Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Walk on Nob Hill

The Perfect Convergence - of Cable Cars and Nabobs

Almost every year San Francisco lands near the top of a whole bunch of those "Everyone's Favorite City" lists. It probably helps that it is home to inventive restaurants, fine wines from nearby Napa, a great symphony, broadway caliber shows, 5-Star hotels and world class museums.

But I think the real reason everyone loves San Francisco is because it is just so photogenic. San Francisco is America's supermodel city. It looks good from nearly any angle. For the photographer there are those iconic bridges, shimmering waters of the Pacific and San Francisco Bay, the islands, its urban treasure; Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf. The list is pretty long.

Every Direction a View

So when a quick business trip came up this week allowing me to make a snap trip to the City-by-the-Bay, I opted in. We flew in, made our presentation enjoyed our overnight accommodations and then had a return flight the next day.

The perk for me was that this trip left me a couple of hours to do what I love - take a walk in a wonderful city.

Since my hotel was the Stanford Court nearly on the top of Nob Hill I started there.

And what a place to walk! Nob Hill is filled with history.

Nob Hill began as the result of a convergence of the right people, emerging technology, ego and lots of money. The first event was when in 1869 an expat from England Andrew Smith Hallidie witnessed a terrible streetcar accident. Wet cobblestones resulted in a horse-drawn streetcar losing its traction and sliding backwards down a steep hill dragging the horses to their death. Hallidie, horrified, concluded the streetcars needed to be propelled in some other way.

Coincidentally, back home in England Hallidie's father held the patent on a new invention - wire reinforced rope. Hallidie made the connection and the cable car system came to be.

The California Street Cable Car Line 
Currently Under Reconstruction

Four years later in 1873 new "Cable Cars" tamed San Francisco's steepest hills. This resulted in its most affluent residents (referred to not altogether endearingly as "Nobs" or "Nabobs") being drawn to the top of California Street in order to enjoy its magnificent views. All of California's "Big Four" (Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker) opted to build a mansion on what locals now referred to as "Nob" hill. Other affluent San Franciscan's joined the mansion building including James Flood who built the first Brownstone. 

James Flood's Damaged Mansion 
Renovated and Expanded by Architect Willis Polk
(Now the Merged Pacific Union Club)

Eventually all of Nob Hill's mansions and hotels were devastated or destroyed completely by the great earthquake and fire of 1906. Only the exterior brownstone walls of Flood's mansion survived. Many of the original "Nobs" opted to rebuild in Pacific Heights, and sold their land. Flood sold his house (with its intact brownstone shell) to the Pacific Club, who, in turn, hired the exceptional architect Willis Polk to expand it and turn it into a new home for the exclusive "Pacific Club".

The Fair's also opted to rebuild and update their Fairmont hotel. Little by little the lots on Nob Hill were again utilized for hotels, ultra luxe apartments and the largest church in San Francisco - Grace Cathedral.

The Lobby of the Fairmont Hotel

Coit Tower 
Viewed From The Fairmont Hotel Roof Garden

Today, Nob Hill remains pricey and exclusive. At its east is the expanded Fairmont Hotel, the Stanford Court hotel and the Mark Hopkins hotel. In the middle of the block is Pacific Union Club and a city park with its tortoise fountain.

The Tortoise Fountain

Anchoring its west side is Grace Cathedral. On the North East corner is the Highrise apartment where Kim Novak and her Rolls resided in the movie Vertigo. On the South west side is San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium.

Lofty Grace Cathedral

Keith Haring's Emotional Tryptich 
In Grace Cathedral's Interdenominational AIDS Chapel
(Completed Just Weeks Before his Own AIDS Death)

From Nob Hill I ventured down the steep hills towards Chinatown as its shops started to open. I'm pretty sure if I was blindfolded and magically dropped in Chinatown, I think I'd immediately know where I was by sense of smell. It's unique fragrance of jasmine infused incense and fresh citrus for sale in street corner stores is wonderful. 

Chinatown's Light Standards

A Regal Chinatown Shop Dog

From Chinatown I huffed back up the hills to collect my suitcases to head to the BART train back to SFO. Luckily the trip to Hallidie Plaza was all down hill. 

No defibrillators were needed.

Roadboy/s Travels © 2011

No comments: