Changing Gears: Un après-midi dans le Port du St-François

A Bastille Day tour of the small area of San Francisco where a bit of France still survives. It’s more of a ‘corner’ than a ‘quarter’ but you can drink your Lillet and bask in the sun and watch le beau monde go by nonetheless.

In fact, the French presence in San Francisco dates from the very beginnings of European settlement. La Pérouse’s famous expedition told the world of the importance of the Bay for navies and commerce (which eventually the US Government in Washington picked up on), and French prospectors flooded the city after the Gold Rush. The increasing French presence, and the need to keep them pious, resulted in the building of Notre Dame des Victoires, which is still an active church, just before the Chinatown Gate on Bush Street in the Union Square neighborhood.

A few years after the Gold Rush, the French immigrants and their impact on the city were described in the “Annals of San Francisco” thus:

The presence of the French has had a marked influence upon society in San Francisco…their polite manners have given an ease to the ordinary intercourse of society which the unbending American character does not naturally possess. The expensive and fashionable style of dressing among the French ladies has greatly encouraged the splendid character of the shops of jewellers, silk merchants, milliners and others whom women chiefly patronize, while it has perhaps increased the general extravagance among the whole female population of the city…
There are in San Francisco many natives of Switzerland and Alsace, those debatable lands between the French and German people…they are sometimes claimed, and sometimes rejected by both.

Francophilia among the elites of San Francisco went on to produce the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a city hall that looks suspiciously like Les Invalides in Paris, and, without doubt, the first stirrings of the occasionally obsessive food and wine culture that is so characteristic of the Bay Area today.

So uncork a nice vintage for over 200 years of French association with San Francisco!

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