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As the last stop for American westward expansion on the continent, San Francisco has always been a haven for those seeking to escape the conservative traditions of the East Coast and Midwest. Because it's a major port, it also has attracted large numbers of people from all over Asia and the Pacific. During World War II, African-Americans came seeking wartime jobs in its shipyards. The LGTB community also has deep roots in San Francisco. The city was and is such a diverse and international city that the United Nations was founded in San Francisco in 1945 -- not in New York, as is commonly believed.
Long before the “flower children” of the 1960s, a culture of provincial rebellion was created during the Gold Rush, when individuality, excess and lawlessness prevailed. In the Barbary Coast, each day was a wild pageant, each man (woman) made his (her) own destiny and The City was wide open to all sorts of characters and ideas. To many who call it home today, and to much of the rest of the world, it still seems to be.
The influx of young people from the Summer of Love rippled throughout the city and in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, too, a budding gay population began to establish itself in San Francisco's Castro District. Harvey Milk, who would be known first as "The Mayor of Castro Street" and then as an elected city supervisor, opened his camera store there in 1975. The Castro District became known around the country and the world and the gay population became an integral part of the city's culture, traditions, attractions and politics.
The City's open-mindedness and originality soon found a voice in authors and artists whose muse, if not their permanent home, was here. Ambrose Bierce wrote from San Francisco, for a time. It was in San Francisco that Samuel Clemens first took the pen name of Mark Twain and it was here that he developed his raw colloquial style of writing that would shock literary tradition and forever change American literature. Jack London, John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson orbited. Another author inspired by The City was Jack Kerouac; his American vision of freedom and hope in On the Road were based on the hot jazz joints and foggy nights of San Francisco. Kerouac - along with poets Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder - ignited the non-conformist “Beat Generation,” based out of the City Lights Bookstore in North Beach.
Although not exactly literature (well maybe), no discussion of writing in San Francisco -- or of its culture, for that matter -- would be complete without paying homage to one who defined it as much as anyone in its history. The San Francisco Chronicle's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist: Herb Caen. Herb Caen provided a daily monograph of his "Baghdad by the Bay" for 50 years via his characteristic "three-dot journalism," linking "items and sight 'ems" in a readable, entertaining way. Caen's column was as vital to a morning in San Francisco as coffee. (Members of the City's social set who skipped it, did so at their peril.) Many would bypass the first section of the San Francisco Chronicle and go directly to the front of the second where Caen's column resided, next to the Macy's ad. The space next to his column was the newspaper's premier advertising space. He invented the terms "beatnik" and "hippie". His rhapsodies on San Francisco, the Bay, the Fog and the Bridges could easily and effectively supplant what is written here. There was a citywide tribute and massively-attended parade in his honor on Herb Caen Day in 1996, when he retired after learning he had cancer. His parting public words were, "If I make it to heaven, I'm probably going to look around like any San Franciscan and say, 'It ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco...' " ...
Today, Amy Tan, Anne Lamott and a host of other female and male creators find their muse in San Francisco.
In the classical vein, the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet, and San Francisco Opera are acclaimed in The City's own venerable performance venues and worldwide. Opening Night at the Opera is the traditional beginning of the social season and extravaganza at the newly-refurbished War Memorial Opera House, is world-class. Here, haute couture still matters. And it is here, on many smaller stages, other classical groups thrive from the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to choral men's group, Chanticleer.
In jazz, The Dave Brubeck Quartet and "Take Five" (one of the few pieces ever written in 5/4 time) led the "West Coast Cool Jazz Movement".
San Francisco is so loved in music that it has two official anthems. The official balad is "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" as sung by Tony Bennet. The other offical song is the bawdier "San Francisco," as sung by Jeanette McDonald in the 1936 movie, "San Francisco." Pop music fans may nostalgically remember Eric Burdon & the Animals’ "San Francisco Nights" and Otis Redding’s "Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay". Were these THE signal San Francisco contributions to popular music? Remember "The San Francisco Sound?" The work of The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Big Brother & the Holding Co., Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe & the Fish ...or "The Santana Blues Band"? Certainly, Fillmore West and Winterland were the creative fonts in their heyday -- hats off to impresario par excellence Bill Graham. Together, they helped to make San Francisco Rock & Roll's western bookend opposite Liverpool and London until 1969, "the day the music died", when the Rolling Stones' concert across the bay at the Altamont Speedway symbolically turned the tide. The music hasn't died, of course, but this did mark the passing of the days of innocence, if they ever existed.
Big and Small Screens
For all the above reasons, cinema has always loved San Francisco: "The Maltese Falcon", "Dark Passage", "All About Eve", "The Caine Mutiny", "The Birdman of Alcatraz", "Vertigo", "Bullitt", Coppola’s early "The Conversation", "Days of Wine and Roses", "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?", "Escape from Alcatraz", "Take the Money and Run", "Play It Again, Sam", "Dirty Harry", "Magnum Force", "A View to a Kill", "The Presidio", "Basic Instinct", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Joy Luck Club", "Sweet November", "The Wedding Planner", "The Parrots of Telegraph Hill" are not all the films that have been made here. ...And George Lucas has just opened his massive but humbly named Letterman Digital Arts Center where the old Letterman Army Hospital once stood on the Presidio, bringing together his once-dispersed Lucasfilms and Industrial Light & Magic special effects empire.
For the same reasons, San Francisco has been the setting of many television shows since the early days of TV. From "San Francisco Beat" to "The Streets of San Francisco" and "Nash Bridges" to "Monk". From "The Doris Day Show" and "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" to "Suddenly Susan" ...The City has been at least the backdrop, and often the star of the show.
It could be argued with today’s perspective and terminology that, while the decades leading up to the 1990s were San Francisco’s and the Bay Area’s "content" golden eras, the more recent creative impulse and energy has produced much more on the "platform" side -- e.g., Apple, Intel, and the "Four Horsemen of the Technology Revolution": Cisco, EMC, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, which are all just down the road apiece. But that’s a whole 'nother story...
Counter-cultural currents continue to energize The City. The famous annual "Bay to Breakers Race", The City’s "longest running party", brings ALL manner of contestant and costume - and some with none at all - and even some first-rate runners. And Critical Mass, the monthly bicycle ride which vigorously asserts cyclists’ right to share the road, began in The City in 1992. In true San Francisco spirit, Critical Mass has no leaders and no central organization, yet has spread throughout the world.
Here, at the far edge of the continent, San Franciscans continue to break and make traditions on many frontiers.
Sports play an important role for local fans. San Francisco is home to the 2010 World Series champions, the Giants (professional baseball), who play at AT&T Park in China Basin and the 5-time Super Bowl champions, the 49ers (professional football), who play at Levi's Stadium, just south of the city. The Golden State Warriors (professional basketball) play at Oracle Arena across the Bay in Oakland, CA. Oakland is home to two other local professional teams: the 9-time World Series champs, the A's (Athletics, baseball), who won the title in Oakland 4 times (the team relocated there in 1968) and 5 wins were won when the A's called Philadelphia home (in the early 1900s); and the 3-time Super Bowl champs the Raiders (football). Professional soccer fans would have to travel about an hour south to San Jose to see the Earthquakes compete in their home stadium. The same goes for professional hockey fans, as the San Jose Sharks, play at SAP Center (aka "the Shark Tank").
For college sports fans, nearby Cal Berkeley and Stanford University boast national champions in almost every sport year after year. The universities also host international and professional competitions routinely, from tennis to soccer and from aquatics to track and field.
San Francisco and Silicon Valley (the "Valley") to the south have been home to innovation, arguably since the area's settling, when 49ers came west to strike gold and entrepreneurs like jeans-maker Levi Strauss saw and capitalized on massive opportunity. In more recent history, the area has become synonymous with technology innovation. When Bill Hewlett and David Packard first paired up as partners in a tiny garage in Palo Alto as Stanford engineering students in the 1930s, they blazed the trail for many more inventors and pioneers who would follow. Today, companies like HP, Intel, Apple, Google, eBay, Cisco, Oracle, Genentech, and Facebook call San Francisco and the Valley home. So, too, do the venture capital and law firms that have made fortunes along with the companies themselves.