Two Years of San Francisco Story: Grab Bag #35

Celebrating two years of San Francisco Story with an Anchor Steam at Temple Bar, a little car polo, and a lot of gratitude.

Two Years of San Francisco Story: Grab Bag #35
Celebrating two years of San Francisco Story

Normally for Friends of Woody, the full Grab Bag is open to all this week.

Happy 2nd anniversary of San Francisco Story to you all. I think the second year is either the tin or the Anchor Steam anniversary. When shall we exchange gifts?

Anchor Steam has been saved, it seems. Brewmaster Joe Allen pouring one in January 1952. (San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, AAC-6436)

Two down, 12 to go. That’s the way I think of it.

When I decided to write local history every week, I didn’t want to be one of those people who launches something with lots of enthusiasm then burns out after a month, disappointing any people who got onboard early.

I made a commitment to myself. I would go until I was 70. (If I finish my full term, I’ll actually be 70 ½.)

So, we all have a dozen years more together. Don’t worry, it will go fast.

Temple Bar

The satisfyingly cluttered Temple Bar at Grant Avenue and Sutter Street in 1895 (Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, BANC PIC 1996.003:Volume 11:41b-fALB)

Above and below is the old Temple Bar at the northwest corner of Grant Avenue and Sutter Street in 1895. The saloon was known for importing Bass Ale from Liverpool, the only bar in the city to have it on draft in the 1890s.

Temple Bar, 1895 (Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, BANC PIC 1996.003:Volume 11:41b-fALB)

Note the lack of stools or chairs. Bars and saloons were standing-up places in the 19th century. If you needed to sit, it was time to leave.

Charles Harris, the man in the center of the second photo, owned the bar. Despite its classy look, there were periodic shootings, stabbings, and frequent brawls—all part of being a saloon owner back then.

In 1891, a shark wanted to install a “smooth box” at the Temple, a rig which allowed the skilled to cheat at dice. Harris refused. The shark took offense and the two went at it pretty heavy. Here is the Examiner’s succinct headline and comprehensive subhead for the story:

Biffed and Butted. —
Smooth-Box, Insulted Man, Fight, Knock Down, Blood.

That pretty much covered it, I guess.

Harris died in 1904, so didn’t see the fate of his Temple Bar when it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. His brother, John Harris, reopened at Polk and Sutter Streets before he died in 1908. The bar hung on at that location until 1920 when Prohibition hit.

A Temple Bar Tea Room was established that same year on Tillman Place, a half-block from the old bar’s location. A well in the alley, supposedly the inspiration for the original bar, was rigged up with a commemorative fountain in 1922 as a memorial to “golden days.”

Tillman Place in 1957, back when it had ye olde character. Note the "well" just to the right of the entrance to the Temple Bar. (Hosea Blair photo, 1957. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, AAB-5496)

The end of Prohibition meant the Tillman Place tea room could start serving the hard stuff and Temple Bar resurrected itself. I visited a few times in the 1980s when I worked at Waldenbooks around the corner on Geary Street.

The alley tried really hard to give off ye olde London vibes then. There was a much smaller and better bookstore than where I worked, little boutiques and salons for the Union Square shoppers.

I don’t remember when the brick well/fountain was removed. I don’t remember it at all.

The Temple Bar was still running in 1994 when the Chronicle’s Herb Caen dropped in and was confused for a tourist:

“‘Have a good stay in San Francisco,’ called out the bartender. Like all good barmen, he looked like he could get you a cab, a girl, a lawyer, a bail bondsman. Anything. The town’s not running any too well—you know, streets all dirty and so forth—but it would be worse without old pros like this guy.”

Sometime shortly after Herb’s visit the Temple closed. There were forgettable (to me) successors:Rumpus Bistro, Azul Lounge, Grand Prix cafe. Hops & Hominy had a good run.

1 Tillman Place is currently unoccupied. The Dickensian air of the lane was unsympathetically stripped away at some point. As Herb said, the town’s not running any too well right now.

Don’t worry. It’ll come around.

More SFS Thoughts

Me at the controls... (Actually an operator of the 3rd Street drawbridge near today's Giant's ballpark. June 1950. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, AAD-1724)

I love having a readership, but not for the reasons you might expect. It’s great to communicate and to know people find value in what you do, but I’m not here for an ego-boost; for me the readers serve a more important personal purpose.

You’re the reason I can motivate myself to do something I love. Some part of my Catholic upbringing needs a duty to fulfill—even when engaged with something I enjoy, something that keeps me healthy and positive and part of the world. 

It’s like giving oneself permission to play a fun sport because it’s “good exercise.”

A thousand readers are expecting something in their email in-box each Wednesday, so I am obliged to do something that is very, very fun for me.

So I’m just using you. 😏

But it gets worse, because for another push, to satisfy my own nagging self-judgment, I have an extra prod with the Friends of Woody paid option. 

Lots of people have gotten on the Friend of Woody train. (An interesting elephant train in front of the Cliff House in October 1950. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, AAC-8121)

Once someone puts down real money for something, then you really can’t let them down. Plus, although my father is not here anymore, I can still hear his voice in my head telling me— joking-not-joking—to get a job.

I share with him the same guilt and struggle: unless you’re making some money, that thing you love is self-indulgent. Fun? You should be out hustling to feed the family.

So you, Friends of Woody, and you, folks who tip some cash into the Woody Beer and Coffee Fund, are fuel for my engine.

Cash and guilt make the Woody World Go Round, I guess...

Through Lines

class photo
Sutro School 2nd/3rd grade class in the Richmond District in 1955. My mom, newly turned 8 years old, is on the right.

Above is a recently found Sutro School class photo someone sent my mom. I put a circle around her on the right.

Below is my kindergarten class at the same school, before I was shipped a couple of blocks east to Star of the Sea for first grade.

1970 Sutro School kindergarten class. Almost 5-year-old me on the right.

I try to show how San Francisco is not only a famous city, not only a state-of-mind city, but also a home for people. There are through lines and connective experiences, and while it will always change, the old and the past are still relevant to a lot of us.

We all made our poses with our classes: me, my mom, maybe you. Old places, old stories, old photos, are bridges.

Speaking of... below is a snap from one of the family scrapbooks. This young woman is standing, we think, on the old Charles Street bridge above the Bernal Cut, today’s San Jose Avenue.

Charles Street bridge over the Bernal Cut (San Jose Avenue today) in early 1900s.

You can still journey through this gully out of Noe Valley to Glen Park and points south. You can stand on a bridge, albeit a later concrete one, at Highland or Richland Avenues.

About the Big Balls

Sailors and balls, March 1922. (Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, BANC PIC 1996.003: Volume 12:89a--fALB)

Oh,  I suppose I should explain the big balls in the banner image.

The sailors are at Ewing Field, a baseball stadium which once occupied a chunk of the west side of Masonic Avenue just south of today’s Anza Street.

In the 1920s, a strange polo game using automobiles was hyped for a hot second. Here it is being played at the old St. Ignatius High School field (now part of University of San Francisco), just a few blocks farther west:

auto polo
Auto polo at St. Ignatius field on the west side of Lone Mountain, about 1921 or 1922.

Yes, this is strange.

I guess that’s what San Francisco Story has been in its first two years: strange history, posts about old bars, and Woody milking memories and family history to say something about the city he loves.

You will probably get more of the same in year three, so get comfortable.

One thousand people subscribe to this email. My robots tell me each email is opened by at least 700-750 each week. And 227 of the subscribers like it enough to be Friends of Woody.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar put out the theory that we each have a cap on the number of social relationships we can keep track of and maintain.

When we were big-brained primates hanging together on the savanna, in the forest, on the mountain, we did so in tribes of about 150-200 and, the theory goes, that’s as much as a human neocortex can handle.

I’m not so sure.

While my brain is definitely overloaded, through this funny system of subscription emails, online camaraderie, and writing, I feel intimately connected to a much bigger circle.

Thanks for being here with me. Next week I’ll return with some “real history” for you. 😄

Carville Talk on June 23

I don’t think this has sold out yet? I hope you can join me on Sunday afternoon, June 23, at 1:00 p.m. to talk about vernacular housing that was also vehicular housing. (That is kind of an architecture joke... don’t fret if it makes no sense to you.)

Here is the link to buy tickets!

Plus, tonight I chat with the San Francisco Chronicle’s John King at the Inner Sunset Green Apple Books. (More info) Get there early, as it may be crowded! Or you can watch on YouTube.

Woody Beer and Coffee Fund

At the California Preservation Conference I was honored to buy CVP a couple of beers, but Christine F. wanted only water (and, strangely, a bowl of white rice.) To each their own!

Great thanks to the “Tomato Queen” Laurie J. A., Ted B. (F.O.W.), and Ken S. for kicking more juice into the Woody beverage kitty. Sipping and chatting with a friend is one of life’s true pleasures, am I right? This last week I heard how CVP almost burned down Monticello. And he tossed in a shaggy mountain lion tale. Too good.

Is it your turn? Let me know when you’re free!


“Biffed and Butted,” San Francisco Examiner, June 24, 1891, pg. 2.

“The Temple Bar,” San Francisco Examiner, November 9, 1903, pg. 9.

Herb Caen, “My Kind of Town,” San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle, October 16, 1994, Sunday Punch Section, pg. 1.