-opening in 2079, including a pair of Levi’s jeans, a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a bottle of wine (ironic, given Cogswells temperance stance), and a copy of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Sometimes a time capsule is forgotten and later re-discovered, as had been the case with a copper box filled with coins, photographs, newspaper clippings and other items that had been placed in the walls of San Francisco City Hall in 1913 by then-mayor Jim Rolph and found again in 1997 during renovation work. Selected contents from that collection are exhibited in City Hall’s South Light Court. A new time capsule was placed in City Hall in 2001 by then-mayor Willie Brown, containing a wide range of contents including one of the mayor’s hats, Rice a Roni, a bolt from the Golden Gate Bridge, a piece of the AIDS memorial quilt, a bottle of Anchor Steam beer, menus from the Fairmont and St. Francis hotels, and a video tape from 1997 of the opening of Mayor Rolph’s time capsule of 1913.

Sometimes time capsules themselves contain time capsules, as was discovered in 2001 when the cornerstone of the former Ohabai Shalome synagogue at 1881 Bush Street was opened. Items that had been placed in the cornerstone during the 1895 construction of the building included an earlier time capsule that had been created by a group of San Francisco Jews in 1865. Together, these contents were fashioned into an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum entitled “Hidden in the Walls”.

I’ve created a Google Map showing the location of time capsules in San Francisco. I imagine there are many that I’ve missed. Do you know of any that don’t appear on the map? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know about them.

For those who are interested, William E. Jarvis has done the only serious history to date of time capsules; and Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia hosts the International Time Capsule Society.


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Displaying the 1939-1940 World’s Fair

Building One, Treasure Island, 2009 photo by Don Barrett

San Francisco has hosted three World’s Fairs. The first was the the 1894 Midwinter Fair in Golden Gate Park; the second was the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in the Marina. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco’s third World’s Fair, which took place in 1939 and 1940 on the newly-created Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. As anyone who curates exhibits using historical materials knows, there’s nothing like an anniversary to give you a theme.

There are at least three exhibits this year that focus on the Golden Gate International Exposition. Opening this month outside the San Francisco History Center on the sixth floor of the San Francisco Main Library, the Skylight Gallery is currently featuring “A Trip to the Fair, 1939: The Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco”, which includes paper-based materials and some artifacts. Also opening this month at the Officer’s Club in the Presidio is their photo exhibit “Treasure Island 1939: San Francisco’s Pagent of the Pacific”. Finally, the San Francisco Airport Museums is hosting an exhibit that closes this month in Terminal 1 (South) Entrance Lobby A of the San Francisco International Airport entitled “Flying to the Fair: Aviation and the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition”, which is more artifact-based than the other two exhibits.

As one might explect, all three exhibits are publicized on websites. It is interesting to note differences in design among those three sites – especially in terms of taking advantage of web functionality such as linking. The website for the Skylight Gallery includes a link to the San Francisco History Center’s online historic photo collection – specifically, a page highlighting that collection’s holdings as they relate to the 1939 World’s Fair. The website for the Presidio Officer’s Club exhibit includes a link to the website of the Treasure Island Development Authority, which includes a history page that includes links both to the San Francisco History Center’s online 1939 World’s Fair photographs, as well as Treasure Island-related podcasts from Richard Miller’s Sparkletack website. The San Francisco Airport Museums does not include any links on the website about their exhibit, and is the most Web 1.0 in its presentation.

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Historic Photos, and the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA

2007 photo by Thomas Hawk

This evening, the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA, located at 220 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, will close its doors forever. That the administration for that branch of the YMCA felt that their history was relevant to their institution is evidenced by the fact that the “Who We Are” page on their website opens by recounting its past. Mention is made that U.S. President Howard Taft participated in its dedication in 1909; and that the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA has been in operation every day since its opening in 1910.

A celebration is being held this evening in recognition of the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA’s nearly 100 years of service to San Francisco. Announcements for the celebration mention an “historical photo gallery” as part of the event. As a professional archivist, when I see announcements of exhibitions of local San Francisco historical photographs, I often wonder how those images were culled, and who had cared for them. More to the point, I wonder what becomes of those photos after the event is over. It’s always a shame when carefully gathered historic images end up being disposed of when they may have had a value to future researchers. Anyone who is considering getting rid of historic images related to San Francisco may wish to consider contacting the San Francisco History Center and inquire about the possibility of donating their materials


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Invoking Harvey Milk during San Francisco Pride 2009

Duboce Park, toward the Recreation Center. 2007 photo by Nathan Yergler

Gay Pride celebrations in the U.S. are an annual commemoration of the Stonewall Riots that took place on June 28, 1969 in New York City. Furthermore, organizers and participants also frequently incorporate references to other historical events as part of Pride. This is true once again for San Francisco Pride 2009, following the ruling on May 26 by the California State Supreme Court to uphold Proposition 8, a ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriages. References to former San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk are especially prominent during the 2009 San Francisco Pride season, in part due to the depiction of Milk’s role in the 1978 defeat of another anti-gay ballot measure, Prop 6 (which would have barred openly gay and lesbian people from serving in California public schools) in the recent film Milk. Inside Pride, the official program guide to the 2009 celebration, includes articles foregrounding the strategies used by Harvey Milk (and depicted in the film) to defeat Prop 6 as pointing to new possibilities for a future overturning of Prop 8. Similarly, other efforts to highlight Milk’s political legacy have figured during the 2009 Pride season around the Castro neighborhood, including an unveiling of Robert Silvers’ new portrait of Milk, the unveiling of Susan Schwartzenberg and Michael Davis’ new installation at the Harvey Milk Arts Center in Duboce Park, and the ongoing exhibit of the GLBT Historical Society, Passionate Struggle, which includes a focus on Milk’s political career and displays the suit he wore when he was assassinated in 1978.

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Bernal History Project, and improving content delivery

"Bernal Heights" 2010 photo by Todd Lappin

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Carl Nolte has written today about a project in which Bernal Heights residents have taken content about their neighborhood from the San Francisco City Directories of 1907, 1915, 1922 and the 1933 city phone directory, and posted it on the Bernal History Project website. This is the first instance of which I’m aware in which this content is being provided in an online format – previously it was available only in print and microform at repositories such as the Magazines and Newspapers Center of the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. While increasing accessibility, this project also highlights some of the challenges involved in designing a content delivery system. In this instance, the online content exists in the format of PDF documents that are organized by year and street name. While a researcher is able to do a full-text search within a single PDF, there isn’t a search capability to allow searches across PDF documents. That more robust kind of searching would have been possible if the content had been input into an online database built using FileMaker Pro. In spite of this limitation, however, the project represents a considerable improvement in access.

For any San Francisco resident interested in researching the construction or former residents of their home, the San Francisco History Center has created a website entitled How to Research a San Francisco Building.

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California Historical Society annual meetings

Calaveras Reservoir. 2009 photo by Christina B. Castro

After something of a hiatus, the California Historical Society has re-instituted its program of annual meetings. The 2009 meeting was held on June 20, and the focus was the history of water use in California. Among the speakers, Deputy San Francisco City Attorney Josh Milstein offered a particularly interesting presentation on the water delivery systems in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to the present, including the Spring Valley Water Company and Hetch Hetchy. This is a topic that has been addressed elsewhere by Norris Hundley, Gray Brechin, and others; Milstein’s contribution consists in his foregrounding of legal battles over claims to water rights. Rita Schmidt Sudman, executive director of the Water Education Foundation, followed this up in her presentation by addressing contemporary conflicts among agriculatural, environmental and consumer interests regarding Hetch Hetchy. The California Historical Society will be hosting additional upcoming events.

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