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Portola 1909 Pt. 2


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Portola Festival 1909

San Francisco Portolá [Portola] Festival 1909


Home Page Slide Show Highlights

Portola - Part 2 of 5



The Portolá [Portola] Festival of 1909, A Party with a Purpose



Presentation by John T.  Freeman on September 20, 2003 at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, California

excerpts from SFBAPCC October 2003 Newsletter

Presentation by  John Freeman:  Portolá [Portola] Festival 1909 - John began by expressing thanks to other club members who had helped by loaning images in their collections: Glenn Koch, Chris Pollock, Kathy Elwell, David Parry, Kathryn Ayres (who also helped decorate the room); and to Alanna Freeman.  It was truly a group effort.  The decorations included red and yellow banners sewn by Alanna.   After a few minutes of typical computer user excoriation the machine settled down and the PowerPoint presentation, a computer generated slide show, got under way.  



Portola Festival 1909


Portolá [Portola] Festival, View of Fireworks in Union Square,
Hotel St. Francis, San Francisco, Cal.


First to appear was a map showing the burned area of San Francisco following the ’ought-six fire — the entire northeast portion of the city, larger than the Boston, Baltimore and Chicago fires combined.   Next mounds of rubble —not from the quake or fire but from demolition.  Reconstruction: many class A buildings were quickly repaired; bread lines on Ellis, Fillmore to Octavia; life was very inconvenient.  Earthquake shacks were crowded together with board sidewalks; little privacy.  Public toilets were two door shacks, one ladies, the other gents, over a manhole.  People were allowed to cook only in the streets as there were damaged flues and no water for fire protection.  Images: the effort needed to heat and carry water to take a bath, black demolition workers on Sansome Street, crowded streetcars, dust everywhere —city dirty and nasty, iron frameworks going up.  There was no shopping downtown; it was too dangerous and too dirty, but folks did come to see the red hot rivets being tossed around at night by steel workers.  Sheet music:  “Back to Market Street.”   


The Merchants Association was first to propose an event to let the world know that San Francisco was back in business and soon all of downtown was festooned in red and yellow, the Portolá [Portola] colors, or red, white and blue for President Taft’s visit after stopping at the AYP fair in Seattle.  Folks had to learn how to pronounce Portolá [Portola]; the town or the street could be Port-O-la; but the man and the festival were Port-o-LA, as in la la LA.  Nicholas Covarrubias was chosen to represent Don Gaspar de Portolá [Portola] he was a good horseman and made a great image.  His very regal queen, Virgilia, 22, was five feet nine and a quarter inches in a Merry Widow hat.  A souvenir program told of a hot air balloon race the week before the festival and of the Mardi Gras-like atmosphere.



Portola Festival 1909


All the Big Bugs will be in Town!  Are you Coming?

Portola, San Francisco October 19-23, 1909



Advertising told that hotels are open and ready for visitors.  The city has recovered from 1906.  Postcards promoted the festival: Portolá [Portola]’s first view of the bay, sailors and women on shipboard, other cards bearing red and yellow stickers, cornucopia, woman cuddling a bear, a flower series, a faux ticket to Portolá [Portola] fun —like the more common Admission Day card of 1910, a Mitchell series (of unusual poor quality).  A pennant card advised that the “Big Bugs will be in Town,” arcania for big shots.  A Pacific Novelty card of a bear atop the Call Building showed the old and the new.  Tuck carnival series cards were overprinted for Portolá [Portola], Even a Portolá [Portola] hankie! Weidner cards showed the 45 foot high letters on Yerba Buena Island, both close up and at a distance.    


Portola Festival 1909

There was a competition on Market Street for building displays; the Ferry building was outlined in lights and chains of lights crossed Market Street every forty feet.  A distant real photo showed the curtain of lights on the Palace Hotel, a bell in lights on Market, the lights crossing the street and the lighted domes of the Call and Humboldt buildings.   The bell of lights was at 3rd and Market and had 4000 bulbs; it was used again several times.  A tightrope walker performed near it every night at eleven o’clock.  A night view of the St. Francis Hotel showed the murals in the bays between the ells.  A night view showed the fireworks on Union Square, every night at nine.  An Emporium ad showed Virgilia at an auto show in the Emporium basement.  A Buick ad was for the Howard Auto Company —you know, Charles Howard, Seabiscuit’s owner.                                                                                                                       

The Conservatory was got up in red and yellow flowers shown on colored postcards; a more distant RP showed the whole design that now was obviously for Portolá [Portola].   Ships were outlined in lights; the Japanese cruiser IJNS Izumo was the most popular to visit.    


Four parades were held, one each day, and many cards show the floats and marchers.  The most surprising was the Japanese float with cherry trees and blossoms tied on —an ugly card, a beautiful float.  Another card showed the giant flag, 65 by 160 feet, carried by 140 Spanish American War veterans.  A Britton and Rey card showed the Sing Fat building in Chinatown.  The Chinese took part in the celebration and won many awards especially for their 375-foot long dragon “worn” by 200 men.  Britton and Rey cards also showed the festival at the Cliff House and another at Fort Point, but there are no indications that these locations participated in festivities.    



Portola Festival 1909


Queen Virgilia Makes Presentation to Athlete,

Portolá [Portola] Festival San Francisco, California



Sporting events took place in Golden Gate park including swimming races at Spreckels Lake! In the East Bay 200,000 viewers saw a seventeen car auto race; average speed: 62.8 MPH.  


There are no good images of the last parade —the Historical and Electrical Parade, and its confetti volcano.  Confetti was exciting in 1909 as there had been no New Year’s Eve parades while the downtown was a construction zone.  Portolá [Portola] made up for it that last night.  Southern Pacific hauled away 300 tons of used confetti, which it placed as ballast along its lines.    


By 1911, two years after the Portolá [Portola] Festival, all thoughts and frivolity turned to the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) first promoting it and then preparing for it.  The Portolá [Portola] Festival had drifted into obscurity.  

Portola - Part 3 (Portola Festival of 1909) Continued...



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