San Francisco has always been the spot, a bold peninsula jutting out into the Bay, going all the way back to 3,000 BC when the Yelamu tribe of the Ohlone people lived on the land. It’s had quite a history, quickly becoming a popular port during the California Gold Rush that made the town one of the most notorious places on earth. The city soon built up, literally and figuratively, as wealth accumulated and new communities took hold. Then the earthquake of 1906 struck, laying the city to waste.
But you can’t keep a good city down, and it rebuilt itself to withstand disaster. Not one San Francisco bank failed in the 1929 stock market crash. At the height of the Great Depression, they had the cash and the clout to construct the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, as well as transform the island of Alcatraz from a military stockade to a federal maximum security prison that was home to no less than Al Capone.
Talk about showing out. San Francisco did it well, and as the 1930s gave way to the 1940s a new look came into vogue. Film noir brilliantly described the look of high contrast, high drama scenes of daily life. It was the perfect counterpoint to a world at war, a nation fighting on two fronts, neither of which were on home turf. There was an edge, one rendered tenderly, invoking the beauty of black and white film as nothing else ever could.
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Photo: Foggy night, Land's End, San Francisco, 1953. © Fred Lyon, Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery.