San Francisco’s “Little Italy” neighborhood is home to some of the best cannellonis in the city and is the former stomping grounds of the Beat Generation. After the neighborhood was completely totaled in 1906, the city rebuilt North Beach into a combination of Victorians, apartments, duplexes, fantastic Italian restaurants and bars, and the labyrinthine City Lights bookstore. Take a peek at 100 years of history in one of San Francisco’s most unique neighborhoods.
The bustle of Filbert between Powell and Stockton, 1862
The photograph above is only a decade and some change after the 1849 Gold Rush. Originally, North Beach really was a beach, but the area was filled in around the end of the 19th century.
Panorama from Russian Hill, circa 1880
Following the landfill, fishing wharves, warehouses and docks sprung up along the shoreline. Due to the influx of wealth and migrants brought on by the Gold Rush, San Francisco became known as the “Paris of the West.”
A ramshackle view down Jackson Street toward Battery Street, circa 1898
While the city’s economy was growing, political corruption reigned supreme, specifically in the form of a political machine. This type of organization lobbies, sometimes with coercion, and uses a hierarchy and rewards system to manipulate political power.
Thalia Dance Hall, circa 1918
Located on “Terrific Street,” the Thalia Dance Hall was the largest dance hall in all of San Francisco’s red light district, then known as Barbary Coast. Though the city’s curfew was strictly set for 1am, the police allowed Thalia’s to extend to 3am.
Overlooking Kearny Street after the earthquake, 1906
Reconstruction after the earthquake saw an influx of Italian Americans who shaped the character of the neighborhood that you still see today. Among these residents was baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, whose family moved to San Francisco when he was a year old.
A glimpse down Columbus Avenue, circa 1920s
The 1920s saw continued reconstruction efforts following the destruction of the 1906 earthquake. Entertainment businesses were among the first to remerge, including the Golden Gate Theatre, Castro Theatre and Playland at the Beach.
Spider Kelly’s Tavern, 1933
In an issue of the San Francisco Call dating back to 1913, lightweight boxing champion “Spider” Kelly is described as “one of the most unique characters of the ring” and “clever as the best of them.” His enduring legacy continued when he opened Spider Kelly’s Tavern. It was known as a black and tan club, which meant all races were welcome.
International Settlement, circa 1943
Existing for only 21 years between 1939 and 1960, International Settlement was an entertainment district. It was named “International Settlement” to lure in servicemen of WWII.
“One” Barbary Coast, 1953
“While most of San Francisco’s reputable citizens publicly bemoaned the inequities of the Barbary Coast and performed lip-service to the many campaigns designed to eliminate its more objectionable features, secretly they were, for the most part, enormously proud of their city’s reputation as the Paris of America and the wickedest town on the continent.” — Herbert Asbury, 1933
The speakeasy Finocchio’s, 1958
Finocchio’s Club was a nightclub and bar that featured traditional drag shows with men in ball gowns lip syncing to Top 40 ballads.
Kids in North Beach, 1962
Neighborhood children in a moment of self-awareness. Hopefully the little girl on the left is carrying a very large doll and not another tiny human.
The crowd for President Johnson’s visit, 1964
Here’s some brief footage of President Johnson visiting San Francisco in 1964.
A bird’s eye view from the Transamerica Pyramid, 1974
A sky high photograph of North Beach in 1974, a time period that saw a rise in live music venues like the Stone and Mabuhay Gardens.