Friday, December 8, 2017

The First Red Scare

The first red scare occurred not in the 1950s but two centuries earlier.  In the midst of the Seven Years’ War, Spain faced a new and unexpected threat from the Pacific Northwest: The Russians.  “The Muscovites in California?” asked one Franciscan, with mock incredulity.  “Yes. The very same.”[1]  The Russian menace, he argued, was no joke. 

The scare originated in news of Russian expansion into Alaska.  Russian fur trappers, known as promyshlenniki, had recently crossed the Bering Strait in search of sea otter pelts and were now somewhere in America – but where exactly?   Spain’s knowledge of the Pacific Northwest was so poor that no one could be sure exactly how close the Russians were to the heart of New Spain and its capital, Mexico City.  

The alarm of Spanish officials was made worse by their stubborn belief that a river as large as the Mississippi must empty into the Pacific somewhere along the California coast.  Whichever European power possessed it would be able to seize control of the American West and, eventually, of northern New Spain.  In 1760, Mikhail Lomonosov, described by one scholar as a Russian da Vinci who could do everything but paint, captured the spirit of the times:

Russian Columbuses, scorning sullen Fate,
Through the ice will open a new way to the East,
And our power will reach as far as America.

A few years later, Pedro Calderón y Henríquez, a high-ranking judge who had served for many years in the Philippines, illustrated the Russian menace on a map, which he forwarded to one of the king’s most powerful ministers.  This marvelous product of geographic ignorance and imperial anxiety now sits in the collections of the California Historical Society. 

Even by the standards of the time, the map was wildly inaccurate and uninformed. “Tartary of the Muscovites,” or Kamchatka, hangs menacingly over the Pacific Ocean and appears as large as the entire North American coast from the tip of Baja California up to the Russian discoveries.  The details are even more bizarre.  Calderón plotted the Aleutians in a straight line between Kamchatka and Mendocino, California.  He labeled the easternmost island “Tukoskoi” (confusing it with Siberia’s Chukchi Peninsula) and placed it a mere seventy-five miles from Cape Mendocino.  As a result, the Russians appeared to have stepping stones leading directly from Kamchatka to Spanish California.  Arriving in the vicinity of Mendocino, he wrote, they would find a “very copious river.”  “By this river,” he warned, “they can have access to New Mexico or the lakes along the course of the St. Lawrence River, both of which are of the greatest importance.”

In the age of Google Maps, European ignorance of American geography seems comical, yet it had serious consequences for the two hundred thousand people who lived along the West Coast at the time.  Spurred by the red scare, Spain pushed into California, establishing a string of presidios from San Diego (1769) up to San Francisco (1776) and setting in motion an invasion of missionaries, soldiers, livestock, and viruses that devastated indigenous communities and reduced individuals to starvation.

Though California’s Spanish period is well-documented, Patriots and Red Coats on the East Coast still predominate in narratives of American history. California history tells a different story from that of the hard-fought but triumphal march to independence – one of interdependence.  Calderón’s map opens a window onto the foreign nations and distant state administrators, global trade, and macro and microbiota that remade the lives of Californians in the eighteenth century.  In the age of climate change, globalization, and invasive species, it is a history that has never seemed more relevant.

by Claudio Saunt
Author of West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776


Claudio Saunt at CHS!

As part of its special end-of-year bookstore programming, Dr. Claudio Saunt will be at CHS on December 21 discussing his book, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776.

To register for this event, click HERE.

[1] Giuseppe Torrubia, I Moscoviti nella California (Rome, 1759), 31-32.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Images of the California Gold Rush on exhibit at the San Francisco Opera

On November 21st, the San Francisco Opera presented the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, by composer John Adams and director and librettist Peter Sellars. (The opera runs through December 10th.) Sellars’ libretto was inspired by primary sources, including the celebrated Gold Rush letters of Louise Clappe, which were published in 1854-55 under the pseudonym Dame Shirley. To many, the Shirley letters represent the pinnacle of Gold Rush literature.

Sadly, there is no known photograph of Dame Shirley extant. The California Historical Society Collection, however, includes stunning daguerreotype photographs documenting the cities, towns, and people of the California Gold Rush. Reproductions of some of these photographs are now on exhibit at the Opera House lobby—along with artifacts from the Collections of Levi Stauss & Co., the Museum of Performance + Design, and the Society of California Pioneers—through December 10th. Selections are presented below. 

Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, after 1847, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
Pictured in this exquisite tinted daguerreotype is a young Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, sister of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Rosalía married the American trader Jacob Leese in 1837, making her one of the earliest non-Native residents of the pueblo of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco. Like many Native and Californio women, Rosalia lived through a period of traumatic change, beginning with the California Gold Rush. Leese later deserted Rosalía and her children, and, in an 1874 interview, Rosalía expressed her unrelenting hatred for the Anglo American intruders who first humiliated her family during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846.

Women were not only the subjects of early California daguerreotype portraits, they were also photographers. According to photography historian Peter Palmquist, Rosalía’s niece Epifania "Fannie" de Guadalupe Vallejo may have been California's first photographer, acquiring a daguerreotype camera around 1847.  

San Francisco panorama [fifth panel], spring 1851, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
The invention of the daguerreotype was announced in Paris in 1839, only nine years before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. This new photographic process—which enjoyed a relatively short heyday between 1845 and 1860—coincided with the spectacular and disruptive boom that transformed San Francisco from a small Mexican pueblo into a modern metropolis.

Although photographers flocked to California during the Gold Rush, the California Historical Society’s seven-plate panorama is one of only six surviving daguerreotype panoramas of San Francisco. Standing on sand dunes now at the corner of First and Howard Streets, the unknown photographer captured a vivid urban tableau, from the clapboard houses of Happy Valley to the shipbuilding works at Rincon Point. A washerwoman can be spied in the fifth panel (shown above), sitting in the doorway of her shack as laundry flutters in the spring breeze.

Group of miners, circa 1850s, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
This full-plate portrait of a group of Gold Rush miners is one of the most spectacular and moving daguerreotypes in the California Historical Society Collection. Nine miners, perhaps forming a company, pose together in various attitudes of affection, insouciance, and camaraderie. Four of the men proudly display the tools of their trade, a shovel, pick, sluice box, and claim. 

Diamond Springs, El Dorado County, 1854, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
This daguerreotype of a street scene in Diamond Springs captures the look and feel of a young Gold Rush town. In addition to the offices of the Advocate newspaper and Wells Fargo & Co., many charming details are visible, including a broadside for a theatrical performance by the Bateman children. Eleven figures paused to pose for the shot; only one (to the left, leaning against a post) failed to remove his hat.

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#Onthisday in 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone was published

With a publication date of November 9, 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone hit the streets of San Francisco and beyond exactly 50 years ago. The world of rock music and cultural journalism as well as the counterculture would never be the same after the publication of the first issue. Under the leadership of youthful editor Jann Wenner, and guidance from music critic Ralph Gleason, Rolling Stone would soon become a media force that would transform the music and media industries and help catalyze an American youth culture as a distinct and powerful cohort with its own mores, interests, language and priorities. 

Published a month after the 'Summer of Love' unofficially ended in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Wenner's publication's bold mission stated that the publication was "not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces."  With offices in an industrial building in San Francisco's SoMa District, Rolling Stone would remain a California-based publication until Wenner moved the magazine's offices to New York in 1977.

Jann Wenner in the original Rolling Stone office
Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the publication, a new biography on Wenner and documentary on Rolling Stone have focused attention on many aspects of the publication (and its editor) and its influence on American culture.  Of particular note, the new book on Wenner brings attention to the magazine's own history and how it was inspired by two California publications that get less attention than Wenner's magazine: Mojo Naviagtor R&R News, the West Coast's first rock and roll publication, and Ramparts, an aggressively political magazine published in Berkeley.

MoJo Naviagtor R&R News, CHS Collection

The debate on the legacy of Rolling Stone will surely continue on in the weeks, months and years to come, especially since the publication has been put up for sale.  What is undeniable is that the publication brilliantly captured a particular moment in California culture and history, and its distribution helped shape American popular culture starting in the late 1960s and 1970s. In some ways, it remains one of the most influential California exports over the past 50 years, and stands as yet another example of the Golden State's transformative influence on the culture of the United States.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Who Tells Your Story: Native American Heritage Month at CHS

Yesterday was the start of Native American Heritage Month, an annual time to honor Native culture and history in California and the country.  The California Historical Society's current exhibition, Meanwhile Out West: Colonizing California, 1769–1821 (one of two exhibitions at CHS's San Francisco headquarters) looks, in part, at the fate of California Indians under Spanish rule. 

Two programs this month will explore these issues further. Click the program titles to learn more and reserve tickets!

1) California History Through an Indigenous Lens - Telling Creation Stories - 

Join the California Historical Society (CHS) and Heyday Books for a night of indigenous storytelling that explores how California’s history has been told for generations. Our speakers are Greg Sarris, Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and author of the new book, How a Mountain was Made, and William Bauer, professor of American Indian Studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History. The event will close with a short performance from Word for Word Performance Company, who will be performing one of the creation stories from Chairman Sarris’ new book.

2) Telling the Hard Stories of Native American Life - 1760s-1860s 

Join the California Historical Society for a night that explores the darkest parts of California's history from 1760-1860 relating to California's native population. Hear from three authors (Benjamin Madley, Michelle Lorimer, Andres Resendez as they present on topics including the Mission era, Indian slavery and genocide, and then participate in a q&a session. Books by all three authors will be sold.

Please join us for both events!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who Tells Your Story? Alexander Hamilton’s 230-year-old Federalist Papers: A Story for Our Time

The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, written in Favour of the New Constitution


“Who Tells Your Story?” is a central theme in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway blockbuster Hamilton: An American Musical, currently touring in California. It also thematically links CHS’s current exhibitions Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society and Meanwhile Out West: Colonizing California, 1769–1821two colonial stories, eastern and western, that provide perspectives beyond unbiased and objective historical records.

Two hundred thirty years ago today, on October 27, 1787, a story with considerable impact on our new nation began, not in the halls of entertainment but in the theatre of political writing and discourse. It was a passionate story of support for the newly conceived United States Constitution—a document proposing a unique though unexpected way to govern our newborn union.

The story opens with the publication of the first of eighty-five articles in The Federalist (later The Federalist Papers), which promoted the ratification of the Constitution. Authored by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison under the pseudonym Publius (Latin for “public”), The Federalist was written over ten months, between October 1787 and May 1788, to influence the ratification debate primarily in New York.

Title page, Publius, The Federalist, vol. 1, 1788

Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755–1804) wrote a majority of the articles, including the General Introduction, in which he urged his fellow New Yorkers and countrymen to adopt the Constitution: “I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.” Ratification, he wrote, “speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.” He further explained: “For nothing can be more evident, to those who are able to take an enlarged view of the subject than the alternative of an adoption of the new Constitution or a dismemberment of the Union.”

John Trumbull (American artist), Alexander Hamilton, after 1804
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Thomas Jefferson Bryan, 1867.305

The Constitution's sole signatory from New York, Hamilton had returned to the state from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia facing strong opposition from Governor George Clinton, his widespread anti-Constitution followers, and his threatening political machine. Undeterred, Hamilton engaged Madison and Jay in the herculean effort ahead of him.

Signatures of the United States Constitution, detail of page 4

Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration
Despite The Federalist’s high-brow approach, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay achieved their goal three weeks after their last paper was published, when on July 26, 1788, in the Poughkeepsie Court House, the State of New York ratified the Constitution and became the eleventh state of the Union.

Even before New York’s ratification, Hamilton was honored during the city’s July 23, 1788, Federal Procession, a celebration following the Constitution’s ratification by New Hampshire. His image, as reported in a history of the city, “was carried aloft on banners in every part of the procession, the Constitution in his right hand and the Confederation in his left. He had to all appearances turned the scale for the Union, and fame was indeed crowning him with well-earned and enduring laurels.” The procession’s centerpiece, the Federal ship Hamilton, fired 13-gun salutes, one for each state, from its position on a platform drawn by ten horses. The ship anchored at the Bowling Green, “amidst the acclamations of thousands,” remaining on view until June 30, 1789.

Unknown artist, The Federal Ship Hamilton, c. 1877

As biographer Ron Chernow has written, “Americans often wonder how this moment could have spawned such extraordinary men as Hamilton and Madison. Part of the answer is that the Revolution produced an insatiable need for thinkers who could generate ideas and wordsmiths who could lucidly expound them.” Indeed, Hamilton served as General George Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington, and New York State assemblyman; he was founder of the Bank of New York, a designer of the two-party system, and a proponent of ending the legality of the international slave trade.

The impact of The Federalist was immediate. Not only did it influence ratification, the publication’s title became the name of the pro-Constitution movement and, later, Hamilton’s political party (1789–1824). To this day, The Federalist Papers is considered a masterpiece of political thought, renowned, Chernow points out, “as the foremost exposition of the Constitution.”

Two Bay Area students look at the Federalist papers in the current California Historical Society exhibition,  Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society 
In today’s volatile political climate, when we weigh what seems like multiple interpretations of our nation’s rules of law, we might think of the story of The Federalist as one of indefatigable patriotism. But politics aside, we are, Chernow reminds us, “indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.”

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin Books, 2004)
Martha J. Lamb, History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress, vol. II (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1877; reprint 1921 by Valentine’s Manual, Inc.);
Nation at the Crossroads: The Great New York Debate over the Constitution, 1787–88;
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and James Madison;

HAMILTON: A Life in Documents:

Monday, October 23, 2017

California Food Market Revival: Los Angeles’s Grand Central Market Turns 100

Opening Day at the Grand Central Public Market, October 27, 1917
Courtesy of Grand Central Market Collection via

“Years ago the only reason people went to downtown Los Angeles was to dump a body.
But that’s all changed. This is LA’s Brooklyn now. The place is bustling with new reasons to go there. One of those reasons is about a hundred years old.” Phil Rosenthal
The Grand Central Market Cookbook: Cuisine and Culture from Downtown Los Angeles (2017)

In Los Angeles, the simplest pleasures—a sunset, a symphony, food and drink—are destinations. And this week, one destination stand outs, as it has been for the last 100 years. Downtown Los Angeles’s Grand Central Market, the city’s largest and oldest public market, celebrates its centennial. Once a convenient market for the residents of upscale Bunker Hill, today the Grand Central Market is, in food critic Jonathan Gold’s estimation, “an essential food center.”

Like San Francisco’s Ferry Building, the market’s transformation is part of a culinary trend sweeping the nation. Today’s food halls feature a variety of vendors whose products—local, exotic, and artisanal—cater to the hunger for variety that diverse populations have come to know and appreciate.
We celebrate Grand Central Market’s 100th anniversary this Friday, October 27, with a photo essay of the marketplace and its neighborhood over the years.

Homer Laughlin Building, c. early 1900s
The Grand Central Public Market opened in the Homer Laughlin Building, designed by architect John Parkinson and built in 1897 by potter and businessman Homer Laughlin. Its ground floor location was also home to a dry goods company owned by merchant and clergyman B. F. Coulter and to the San Francisco-based Ville de Paris dry goods company. In 1905, an adjoining building was constructed that extended the original building to Hill Street. One of downtown’s oldest commercial structures in continuous use and the city’s first fireproofed and steel-reinforced structure first steel-reinforced and fireproofed concrete sculpture, the Beaux Arts-style building also leased office space to famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who constructed a number of concrete residences in the Los Angeles area.

Broadway North from 4th Street, Los Angeles, Cal., c. 1900s
The Haskell Post Card Emporium 

By the time the Grand Central Public Market opened, Broadway was downtown Los Angeles’s main commercial and entertainment district. Above Broadway, on Bunker Hill, lived some of the city’s most prosperous residents, who descended the Angel’s Flight railway to shop at the market, only a few steps away. The residents of the segregated Bunker Hill and the market’s all-white vendors bear little resemblance to vendors and their patronage today.


Grand Opening of Angel's Flight, December 31, 1901
Courtesy Water and Power Associates

 Angel’s Flight (called Los Angeles Incline Railway when built) began at the west corner of Hill and Third Streets and ascended two blocks to Olive Street on Bunker Hill. One of its highly touted features was the observation tower, whose view was described in a brochure by J. W. Eddy, the railway’s financier, as “grand beyond compare, overlooking city, sea and mountains.” The railway was relocated half a block south in 1996. Following numerous closures, Angel’s Flight was restored and another grand opening was held on August 31, 2017—exactly 116 years after its 1901 opening.


 Grand Central Market, c. 1924–25
Courtesy The Bancroft Library
By 1920, Los Angeles had surpassed San Francisco in population (both over the half-million mark). Two years later, a promotional brochure bragged that Grand Central Market was “Feeding a Million People.” The market featured over 90 stalls, with vendors selling fruit, baked goods, meats, and other products. Prepared foods and restaurants also were available. Perhaps an unknown piece of its history is a visit by the State Department of Public Health during an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1924–1925. It is not clear whether any diseased rats were discovered from the writing accompanying the photograph above (housed at The Bancroft Library), which most likely was taken by the health inspectors.

Interior of Grand Central Market, c. 1930s
Courtesy Grand Central Market Collection
Melton’s Fine Meats at Grand Central Market, c. 1940
Courtesy Grand Central Market Collection via 

Shoppers found their way by bright neon signs displaying wares and stall numbers, c. 1950s
Courtesy CitySleuth
 As described in The Grand Central Market Cookbook:Grand Central Public Market was true to its name—grand. It covered some 80,000 sq. ft., with 2 levels of retail space and a subterranean network of hallways lined with storage rooms, walk-in freezers, and refrigerators large enough to park a Model A Ford. Dumbwaiters from the basement to the street-level sales floor allowed vendors to stock their stalls without ever having to venture into the crowded aisles. It was a modern marvel.” Despite its grandeur, the post-World War II years and beyond were not kind to the areas surrounding the market, including Bunker Hill, where slum apartments arose as early as 1948.

Grand Central Market Shoppers, 1966
Los Angeles Public Library
As to the rest of the nation, the 1960s brought change to Los Angeles. The Watts Riots and a new immigration law brought “white flight” and a wave of new immigrants from Asia and Latin America, who introduced foods and specialty ingredients and lower prices to the market. A year before the decade began, the city adopted the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project. The project brought an end to the Bunker Hill neighborhood as Victorian homes and hotels were demolished to make way for skyscrapers. Within a decade of the project’s adoption, the hilltop community was gone.
Grand Central Market 75th Anniversary, December 5, 1987
Los Angeles Public Library; photo: Mike Sergieff
In the 1980s, real estate developer and lawyer Ira Yellin called Broadway a “bustling Hispanic secret.” With a new vision for the market—connecting Broadway, a major Latino shopping venue, and the upscale Bunker Hill district—he upgraded the space and began the market’s renovation, the Grand Central Square Project, which was completed in 1995. During the 2008 financial crisis, the market’s fate reflected the economic downturn in many parts of the city. By 2012, however, a resurgence of downtown residential and commercial activity revitalized the market, which only two years later was included in Bon Appetite magazine’s “Hot 10” list of eateries nationwide. Today, as Curbed Los Angeles observes, Grand Central Market “is a vibrant and thriving community of multicultural stands and food stops. . . . Flashy new food halls are marching into Los Angeles, but none can compete with the enduring Grand Central Market.”

Happy 100th Birthday, Grand Central Market!

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


Rusty Beaman, “What’s Hiding in the Basement of This Historic Building Downtown?”;

Jenna Chandler and Farley Elliott, “LA’s Grand Central Market: A complete guide,” Curbed Los Angeles;

Farley Elliott, "The History and Politics of Street Food in Los Angeles;

Emanuella Grinberg, “Step into the new era of food halls,” CNN;

Danny Jensen, “Grand Central Market: A Look Back at 100 Years,” KCET/The Migrant Kitchen, October 23, 2017;

Nathan Masters, “Rediscovering Downtown L.A.’s Lost Neighborhood of Bunker Hill,” KCET/Lost LA, July 11, 2012;

Adele Yellin and Kevin West, The Grand Central Market Cookbook: Cuisine and Culture from Downtown Los Angeles (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2017)