(from the California
Lights and Shades in San Francisco
By Benjamin E. Lloyd
(San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft & Co., 1876, First reprint 1999, Berkeley
Hills Books, P.O. Box 9877, Berkeley, CA 94709, 536 pages, 22 illustrations,
Reviewed by Robert J.
Editorial Advisory Board California HISTORIAN
Benjamin E. Lloyd was a
man with a mission during the nation's Centennial Year of 1876. The one-time
book keeper discarded dry figures for the life of the thorough-fares and
back alleys of San Francisco. The "shades" in particular intrigued him, and
his sympathies lay with the down-trodden.
A felicitous forward by
Gary Kurutz, head of the California Section of the State Library and author
of the incomparable 1997 The California Gold Rush: A Descriptive
Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets Covering the Years 1848-1853,
accurately sets the stage. Kurutz observes that "Lloyd comes across as a
historian, investigative reporter, sociologist, cultural anthropologist, and
psychologist all rolled into one..."
Lloyd patched together 76
chapters, in no particular order, on a variety of subjects. Those of a
historical nature add little; those puffing certain businesses include a few
intriguing details. These are the ordinary descriptive chapters such as "The
Palace Hotel," "The Bank of California," "The Police Force," "The Press of
San Francisco," and "San Francisco's Photographers."
Apart from the ordinary
tourist blather are Lloyd's sociological observations and pithy remarks;
they make this work valuable. The few copies of the original printing that
turn up on the rare book market fetch $400. A fifth of the text
appreciatively describes the Chinese, while His Majesty, Norton 1, Emperor
of the United States and Protector of Mexico rates a sketch.
Lloyd's breadth is breath-taking: "Restaurant Life," "Barbary Coast," Sunday
in San Francisco," "Saloons," "Street Preaching," "Street Criers,"
"Blackmailing and Confidence Games," and "Quacks" are a few of his more
A few examples provide
the flavor of the writer. Following an introductory historical sketch, Lloyd
displays his powers of observation in the second offering, "Mining Stocks."
After noting that elegant banking buildings were three stories with a
basement, he describes their occupants: "The basements are mostly occupied
by stock and money brokers, and the second and third stories by mining
secretaries and capitalists. The brokers who are members of the different
stock boards are mostly to be found in the best offices on California
street, keeping the uninitiated and small brokers, as it were, on the
suburbs of the business centre."
Commentary then follows:
"It is exceedingly difficult to obtain a seat in the San Francisco Stock
Board," Lloyd states, but then adds, "The standard by which the applicant is
judged is, however, not too high." Lloyd explains, "Ostensibly he must
possess honesty and integrity," but then, the kicker: "But really if he be
shrewd enough to keep the general public in ignorance of any sharp practices
that he may have engaged in, this faculty will weigh well against any little
'shortcomings.'" Similarly, in "Gambling," Lloyd opines sharply: "The
law against gambling in San Francisco is a farce. It is only a moral morsel
that tastes well abroad."
In "Street Railroads,"
the Muni of the day, Lloyd takes on those "soulless institutions," which
were private companies and not municipal. "There is, perhaps, no class of
intelligent laborers subjected to more continual abuse, both from their
employers and the public," he observed, "than the employees of the Street
Railroad Companies." Lloyd concluded, the corporations were equally
"heartless in the treatment of their horses."
Where else, but in Lights
and Shades, would one find a chapter paying tribute to the ten thousand
"Night-Workers" of the Bay City? Lloyd observes the unseen. "In our modern
civilization, were it not for the busy hive of night-workers, a city would
be almost uninhabitable."
Berkeley Hills Books has
favored general readers and historians with an inexpensive reprint of this
rare, informative work.