Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about 19th-century tombstones turning up on Ocean Beach. Passers-by were puzzled, if not uneasy. “Why are there tombstones on the beach?” they asked. Perhaps they also stopped to say “Now that I think about it, why are there no cemeteries in San Francisco?” The answer is: there used to be, but not any more. Of San Francisco’s 27 historical cemeteries, only two (Mission Delores, and The Presidio) remain: the rest are now in Colma. The long, slow process began in 1900, when the City passed an ordinance forbidding new burials in San Francisco, and completed in the early 1940s, when the last graves at Laurel Hill Cemetery were transferred to Colma.
The reasons behind the move were many. Many people didn’t want to live next to a graveyard; others felt land values were lower near cemeteries. Developers wanted the land for residential and commercial use. Still others felt that cemeteries posed a health risk. Opposing the removals were religious groups—primarily the Catholic Church—and preservationists, who noted the long list of San Francisco pioneers buried there.
Although the city of San Francisco paid for moving the coffins, the families had to pay the cost of moving the headstones and monuments. Many if not most could not afford this, so the city took the stones and used them in very unromantic places: some as paving materials for gutters lining the walks of Buena Vista Park, others for Ocean Beach and the breakwater near the St. Francis Yacht Club. Particularly saddening was the loss of the large crypts and Egyptian-style monuments, most of which were unceremoniously dumped into San Francisco Bay.
In 1937, Paul Elder published a pamphlet called Laurel Hill. It was part of the last gasp of resistance from those who opposed the move. The text begins with an unsigned article entitled “Laurel Hill: Esto Perpetua! Have Not Our Pioneers Their Rights?”
We are in receipt of communications, from time to time, from a group that seems bent upon the destruction of Laurel Hill Memorial Park, wherein emphasis is placed on the statement that no real estate considerations are prompting the attempt. It is good to hear this, but difficult, assuming the fact is so, to understand what other motives are prompting the drive to destroy one of our most cherished historical landmarks. It is possible that San Franciscans of the present generation include some who object to honoring our pioneer dead?Does the presence in our midst of cemetery reminders of mortality irk certain persons who feel the life current pulsing warmly?
Next is “An Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors, from “An Old Timer”
We feel that the final passage of an ordinance directing the transfer somewhere beyond the county line of the venerated dust of the makers of our history is quite too brutal in its finality … Unlike the western reaches of this burial ground, the eastern part that confronts the passerby on Presidio Avenue is beautiful, it is lovingly tended, it is the Stoke Pogis of San Francisco, and its tombs bear names that explain why San Francisco became a great city. Gentlemen, you must know—because you have had every opportunity of knowing—how many of our United States Senators, how many of our Governors, how many of those others who made our beloved city, lie at rest in those few acres—in the fine old phrase, in God’s acre.
After several more unsigned articles, the text concludes with twelve pages of names copied from headstones and monuments at Laurel Hill. The list is by no means complete, since over 47,000 people are known to have been buried there. Only this section of the pamphlet has page numbers, and the numbers begin at “65”, suggesting that this pamphlet is an excerpt of a longer work.
Later in 1937, the Catholic Church removed its opposition to the removal of Laurel Hill’s Catholic section, and the cemetery’s fate was sealed. The last graves were moved in the early 1940s.
No apologies are offered for this book. In fact, we rather like it. Many years have been spent in gathering this information, and naught is written in malice, nor through favoritism, our expressions of opinion being unbiased by favor or compensation.
and then continue like this?
San Francisco! Is there a land where the magic of that name has not been felt? Bohemian San Francisco! Pleasure-loving San Francisco! Care-free San Francisco! … It was in Paris that a world traveler said to us: “San Francisco! That wonderful city where you get the best there is to eat, served in a manner that enhances its flavor and establishes it forever in your memory.”
So begins Clarence Edwords’s 1914 culinary history of the City By the Bay, Bohemian San Francisco. He starts by defining “Bohemia” as the “naturalism of refined people,” and the “protest of naturalism against the too rigid, and oft-times, absurd restrictions established by Society.” Edwords touches on each period of San Francisco history, each community of European and Asian immigrants, with recipes from most of them.
Unsurprisingly, Edwords lavishes particular attention on seafood. (“The Bohemian way to have your clams is to go to the shore of Bolinas Bay or some equally retired spot, and have a clam bake.”) Bohemian San Francisco contains perhaps the earliest mention in print of the Crab Louie salad, and the book is credited with popularizing the Celery Victor salad (which was invented by Victor Hertzler, chef at the St. Francis Hotel).
Clarence Edgar Edwords (1853-1941) was born in Virginia and practiced medicine in San Francisco. In 1930, his physician’s license was revoked for performing an illegal operation. In 1933, the California State Board of Medicine restored his license and placed him on probation for five years. He is buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma.
Though many—if not most—of Paul Elder’s publications have languished in obscurity, Bohemian San Francisco is one of a handful to be reprinted in recent decades. In 1973 it was published by the Silhouette Press, and in recent years by a number of on-demand publishers.
Edwords’s approach to food is probably best summed up by the toast that appears at the beginning of the book:
Not to the Future, nor to the Past / No drink of Joy or Sorrow / We drink alone to what will last / Memories on the Morrow / Let us live as Old Time passes / To the Present let Bohemia bow / Let us raise on high our glasses / To Eternity — the ever-living Now
When a Californian calls something “old,” it’s usually not as old as something a Bostonian would call “old.” As a native Californian, I have often been reminded of this. “Well,” says my Easterner friend, “we wouldn’t call this ‘old’ back home.”
It turns out that this scenario is at least a century old, for it occurs on the very first page of The Lure of San Francisco:
“I believe you Californians have but two dates on your calendar,” he exclaimed, “for everything I mentioned seems to have happened either ‘before the fire’ or ‘in the good old days of forty-nine!’ ‘Good old days of forty-nine,’ ” he repeated, amused. “In Boston we date back to the Revolution, and ‘in Colonial times’ is a common expression. We have buildings a hundred years old, but if you have a structure that has lasted a decade, it is a paragon and pointed out as built ‘before the fire.’ “
The Lure of San Francisco is written as a long conversation between the narrator, a native San Franciscan woman, and her Bostonian guest. They visit the four principal sights of pre-1906 San Francisco: Mission Dolores, the Presidio, Portsmouth Plaza, and Telegraph Hill.
The book has a beautiful cover with a nautical motif, and is elegantly illustrated inside with eight tonalist drawings by Audley B. Wells. It was one of more than a dozen books Elder published during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.