Barbary Coast, San Francisco
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2008)|
The Barbary Coast was a red-light district in old San Francisco, California. Geographically it constituted nine blocks bounded by Montgomery Street, Washington Street, Stockton Street, and Broadway. Particularly notorious was Pacific Avenue, one of the earliest streets to be cut through the hills, which led directly from the wharf to the center of town, near Portsmouth Square.
The neighborhood quickly took on its seedy character during the California Gold Rush (1848–1858). It was known for gambling, prostitution and crime. It is now overlapped by Chinatown, North Beach, Jackson Square, and the Financial District.
Development and character
The Barbary Coast, initially known as Sydney-Town, was populated by criminal elements from the British penal colonies of Australia, New South Wales, and the island of Tasmania. As early as the middle of 1849, this group of immigrants had become so numerous that they dominated the area. The denizens of this area at the foot of Broadway and Pacific Street became known as the Sydney Ducks. The neighborhood acquired its new name sometime around 1860 from the name of the Barbary Coast of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) where Arab pirates attacked Mediterranean ships. The name Barbary is derived from the Berbers.
"The Barbary Coast is the haunt of the low and the vile of every kind. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whoremonger, lewd women, cutthroats, murderers, all are found here. Dance-halls and concert-saloons, where blear-eyed men and faded women drink vile liquor, smoke offensive tobacco, engage in vulgar conduct, sing obscene songs and say and do everything to heap upon themselves more degradation, are numerous. Low gambling houses, thronged with riot-loving rowdies, in all stages of intoxication, are there. Opium dens, where heathen Chinese and God-forsaken men and women are sprawled in miscellaneous confusion, disgustingly drowsy or completely overcome, are there. Licentiousness, debauchery, pollution, loathsome disease, insanity from dissipation, misery, poverty, wealth, profanity, blasphemy, and death, are there. And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there also." - Asbury, in Benjamin Estelle Lloyd's Lights and Shades of San Francisco (1876)
San Francisco's Barbary Coast arose from the massive infusion of treasure hunters seeking their fortunes in the gold fields. At the end of 1849, out of a population of between 20,000 and 25,000, only about 300 were women and almost two-thirds of the women were estimated to be prostitutes. Miners, sailors, and sojourners hungry for female companionship and bawdy entertainment continued to stream into San Francisco in the 1850s and 1860s, becoming the Barbary Coast's primary clientele. As the city exploded with the new arrivals, some with shady pasts, soon a wide variety of land sharks, con artists, pimps, and prostitutes staked out an area designed to pluck the gold and silver from the pockets of men through liquor, lust, laudanum-laced libations, or just a hard knock on the head.
Sailors, in particular, had cause to dread the area because the art of shanghaiing was perfected here. Many a sailor woke up after a night's leave to find himself unexpectedly on another ship bound for some faraway port. Crime in the streets and corruption in the government offices plagued San Francisco in the 1850s.
Nearly all drinking and dancing establishments in the area were destroyed in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, but within months a dozen or so were rebuilt and back in business. Upon the ousting of Eugene Schmitz from the mayor's office and following the P. H. McCarthy administration and the election of James Rolph, Jr., efforts to reform the Barbary Coast picked up steam.
Between the 1913 anti-vice campaigns led by the San Francisco Examiner and the passage of the 1914 Red Light Abatement Act, the Barbary Coast was effectively diminished and vice activities hidden from view. In 1917, the San Francisco Police Department blockaded the neighborhood and evicted the prostitutes. In 1915, future Hollywood filmmakers Sol Lesser and Hal Mohr filmed The Last Night of the Barbary Coast, an early example of an exploitation film that is now considered to be a lost film.
- Melvin Belli (1907 - 1996), lawyer known as "The King of Torts", had his office building on Montgomery Street
- Port of San Francisco
- Sydney Walton Square, a public park located in the neighborhood
- Montgomery Block, former building in the Barbary Coast that came to be known as a bohemian centre
- Frank Gardiner, an infamous Australian bushranger who lived in this area after his exile from Australia
- Robert William Service, nicknamed the "Bard of the Yukon" in his autobiography Ploughman of the Moon chapter entitled "Barbary Coaster" for his description of San Francisco and the Barbary Coast where he spent one month in 1897.
- Asbury, Herbert, "The Barbary Coast", Basic Books, 2008, p. 111, reprint of 1933 edition, Alfred A. Knopf
- Lloyd, Benjamin Estelle (1876). Lights and Shades of San Francisco. Unknown parameter
- Asbury, Herbert (1933). The Barbary Coast – An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld. Alfred A. Knopf.
- Crovo, Lisa. "When Renovation Meets Litigation -- And the Trash Piles Up". San Francisco Coastnews. Retrieved 12. September 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Barbary Coast, San Francisco.|