The climate of California is peculiar; it is hard to give an impression of it. In the first place, all the forces of nature work on laws of their own in that part of California. There is no thunder or lightning; there is no snow, except a flurry once in five or six years; there are perhaps half a dozen nights in the winter when the thermometer drops low enough so that there is a little film of ice on exposed water in the morning. Neither is there any hot weather. Yet most Easterners remaining in San Francisco for a few days remember that they were always chilly.
For the Gate is a big funnel, drawing in the winds and the mists which cool off the great, hot interior valley of San Joaquin and Sacramento. So the west wind blows steadily ten months of the year and almost all the mornings are foggy. This keeps the temperature steady at about 55 degrees—a little cool for comfort of an unacclimated person, especially indoors. Californians, used to it, hardly ever think of making fires in their houses except in the few exceptional days of the winter season, and then they rely mainly upon fireplaces. This is like the custom of the Venetians and the Florentines.
But give an Easterner six months of it, and he, too, learns to exist without a chill in a steady temperature a little lower than that to which he is accustomed at home. After that one goes about with perfect indifference to the temperature. Summer and winter San Francisco women wear light tailor-made clothes, and men wear the same fall-weight suits all the year around.
Except for the modern buildings, the fruit of the last ten years, the town presented at first sight to the newcomer a disreputable appearance. Most of the buildings were low and of wood. In the middle period of the 70’s, when a great part of San Francisco was building, there was some atrocious architecture perpetrated. In that time, too, every one put bow windows on his house, to catch all of the morning sunlight that was coming through the fog, and those little houses, with bow windows and fancy work all down their fronts, were characteristic of the middle class residence districts.
Then the Italians, who tumbled over Telegraph Hill, had built as they listed and with little regard for streets, and their houses hung crazily on a side hill which was little less than a precipice. For the most part the Chinese, although they occupied an abandoned business district, had remade the houses Chinese fashion, and the Mexicans and Spaniards had added to their houses those little balconies without which life is not life to a Spaniard.
The hills are steep beyond conception. Where Vallejo Street ran up Russian Hill it progressed for four blocks by regular steps like a flight of stairs.
With these hills, with the strangeness of the architecture, and with the green gray tinge over everything, the city fell always into vistas and pictures, a setting for the romance which hung over everything, which has always hung over life in San Francisco since the padres came and gathered the Indians about Mission Dolores.