Here’s a local riddle:
Questioner: What’s the best vantage point for viewing San Francisco?
Respondent: I don’t know, Book Haven, what’s the best vantage point for viewing San Francisco?
Questioner: The Transamerica Building.
Respondent: Why the Transamerica Building, Book Haven?
Questioner: Because it’s the only vantage point in San Francisco where you won’t see the Transamerica Building.
On the other hand, you could enter a time machine and go back to oh, say, about the mid-19th century. Then you’d avoid it completely. Above, you can see what the Montgomery block, at 628 Montgomery Street, looked like when it was the home of a slew of literary Bohemians, among them Bret Harte and Mark Twain. According to the caption, “Lovingly known as the Monkey Block, the 1853 building was demolished in 1959; the Transamerica Pyramid now stands in its place.” Before and after, which is better? You decide.
San Francisco Chronicle book editor John McMurtrie dropped us a line earlier today. He thought those of us on his mailing list might get a kick out of the photo gallery he’s put together on Twain’s time in San Francisco. He was inspired by Ben Tarnoff’s new book, The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature. You, too, can see the fruit of John’s labors here.
Another photo in the series: Green Street in San Francisco, looking west, during the memorial march for President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. After the assassination, Harte’s column in the Californian praised this “simple-minded, uncouth, and honest” westerner who, in Tarnoff’s words, “liberated America from the cultural choke hold of New England.” We’re still working on that, Mr. Tarnoff. It’ll come.