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To the Call

march 27, 2000. I guess Iíll write this while the math is easy. I have lived in California 2.7 decades. I lived in Washington, D.C. 2.3 decades. One frigid North Atlantic morning, I heard the Mamas and the Papas "California Dreamin" and on such a winterís day, no less, it was, for me, gruesome. I returned to thaw out!

Iíve now read at least three of the San Francisco Call and also taught architectural history long enough to know that the Call-Bulletin was a 1906 newspaper here in town! I read Sharon K. in the March 13 edition. Decline in civility. Say what, Sharon?

I, too, remember a Bay Area that had no crisis of confidence, I would call it. One that was pretty neighborly, landlord and tenant alike. I remember a San Francisco with expensive gasoline but fair-to-middling people and reasonable treatment of one another. What at one point was presented to me as my paranoia, is now echoed weekly in the press, by a multitude of writers. I worry myself no longer. But I empathize with Sharon K. We obviously live in the same city. But I see the inconsiderate landlord who rushes to cash the check. The claque at the top of the Muni underground, who will not step aside to let you pass. The near daily automobile broadside at: (pick one) 13th and Mission, Polk and Pine, Gough and Bush, or Polk and Broadway. Iíve seen three this week! Since we can .com it so fast, with lightning accuracy, couldnít we tell the truth and slow down? Even with a computer, itís garbage in, garbage out, remember? Janet Gaynor, Mary Martinís pin-up girl friend was killed at Franklin and Pine. One taxi broadsided another taxi. If a red light wonít do it, how will increased police ticketing do it?

Tolstoy once observed, "Everyone dreams of changing the world, but no one dreams of changing themselves." Has that become the guiding light of northern California? And as you see, I use the little "n" as in northern Virginia. Theyíre both highly populous urban areas, with many expatriates. And many loyal residents. You canít just go home, any more. They were all here or we were all there, to begin with! Change places? One friend declares, "But the population of the world has doubled since _____." So? Will marching to a faster pace, improve the crowded human race? You tell me. Iím listening. Changing the world, but not themselves. Hmmm! Or could Tolstoy have been right?

James Albert (Skip) Norfolk, San Francisco


On the eve of World War I, the Call underwent a change in ownership at least as puzzling as the Independentís recent acquisition of the Examiner.

In 1906 the old Call and the Bulletin were still friendly competitors. The Morning Call, owned by the rich and powerful Spreckels family, especially delighted in chronicling the failings of Michael de Youngís Chronicle. Geographer Gray Brechin describes "a meticulous card file" kept by publisher John Spreckels, which recorded the events not covered by the rival paper. The Call was an in-your-face newspaper, editorially and physically: its offices stood cheek-by-jowl with the Hearst and de Young buildings at Third and Market.

On August 15, 1913, Michael de Young could apparently stand the jibes no longer. He announced that heíd bought the paper and planned to close it down, lugubriously adding, "Dear old Call, we place upon the tomb a garland of memoryís flowers with sincere regrets that the parting is at hand."

But his announcements of the paperís demise were premature. In fact, they were false. It turned out that William Randolph Hearst had bought the paper, or had de Young buy it for him. For several years, the Call continued to appear as a minor afternoon paper operated mainly by Hearstís employees, serving as a gadfly for Fremont Olderís muckraking Bulletin, but no longer a threat to the big guys. The final insult came in 1919 when Hearst persuaded Older to run the paper for him.