Category Archives: Historical Saturdays

Historical Saturday: Chinese New Year

On Thursday, February 3rd, the 2011 Chinese New Year began.  It is the year of the Rabbit. 

Shortly before the New Year in a traditional Chinese home, members arm themselves with brooms and dust rags in order to sweep and clean the house of last year’s bad luck and make room for this year’s good luck which will begin to arrive as the celebration begins.  Some families even put a fresh coat of red paint on the wood frames around doors and windows.  There are many different variations on what happens over the remaining days of the old year, but the culminating event is the big family meal where some type of fish is prepared, and dishes symbolizing prosperity and wealth, such as dumplings,  are served.    

There is a myth which states that many, many, many years ago during the New Year, villagers worked hard to fight off a monster known as Nian that would swoop down and eat livestock, crops, and even children.  To appease this beast, they would prepare meals and leave them on the doorstep.  The theory was that if Nian ate the food, he would not eat people or animals.  One year it was noticed that a little child wearing red scared Nian away.  The villagers started displaying red everywhere and using firecrackers to scare him away.  Since that time to today, this ancient creature’s fear of noise and the color red has not allowed him to enter the towns and cities and wreak havoc on the Chinese population. 

The next time you go to a Chinese New Year Celebration, take the time to look around at  the displays of red, listen to the firecrackers, watch the children delight in getting lucky coins, and realize that you are in the midst of ancient tradition.

Happy New Year!


Source:  Wikipedia

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Historical Saturday: State Politics

California State Flag

 As most of you know, Jerry Brown beat Meg Whitman for the governor’s seat last Tuesday.  Some of you may know that he served as governor from 1974-1982.  During his two terms in office, he was know as a very frugal and almost penny pinching politician.  Instead of moving into the newly built governor’s mansion, he sold it saying that the upkeep was an expense he didn’t expect the people of California to bear.  In addition, he didn’t drive around in a chauffeured limousine, but instead drove himself in a regular sedan.  California had one of the highest budget surpluses during his tenure as governor.

What I find most interesting is that he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a politician.  Jerry’s father, “Pat” Brown,” started his work career at the age of 12 when he sold Liberty Bonds on the street corners of San Francisco.  After high school, he paid his way through law school by working in his father’s cigar shop.  Eventually he served two terms as governor from 1958 to 1966 when he lost the re-election to Ronald Reagan.  He married his wife Bernice (daughter of a San Francisco police captain) in 1930 and had four children that were all born in San Francisco.   

Say what you will about the Browns, but the fabric of this state is woven with some of the contributions from this political family.  Living in a city where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, it always amazes me to hear of people who were raised in the bay area or someone whose family has been here for generations.

Seeing the Brown family makes me wonder if we will ever see any of the Schwarzenegger kids in office someday.  Their mother, Maria Shriver, comes from the Kennedy clan, and their father has already shown his commitment to the state by serving seven years.  Unlike their father, the Scharzenneger kids could even aspire to the office of president because they are naturally born citizens.  I could be wrong of course, but it is something to watch for.  We are seeing more and more examples of how not just one, but several members of particular families are running for office.  Kennedy. Bush. Clinton. Brown.

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Historical Saturday: Donaldina Cameron (1869 – 1968)

Donaldina Cameron waged a crusade against slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown during a time when most were turning a blind eye to such tings.   She dedicated herself to this cause and worked for 40 as the director of the Presbyterian Mission house.  Most of the over 2,00 women and young girls that she saved were being held as prostitutes against their will in brothels throughout Chinatown.   

Often she would charge forth with “a couple of policemen armed with axes and sledgehammers and an interpreter to locations in Chinatown where she had been tipped that a girl was being held against her will.  Employing the element of surprise, the group would break down doors if necessary to claim a usually frightened young woman, who likely as not had been hastily hidden away in a closet or under floor boards by her master.  If the girl’s keeper could not prove a filial relationship, the rescued girl would be taken back to the Mission’s home at 920 Sacramento Street.” –  Historic Walks in San Francisco

She was known as “Lo Mo or “The Mother.”  She cared and reached out a helping hand when many others just turned a blind eye.

It is easy to focus on the movers and shakers in history that created big buildings or built up huge businesses, but it is important to also remember those who worked in the trenches to relieve human suffering.  Donaldina Cameron did not make a lot of money in her lifetime, and she doesn’t have streets named after her, but her impact on San Francisco’s past and present is immeasurable.  

It may be a little cheesy, but Donaldina Cameron reminded me of one of my favorite poem which I added below:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

– Martin Niemoller

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Historical Saturday – The Ferry Building

San Francisco’s Ferry Building
The Giralda Bell Tower – Seville, Spain

The Ferry Building, built in 1989, was designed by A. Page Brown, a young architect who was tragically thrown from a horse just a few weeks after being contracted to design the Ferry Building.  He soon passed away, but his vision of the Ferry Building lives on because most of the plans were complete before his youthful demise.  He was only 34.

A. Page Brown was a well traveled young man who designed the Ferry Building with classical features that mirror the roman aqueduct or the Corinthian columns.  His inspiration was the Giralda Bell Tower at a cathedral in Spain.   I have included pictures of both above.  Can you see the similarities?

Amazingly, even though the Fairy Building is built on “made land,” it survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.  The main reason for it’s miraculous escape from destruction was that the U.S. Navy and city fireboats maintained a spray of saltwater on the building which was pumped from the bay.  Well, there is another question of mine answered.  Is the bay saltwater or freshwater?  Now I know.  They did this so that people could escape the burning city by ferry, and rescue workers could also bring in supplies and coordinate relief efforts from the building.

Today it is a mixed use building with offices and retail space.  On Saturday mornings it is surrounded by a large farmer’s market where you can get everything from fresh lavender to home grown beef.  It is a city landmark that can be seen from the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.  As you stroll along Market Street, it looms ahead as a promise to the preservation of the past.  It is one of the things that says you are home.  You are in San Francisco.



Note:  Information for this post came form the book Historic Walks in San Francisco, by Rand    Richard.  It is a great read.

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Historical Saturdays: S.F. Cliff House History


The history of the Cliff House is both incredible and tragic. As I watch this video, I am reminded of what I heard a speaker say one time. He said, “There are no material things in your life that can’t be taken from you in a matter of minutes by a match or a natural disaster.” I think it puts everything into perspective.  

One thing I love about this video is the fashion of the time.  The Victorians sure knew how to cover everything up with layers and layers of fabric.

I hope you enjoy this post.  I think I will make Saturday’s posts historical in nature, and particularly focused on San Francisco history.  



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