Writers have a lot of best friends: newspaper archives, libraries, wine, chocolate, and editors who pat their backs and give them the same pep talk for every single book, because we forget about the last head-banging, despair ridden writing process. Ahem… And of course maps. I’ve been fairly quiet of late, because I’m currently spending my time in 1900 San Francisco.
This high resolution, extremely detailed map of 1899 San Francisco has been a huge help. In a city of constant change, shifting shorelines, moving cemeteries, ever expanding cable car lines (and streetcars), devastating fires, and a tendency to rename streets, this is a sanity saver (and a time-saver).
And then there is this one of Chinatown by Willard B. Farwell. It was published as part of an official report of a Special Committee established by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors ‘on the condition of the Chinese Quarter’ in 1885. I have yet to find a detailed map of the vices in the Barbary Coast, but then the Chinese were used as scapegoats for every problem in San Francisco, so it’s not surprising to find a detailed map emphasizing brothels and gambling dens.
I’ve been marveling at how current day headlines echo those from the past. The Chinese Must Go! was a popular cry in California. The politicians and majority were convinced that Chinese immigrants were stealing hard-working Americans jobs, and were the cause behind crime in the city and diseases ranging from the Bubonic Plague to leprosy. Laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Geary Act were passed to keep Chinese from becoming citizens, and required that all Chinese carried papers proving that they entered America legally. No other immigrant group was required to have documents proving their residence until 1928.
There was a lot of distrust of Chinese immigrants, because most didn’t conform to American society, religion, and way of life. But of course, rich businessmen were more than willing to exploit a cheap labor source, while politicians accepted bribes from the tongs dealing in Chinese slave girls, gambling, and opium.
Sound familiar? (Aah, humans, they never learn. History is one idiotic revolving door.)
Once again, Bel and Riot find themselves in Ocean Beach. Particularly in Carville by the Sea—a graveyard of abandoned horsecars and cablecars turned into a Bohemian paradise. Artists and outcasts turned these cablecars into cottages for rent, clubhouses, and homes.
Carville by the Sea was a haven for Bohemians, eccentrics, and residents looking to escape the bustle of the city. Like women of The Falcon’s Bicycling Club, who very likely raced on the speed track in Golden Gate Park that was supposed to be reserved for San Francisco’s elite when bicycle fever was at its height. Their clubhouse was located near the vast, wind swept sand dunes sometimes called the ‘Sahara of San Francisco’.
A group of female bicyclists, tongs, wind-swept dunes, and bizarre cable car houses… really, I couldn’t make this stuff up. San Francisco is a writer’s dream, and I can’t wait for you all to discover what Bel and Riot are up to next.