And it was a city of romance and a gateway to adventure. It opened out on the mysterious Pacific, the untamed ocean, and most of China, Japan, the South Sea Islands, Lower California, the west coast of Central America, Australia that came to this country passed in through the Golden Gate. There was a sprinkling, too, of Alaska and Siberia. From his windows on Russian Hill one saw always something strange and suggestive creeping through the mists of the bay. It would be a South Sea Island brig, bringing in copra, to take out cottons and idols; a Chinese junk with fan-like sails, back from an expedition after sharks’ livers; an old whaler, which seemed to drip oil, back from a year of cruising in the Arctic. Even, the tramp windjammers were deep-chested craft, capable of rounding the Horn or of circumnavigating the globe; and they came in streaked and picturesque from their long voyaging.
In the orange colored dawn which always comes through the mists of that bay, the fishing fleet would crawl in under triangular lateen sails, for the fishermen of San Francisco Bay are all Neapolitans, who have brought their costumes and sail with lateen rigs shaped like the ear of a horse when the wind fills them and stained an orange brown.
The “smelting pot of the races” Stevenson called the region along the water front, for here the people of all these craft met, Italians, Greeks, Russians, Lascars, Kanakas, Alaska Indians, black Gilbert Islanders, Spanish-Americans, wanderers and sailors from all the world, who came in and out from among the queer craft to lose themselves in the disreputable shanties and saloons. The Barbary Coast was a veritable bit of Satan’s realm. The place was made up of three solid blocks of dance halls, for the delectation of the sailors of the world. Within those streets of peril the respectable never set foot; behind the swinging doors of those saloons anything might be happening, crime was as common here as drink, and much went on of which the law was blankly ignorant.
Not far removed from this haunt of crime was the world-famous Chinatown, a district six blocks long and two wide, and housing when at its fullest some 30,000 Chinese. Old business houses at first, the new inmates added to them, rebuilt them, ran out their own balconies and entrances, and gave them that feeling of huddled irregularity which makes all Chinese built dwellings fall naturally into pictures. Not only this, they burrowed to a depth equal to three stories under the ground, and through this ran passages in which the Chinese transacted their dark and devious affairs—as the smuggling of opium, the traffic in slave girls and the settlement of their difficulties, by murder if they saw fit. The law was powerless to prevent or discover and convict the murderers.