Every once in a while you may hear the expression Barbary Coast. The perception is that the Barbary Coast applies to all of San Francisco, but in fact, it is a very small nine block area that received this title back in the 1850’s. It’s boundaries are between Montgomery Street, Washington, Stockton, and Broadway. The best way to describe the character of this area in the history of San Francisco is with the quote below by Benjamin Lowe in 1876. The passage is a bit judgmental and rooted in Christian belief, but it does get across a certain picture of what the area was like during this time period. This particular quote also hints at the anti-Chinese movement, inflamed by the Christian churches, which was widely spread across the cities of the West Coast.
- 1913 – The San Francisco Examiner led the charge against the area with its “anti-vice” campaign.
- 1914 – Red Light Abatement Act – Under this legislation, building owners were fined if they had prostitution occurring in their facility. This effectively moved prostitution out into the streets.
- 1917 – The San Francisco police placed a blockade around the entire area and systematically evicted all of the prostitutes.
- 2009 – Thanks to the efforts of the San Francisco Association of Realtor’s, the financial district of San Francisco was renamed the Barbary Coast. In reality, the name “financial district” is still widely used to describe this area of town.
It does make one wonder if in 100 years the current red light districts and crime ridden areas of the Tenderloin and Hunter’s Point won’t be regarded as upscale areas with a notorious past. Can the city accomplish this task with respect and dignity and without taking away the resident’s Civil Rights? Time will tell.