Within its walls the possession of dollars was a bar rather than an “open sesame,” the master key to its circles being the knack of telling a good story or the possession of quick and telling wit. Fun-making was the rule there, and the only way to escape being made its victim was the power to deliver a ready and witty retort. In this home of good fellowship all the artists, actors, wits, literati, fiddlers, pianists and bon vivants were members. Here an impoverished painter could square his grill and buffet account by giving the club a daub to hang on its walls. Here in days of old the Sheriff used to camp regularly once a month until the members rustled up the money to replevin the furniture. But these days of poverty passed away, and in later years the club came to know prosperity beyond the dreams of the good fellows who founded it.
The Bohemian is gone, but the spirit that founded and made it still exists, and we may look to see it rise, like the phoenix, from its ashes.
San Francisco was often called the wickedest city in America. It was hardly that, it was simply the gayest. It was not the home of purity; neither is any other city. What other cities do behind closed doors San Francisco did not hesitate to do in the open.
In Eastern cities the police have driven vice into tenements, lodging houses and apartments. San Francisco did not do that. She had certain quarters where, according to unwritten law, vice was allowed to abide, and she did not try to hide the fact that it could be found there. She was not secretly immoral; she was frankly unmoral.
She did not believe in driving her vice from the open where it could be recognized and controlled—prevented from doing any more harm than it was possible to stop—into districts of the city where good people dwell and purity would feel its contaminating influence. There were regions in which the respectable never set foot, haunts of acknowledged vice which for virtue to enter would be to lose caste.
As for its gayety, San Francisco was proud of the reputation of being the Paris of America. Its women were beautiful, and they knew it. They liked to adorn their beauty with fine clothes and peacock along the streets on matinee days. If you asked a San Francisco girl why she wore such expensive clothes, she would say, frankly, “Because I like to have the men admire me,” and she would see no harm in saying it. There was very little sham about the San Francisco women. Their men understood them and worshiped them. They bore themselves with the freedom that was theirs by right of their heritage of open-air living, the Bohemian atmosphere they breathed, the unconventional character of their surroundings. Their figures were strong and well moulded, their faces bloomed with health like the roses in their gardens. They drew the wine of laughter from their balmy California air. Sorrow and trouble sat lightly on their shoulders.