Bullitt's Broadway Revisited: The two worlds for the iconic Ford Mustang and San Francisco Page 2


A new Mustang sprayed in Dark Highland Green parked near Maxey’s restaurant gets a second look and a smartphone snap. The boarded-up window with a promotional comedy poster from 1997 near countless defunct storefronts doesn’t.

Broadway doesn’t have the pedigree that other famous streets in San Francisco have. It missed out on the Twitter-loin jackpot of Market Street, doesn’t clang with streetcar tourist swagger like Powell, isn’t all elbows like Lombard. It lacks the historical significance of Grant Avenue—one of the first streets named when the city was called Yerba Buena—but Broadway’s roots go back before 1852, when the street appeared on a map by Britton & Rey.

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Then, Broadway bounded San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, an infamous red-light district during the city’s gold rush boom. The few women in the city during those early boom-town days may have worked there in the world’s oldest profession, and nearby ghettos filled with workers from China and opium dens set the table for Broadway’s checkered relationship with the city around it. In some ways, it’s never gotten better.

Broadway’s schism with the city became a beatnik draw more than 100 years later. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” a peyote-fueled nightmare told in three acts, was first sold at a bookstore on Columbus and Broadway. It was pulled several times for being indecent.

Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Ginsberg’s local bar, Vesuvio, is next door to the bookstore—across Jack Kerouac Alley—and still open until 2 a.m. every goddamn day of the year.

A passage from Herb Caen, former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, pronounces the permanent, current mood at Vesuvio, posted on a placard near the bar’s door:

Life is a bad item, short but pointless. You stand at the bar and play Liar’s dice with fate. It’s the San Francisco way. You might win and even if you lose the scenery’s great and the weather isn’t too bad.

Janet Clyde manages Vesuvio and has been in the neighborhood for 40 years. She’s watched the neighborhood move like the waterfront near The Embarcadero. North Beach neighborhood has had working-class to upper-class and every shade inside and outside those lines as long as she’s been around. Vesuvio is a place where the clientele could pay cash for a car, now—or barely scramble the change together for the beer in front of them, now. A projector flashes images from postcards on the wall that change for the season, but the idea is same year-round—there’s an idealized world out there, and there’s also the real world for the rest.

“Money is a barbaric force,” she says.

* * *

Vesvuio in San Francisco Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Vesvuio in San Francisco Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)

Back up.  

Clyde recalls the Broadway neighborhoods where garbage men and stock brokers lived next door. When the financial district and the red-light district weren’t on so-different sides of the same street.

“It’s a mixture of a neighborhood. You needed everybody. You had cab drivers who lived in the neighborhood. You had bartenders who worked in my industry…we had a mixed urban neighborhood with some long-established families,” she says.

“This neighborhood in the late ‘70s was still a very urban neighborhood, mixed-income district. You could cocktail here and make a couple-hundred bucks but feed a family for $7.50.”

Clyde came up from L.A., where life was more expensive. When she made it to San Francisco, the artists had already been priced out to The Mission—but some were left.


 
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