I guess gift-giving is like home building. Who doesn't love a unique personalized gift that says "I carefully chose this for you." And I even give credit to those who just give it their best shot. Because, the thought really does count. Especially, when you can see the thinking behind it!
My brother has a knack for this type of gifting. One year he gave me a refurbished sign I had carved for my grandmothers house. The sign we believed stolen long ago. He found it in a sorry state while clearing brush at the fence-line. Repaired and renewed, it now graces the wall above my doorway. He's given other meaningful, memorable gifts over the years, many Polk drawings and ephemera, but this year was something I didn't even know existed!
I received a very rare pamphlet on HOME BUILDING written by Willis Polk that was an insert in The San Francisco Bulletin from 1920. It's a mixed bag of advice, but on the whole prescient about how neighborhoods change due to lack of planning. This was a big theme for Willis throughout his life. In particular, his drive to get San Francisco to adopt the Burnham Plan after the earthquake. While the plan would have made great, some argue much improved, changes to the San Francisco that came after, one must also consider the fact that Willis was running the Burnham office in San Francisco at this time. There was certainly an implicit bias.
I was prepared to be horrified reading the RESTRICTIONS chapter, but the focus was on land use restrictions - single family residential vs. multi-unit apartments which he saw ruining Broadway and other corridors. The racism I feared given the time was in the NEIGHBORHOOD DESIRABILITY SECTION. And even with the "undesirable" comments (apologies to all), it's an interesting take on neighborhoods he saw changing. And to be fair, he called out the Crocker spite fence in another section on nuisances too.
This may not have been the best gift for everyone, but for me this present on HOME BUILDING nailed it!
Building pun intended.
In 1896 the San Francisco Call newspaper featured an article referring to "Sanchez' bar" in Monterey. The big news was that architect Willis Polk and artist Charles Rollo Peters were prepared to enjoy a drink and view the famous art and writing on the walls when they found the bar with a new name and new ownership. Worse yet, the new owner had destroyed the precious work by painting the walls. The destroyed vignettes were known works by William Keith, CR Peters, Jules Tavernier, Daniel Polk, Albert Bierstadt, John Muir, Ernest Piexetto, Xavier Martinez, Robert Louis Stevenson and many more. Willis was so upset at the destruction, he immediately took a train back to San Francisco.
Monterey was the go-to getaway for the Bay Area artist/literati set before Carmel usurped her place as an artist colony. (Another story, another time). Monterey had the added benefit of a train station that took you straight to the Del Monte Lodge, conveniently built by the same investors in the train. And while plenty of drinking went on at the Lodge, the artists frequented this small bar downtown. The owner Adulpho Sanchez encouraged the paintings which were often gifts in lieu of paying a bar tab. It was famous long before the murals at Coppa's in San Francisco.
Sanchez's bar was The Bohemia Saloon on Alvarado Street. The bar was owned by the Sanchez brothers. Adulpho and his brother were well known in Monterey and to the creative set of the time. Adulpho was married to Nellie Vandegrift, sister to Fannie Vandegrift Osborne Stevenson. And what does that mean? Adulpho was Robert Louis Stevenson's brother-in-law. In fact it is Adulpho's son for whom "to my name-child" from Child's Garden of Verses was written. Well Bob's your uncle, literally!
Nellie Vandegrift Sanchez served as the amanuensis for "Bob" Robert Louis Stevenson when he wrote Prince Otto on his sick-bed in Oakland, and she later penned a biography. Stevenson died in Samoa in 1894 seeking the benefits of a warmer climate after battling ill health his entire life.
When news reached San Francisco of his death, it is alleged that Willis Polk and his friend and artistic collaborator Bruce Porter met at the Palace Hotel to dine, wine and design a monument to Stevenson. Polk drew the plan on the tablecloth, paid the complaining waiter a dollar for the loss, and walked off with the cloth tucked under his arm. They created the Stevenson Memorial in San Francisco's Portsmouth Square with money raised by the Stevenson's good friend Dora Williams.
Dora Williams was also an artist and the sole witness at the Stevenson wedding. She was the widow of Virgil Williams, a founder of the Bohemian Club and founding president of the San Francisco Art Institute. Dora met Fanny and Robert through the Art Institute. While little is known about exactly when she met Willis, it is likely through the same artistic circles and their Russian Hill neighbors. Willis and Daniel lived at 40 Florence while remodeling for Horatio Livermore. Dora lived at 826 Green Street. They all were part of the Worcester Group of artists and writers on the hill.
The entire Polk family moved to Russian Hill in 1892 when Dora and the Polk's became partners in the creation of the duplex that tumbled down the steep "unbuildable" hillside in six stories at 1019/15 Vallejo Street (Polk-Williams House). Dora lived in the western unit and the Polk family in the eastern. In 1895, Fanny Stevenson and her daughter Isobel returned to San Francisco from Samoa and stayed in one of Dora’s lower floors for six months. The Polk/Williams house was always humming with artists in tenancy or visiting one side or the other.
In 1899, a now wealthy Fanny hired Willis to design a home for her at Hyde and Lombard close to her Russian Hill circle of friends. The Stevenson home located at 2323 Hyde (the street name a coincidence as RLS wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), was huge. A stained glass window designed by Polk depicts the ship Hispaniola from Treasure Island and was likely created by Bruce Porter. The home was bigger than it is today, stretching around the corner west down Lombard Street. The property was split off at a later date and once used as a convent after Fanny’s death.
Have anything to add to this web of interconnectivity? I would love to hear about it!
Nancy Everett. Dora Norton Williams... in the Argonaut, Volume 21 No. 1., Spring 2010
Scott Shields. Artists at the Continent's Edge. University of California Press. 2006
Original Coppa's Restaurant was a legendary bohemian gathering place in the Montgomery (Monkey) Block where the Transamerica Building now stands. Its crowning glory were the wild murals, created by the artists and writers who made the place their second home sitting for hours at the center table in a long, narrow room with 21 tables.
The leader of the San Francisco Bohemians was Porter Garnett, a writer, editor, designer and co-creator, with Gelett Burgess, of the 1895 literary magazine The Lark. The group also included the painters Xavier Martinez, Ernest Peixetto, Maynard Dixon, poets and writers George Sterling, James Hopper, sculptor Robert Aiken, Willis and Dan Polk were also frequently in attendance along with many others. The late evening libations were decidedly misogynistic and never included wives. Women were included on occasion if they were pretty enough, or a current girlfriend for a one time review.
Years earlier, Bohemians frequented the The Bohemian Saloon* in Monterey which had walls covered by Bay Area artists, but they were painted over when the bar was sold. Maybe with this in mind, or because Burgess had started to scribble some of his characters in chalk, Papa Coppa agreed to let them create a permanent mural on the wall. They started on a Sunday in 1905, for a free lunch and all the wine they could drink. Giant lobsters, self-portraits, black cats - a nod to the Chat Noir in Paris, and cryptic quotations in many languages adorned the walls. The Oscar Wilde's quote “Something terrible is about to happen.” was prescient in that less than a year later the terrible did happen. On April 18, 1906, the earthquake and fire spared the Monkey Block, but looters broke into the cafe and destroyed everything. The now legendary mural only lasted one year.
Coppa opened the ruined restaurant and served a last supper by candlelight for the Bohemians and their families who gathered to share earthquake memories. Here is a memory recorded by Xavier Martinez's wife Elsa Whitaker Martinez*;
Papa Coppa tried to recapture the magic with several reincarnations of his cafe in new locations with new murals, but it never regained the same caché.
* Elsie Martinez is quoted from a longer transcript which includes more Coppa stories.
* The Bohemia Saloon was run by Adulpho Sanchez, brother-in-law of Robert Louis Stevenson. Article here!
Title: San Francisco Bay Area writers and artists: oral history transcript
By: Martinez, Elsie, 1890-1984
Copyright: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
Sure, we've all heard about the Spanish Flu - or the Pandemic of 1918 - but what do you know about the Pandemic of 1889 - The Russian Flu? The 1918 outbreak coincided with the Great War and is now known to be an H1N1 virus that spread death across the world. But in 1889, at the height of the Belle Epoque, virology was unheard of. Some scientist now believe the 1889 Flu was the first COVID-19 outbreak. Peculiar observations made during the Russian flu pandemic included the loss of smell and taste not caused by nasal congestion. These and other observations documented in the historical records point more to COVID-19 than to an influenza-like disease. The long recovery period and the frequent neurological sequels mentioned in case reports and following years of fatigue, lack of concentration, depression and anxiety also resemble what is now described as "long haulers or long covid" symptoms. Of particular note is the frequent mentioning of persistent headaches weeks and even months after the acute infection, causing memory issues reported after the 1889 pandemic and now after COVID-19, while such reports are not prevalent after the Spanish flu influenza.
And the Russian flu outbreak occurs exactly when EJ, Daisy and Endie Polk were visiting the Exposition Universelle in Paris for the opening of the Eiffel Tower, and then in Milan studying at the Milan Conservatory. Here is an excerpt from the Chapter "Potions, Puccini & Pandemics";
The final bit of this biological tale concerns the history of conspiracy theories. An article in a December 1889 edition of The New York Times reported that the flu was mostly harmless. “There is nothing fatal about the universal cold”. Papers around the world also promoted "remedies" of quinine, an antimalarial drug that is the antecedent of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Dr.'s warned against these, but their warnings were unheeded. There were theories that it was caused by electrification of cities, or from telegraph poles. One Dr. in Chicago with dubious credentials claimed the source was stardust passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Still other physicians soberly rejected this idea for other causes such as volcanic dust or bird migrations. Migration of a kind was surely to blame for the speed and breadth of the spread. 1889 to 1890 marked the largest number of people traveling between continents and the highest record transatlantic ship travel in the history of the world to that date. Everyone was heading to Paris for the great exposition and then back home.
In the end, the 1889 pandemic killed one million people out of a worldwide population of about one and a half billion. It was the last great pandemic of the 19th century, and is among the deadliest pandemics in history with recurrent outbreaks through early 1895.
Citation: Brüssow, Harald, Brüssow, Lutz; "Clinical evidence that the pandemic from 1889 to 1891 commonly called the Russian flu might have been an earlier coronavirus pandemic." Microbial Biotechnology Journal. https://doi.org/10.1111/1751-7915.1388
The 1916 Preparedness Parade. courtesy US Library of Congress
Over a century ago, tensions about the war in Europe, labor unrest and the Committee for Law and Order exploded. Quite literally on July 22, 1916, a suitcase bomb killed 10 and seriously injured 40, at the city’s “Preparedness Day” parade—one of the largest parades in the city’s history with 51,000 marchers participating. Everybody seemed to be there including Phoebe Hearst leading delegations of women down Market street. The bomb exploded at 2:06 at Market and Steuart Streets.
The idea behind a “preparedness” demonstration, which also took place in New York and Washington, D.C, was to support the American military in the event of the nation entering World War I - which we did one year later. But many were against this interference overseas, and labor leaders protested it was another get rich scheme for industrialists on the backs of working men. So after the mystery bomb blast left little evidence, the police and government was eager to find the criminals. Immediately socialists, anarchists and pro-labor organizers were targeted. Two labor activists, whom the papers referred to as "radicals", were convicted and jailed then released in 1939 after the police were accused of witness tampering in a mob scene trial.
Whoever planted the bombs remains a mystery. Some theories suggest German sabotage. What is certain, is the 1916 bombing is one example of how extreme tensions between unions and businesses had become at this time, and how determined some groups were to either prevent or support the US entering the war. But the tide of opposition was turning.
needed By 1916 daily news reports regarding the suffering and humanitarian crisis in Europe were unavoidable. Headlines were sensational and told harrowing stories of the crisis. The German invasion of Belgium was brutal. They destroyed agriculture, livestock, burned cities and villages causing the deaths of 23,700 Belgian civilians, 22,700 temporary invalids, with 18,296 children became war orphans.
The Commission for Belgian Relief (CRB) was partially responsible for turning the tide in sentiments towards the war. Established in October 1914, Daisy was there at the formation as were many others instrumental in the Hoover directed American Relief Committee (ARC). With ARC's mission to help Americans leave Europe at the declaration of war accomplished, the young entrepreneur Herbert Hoover turned his organization's attention to the growing humanitarian crisis in Belgium and Northern France. The CRB mission was to import food and ensure its distribution within German-occupied areas to civilians. No easy task, it was a logistic and diplomatic triumph.
In 1915 Daisy took a needed break from her work in Europe and along with Lou Henry Hoover and many others, travelled North America raising funds for the CRB and sharing her personal stories about the horrors on the Front. She was supposed to come home to rest, but undaunted she travelled and everywhere she spoke there were headlines. The CRB had no equal in the scope of its responsibility to feed an entire nation of nearly 7.3 million. They quickly became one of the foremost international relief organizations in the First World War era and San Franciscans were major benefactors and shipments of California products were organized from her ports. I'll write a full article on that organization soon!
Five months after the San Francisco bombing in December 1916, Daisy was chosen to lead a humanitarian project in Northern France rebuilding the ruins of Vitrimont on the Western Front. The project was a model for rebuilding and entirely funded by Mrs. William (Ethel Mary Sperry) Crocker. It was front-page news in San Francisco, and was covered in every major newspaper, magazine and many books of the time.
For more information on the SF Bomb see The Library of Congress article
Have you ever thought of Milan as a city of water?
When Daisy first visited Milan in 1889 with her mother and older sister Endemial, the city was surrounded by its 5 working canals.
"Bianca made arrangements for our first night supper in Il Centro and suggested we walk along the canals. Milan was a city of tranquil waterways at this time, with barges navigating the picturesque canal-banks. Naviglio means canal in Italian and navigli is the plural and name for the artificial canals of Milan. They were started during Roman times and by the end of the 13th century, water was seen as a way to transport people and objects, like the marble for the Cathedral. Leonardo da Vinci started working on these projects in 1482. This amelioration started the development of a new system of canals that would have made it possible to travel by canal from the Valtellina wine valley in the far North at the border of Switzerland to Milan, had the work been completed. I was lucky to see the City with its waterways intact, as by the 1920’s rail and motor travel saw many of them covered by streets and buildings with just remnants remaining and few signs that Milan had ever been surrounded by water."
Read more about Leonardo daVinci's canal designs, why they disappeared and how a growing movement is afoot to uncover them.
Polk buildings from St. Louis, Kansas City, San Francisco and beyond. In writing this book, I have yet to find a complete listing of all the Polk oeuvre. Whether with his family, partners or other artists, I have tried to map these works. It is a work in progress. Am I missing something? Let me know. I'll add it when I have the time ... or find an assistant!
The Polk Map
You will find here extant, demolished or work so dramatically changed I have delineated it from the rest. Click on a marker to see pictures or learn more. The map will pop-out to full screen listing all points. Many points have multiple pictures. Scroll to bottom of text to see all.
With many thanks to the following sources:
Late Victorian Era ladies and gents had a fetish for feathers. More than 5 million birds were being massacred yearly to satisfy the booming North American millinery trade. Along Manhattan's Ladies' Mile — the principal shopping district in New York, centered on Broadway and Twenty-Third Street — retail stores sold the feathers of snowy egrets, white ibises, and great blue herons. Once dense egret bird colonies were wiped out in Florida. Some women even wanted a stuffed owl head on their bonnets and a full hummingbird wrapped in bejeweled vegetation as a brooch. And fly fishing - Fishermen caused ruffled feathers too. Click on the "read more" to find out why!
What do airplanes have to do with Aunt Daisy? Living in Alsace-Lorraine on the Western Front during the war, and rebuilding Vitrimont after German bombings - she had first-hand experience with these planes, even writing about visiting the airbase near the forest of Parroy. She also knew a few fliers. One pilot married Ethel Mary Crocker and flew over the Vitrimont church on her wedding day "dropping" flowers for the bride and groom. More on this gentleman in a later post - for now if you're interested watch the short compilation of film below - Aéroplanes of the first world war - believe me your first bike had more metal parts!
This rare war film footage from 1914 to 1917 records aviation before the US officially entered the war and highlights the planes in use with names reflecting early pioneers and designers in the industry (see more airplane WWI history and list click "Read More" below).
This view from Nob Hill looking up Taylor at Jackson to Vallejo Street - is half a block from the summit of Russian Hill. The true summit lies at Vallejo between Taylor and Jones. Also seen here are the cross streets of Pacific Avenue and Broadway. Ina Coolbrith Park is located just across the Vallejo stairs from the house seen in the upper left corner - The House of the Flag.
Today the 225 step Vallejo Stairs are on both sides of Taylor Street. The House of the Flag is on the SE corner of the Vallejo stairs and Taylor Street. It was named a San Francisco landmark in 1972 and has become part of the lore of this special neighborhood which was home to a coterie of the most creative and interesting San Franciscans of their time. It also largely survived the fire and has many pre-earthquake buildings still standing watch from the top of Russian Hill.
Some stories that couldn't make the book in full ... but need to be told! Editors welcomed - sign up below.
A WILLIS POLK GIFT
THE RLS CONNECTION 1896
EARTHQUAKE TALES FROM COPPA
PANDEMIC OF 1889
THE BOMB THAT SHOOK SF
MILAN:CITY OF WATER
POLK ON THE MAP
FEATHERS, FASHION & FLY FISHING
RARE AVIATION FILM - WWI 1914-17
1906 SAN FRANCISCO
WTF FILES - TECHNOLOGICAL
GET ME OUTTA HERE!
NO HORSES, NO TENTS, NO $
DAISY IN FRENCH LITERATURE
DAISY ON FILM!
THE WHITE DEATH
THE SYMBOLISM OF FLOWERS
POSTE DE SECOURS WWI
TRAVEL 1900: LONDON TO PARIS
DAISY: REST IN PEACE
KEITH'S, DRANE'S & KENTUCKY
MOTHER: MISSOURI COMPROMISE