American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 9

San Francisco Theatres

History VIII

Shrouded in fog, the Bay Area lay peacefully undiscovered by European adventurers until the 1780s when the Spanish sailed into the harbor and established a colony.  Neither the Spanish nor their Mexican successors saw much potential in Yerba Buena; it was still a quiet settlement edging the bay and the Pacific Ocean when Captain John Montgomery landed in 1846 and claimed the territory for the USA.  At the time there were less than one thousand people living there.  Three years later the population had increased forty-fold as the adventurous, the desperate and the criminal, lured by the discovery of gold in 1849 at nearby Sutter’s Mill, flocked to Yerba Buena, soon to be called San Francisco.

By the time San Francisco incorporated as a city in 1850 it was growing into a lusty, brawling port of call.  Its saloons offered bawdy entertainment in a district known as the Barbary Coast.  This was a ‘for men only’ diversion; the women who frequented the saloons worked there as dancing girls, chars or prostitutes.