Monday, July 9, 2012

San Francisco by Postcard (1960's)

Good morning! I thought I would start out today's post with a "true confessions" style statement about my vacationing habits: Twenty seven years on the face of this green earth as of August, and I have YET to visit anything west of the Mississippi! Is this not a travesty? My parents and grandparents would drive practically everywhere we went on vacation (and I'm talking from a starting point in Nashville to Dearborn, MI to Cape Cod, MA, to Orlando, FL...we love to roam!). It seems north and south were perfectly acceptable directionals, but we never took Horace Greeley's advice to "Go west, young [Lisa's family]." I'll get there someday, but I did get to do a little midcentury vicarious vacationing via these postcards I found among the Doris and Ray papers. Lucky Doris and Ray seem to have been to San Francisco several times, possibly on stop-overs before the big jump across the Pacific to Hawaii (as said, lucky Doris and Ray). I've added a little strip of information from the backs of these postcards via the magic of cut-and-paste on the Paint program. So hi-tech, haha.

Let's take a look!

Here's a shot from the top of hill on a street in San Fransisco. You can see what that same street looks like in 1945 here, in 1978 here, and what it looks like today here. Look at all that neon! City lights at "twilight time", as the caption describes it, are one of the best subjects for vintage postcards. Skip the mountains and the fountains, give us sixties' near-dark street scenes! See the Manx Hotel?

Here we have a "fully air conditioned 400 room motor motel" known as "Del Webb's Towne House Market at Eighth". What a mouthful! It was designed by architect Martin Stern, Jr. in 1959. I love that the amenities include an ice machine, a heated pool, and parking. The heated pool I can get behind, but don't the other two listed conveniences seem kind of like cop outs? Maybe parking was at such a premium in downtown San Fransisco at the time that having a place to leave your car, as a paying guest, was a luxury. Who knows. You know what I do know? I want to dine in the Garden Terrace dining area! Too bad there wasn't a postcard for that.

Here's a kitschy type attraction to boast about to the folks back home, via postcard- Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world! Are you not nuts about the jaggedly placed typography in the little yellow box on the word "crookedest"? It's the little things, people. I thought it might just be a perspective issue, but look at the Wikipedia page and the aerial view in one of the photos. That street really IS crooked-as-heck. Even with the crookedness, i wish I lived in a place that looks as sunny and lush as that street! Also, lemme get that striped awning. Thanks.

Whooooweee! This was one of the picture postcards that really knocked my socks off when I was going through the stack. Does it not look like the hotel in that episode of Mad Men where Betty and Don go on a Valentine's Day date to a hotel? Maybe a little more baroque, but the same kind of column-y magnificience. I, for one, was impressed. Look at the men in white dinner jackets coming down the stairs, and the women in wraps and evening gowns. So pretty!

If you weren't impressed by their lobby, CHECK OUT THEIR POLYNESIAN THEMED IN-HOUSE RESTAURANT. Oh man. Man, oh man. I don't know where to start. No, wait, i DO..."dance to soft romantic music played by native musicians aborad a raft adrift in the Tonga pool". As I die. Do you see the ropes they must use to drift back to the restaurant's "main land"? The gimmick of a lifetime. Wanna know what's crazy? IT'S STILL THERE! Not quite in the exact vintage style of its old incarnation, but pretty dang close. Check out the reviews on criTIKI (also, possibly my favorite genre-specific vintage online resource for tiki bars?) for more about the exotic dinner-and-dance place.

While it's neat to see a for-real tiki bar in a hotel setting, how about the tiki bar chain that started the craze in the first place? Here's a postcard from Trader Vic's.  You can see a lot more color postcards of the joint and tourist photos from back-in-the-day here, but be forewarned before you start packing your bags for Trolley town, this particular place has been closed since the early 90's. TRAGEDY.

Here's a postcard of Bay area. And isn't it beautiful? I'm still, at heart, the eight year old pressing nose-to-window on vacation and hollering "WAAAAATERRRR!" everytime we pass over a bridge, so to see a bay like this in real life would really be something! It's weird living in a landlocked state and seeing vast bodies of water on vacation. I wonder if I lived somewhere near the sea if I would become accustomed to it. Maybe, but maybe not. Hillbilly to the core!
Another shot of the Fairmont. Here's a neat little nugget of history from the Wikipedia page:

The hotel was nearly completed before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Although the structure survived, the interior was heavily damaged by fire, and opening was delayed until 1907. Architect and engineer Julia Morgan was hired to repair the building because of her then-innovative use of reinforced concrete, which could produce buildings capable of withstanding earthquakes and other disasters.
I love hearing about natural disasters that thwarted architectural plans at the last minute. I mean, I love the "what are we going to do now?!" -ness of it more than the tragedy. But you get the idea.

Last but not least, another bay shot:

I found some information about Mike Roberts, the photographer for a lot of these color postcards, on a tiki-themed forum. You can see more of his postcards here. Wouldn't it be neat to be a commercial photographer period at a time when the most colorful, bright images were desirable? I'm imagining a Robert Redford in the early seventies' type creature in trim khakis with a camera slung around his neck. I wonder how close my daydream is to reality!

Have you been to San Francisco before? Seen any of these places in real life? Tell me all about it! :)

That's all for today, gotta get crackin' on the obligatory school work. Only four more weeks to go! Have a great Monday, and I'll see you tomorrow!



  1. Come on over! We still have Trader Vic's right across the bay in Emeryville!

    Also, if you like tiki bars may I suggest Forbidden Island in nearby Alameda?

  2. A few years ago I bought a stereoscope, you know, one of those early 1900's 3-D viewers. Man, I wanted it! G-ma had one, but would "wooden spoon" us kids when we touched it. But...I am anbig girl now, with a credit card and the will to use it. Fifty dollah. For a few farthings more, the dealer threw in a box of the picture cards. There were someof the ususal humdrum curiousities in the box...views of the pyramids, Japanese girls in hand tinted kimonos, etc.
    However...two of the cards were scenes taken on the day of the San Fransisco earthquake. Maybe it is the 3-D that gives such a sense of urgency and immediacy to the pictures. Two women in white shirtwaists are holding each other as flames come up the hill. Men in bowler hats are running. Streetcars are off the tracks. Buildings are collapsed and horses are dead in the street. The amazing thing is that the photographer had the gumption to haul his big, heavy camera out into the street to take the picures. These cameras were specialty jobs that took two photos at the same time, to produce the 3-D effect.

  3. Must. go. to. Tonga. Room. I've actually never been to San Francisco, but I've spent the vast majority of my life (except for a brief stint in Paris and some vacations) west of the Mississippi. Kansas isn't as exciting/romantic as it might seem. Granted that it probably seems neither exciting nor romantic, you get the idea of what it's like to live here.

  4. oh that barge in the restaurant! i love it! i've added that site to my travel resource list too! amazing!
    and i'm glad i'm not the only one flipping out every time we go over a bridge on road trips. it is always so exciting!
    my family only EVER went to florida for vacation. i don't know if either of my parents have been west of memphis. i flew to la once, and went on a terrible skiiing trip to colorado in highschool, but i'm dying to explore the west coast!

  5. Oh wow! Swooning over that photo of the Tonga Room...that band on the raft is unbelievable!



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