San Francisco has now moved to the moderate orange tier of California's color-coded system for tracking COVID-19 cases. That means the number of cases in the City and County have decreased sufficiently enough to allow limited reopening of most businesses. According to state and national statistics, San Francisco handled its early response to the pandemic admirably. Local officials throughout the San Francisco Bay Area were quick to issue stay-at-home orders, large tech corporations pivoted speedily to remote operation, and a majority of community members complied with the public health restrictions. All of this seemed to help keep the local COVID-19 fatality rate relatively low compared to other states and municipalities.
While there may be other reasons behind San Francisco's success, much of its careful response to the pandemic lies in its past. Since 1850, the city has witnessed some significantly dark times, including the 1906 earthquake and fire, the 1918 flu pandemic and the 1980s AIDs outbreak. Indeed, San Francisco is a town that understands how to handle a crisis.
Conversely, San Francisco has also enjoyed periods of tremendous growth, from its Gold Rush roots to its role in World War II arms production to its counterculture evolution during the 1960s Summer of Love. Even now the "City by the Bay" continues to be a trendsetter, from its unique landmarks that include Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge to its eclectic music festivals and notable neighborhoods such as the Mission, Haight-Ashbury and Castro.
Mechanics' Institute is proud to be part of this legendary city's rich and diverse heritage. To celebrate what everyone hopes will be the final days of pandemic-imposed restrictions, we offer a sampling of staff favorites from the library's impressive collection on San Francisco history.
The Audacity of Inez Burns by Stephen G. Bloom, 2018 - A major player in the San Francisco underworld who rose to prominence as the most notorious abortionist in California, Inez Burns' story helped shape the city's early formation.
The Barbary Coast: an informal history of the San Francisco Underworld by Herbert Asbury, 1933.
Beyond the Tunnel: the second life of Adolph Sutro by Mark Abbott Stern, 2018 - The forces that shaped the career of San Francisco's first Jewish mayor are intertwined with the city's early history.
Black Death at the Golden Gate: the race to save America from the bubonic plague by David K. Randall, 2019. Also available as an eBook.
A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester, 2005.
Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 days that shook San Francisco by Daniel J. Flynn, 2018.
A Diary of the Underdogs: jazz 1960 San Francisco by Don Alberts, 2019.
Harlem of the West: the San Francisco Fillmore jazz era by Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts, 2020.
A History of the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club: the first 100 years (1854-1953) - edited by John Donaldson, 2002.
A History of the Mechanics' Institute Chess Room (1954-2002) volume 2 - edited by John Donaldson, 2002.
Imperial San Francisco: urban power, earthly ruin by Gray Brechin, 1999.
Infinite City: a San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, 2010.
Making San Francisco American: cultural frontiers in the urban West, 1846-1906 by Barbara Berglund, 2007.
The Mayor of Castro Street: the life & times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts, 1982.
Mud, Blood, and Gold: San Francisco in 1849 by Rand Richards, 2008.
Reporter's Notebook: a San Francisco Chronicle journalist's diary of the shocking seventies by Duffy Jennings, 2019.
San Francisco: instant city, promised land by Michael Johns, 2018.
San Francisco Year Zero: political upheaval, punk rock and a third place baseball team by Lincoln A. Mitchell, 2020.
Season of the Witch: enchantment, terror, and deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot - Also available as a book on CD. - A kaleidoscope narrative of San Francisco between the years 1967-1982 and the extraordinary individuals who sparked its cultural changes.
A Short History of San Francisco by Tom Cole, 2014.
Spirits of San Francisco: voyages through the unknown city by Gary Kamiya, 2020 - Engaging narratives that present San Francisco in a unique and irresistible way.
The Tenderloin District of San Francisco through Time by Pet M. Field, 2018.
Truth and Love: finding the soul of the sixties by Carol Blackman, 2017.