The Biddington's Bentley Takes to the Road

San Francisco's Jackson Square
Antiques & Art District

Editor's Note: This 1999 article describes a weekday walking tour of San Francisco's Jackson Square for those interested in California history, art galleries and antiques.

For this trip the Bentley is securely garaged. (The sun is always in one's eyes at this time of year anyway.) This balmy late autumn, I undertook a walking tour of San Francisco's Jackson Square. Historic Jackson Square, once the famous Barbary Coast, click on Barbary Coast, then click on the map, #13 is Jackson Street is really not a square in the literal sense. (More accurately it is Jackson Street between Sansome and Montgomery.) It includes the city's only surviving early commercial area. This Historic District, (given its official landmark designation in 1960), has an identifiable 19th century scale and architectural style, and provides a marked contrast to the neighboring high-rise financial district. Chinatown is also nearby.

Jackson Square's buildings, the majority less than 40 feet in height, date from the 1850's and face narrow tree-lined streets and quiet alleys. These sturdy buildings survived the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, as well as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The Gold Rush began here. On May 12, 1848, Sam Brannan marched down the street waving a whiskey bottle full of gold dust shouting, "Gold! Gold on the American River!" Soon miners were dumping nuggets on the counters of the Assay Office (now Bix Restaurant, see below) on Gold Street to be weighed and assayed.

Gold Street is connected to Jackson by an alley named Balance Street. Balance Street is named not for the scales that were used to weigh gold, as you might assume, but for an abandoned ship of that name which lies somewhere beneath your feet.

Hotaling Street connects Jackson and Washington Streets. This tiny alley is named for the head of the A.P. Hotaling Company, a whiskey distillery. The alley is lined with charming, restored 19th-century brick buildings, so take your time wandering through. The three-story Hotaling building built in 1866 on the corner at 429 Jackson was once the largest liquor warehouse on the West Coast. It escaped destruction in 1906 through the heroic efforts of a Navy Lieutenant named Frederick Newton and his men. They ran a hose all the way from Pier 43, over Telegraph Hill, and down to Jackson Square. Salt water from their ship's pumps enabled them to stop the fire's spread into this area.

A plaque on the side of the building repeats a famous query about its surviving the quake: IF, AS THEY SAY, GOD SPANKED THE TOWN FOR BEING OVER FRISKY, WHY DID HE BURN THE CHURCHES DOWN AND SAVE HOTALING'S WHISKY?

Jackson Square is now the center of San Francisco's thriving art & antiques trade. Approximately two dozen dealers are open for retail or to the trade. From American and European furnishings and accessories, to Asian carpets and vintage posters, every store has a specialty, and all are appointed like small museums. The Art and Antiques Dealers Association have produced a handsome brochure listing members, sphere of interest, address and times.

Claudio Mariani of C. Mariani Antiques--499 Jackson Street--specializes in Italian furnishings and accessories from the 17th to early 19th century. He has a warehouse space at 17 Bluxome Street with several floors of antiques.

Antonio Mariani of Antonio's Antiques--701 Sansome Street (on the corner of Jackson)--offers an "extraordinary selection of period furniture and decorations." He also has a large warehouse space at 701 Bryant Street.

The Lotus Collection at 434 Jackson Street features fine textiles, tapestries and pillows.

Try Argentum- The Leopard's Head for antique silver at 414 Jackson Street. Daniel Stein Antiques, Inc. features traditional English and American furniture at 458 Jackson Street. Roger Cavanna at Carpets of the Inner Circle--444 Jackson Street--was in the midst of redesigning display space for his collection of "antique tribal, village and urban workshop weavings of exception quality." The front wall should be completed soon augmenting the visual feast. His business cards list him as architect, planner, and rug enthusiast. He also speaks Farsi.

Such serious visual fare is bound to stir up other appetites. You might wish to try:

Bix Restaurant in the old Assay Office at 56 Gold Street 415 433-6300. Reservations are needed.

The Hotaling Cafe at 60 Hotaling Place--phone: (415) 956-4020--serves breakfast items, soup, sandwiches and salads from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Globe Restaurant, 290 Pacific Avenue at Battery Street, phone: (415) 391-4132 is good but very small and a little pretentious. (It used to be one of my favorites, for years, called Michael's Bistro and I was sad to see this go.)

MacArthur Park, 607 Front Street at Jackson Street--phone: (415) 398-5700-- is also housed in an historic brick building with a very open, nice bar, terrific barbecue, extensive menu, & two-story atrium dining areas facing the small eponymous park.

Pastis Restaurant--1015 Battery Street, near Levi Plaza phone: (415) 391-2555--features American food with a full bar and outdoor dining patio. (Open for lunch and dinner.)

Once fed, you might wander on to: William Stout Architecture Books--at 804 Montgomery Street on the corner of Jackson and Montgomery--has an amazing collection of architectural books and art books. If you happen to be looking for something a little different, it's very likely they will have it here. William Stout is open every day except Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and open to 9 p.m. on Thursday evening. (Phone: (415) 391-6757.)

While you are there stop in at Thomas Brothers' Maps just up the street at 550 Jackson Street, phone 415-981-7520 one of San Francisco's most comprehensive map, atlas and guidebook stores. This store is only open 9:30 to 5:30 Monday through Friday.

Some closing thoughts on touring San Francisco: Jaspar O'Farrell laid out the grid of San Francisco streets in 1847 but did not consider the steep hills. Most streets go directly up and down with no thought of reality--much less geography. Some climb and descend at angles of more than 30 degrees. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes while in this city. That said, San Francisco is extremely walkable and when your feet are tired there are cable cars, trolleys and buses. All are easily accessible.

Additional San Francisco destinations for those wishing to see fine art, paintings & antiques:
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)--151 3rd Street between Mission & Howard
Great American Collective Antique Mall--1736 Lombard (between Octavia & Laguna)
Also, wander the many contemporary art galleries along Sutter and Grant Avenues.

More Travel Destinations:
Tourism New York City 2005: Christo's Gates
Art Museums, Neighborhoods & Dining in Buenos Aires
Cultural Touring along Italy's Amalfi Coast
Museums & Restaurants in Amsterdam
Cultural Touring along Spain's Costa del Sol
Art Touring in Lisbon
Art Touring in Milan
Art Touring in Antwerp
Art Touring in Barcelona
I-80 Park City to New York City Art & Antiques
Tourism New York City 2003 (Archive)
Tourism New York City 2002 (Archive)
Art & Wine in the Finger Lakes of New York State
Art & Antiques in Hudson, New York (Columbia County)
Cultural Tourism & Restaurants in Rome 2002 Update
Hartford & Wilton, Connecticut
San Francisco Jackson Square
New Hampshire Route 1A
Morris County, New Jersey

Jake Biddington's 2005 Collecting Series:
Art Appraisals and Valuations
Investment Grade Contemporary Art

Jake Biddington Investing (Archives):
PPP Test: Judging Quality in Contemporary Art
Art, Time and Technology
American vs. European Paintings
Jake Biddington's Art as Entertainment
Jake Biddington's Vetted Antiques & Art Shows
Jake Biddington's Patent Numbers as a Dating Tool
Jake Biddington's Hard Assets as Portfolio Diversification
Jake Biddington's Buying Fine Jewelry at Auction
Jake Biddington's Long Term Investing
Jake Biddington's Short-Term Investing
Jake Biddington's The Craft of Art


Here at BIDDINGTON'S, our work is also our play. When we're not exhibiting and discussing art & antiques online, we're learning about wonderful objects in shops, at great shows and in museums all over the world.

Contact Jake Biddington about His Travels

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