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The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld Paperback – October 9, 2002
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Such is the description of San Francisco's Barbary Coast cited from another publication by author Herbert Asbury.
THE BARBARY COAST, first published in 1933, is a history of that vicious and squalid section in the heart of the City by the Bay devoted to all forms of crime, vice, lewd conduct and wickedness for the period 1849 to 1917. Asbury's fascinating narrative includes the dance halls, music saloons, dives, brothels, and gambling dens that infested the area, as well as the criminal gangs, hoodlums and cutthroats that preyed on the men lured there. The book's scope also encompasses the rising population of Chinese residents that coalesced into Chinatown, as well as the yellow slavery, tong wars and virulent anti-Chinese sentiments that evolved concurrently. And, since San Francisco is one of the world's greatest natural ports, the author describes the perils to both arriving and departing sailors, who were drawn to the Barbary Coast as insects to Venus Flytraps.
The twin pillars of the Barbary Coast were robbery and prostitution. Despite the early successes of vigilantism in ridding the burgeoning metropolis of undesirables, the fact that both thrived for so long can be attributed to the toleration and blatant corruption of the city's law enforcement officials and governing politicos. Of the two, prostitution was the foundation of the area's iniquity since, as the author is careful to point out, the Barbary Coast didn't finally die until the California Legislature passed the Red-light Abatement Act of 1914. Therefore, it's no surprise that much of the volume is dedicated to the Oldest Profession: the cribs, cow-yards, parlor houses, pimps, madames, and debasing working conditions.Read more ›
The whores in fifty-one;
And when they got together
They produced the native son.
This irreverend verse in the early part of THE BARBARY COAST sets the tempo of what is to follow: Joaquin Murieta, the Vigilantes, the Tong Wars in Chinatown, Shanghaiing sailors, the red-light district. I read it forty years ago originally and still recommend it, as do I the same author's THE FRENCH QUARTER.
This book is an informal history: as such it is sparse with the references, but it's a great read.
San Franciscans should be proud of it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is fascinating! IT's filled with absolutely grim stuff, though. Some of it is quite shocking. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Jon V. Nadelberg
Yow. Very intense. Didn't realize how truly nasty this period of American history was.Published 13 months ago by Don S
A very interesting tale of the early years of life in San Francisco. Why isn't this story being made into a movie, or HBO series? It seems perfect for something like that.Published 15 months ago by S. Wright
Wonderful book, by the same guy who wrote Gangs of New York. Some tall tales in here, and it is oral history written down decades after the events, so take it with a grain of... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Reynaldo Bo