A timeline of nativist nostalgia.
San Francisco is ruined. You've been hearing it everywhere, from the London Review of Books and the Huffington Post (Solnit, Rebecca) to Valleywag (Tacy, Chris) to the East Bay Express (Cushing, Ellen) to the Chronicle (Nolte, Carl) to, indeed, this very magazine (Talbot, David). But haven't we heard this tune before? Yes we have -- for the past 158 years.
Some might call these the hand-wringing of San Franciscan luddites. Then again, you could see them as honest responses to a-century-and-a-half of immense urban change -- change we're undoubtedly living through again today. After all, as Kerouac warned us, "all your San Franciscos will have to fall eventually and burn again."
1855: When Frank Soulé wrote Annals of San Francisco only 10 years after the city's name was changed from Yerba Buena, he still found enough material to fill over 800 pages, lamenting on recent events that "swept away nearly all the relics of the olden time in the heart of the city."
1873: T. A. Barry and B. A. Pattens' Men and Memories of San Francisco, in the "Spring of '50, looked back with nostalgia at the glory years before the Great Fire of 1851: "If we admit that change is progress, and that progress is improvement, 'tis with a sigh that we confess it."
1894: One of the most successful attractions at the Mid-Winter Exposition in Golden Gate Park was the '49 Mining Camp, where visitors could ride a stagecoach into a re-created mining town, drink in a spittoon-furnished saloon, and sing about "the days of old, when we dug up the gold."
1906: Three days after the big quake, Will Irwin wrote a eulogy for "The City That Was" in which he said, "The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest hearted, most pleasure-loving city of the western continent...is a horde of refugees living among ruins."