San Francisco History

Care Free San Francisco
By Allan Dunn

Chapter VI
The Beach

When the suggestion is made, "Let's go to the Beach," it presages a night trip by motor through the winding roadways of Golden Gate Park, a dash along the five-mile boulevard that borders the sea, with throbbing engines and shafts of headlights all about, the surf pounding on one hand, breaking in gray spray on the broad sands; and on the other the electric signs and gay windows of half a dozen roadhouses.

It is not exactly slumming, this "doing the Beach," yet it is the Barbary Coast over again to a more refined audience, plus a better selection of liquids and minus the unsolicited attentions of the fair sex. Each has its separate bar, the inevitable dancing floor, —a polished parallelogram set about with tables, —its fireplace and its corps of entertainers. Good voices are here, clever in parody and originality that have often been transplanted to the Orpheum Circuit with success. The wife of one proprietor sings ballads in a honey voice of caressing charm; one owner himself can change from Chopin to the latest ragtime swing with a facility of technique that is dazzling. There are negro players and singers, a white quartet at one resort, girls at another.

At most of the places you can eat, at all of them drink and be merry. Often they are so crowded until far into the night that the dancing floor is reduced to a few square feet that are none the less popular every time the cry comes, "Everybody two" —meaning two-step, alias rag. Sometimes there is exhibition dancing; the "Texas Tommy" was born here, and the spare hours of the entertainers are taken up as teachers of the latest glide and dip.

The music is legally supposed to stop at one o'clock, and sometimes does, as the eye of the law happens to glance that way. But there is nothing vicious about these places, nothing vulgar. Little wilful mothlings flutter here, as ever where the bright lights glare, and get scorched, but the excuse for the Beach night life lies in it being the result of effervescence of the San Francisco pleasure-seeker, who refuses to go home because the theater is out and the down-town cafes closed. Why indeed? The moon rides high amid her court of stars, the wind is balmy, and the dawn yet hours away. Therefore, join the procession of cars purring steadily along, "Beachward Bound."

By day the Beach has a more substantial charm. Motorcars take their owners out for a taste of salty, tonic breeze along the boulevard. Horse-women and their escorts come out of the Park for a center and to wet fetlocks in the surf. Lovers sit on the outward rampart of the dunes and watch for their ships to come home. Children paddle in the seafoam, and parents out of tide reach boast about them. The electric cars come to either end of the five-mile boulevard, and all sorts and conditions of men profit by their cheap transportation. Golden Gate park has its sea entrance on this ocean promenade, close by where Amundsen's stout but tiny "Gjoa" rests in a man-made pool, the prow toward the seas it bid farewell to after the making of the "Northwest Passage."

At one end of the Ocean Boulevard the road turns southward up the peninsula, by violet fields and the links of the Country Club. At the other, toward the Golden Gate, stands the famous Cliff House, set in the land-rock with terraces overlooking the Seal Rocks and their colony of sea-lions. Here one can revel in sunset dinners, looking out between courses to where the day dies like a dolphin, radiant in the west. Here also music mingles with the well-served feast.

Above are the Italian gardens of Sutro, stately, formal, and set with statues, given to the public by the philanthropic engineer of the Comstock Tunnel. Here is the spot where Fages raised the cross for Padre Serra as a standard of Christian victory over these then "unfaithful parts." Close by the Cliff House are the Sutro Baths, where the ocean comes in fresh from the sea, beyond its glass sea front—the largest baths of their type.

There are less costly places than the Cliff House, where popular clam chowders are served, but, for the people at large, the boulevard and the beach are picnic grounds, where on holidays the place is a combination of family resort and gay promenade. Sunlight or arc light, the "Beach" is worth the visiting.

Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII

Source: Dunn, Allan. Care Free San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.


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