Amidst the heart-pounding coverage of Team USA’s race to the top of the Olympic podium in London a few weeks ago, I vaulted across the country myself for a close friend’s California nuptials, spending three fabulous days in the culturally and historically-rich City by the Bay. Even on my short visit it was easy to see: When it comes to championing their diverse heritage and collection of historic places, San Franciscans prove why theirs is rightfully the Golden State.
The day we arrived in the city, a friend who lives in the area drove us around town, taking us first through the colorful streets of the Castro District. Once a collection of dairy farms and dirt roads that drew Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants looking for cheap land on the city’s outskirts, the neighborhood then known as Eureka Valley filled with spacious Victorian houses after the Market Street Cable Railway linked the area to the rest of the city in 1887. Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s and gay men began buying the charming historic homes at relatively low prices and restoring them. With the addition of iconic spots like the Twin Peaks bar and an activist atmosphere surrounding the 1978 assassination of city Supervisor Harvey Milk and the AIDS epidemic, the Castro became and remains a vibrant hub of the gay community.
Our drive took us past more of the city’s beautiful Victorian architecture by way of the postcard-perfect Painted Ladies of Alamo Square park. This row of six candy-colored houses built between 1892 and 1896 is especially noteworthy as the properties were able to survive San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire intact. Personally, I was eager to check out the real estate as a diehard Full House fan, curious to get a look at the buildings that served as the backdrop to the idyllic Tanner family picnic in the opening sequence of my favorite cheesy 90s sitcom. And what drive through the hilly streets of San Fran would be complete without a (very slow) trip down the eight sharp curves of Lombard Street? Touted as the crookedest street in the world for years, the stunningly steep one-way stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth streets was paved with bricks in 1922 and started drawing tourists after a photograph and postcard of the hydrangeas of the block’s landscaping were published in the 1950s and 60s. The city’s Board of Supervisors has received petitions to close the unique street to all but its residents in 1970, 1977, and 1987, but lucky for tourists like us, the closure never passed.
Check back tomorrow for more on my search for San Francisco history on a recent visit.