Within the burned area of 1906, above the original waterfront of the days when the water came up to Montgomery street, there are several blocks of buildings which were spared by freaks of fate. These buildings stand near the original Plaza now called Portsmouth Square. It was here Commodore John Montgomery landed from the “Portsmouth” and raised the Stars and Stripes on July 4, 1846, almost the seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the Spanish Presidio. The site of his landing, at what is now Clay and Montgomery streets, has been marked by one of the bronze tablets on which the order of the Native Sons of the Golden West has graven many of the historic episodes of California. Not far away, on the south side of Sacramento street, between Davis and Front, there is a brick building marked by a tablet as the site of Fort Gunnybags, headquarters of the Vigilance Committee, which in 1856 hanged Casey and Cora, two enemies of law and order, from its windows. In Portsmouth Square itself, token of a gentler spirit, there stands a drinking fountain in memory of Robert Louis Stevenson. That prince of idlers and of prose spent many an hour on the sunny benches of this square. The streets nearby, where stand the few buildings that escaped the fire, echo the footsteps of Stevenson, of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. The Hall of justice faces the square.
The Parrott building, erected in 1853 by Chinese labor with stone brought from China, remains standing at California and Montgomery streets.
Around the Plaza centered the life of the pueblo and of the early city of San Francisco, but now on three sides of it is Chinatown, the fashionable homes having long been gone from this section.
In Golden Gate Park, beside a lake reflecting their outline, stand marble columns that once flanked a doorway on Nob Hill, which rises above the Oriental quarter. This relic has been named “Portal of the Past.” It symbolizes the old San Francisco that is gone save for a few traces, for this is, after all, a new city.
It is in the San Francisco of today, with a historic background that survives in spirit instead of in material reminders, that interest is dominant.
“There’s a diabolical mystery to your San Francisco!” Enrico Caruso once exclaimed. “Why isn’t everyone fat in this city of such excellent cafes?”
The Argonauts who came to California in quest of the Golden Fleece were hearty, eaters, and they laid the foundation for a tradition of abundant table fare that has been handed down since the days of the bonanza kings.