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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Auspicious Beginnings

Within a few months, the 1848 gold discovery turned pastoral California into a hotbed of mining and commercial activity. Seemingly overnight, the little mud brick village of San Francisco swelled into a cosmopolitan metropolis, filled with miners wearing red or blue flannel shirts, sturdy canvas pants and floppy hats. But by December 1849, according to these pieces in San Francisco’s Daily Alta California, not all of the gold-frenzied men who swarmed into the gold fields were content with ubiquitous mining garb.

“Elements of Fashion —Our town is, after all, not the most destitute of redeeming, fashionable accomplishments of any in the world, for already we have millinery and fancy stores, and elegant show-windows, where may be seen fashionable ladies’ hats and lace articles of dress, while gentlemen’s scarfs, gloves, and their various “exquisite” paraphernalia, adorn, attract, and relieve the passing eye, if not the passer’s pocket.”

Further, as the newspaper crowed, residents were proud of their teeming city’s sudden development as an important, world-renown seaport.

“Washington Street, on Portsmouth Square, presents decidedly the finest row of buildings (our new office among the number) which the city can boast. This assertion is confined to personal observation of this day only. What another day may bring forth we don’t profess to know, but that the upstart ornamental grandeur of this place bears a close resemblance to the mushroom palace of Aladdin, is a fixed fact.”

“Ornamental grandeur” might have been sheer bold hyperbole, yet the fact remains that the race for gold had caused San Francisco to grow faster than almost any other city before it . . . to become a place that, by and by, attempted to rival the splendor of Europe.

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