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    Little Saigon and Tendernob

    Little Saigon and the Tendernob are two Tenderloin neighborhoods that are home to large immigrant populations and some of the best food in the city. Join us as we take you on the only food tour of this district and explore the flavors of Asia, the Middle East, and beyond!
  • The Mission

    The Mission District

    San Francisco's 1st neighborhood, The Mission District is still the heart & soul of this vibrant city. This area is so rich in culture, that we have 4 Mission food tours & 2 neighborhood walks.
  • North Beach

    North Beach

    North Beach is that rare thing -- a neighborhood that manages to be a perennial hit with tourists, and also to remain beloved by San Franciscans. It's San Francisco's Little Italy and the home of the beatniks.
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    Scenic Running

    Just a short run from the urban landscape of San Francisco's busy city streets you will find numerous trails and parks offering phenomenal views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the City Skyline and other gems.
  • Chinatown

    Chinatown

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    Parrots!

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Gilded Age 1859-1900 Blogs

SAN FRANCISCO’S HIDDEN GEMS: PUBLIC TENNIS COURTS

Hidden Gems of San Francisco (Published in the Westside Observer)

PUBLIC TENNIS COURTSGolden Gate Park Early Map

San Francisco is home to an extensive park system which contains a surprising number of public tennis courts in varied settings. Many are surrounded by stunning panoramic vistas that only San Francisco could serve up. Many of these courts seem to barely be used, while others are wildly popular. All the courts have a story to tell as many of them are over 100 years old, dating back to the era when tennis first became a worldwide phenomenon. Although tennis as we know it is an old sport, the roots of tennis are older still…

While evidence is thin on the ground, the game of tennis is believed to hark back thousands of years, with several indicators suggesting the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans played precursors to tennis. For example, the Arabic word for the palm of the hand is rahat, similar to the word racket, while the Egyptian town Tinnis again bears a resemblance to tennis. More substantial evidence emerges from around 1000, when French monks began playing a crude courtyard ball game. This sport, played against their monastery walls or over a rope hung across a courtyard, took on the name je de paume – ‘game of the hand.’ According to this theory, the word ‘tennis’ was coined by these monks, who would shout the word ‘tenez’, the French for ‘to take’, “take that”, while they served the ball.

In 1850: Charles Goodyear invented a process for rubber called vulcanization, which made the material used to make tennis balls significantly bouncier. As a result, tennis could now be more easily played by the masses, outdoors on dirt, clay, pavement or grass. At that time, the game was more often than not called “Lawn Tennis”. By this time, the foundations for modern tennis had been paved, and this sport surged in popularity

A few years later, in London in 1874, Major Walter C. Wingfield patented the first rules and equipment for tennis, which he called Sphairistike, the Greek for ‘playing at ball.’ The ubiquity of croquet at the time meant there was a ready supply of smooth outdoor courts, which proved easily adaptable for tennis. Tennis soon spread to Russia and Asia.

It wasn’t long before tennis arrived in the United States in the mid-1870s separately and independently in at least six different places.The first formal lawn tennis club in the Americas seems to have been formed in 1876 in New Orleans, after English merchants in the city on business brought the game over with them.But whether the first lawn tennis court in the Americas was set up in San Francisco (as many claim), in Nahant, Mass. (north of Boston), or Staten Island (New York), in Canada, or even at Camp Apache in the Arizona Territory, or elsewhere – all possibilities – the game quickly became popular with the leisure class, on Army posts, and wherever British merchants and diplomats traveled, which in the 19th century was everywhere.

Coinciding with the spread of tennis was the era of public park creation. In fact, there were two distinct periods in the history of American park building, each defined by a distinctive attitude towards “improving” nature: the romantic approach, which prevailed from the 1860s to the 1880s, emphasized the beauty of nature, while the rationalistic approach, dominant from the 1880s to the 1920s, saw nature as the best setting for uplifting activities such as and education and athletics, including tennis. Public parks were being installed in cities worldwide about the same time as San Francisco was evolving into a full-fledged city.

In 1865, when San Francisco’s Daily Evening Bulletin asked its readers if it were not time for the city to finally establish a public park, residents had only private gardens and small urban squares where they could retreat from urban crowding, noise, and filth. Five short years later, city supervisors approved the creation of Golden Gate Park, the second largest urban park in America. Over the next sixty years, and particularly after 1900, a network of smaller parks and parkways was built, turning San Francisco into one of the nation’s greenest cities.

As a result of the popularity of tennis and the concurrent building of parks throughout the city, San Francisco became home just shy of 150 public tennis courts. These beloved courts, free to the public, and rich in history, are yours to use whenever you like (Please note that the Board of Supervisors under Supervisor Weiner closed the parks at night.) Being on public land, they are free from the threat of development and should enrich our communities for generations to come. The same cannot be said for the Bay Club, which looks like it may be soon torn down to make way for condos.

If you would like to explore our city’s tennis courts here are two good places to start:

SF Tennis League http://tennissf.com/

Tennis Maps http://www.tennismaps.com/index.asp?regionid=64

Here are the some of the city’s most popular tennis courts:

Golden Gate Park Tennis Complex

The largest tennis complex in the city was built in 1901, 5 years before the great earthquake and fire. The park’s 21 hard-surface tennis courts are nestled between the Conservatory of Flowers and the Children’s Playground. The trees deter the wind from ruining your serve, and courts are typically first come, first served. Players of all levels go for pickup games and private and group lessons ($50 and $20). It’s also the site of the annual City Open.

Alice Marble Tennis Courts

It can get windy on top of Russian Hill in George Sterling Memorial Park, but the views of downtown, Alcatraz, the Marina, and Golden Gate Bridge make it worth the occasional wild serve. The four courts have modern Laykold flooring that provides more cushion and bounce absorption than your average clay court.

James Moffet Tennis Court

Venture to the Outer Sunset’s Parkside Square, where you’ll find four courts in top condition. They’re largely occupied by longtime neighbors who have been playing here for most of their lives, and as such, the regulars are a little protective of their turf. Hard flooring provides high-bouncing balls, and the surrounding pine trees give off a nice scent.

Explore San Francisco is a locally owned co-op of guides who help us explore and discover the City’s “hidden gems”. For more information on touring SF, check out their website at ExploreSanFrancisco.biz or call them at 415.793.1104

September 2014

 

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The Story of Oofty-Goofty & Big Bertha

Big Bertha and Oofty-Goofty, San Francisco, CA

Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, California. ...
Looking towards Washington Street from early Portsmouth Square, Kearney would be to the right.
Still not landscaped, Portsmouth Plaza in the foreground and Telegraph Hill in the background.
Doesn’t appear to be any rock quarrying yet on Telegraph Hill, or Signal Hill as it was likely to
be called then. There was probably still a beach in North Beach. The main area of the Barbary Coast
would be situated to the right and up a couple blocks from here. This square was not part of Chinatown
but instead was the main town square. The water line of the bay was still just a couple blocks east of here.
Photo from 1851.

 

Big Bertha arrived in San Francisco in the middle eighteen-eighties, posing as a wealthy Jewish widow searching for a good man to take care of her money, which she described as being far more than she could count. She required each suitor to transfer to her a sum of money, to be added to an equal sum of her own, the whole to be risked on an investment of which she alone knew the nature.

In this extraordinary manner she collected she collected several thousand dollars from a score of lovelorn males, not a penny of which was ever seen again by it’s rightful owner. She was at length arrested, but none of her victims felt inclined to brave the torrent of publicity that would result from prosecution, she was released on nominal bail, and the cases against her dropped.

 As Big Bertha gained fame, the manager of the Bella Union hired her and put her on display in an empty storefront on Market Street as “Big Bertha, the Queen of the Confidence Women, Admission Ten Cents.” Bertha’s act consisted of a long “confession” of awful crimes she may have committed, followed by an off-key rendition of “A Flower from My Angel Mother’s Grave.” This went over so well that she took her act to the Bella Union and turned it into a comedic song-and-dance revue, which soon became the toast of the town. She had made herself into a local celebrity, through guts and determination. Other than her stage presence and sense of humor, she had virtually no talent for singing or dancing, but people loved her anyway.

 

 

The Bella Union served for almost 60 years from 1849 to the great fire of 1906, to provide a venue for some
of the finest variety, minstrel and burlesque shows in the country, and was built on the site of the old
Colonnade Hotel. It was originally used as a gambling saloon as well as for entertainment, in 1856 becoming
a melodeon , but from 1893 was a waxworks and penny arcade. It was on the North side of Washington Street,
near Kearny.Also in this photo are the Verandah and the El Dorado with Portsmouth Plaza in the
foreground and Telegraph Hill in the background. Photo from 1856.

 

 

Meanwhile, another star, named Oofty Goofty, plastered with tar and horsehair, was wowing them with his Wild Man of Borneo Act, during which he repeatedly snarled out his name while shredding hunks of raw meat with his teeth. 

Big Bertha, the Queen of the Confidence Women, played a brief engagement at Bottle Koenig’s and then went to the Bella Union, where she achieved considerable renown as a singer who couldn’t sing, a dancer who couldn’t dance, and an actress who couldn’t act. Built as a gambling palace in 1849, the Bella Union quickly began hosting burlesque sideshows, which eventually supplanted gambling as the main attraction. Its biggest star was a 19th-century performance artist named Big Bertha.(2) Her work in the drama, indeed, was so remarkably bad that she attracted audiences from all over San Francisco and brought to the Bella Union and the Barbary Coast hundreds of citizens who had never vsited the quarter before and never did again. 

Her greatest triumph was achieved in “Romeo and Juliet”, in which she co-starred
with OoftyGoofty. The management at the Bella Union, seeing the natural chemistry
between San Francisco’s biggest female and male stars, decided to cast Oofty and Bertha as the leads in Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet. Their move was a decade ahead of its time, for it wasn’t until 1896 that Alfred Jarry destroyed Macbeth with his outrageous parody Ubu Roi. Though the Bella Union version of Romeo and Juliet pretty much stuck to the original script, a few minor revisions in stage directions were necessary. Big Bertha was so heavy she couldn’t possibly be hoisted to the balcony, which wouldn’t have supported her in any case. So Oofty Goofy howled out Romeo’s lines from the balcony, while Bertha played Juliet from the ground. Oofty Goofy, unable to shed his typecast persona, played Romeo as the wild man of Borneo;
Bertha emerged from each performance covered with bruises from head to toe.

This was probably the most popular production that Ned Foster had ever staged, but within a week he was compelled to take it off the boards, for Big Bertha complained that as a lover Oofty Goofty was entirely too rough. She flatly refused to act with him any longer.

Soon thereafter Foster presented here in a condensed version of Mazeppa, in which she made her entrance strapped to the back of a donkey. This was also greeted with great acclaim, until one night the donkey fell over the footlights, carrying Big Bertha with him, and well nigh exterminated the orchestra. During the excitement Big Bertha, scratched and angry, crawled from beneath the braying donkey and, in language which she had doubtless learned during her career as an adventuress, indicated that she would never again play the role of Mazeppa. Thereafter she confined her stage work to singing, with an occassional dance, and appeared at various melodeons until 1895, when she obtained control of the Bella Union.

 

 

Big Bertha

 

 

In 1895 Big Bertha takes control of the Bella Union on Kearny Street, or was it Pacific Street, where the Holiday Inn is now located. When she can’t sell liquor, she shuts the establishment down for good and leaves the Barbary Coast(1)

 

 

 

BELLA UNION

 

 

Oofty-Goofty was the stage name of a sideshow performer who lived in
San Francisco in the late 19th century. Leonard Borchardt’s first glimpse
of America was brief. The fourteen year old stowaway from Berlin was discovered en route to the new world by the Captain of the 
SS Fresia. He was forced to stay on the ship, join the crew to earn his passage, return to Germany and back again to the United States, before being allowed to disembark in New York. From there Borchardt drifted from state to state before signing up for the U.S. Cavalry in Detroit. After learning he would be fighting Native American Indians who might scalp him – Borchardt deserted, sold his horse and gun to a farmer,
and headed for San Francisco. He arrived in 1884 at the age of 22.

English: San Francisco harbor (Yerba Buena Cov...
San Francisco harbor (Yerba Buena Cove), 1850 or 1851, with Yerba Buena Island in the background. Hundreds of ships poured into San Francisco only to have their crews
dessert ship to head to the foothills to search for gold. Consequently, the ships were
abandoned in the harbor, where the locals would put them to good use. 

 

Borchardt would try any crazy scheme for money, starting with his impersonation of a “Wild Man of Borneo”, the scam that was to give him his infamous moniker. He was painted with glue, stuck with hair, and laid out on a roof to dry for five hours. Then he was shackled in a cage and fed raw meat whilst scaring visitors with grunts and wails of “Oof, Oof”. He performed this act in the Dime Museum Show and was a huge success; but his manager skipped town with the proceeds, leaving Borchardt close to death on account of his pores being blocked by whatever it was that had been fused to his skin. Borchardt made the news and was visited by curious medical students as he lay in a Turkish bath for five weeks waiting for the glue to dissolve. This cost the City $300 before he was well again. From then on Borchardt was known throughout California simply as Oofty Goofty.

 

Instead of shying away from the limelight as some might after such a to-do, Borchardt (now a celebrity of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast), embraced his new persona and no dare was considered too much of a challenge. From one day to the next you would not know if you might find Oofty Goofty acting as a human skittle in Woodward’s Garden where patrons would win a cigar if they hit him with a baseball, or hear of him heading to New York pushing a shiny red wheelbarrow for a bet, (a challenge that failed after 40 miles when he was knocked over in the darkness, landing head first in a creek).

For $20 he even allowed himself to be shipped in a box to Sacramento as a joke gift for a young lady. That they carted him there with the box updside-down, and left the package unopened in a warehouse over the weekend, did nothing to lessen his bravado, although he later admitted he was “pretty near played out that time”.

But Oofty Goofty was made from tough mettle. Not only did he survive a court martial for his earlier desertion, escaping three years of hard labor by throwing himself off a cliff to achieve early dismissal on grounds of disability.

Oofty, after a long and illustrious career, met a different, sadder fate. His big career move came when an irate clubowner, embarrassed at having booked such a loser, had the bouncers pick up Oofty and throw him through the air and into the street. Oofty slammed into the pavement with enough force to crush the spine of an ordinary mortal.

Staggering to his feet and brushing himself off, he made a remarkable discovery: He felt no pain! Just to make sure, he entered the nearest saloon and offered to let its nastiest-looking denizen punch him for a nickel. Still, he felt no pain. Soon Oofty was earning a good living with his expanded repertoire: for a nickel you could slug him, for a dime you could kick his rear
end with all your might, and for a quarter you could slam him in the butt with a baseball bat.

Practically every male in San Francisco, from the movers and shakers to the lowest denizens of the Barbary Coast, could brag of having banged on Oofty at least once. But finally, after decades of suffering the painless blows of fate, Oofty suffered the inevitable fatal blow. Heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan busted his spine with a pool cue, and Oofty died broke a couple of years later.

While San Francisco would undoubtedly have liked to claim this colorful character forever as its own, Oofty Goofty actually moved to Texas where his antics continued. Sullivan’s legendary belting did not stop him from traveling from one oil field to the next, where he would invite drunken workers to thrash him with a baseball bat for cash. Neither did his fertile imagination subside when it came to entertaining the masses with his fanciful schemes for making money. The last we hear of him, Oofty Goofty favored racing to drink beer with a bar spoon and quail-eating contests that became all the rage at the time.

 

 

Oofty Goofty’s companion, Philomena Faulkner

 

 

 

 

OOFTY GOOFTY

 

 


He was later parodied in popular culture, notably in a 1941 eponymous film and in a 1937 
Our Gang short film called “The Kid From Borneo.”
He is referred to in a story by Bill Pronzini, “The Bughouse Caper.” [Kurland, Michael (editor) “Sherlock Holmes – The Hidden Years” New York, St. Martin’s Minotaur 2004]

 

 

 

 

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Great San Franciscan Characters #9: “Sunny Jim” Rolph

 

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Mayor, successful business man, future governor, whorehouse owner “Sunny Jim” Rolph

March 3, 2011 by A Golden Gate State of Mind

JamesRolphJrCalifGov
 Official portrait of:
California Governor James Rolph 

 

 

Charming, beloved, charismatic, successful businessman and whorehouse owner, ”Sunny Jim” Rolph was the longest serving mayor in San Francisco history.

He was born to British parents in the city on 23rd August 1869 and educated in the Mission District where he  also lived in adult life in a large mansion at the corner of San Jose and 25th Streets.  After jobs as a newsboy, clerk and messenger he entered the shipping business in 1900, forming a partnership with George Hind.  For the next ten years he served as President of two banks, one of which he established, as well as founding the Rolph Shipping Company and James Rolph Company.  He also directed the Ship Owners and Merchants Tugboat Company and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to his country’s entry into the First World War he supplied coal and ships to the Allied Countries.  With an estimated wealth of $5 million he bought a ranch west of Stanford University.  It is reported that the Department of Public Works made all the improvements to the ranch at the taxpayers’ expense, not the last time his appropriation of public funds for his own personal gain was mooted.

In 1911 Rolph was encouraged to run for Mayor against the incumbent P.H. McCarthy who had failed to curb the corruption that was rife in the city.  Following a six week campaign categorised by egg throwing, fist fights and police riots, he won comfortably.

His first major project was the construction of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, designed not only to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal but, equally importantly, to showcase the remarkable renaissance of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.  It was  during the latter that he he had earned the gratitude of the city by, as head of a relief committee, delivering water and supplies with his horse and wagon.

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Mr and Mrs Sunny Jim vote in the election that made him Governor

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World’s Fairgrounds

 

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Mabel and Fatty come to the World’s Fair

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Sunny Jim and wife

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Ferry Building

He opened the Exposition by, pied piper style, leading 150,000  followers down Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street to the Fairgrounds, now the Marina District.  The profits from the highly successful event were used to build the Civic Auditorium.

As Mayor, he personally oversaw the construction of City Hall, and on the day it was dedicated in 1915, climbed the golden dome, “beamed at the astonished faces below”, and ran up the American flag.

His nickname derived from his relentlessly cheerful, gregarious disposition.  With a theme song entitled ”There Are Smiles That Make You Happy” he paraded about town in, alternately a stovepipe silk or derby hat, dapper black suit with a flower, usually a carnation, in the buttonhole, smiling and “pressing the flesh” of the city’s residents as if he were on a continuous election campaign trail. He would often pick up pedestrians on his way to City Hall and drive them to their destination.  He was known as the “Mayor of All the People”, relating to people of all races, religions and political parties.  He even invited Communist protestors into his office for a chat.

He had time for everyone as he ”popped up” at just about every public event, seeing it as a photo opportunity to promote himself.  His role was primarily as the charming figurehead for city government, leaving the day to day running of his administration (which bored him), including several major public works projects such as the Bay Bridge, Hetch Hetchy water systemwhich supplies most of the city’s water,  and San Francisco Airport, to trusted colleagues.

Rolph’s affable manner and the spectacular but costly festivities he arranged to celebrate major political events may have endeared him to the man in the street, but he presided over a “lawless, debauched city”in which “gambling and prostituion thrived”.  Moreover, he contributed personally towards this by owning the Pleasure Palace, an “entertainment hideout”at 21st Street and Sanchez on Liberty Hill.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he made only half-hearted attempts to clean up the city.  This, along with his lax stance on enforcing Prohibition, may have partly accounted for his four re-elections and nineteen years in office.

His flamboyant image extended to appearances in several films, notably the 1915 documentaryMabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco, directed by Fatty Arbuckle and the short, Hello Frisco.

Rolph’s drinking and alleged affair with movie star, Anita Page, however, scarred his final term in office.  He missed meetings at City Hall and drivers would be despatched to find him. When he did turn up he appeared drunk and patently unwell.

 

He was elected the 27th Governor of California from 6th January 1931 when he resigned as San Francisco Mayor.  However, the advent of the Great Depression and the budgetary constraints that that inevitably imposed upon the State, had serious personal and political consequences.  Moreover, laregly as a result of his shenanigans over a previous gubernatorial campaign, his contract to build three new ships for the Federal Government was cancelled and he was banned from selling ships to foreign governments, accelerating his financial ruin.

His political inadequacies were also regularly exposed, provoking a recall movement against him within two years of taking office.  His tenure was dogged by controversy, not least when he publicly praised the citizens of San Jose, whilst promising to pardon anyone involved, following the November 1933 lynching of the confessed murderers of Brooke Hart, the son of a wealthy local merchant.  He was thereafter known as ”Governor Lynch”.

As he fell into serious debt his health failed, although he continued to make personal appearances against medical advice.  Following a number of heart attacks he died on 2nd June 1934 at Riverside Farm, Santa Clara County.  He was brought home to lie in state in the City Hall rotunda.

Notwithstanding his many flaws, Rolph’s popularity in his home town was unquestioned. and illustrated in the decision to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that had begun to be built under his stewardship, the “James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bridge”.

Finally, I am particularly indebted for much of the detail in this article to the historical essay on Rolph written by Daniel Steven Crofts.

 

 


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