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There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour from walkthetown.com is ready to explore when you are.

Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.

Of all 44 of San Francisco’s hills, Nob Hill was the most desirable to build a house on in the early days of San Francisco. It was centrally located and it had the best views. And at 376 feet above the waterfront it offered a refuge from the bawdiness of the unwashed masses for those who could afford to build here. In fact, the name “Nob” is reputedly a contraction of the Hindu word “nabob” which meant a wealthy or powerful person.

The first of those nabobs came with riches from the 1848 gold strike when there was just sandy scrub covering the hill. The defining mansions of Nob Hill were built by all four of the Big Four, the quartet of railroad barons of the Central Pacific Railroad who engineered the Transcontinental Railroad - Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker. They were followed to Nob Hill by two of the “Silver Kings” from Nevada’s Comstock Lode, James Flood and James Fair, who were spreading money from America’s biggest silver strike.

The mansions on the hill in the 1870s were something to behold. Commoners would trudge up the steep sides of Nob Hill - almost a 25% grade on the south side - just to take a look. When adventure novelist Robert Louis Stevenson came to town for a visit in 1882 he called it “the hill of palaces.” The residents of Nob Hill constructed their own cable car line, the California Street Railroad Company in 1878 and it is still the least painful way to ascend the hill.

The 1906 Earthquake and Fire showed no deference to wealth and the Nob Hill neighborhood was completely destroyed, just like 28,000 other buildings in the city. All of the grand mansions save one, the only one not built of wood, was left in rubble. And the millionaires did not rebuild. Not one. They moved westward, to Pacific Heights mostly or completely out of town.

But the money did not leave Nob Hill altogether. You still had those million-dollar views and that great location. So swanky hotels rose on the ruins of the historic mansions. And then came posh apartment houses. Nob Hill was still, and always, a places for nobs. Our walking tour of Nob Hill will remember its beginnings and explore the present and we will begin on the site of one of those splendid 19th century mansions that was not built over but left as open space for ever more...

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