San Francisco has 44 named hills; seven stand out as the “Original Seven Hills” - Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson. The Spaniards called this protuberance Loma Alt or “High Hill” and early San Franciscans knew it as Goat Hill. It became Telegraph Hill in 1849 after a windmill-like structure was constructed on top that signaled the nature of incoming ships entering through the Golden Gate. this information was used by financiers, merchants and speculators in the know to negotiate commodity prices. The coming of the real electrical telegraph made the semaphore system obsolete with a decade but the name never left.
In the 1920s, Telegraph Hill became with North Beach a destination for poets and bohemian intellectuals. Telegraph Hill was the residential area; North Beach was a neighborhood of cafes and bars that became internationally known as the epicenter of the Beat Generation in the 1950s.
Our walking tour will begin near San Francisco Bay and climb up Telegraph Hill and back down into North Beach before finishing down Broadway that developed into the town’s red light entertainment district as the remnants of San Francisco’s infamous Barbary Coast. And we will begin at the headquarters of one of San Francisco’s iconic companies...
1155 Battery Street at Filbert Street
In 1877 two pairs of overalls arrived in the offices of Levi Strauss & Company in San Francisco. A letter was attached that read: “The secratt of them Pents is the Rivets that I put in those Pockets and I found the demand so large that I cannot make them fast enough. My nabors are getting yealouse of these success and unless I secure it by Patent Papers it will soon become a general thing. Everybody will make them up and thare will be no money in it. Therefore Gentleman, I wish to make you a proposition that you should take out the Latters Patent in my name as I am the inventor of it, the expense of it will be about $68, all complit...” The letter was from Jacob Davis, a Latvian immigrant from Reno, Nevada. Levi Strauss paid for Jacob Davis’ patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings.” The patent would be the most illegally imitated patent in United States history. The Bavarian-born Levis Strauss was already successful when he learned about Jacob Davis, had been for nearly 30 years. In 1849 Strauss sailed to San Francisco to join the Gold Rush, peddling goods in lawless boomtowns. Strauss made sturdy canvas work pants, often using sails and tents when material from his brothers in New York did not arrive in time. Strauss was importing a French denim from which he made “waist high overalls.” “Jeans” was a derogatory phrase referring to cheap-type work pants from Genoa, Italy. “Jeans” is from the French word for Genoa, “genes.” Strauss dyed his denim blue to mask soil stains. The company grew steadily as his name appeared on a list of men who were worth at least $4,000,000 in a local newspaper. He owned a large chunk of downtown San Francisco real estate. Lawrence Halprin designed the layered brick corporate headquarters amidst five acres of gardens and hardscaping in 1982. The centerpiece fountain is carved from a massive piece of carnelian granite.
WALK OVER TO THE NORTH SIDE OF THE PLAZA. THE BUILDING FLANKING THE PLAZA IS...
Italian Swiss Colony Warehouse
1265 Battery Street
Andrea Sbarboro was born in Genoa, Italy in 1839 but made his way to San Francisco to work in his brother’s store at the age of 13. It would be twenty years before Sbarboro could set up his own store - just in time for the nationwide financial collapse of 1873. The Panic gave rise to mutual loan associations, however, and Sbarboro shifted nimbly into finance, founding five of these groups whose money would build 2,500 homes in the Bay Area. In 1881, as a way to help his fellow countrymen settle in America, he created a large grape-growing business on the principle of the savings and loan society. Some 1,500 acres of hill and valley land were purchased in Sonoma County for $25,000 and a village named Asti after the Italian town famous for its wines was created. Choice wines, produced from grape plantings from the Old World, soon brought wide acclaim. By 1905, ten gold medals were awarded these wines at international competitions. This brick warehouse, created in the image of an Italian palazzo, was constructed in 1903. The waterfront here was once stuffed with similar industrial warehouses but this is one of the few to dodge the wrecking ball in the last century.
RETURN TO THE CENTER OF LEVI PLAZA AND TURN RIGHT TO EXIT THROUGH THE WEST SIDE ACROSS SANSOME STREET. WALK TO THE BASE OF THE HILL AND BEGIN CLIMBING.
Filbert Street Steps
The most famous of San Francisco’s legendary stairways, the Filbert Steps rise in three sections from Sansome Street to Pioneer Park and Coit Tower. The steps run through a garden tended to and paid for by the residents of the “street” and the most famous avian residents of Telegraph Hill, feral parrots, are often spotted here. On your way up, remember to stop and turn around to enjoy to views of San Francisco Bay, increasingly further beneath you.
off Filbert Street Steps, between Sansome Street and Montgomery Street
This little wooden byway off the Filbert Street Steps with its unmatched views is populated with quirky little homes from the 1870s and 1880s. Today the fanciful boardwalk dwellings fetch millions on the real estate market.
AT MONTGMERY STREET, ON YOUR LEFT AT THE TOP OF THE FILBERT STREET STEPS IS...
Malloch Apartment Building
1360 Montgomery Street at southeast corner of Filbert Street Steps
This Streamline Moderne confection was assembled by Irvine Goldstine for Jack and Rolph Malloch in 1939. The corner walls feature a bas relief of Atlas hoisting a glove over the Bay Bridge and an outline of the State of California with rainbows and goddesses tossed in; they were creations to make note of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The Malloch has done screen time in several Hollywood productions, most notably Dark Passage starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1947.
TURN RIGHT ON MONTGOMER STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO ITS END.
1541 Montgomery Street
Julius was Julius Roz, an Italian immigrant and one-time counterman. His castle was the eclectic restaurant he built into the hillside in 1922. Italian-born architect Louis Mastropasqua studded his competition with Gothic-flavored pointed-arch windows, Norman-styled battlements and whimsical Arts and crafts elements. n the back wall, overlooking the Embarcadero waterfront Roz displayed the words “Julius’ Castle” in enormous redwood script. Justifiably famous for its unmatched dining room views of San Francisco Bay, this was one of the go-to romantic destinations in the city for decades until the restaurant recently closed its doors.
TURN LEFT AND CONTINUE ASCENDING TOWARDS COIT TOWER ON THE GREENWICH STREETS STEPS. IF YOU WANT TO SAY YOU WALKED ALL THE WAY UP THE FILBERT STREET STEPS YOU CAN WALK BACK AND COMPLETE YOUR ASCENT THAT WAY. BOTH SETS OF STEPS END UP IN THE SAME PLACE.
Greenwich Street Stairs
The red brick Greenwich Street Stairs, equally impressive as the Filbert Street Stairs, have made the same journey from Sansome Street to Coit Tower, passing underneath several houses in the process.
Telegraph Boulevard at top of Telegraph Hill
This five-acre park at the top of the city was established in 1876 in celebration of the United States Centennial. Before the park, it was the site of the Marine Telegraph Station. A bronze statue of Christopher Columbus was placed in the park in 1957, donated by the city’s Italian-American community.
The 210-foot Art Deco tower, made of unpainted reinforced concrete, was designed by architects Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard in 1933. The fresco murals were created on-site by 27 different artists. The money for the tower came from Lillie Hitchcock Coit who left one-third of her estate (about $130,000) to beautify San Francisco. Lillie’s father was an army surgeon from North Carolina who brought his family to San Francisco in the 1850s and later bought 1,100 acres of land in Napa Valley. She was captivated by firemen from an early age and as a teenager became the mascot of the “Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5.” “Firebelle” Hitchcock would remain one of the fire department’s greatest patrons throughout her 86 years. She married Howard Coit, who held the influential position of caller of the San Francisco Stock Board. The tower is built on the site of the first West Coast telegraph, a semaphore line completed in 1849.
DESCEND TELEGRAPH HILL BY EXITING PIONEER PARK ON THE SOUTH SIDE (THE BACK SIDE OF COIT TOWER). CROSS OVER TELEGRAPH BOULEVARD AND TURN RIGHT TO WALK DOWN FILBERT STREET.
West side of Coit Tower
This is one of the steepest navigable streets in America with a maximum gradient of 31.5%. Steps have been carved into the sidewalk to make it easier just to walk on the street.
Briones Rancho Site
Stockton and Filbert streets
Juana Briones, born in Hispanic California, was a preeminent woman of her time. In the 1830s and 1840s she transformed an isolated cove in the then Mexican hamlet of Yerba Buena into her rancho. At the site of this park she raised cattle and grew vegetables for sale to ship crews. She gave sanctuary to refugees and was revered as a healer and care giver. She is honored as a humanitarian, astute businesswoman, community builder, and devoted mother of eight children.
Saints Peter and Paul Church
666 Filbert Street at northeast side of Powell Street
The “Italian Cathedral of the West” has served as the home church and cultural center for San Francisco’s Italian-American community since its consecration in 1924. The twin spires reach 191 feet in the sky. Baseball star Joe DiMaggio was married (first wife) and buried here. When the divorced Yankee Clipper wed Marilyn Monroe he was not allow to marry in the Catholic church but the newlyweds came here for photos on the steps after their City Hall ceremony.
TURN LEFT ON POWELL STREET AND QUICKLY GO LEFT AGAIN ON COLUMBUS AVENUE, HEADING TOWARDS THE TRANSAMERICA PYRAMID..
444 Columbus Avenue
The Capurro family constructed a commercial building here in the 1880s. It withstood the Great Earthquake of 1906 but the San Francisco Fire Department dynamited all the buildings on this block to create a fire break. The tactic failed and most of North Beach burned to the ground anyway. Capurro Properties, which still owns the site, spared no expense in rebuilding. In its most recent incarnation the building has hosted this hotel that seeks to evoke the bohemian style of the Beat days from the 1950s.
St. Francis of Assisi Church
610 Vallejo Street at northwest corner of Columbus Avenue
The cornerstone of this Norman Gothic heritage church, carrying the name of the city’s patron saint, was laid in 1857. Dedicated in 1860, it was the city’s first parish church. The walls and 95-foot towers survived the 1906 earthquake and fire to be incorporated into the rebuilt structure so that parishioners from the mid-19th century would recognize the church from the outside today.
373 Columbus Avenue at southeast corner of Valleo Street
P.G. Molinari sailed from the Piedmont region of Italy to San Francisco in 1884 at the age of 14. He went to work in the first salami factory in San Francisco and opened his own Italian sausage-making operation in 1896. Molinari & Sons moved here in 1913 and although the sausage-making moved on in 1962, the delicatessen carries on.
TURN LEFT ON VALEJO STREET.
601 Vallejo Street at southeast corner of Grant Avenue
Giovanni Giotta made his way from a small fishing village in Italy to San Francisco in 1950 and opened this coffee house in 1956 where he reportedly started selling the first espresso on the West Coast. The Caffe Triest quickly became the main hangout for the generation of writers known as the Beats. At any hour of the day you could find a Jack Kerouac or an Allen Ginsberg noshing at a table. Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay for The Godfather while sitting in the Caffé Trieste.
TURN RIGHT ON GRANT STREET.
1232 Grant Street
This is the oldest continuously operating bar in San Francisco, with roots reaching back to 1861. Its survival during the 1906 earthquake is attributed to unusually stout timbers; its survival of fires through the years is attributed to local fire brigades rushing to the saloon to save the hookers who worked upstairs. Besotted patrons who stumbled from the premises in the rough-and-tumble 1800s were said to be shanghaied and on the high seas before they sobered up.
TURN LEFT ON COLUMBUS AVENUE.
560 Broadway Street at northeast corner of Columbus Avenue
The Condor is remembered as the world’s first topless and bottomless entertainment venue. On June 19, 1964 go-go dancer Carol Ann Doda became an international sensation when she performed in a topless bikini. Two months after she started her semi-nude performances, the rest of San Francisco’s Broadway was topless, followed soon after by entertainers across America. Carol Doda became a cultural icon and enhanced her legend further when she became one of the first well-known performers to have her breasts surgically enhanced through silicone injections. In 1969 she began dancing totally nude, a practice that was outlawed in 1972 in any establishment serving alcohol. For many years the large illuminated sign in front of the Condor featured a picture of Carol Doda; today’s sign is more sedate but go-go dancers are again featured here after a stint as a sports bar.
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Avenue
Co-founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, this legendary cultural touchstone was made an official historic landmark in 2001. City Lights was a favorite meeting place for Beat poets and evolved into an important publishing house in its own right. Even without the iconic bookstore, the building itself, with its clerestory windows and small mezzanine balcony, qualified as a city landmark as evocative of the commercial buildings erected in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. City Lights originally shared space in the building, designed by Oliver Everett in 1907, before gradually expanding into space occupied by departing tenants until it spread throughout the structure.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO BROADWAY STREET AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING TOWARDS THE BAY.
494 Broadway Street
Gardner Kent founded an adventure bus tour company he called the Green Tortoise in 1974, catering to backpackers and trekkers. Customized buses outfitted with bunk beds allowed passengers to sleep during night travel which served the dual purpose of saving on lodging and reserving the daylight hours for exploring destinations. The Green Tortoise also operates two internationally acclaimed hostels, one in Seattle and this one that also hosts the bus line headquarters.
Garibaldi Hall/Broadway Studios
435 Broadway Street
This building began life in 1919 as the Garibaldi Hall, which became known for its lively boxing programs. By the 1940s the space was known as the Italian Supper Club and in the 1970s it was the go-to On Broadway nightclub. Beat poets, Iggy Pop, Dave Chapelle and the Dead Kennedys all appeared on stage here.
CONTINUE TO THE CORNER OF BATTERY STREET.
825 Battery Street at northwest corner of Broadway Street
KPIX went on the air on Christmas Eve, 1948 as the first television station in northern California and only the 49th in the United States. In 1976 the station, Channel 5, came up with the concept for a local entertainment and lifestyles program, Evening Magazine, which quickly became a staple in markets across the country. In 1979 KPIX moved into this building that was constructed in the 1920 by the National Bicuit Company. It was retrofitted by San Francisco design and architecture firm Genler. founded in 1965 by Art and Drue Gensler, and their associate James Follett, Gensler is now one of America’s largest architecture firms.
TURN LEFT ON BATTERY STREET.
Armour and Company Building
1050 Battery Street at southeast corner of Union Street
Philip Danforth Armour set up a meat-packing plant in Chicago in 1867 at a time when the city was best known for its muddy streets and meat processing was a seasonal business limited to cold weather months. There was no system other than salt cure to preserve perishable meat. In 1872 Armour & Company built the world’s first large chill room with temperatures cooled by large blocks of ice cut in the winter and stored under sawdust through the summer. Armour, a robust man with sandy hair and red whiskers, had converted the meat business into a year-round industry and soon he was shipping product in the world’s first refrigerated railroad cars leading to distribution plants around the country. This brick building was constructed in 1907 on plans by San Francisco architect Henry Geilfuss. It was used as a meat packing plant and smokehouse by Armour and Company until 1934.
151 Union Street at southwest corner of Battery Street
These brick commercial buildings are known as Ice House #1 and Ice House #2, renovated by William W. Wurster in the late 1960s. Wurster, then in his seventies, had just completed the acclaimed adaptive redevelopment of Ghiradelli Square at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is now office space for Williams-Sonoma. Charles E. Williams spent World War II fixing airplanes in India and East Africa and after the war he settled in Sonoma, working as a contractor. In 1956 he bought a hardware store and gradually shifted his stock to cookware imported from France. The concept thrived quickly and Williams moved his operation to San Francisco in 1958 on its way to becoming one of the pioneering lifestyle retailers.
WALK A FEW MORE STEPS ON BATTERY STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT LEVI PLAZA.