A lot of people, myself included, wonder what San Francisco looked like before all of the dog ball throwers and mega-strollers–the raw energy SF of North Beach in the 50’s, the Haight in the 60’s, the Castro in the 70’s, the Mission in the 90’s, the Tenderloin…well, always. The city’s matured a lot since then, which is a euphemism for saying it’s hard to find a nice house for under $1 million.

But you have to back a century to really capture the city at its gnarliest. I’m talking, of coarse, about the Barbary Coast.

Image courtesy of Jazz on the Barbary Coast

From the Gold Rush until about 1910, the Barbary Coast was one of the most damned and degenerate places in North America. I’ve just finished this book about the history of SF, and would like to cull a few highlights of the going-ons of that era:

  • Prostitution: According to some accounts, there were all of 300 women in all of the city in 1849. I don’t think it’s such a leap to say that the seeds, so to speak, of the city’s gay population were there from the very start, but that’s another story. The point is, women were in short supply for quite awhile, so men flocked to Barbary Coast. To quote Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld, “By 1852, it was said that there was no country on earth that was not represented in San Francisco by at least one prostitute.”

More to come soon…