Streetwise: Costumed San Francisco Scenes

by Frank Dunnigan

San Franciscans — children as well as adults — have a long history of dressing up in costume, whether to celebrate a film premiere, a street party, a parade, a charity event, the dedication of a new bridge, or simply the annual arrival of Halloween or New Year’s Eve. Looking back through the OpenSFHistory archive, there are a number of interesting examples of costumed residents across many San Francisco neighborhoods.


Civic Center, November 11, 1926.Billie Traverston, Johanna Wolff, and Richard G. Washington at Civic Center, November 11, 1926. (wnp37.02735; Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1926 — San Francisco’s Armistice Day Parade of 1926 saw these costumed locals in the then-grassy Civic Center Plaza, with the 1917 main branch of the public library (now the Asian Art Museum) in the background.


Parilia Ball, February 25, 1938.Parilia Ball, Palace Hotel ballroom, February 25, 1938. (wnp14.3137; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1938 — The Parilia Ball, a costumed event, was for the benefit of the San Francisco Art Association in 1927 and then annually from 1934 to 1939. The event took its name from ancient Rome’s spring pagan festival, with attendees dressed in a variety of “exotic” wardrobes, accompanied by considerable eating, drinking, and merry-making. Some of the early events were held at the Art Association’s headquarters at Jones and Chestnut Streets, with later events, such as this one in 1938, at the Palace Hotel. The theme of the 1938 ball was Pre-Hellenic Crete.


Margaret S. Hayward Playground, 1940s.Margaret S. Hayward Playground, 1940s. (wnp26.1576; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1940s — These children were eager to show off a variety of Halloween costumes at Margaret Hayward Playground in the Western Addition neighborhood prior to World War II.


Fisherman Fiesta, September 27, 1947.Fisherman Fiesta, September 27, 1947. (wnp14.4768; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1947 — These two young ladies were part of the Fisherman Fiesta of 1947, an industry-sponsored event held at Fisherman’s Wharf on September 27th and 28th that year.


Market Street near Kearny, October 17, 1948.Portola Festival, Market Street near Kearny, October 17, 1948. (wnp14.3708; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1948 — Costumed Shriners on parade are always a colorful spectacle, as shown here on Market Street in the post-World War II era.


Warfield Theater, May 1950.Warfield Theater, May 1950. (wnp67.0064; Jack Tillmany Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1950 — In the hey-day of big-budget films, movie theater employees were sometimes costumed to match the theme of the film, such as the staff at Market Street’s Warfield Theatre for Annie Get Your Gun in 1950.


Loew's Warfield Theater, July 1951.Loew’s Warfield Theater, July 1951. (wnp67.0066; Jack Tillmany Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

1951 — The Warfield also screened Show Boat and once again, the well-costumed staff was on hand to greet patrons.


Polk Street, October 31, 1976.Polk Street, October 31, 1976. (wnp72.2624; photo by Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar)

1976 — Polk Street was home to many celebratory Halloween events each year, as shown here in the Bicentennial year of 1976.


Castro and Market Streets, October 31, 1981.Castro and Market Streets, October 31, 1981. (wnp72.7751; photo by Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar)

1981 — By the early 1980s, large crowds of Halloween revelers had shifted to the Castro-Market area.


14th Street near Valencia, circa 1983.14th Street near Valencia, circa 1983. (wnp72.13645; photo by Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar)

1983 — Carnaval became an annual event that attracted much attention by the early 1980s, as shown here near the corner of 14th and Valencia Streets.

Mother’s Cookies and the Klan at Lands End

by John Martini
Originally appeared in SF West History magazine, Oct-Dec 2015

Some historic photos raise many questions while attempting to document a primary subject. The below photo, taken in 1926 at Lands End, is a wondrous yet chilling example.

Lyman Stewart shipwreck, April 15, 1926.Lyman Stewart wrecked beside Helmet Rock at Lands End, April 15, 1926. (Photo by Horace Chaffee, SF Department of Public Works; courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp4/wnp4.1115)

At first glance the photo appears to record the wreck of the oil tanker Lyman Stewart, stranded beside the stone landmark called Helmet Rock near Lands End Beach. Closer inspection reveals two oddly competing signs painted on the side of the hull: “Mother’s Cakes & Cookies,” located amidships just beneath the ruins of the ship’s bridge, and just forward of that, “KKK-S.F. #2” for “Ku Klux Klan, San Francisco.”

So what’s the story?

Most of us Outside Lands-types know there are multiple shipwrecks at Lands End, of which the Stewart is probably the best known. She came to her resting place on October 7, 1922, after colliding with another freighter in a thick fog. Badly damaged, her captain was able to beach the tanker near Lands End in order to save the ship, crew, and cargo. However, the Stewart was so firmly stuck in the sand she thwarted all attempts to refloat her. Her immense hulk, sitting only a few feet offshore, became a mecca for sightseers and photographers during the coming months. Adventurous types could (and did) wade out to her at low tide.

Lyman Stewart shipwreck, October 8, 1922.Crowd at Lands End viewing the Lyman Stewart shipwreck with salvage ship in background, October 8, 1922. (Burton Photo Album; courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp27.2237)

Lyman Stewart shipwreck, 1922.Lyman Stewart with salvage ships removing valuables, Mile Rocks Lighthouse in background, 1922. (Burton Photo Album; courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp27.2239)

Once it became obvious the ship wasn’t going to be refloated, the owners made plans to salvage her where she lay. Other people had other ideas. Just before Christmas 1923, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story under the headline “Abandoned by Fair Weather Crew, Battered Hulk Still Is Manned by Old Sailors,” describing how aging merchant sailors had taken over the ship. Hikers along the bluffs and passengers on the #1 streetcars could reportedly hear sea shanties wafting from the rust-streaked hulk.

It’s not recorded how long the ship’s owners allowed homeless seamen to occupy the Stewart, but by the mid-1920s the ship was literally coming apart at the seams. Waves continually pounded her, and parts of her superstructure began to wash away.

Lyman Stewart shipwreck and Helmet Rock, circa 1923.View west from Mile Rocks Beach toward Lyman Stewart and Helmet Rock, circa 1923. (Courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp27.7203)

Lyman Stewart shipwreck, 1923.Lyman Stewart from Mile Rocks Beach; Helmet Rock at right, 1923. (Courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp27.6733)

She also became popular as a target for the equivalent of today’s graffiti taggers. On April 25, 1926, San Francisco Police Department officers spotted five men dangling from ropes and painting “KKK” in big letters on the side of the ship. The cops shouted to them to come down immediately, and in reply were told, “Come out and get us, we’re going to stay here
until we finish this job.” Not wanting to climb the sheer steel wall of the ship’s hull, the police allowed the Klansmen to finish and, when they descended, promptly arrested them. The five ended up serving 30-day sentences for violating a city ordinance prohibiting “advertising or signs of any description on private property.” (It’s not recorded if the hateful message had any influence on the court.)

Why their letters on the Lyman Stewart also read “S.F. #2” remains a mystery. Could there have been more than one Klan group active in the city?

Also, why was the Klan in San Francisco? The Ku Klux Klan’s presence was part of a vast upsurge in Klan membership that occurred in the 1920s across the country. Usually associated with its origins in the Deep South, by the mid 1920s the Klan claimed three million members,
more than half living in metropolitan areas. A chilling photo taken in August 1925 shows 40,000 white-robed Klansmen marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. San Francisco, it appears, was not immune to the K.K.K. cancer.

The more benign ad for Mother’s Cakes and Cookies is simpler to explain. In the early twentieth century in San Francisco, many buildings ended up slathered with ad hoc advertisements, sometimes in the form of pasted-on broadsides and sometimes painted on the surface. Historic photos show ads painted on rock faces, even dead whales, around Ocean Beach and Lands
End. Someone obviously felt the side of the Stewart was a ready-made billboard for Mother’s pastries. Whether or not they had permission is unknown.

Humpback whale covered with advertisements, May 1919.People posing atop a dead humpback whale covered with advertisements, Ocean Beach south of Lincoln Way, May 1919. (Marilyn Blaisdell Collection; courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp37.02019)

It took nearly a decade for the Stewart to finally succumb to the elements. A brief notice in the Chronicle for December 28, 1931 served as the ship’s obituary: “The tanker Lyman K. Stewart, which has clung to the rocks off Land’s End for years, was swept to Davy Jones’ locker […] under the pounding of the gales and the heavy seas.”

The last of the K.K.K.’s boastful sign and the Mother’s Cookies ad disappeared with her. All that remains visible of the Stewart today is the top of her engine block, located in the surf just west of Helmet Rock near Lands End Beach.

Lyman Stewart shipwreck, circa 1927.Lyman Stewart shipwreck, circa 1927. (Courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp27.1312)