Mayor, successful business man, future governor, whorehouse owner “Sunny Jim” Rolph
March 3, 2011 by A Golden Gate State of Mind
Charming, charismatic, successful businessman and whorehouse owner, ”Sunny Jim” Rolph was the longest serving mayor in San Francisco history.
He was born to British parents in the city on 23rd August 1869 and educated in the Mission District where he also lived in adult life in a large mansion at the corner of San Jose and 25th Streets. After jobs as a newsboy, clerk and messenger he entered the shipping business in 1900, forming a partnership with George Hind. For the next ten years he served as President of two banks, one of which he established, as well as founding the Rolph Shipping Company and James Rolph Company. He also directed the Ship Owners and Merchants Tugboat Company and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to his country’s entry into the First World War he supplied coal and ships to the Allied Countries. With an estimated wealth of $5 million he bought a ranch west of Stanford University. It is reported that the Department of Public Works made all the improvements to the ranch at the taxpayers’ expense, not the last time his appropriation of public funds for his own personal gain was mooted.
In 1911 Rolph was encouraged to run for Mayor against the incumbent P.H. McCarthy who had failed to curb the corruption that was rife in the city. Following a six week campaign categorised by egg throwing, fist fights and police riots, he won comfortably.
His first major project was the construction of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, designed not only to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal but, equally importantly, to showcase the remarkable renaissance of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. It was during the latter that he he had earned the gratitude of the city by, as head of a relief committee, delivering water and supplies with his horse and wagon.
He opened the Exposition by, pied piper style, leading 150,000 followers down Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street to the Fairgrounds, now the Marina District. The profits from the highly successful event were used to build the Civic Auditorium.
As Mayor, he personally oversaw the construction of City Hall, and on the day it was dedicated in 1915, climbed the golden dome, “beamed at the astonished faces below”, and ran up the American flag.
His nickname derived from his relentlessly cheerful, gregarious disposition. With a theme song entitled ”There Are Smiles That Make You Happy” he paraded about town in, alternately a stovepipe silk or derby hat, dapper black suit with a flower, usually a carnation, in the buttonhole, smiling and “pressing the flesh” of the city’s residents as if he were on a continuous election campaign trail. He would often pick up pedestrians on his way to City Hall and drive them to their destination. He was known as the “Mayor of All the People”, relating to people of all races, religions and political parties. He even invited Communist protestors into his office for a chat.
He had time for everyone as he ”popped up” at just about every public event, seeing it as a photo opportunity to promote himself. His role was primarily as the charming figurehead for city government, leaving the day to day running of his administration (which bored him), including several major public works projects such as the Bay Bridge, Hetch Hetchy water system, which supplies most of the city’s water, and San Francisco Airport, to trusted colleagues.
Rolph’s affable manner and the spectacular but costly festivities he arranged to celebrate major political events may have endeared him to the man in the street, but he presided over a “lawless, debauched city”in which “gambling and prostituion thrived”. Moreover, he contributed personally towards this by owning the Pleasure Palace, an “entertainment hideout”at 21st Street and Sanchez on Liberty Hill. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he made only half-hearted attempts to clean up the city. This, along with his lax stance on enforcing Prohibition, may have partly accounted for his four re-elections and nineteen years in office.
His flamboyant image extended to appearances in several films, notably the 1915 documentaryMabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco, directed by Fatty Arbuckle and the short, Hello Frisco.
Rolph’s drinking and alleged affair with movie star, Anita Page, however, scarred his final term in office. He missed meetings at City Hall and drivers would be despatched to find him. When he did turn up he appeared drunk and patently unwell.
He was elected the 27th Governor of California from 6th January 1931 when he resigned as San Francisco Mayor. However, the advent of the Great Depression and the budgetary constraints that that inevitably imposed upon the State, had serious personal and political consequences. Moreover, laregly as a result of his shenanigans over a previous gubernatorial campaign, his contract to build three new ships for the Federal Government was cancelled and he was banned from selling ships to foreign governments, accelerating his financial ruin.
His political inadequacies were also regularly exposed, provoking a recall movement against him within two years of taking office. His tenure was dogged by controversy, not least when he publicly praised the citizens of San Jose, whilst promising to pardon anyone involved, following the November 1933 lynching of the confessed murderers of Brooke Hart, the son of a wealthy local merchant. He was thereafter known as ”Governor Lynch”.
As he fell into serious debt his health failed, although he continued to make personal appearances against medical advice. Following a number of heart attacks he died on 2nd June 1934 at Riverside Farm, Santa Clara County. He was brought home to lie in state in the City Hall rotunda.
Notwithstanding his many flaws, Rolph’s popularity in his home town was unquestioned. and illustrated in the decision to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that had begun to be built under his stewardship, the “James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bridge”.
Finally, I am particularly indebted for much of the detail in this article to the historical essay on Rolph written by Daniel Steven Crofts.
The Story of Oofty Goofty So far as journalistic or public knowledge went, Oofty Goofty had no other name than this singular appellation, which he acquired during his first appearance before his San Francisco public, as a wild man in a Market Street freakshow. From crown to heel he was covered with road tar, into which were stuck great quantities of horsehair, lending him a savage and ferocious appearance. He was then installed in a heavy cage, and when a sufficiently large number of people had paid their dimes to gaze upon the wild man recently captured in the jungles of Borneo and brought to San Francisco at enormous expense, large chunks of raw meat were poked between the bars by an attendant. This provender the wild man gobbled ravenously, occasionally growling, shaking the bars, and yelping these fearsome words: “Oofty goofty! Oofty goofty!” He was, naturally, immediately christened Oofty Goofty, and as such was identified to the day of his death.
For a week or so he was a veritable histrionic sensation, the wildest wild man ever exhibited on the Pacific Coast. Then, since he could not perspire through his thick covering of tar and hair, he became ill and was sent to the Receiving Hospital. There physicians vainly tried for several days to remove Oofty Gooftys costume without removing his natural epidermis as well. He was at length liberally doused with a tar solvent and laid out upon the roof of the hospital, where the sun finally did the work.
Thereafter Oofty Goofty eschewed character parts and decided to scale the heights of theatrical fame as a singer and dancer. He obtained a place on the bill at Bottle Koenigs, a Barbary Coast beer hall which also offered a low variety entertainment. There he danced once and sang one song. He was then, with great ceremony, thrown into the street. In reality this was a very fortunate experience, as it indicated his future career, or, as he termed it, his “work.” Oofty Goofty was kicked with considerable force, and landed heavily upon a stone sidewalk, but to his intense surprise he discovered that he was, apparently, insensible to pain.
This great gift he immediately proceeded to capitalize, and for some fifteen years, except for occasional appearances at the Bella Union as a super, and a short engagement as co-star with Big Bertha, he eked out a precarious existence simply by letting himself be kicked and pummeled for a price. Upon payment of ten cents a man might kick Oofty Goofty as hard as he pleased, and for a quarter he could hit the erstwhile wild man with a walking-stick. For fifty cents Oofty Goofty would become the willing, and even prideful, recipient of a blow with a baseball bat, which he always carried with him.
He became a familiar figure in San Francisco, not only on the Barbary Coast, but in other parts of the city as well. It was his custom to approach groups of men, in the streets and in bar-rooms, and diffidently inquire: “Hit me with a bat for four bits, gents? Only four bits to hit me with this bat, gents.” Oofty Goofty was knocked off his feet more times than he could remember, but he continued to follow his peculiar vocation until John L. Sullivan hit him with a billiard cue and injured his back.
Not long afterwards Sullivans pugilistic standing was impaired by James J. Corbett, the pride of San Francisco, and Oofty Goofty always felt that Corbett had acted as his agent in the matter. Oofty Goofty never entirely recovered from his encounter with Sullivan. He walked with a limp thereafter, and the slightest blow made him whimper with pain. With his one claim to distinction gone, he soon became a nonentity. He died within a few years, but medical authorities said that Sullivans blow had not been a contributing cause. –From Herbert Asburys The Barbary Coast. HOME
FROM BACKWATER BOOMTOWN TO BOOMING METROPOLIS
San Francisco became a city during the Gold Rush of 1849, prior to that it was a sleepy backwater named Yerba Buena. But soon after the Gold Rush came years of economic insecurity and then, financial panic. That all changed in 1859.
The discovery of silver in the Comstock Lode would transform San Francisco from boomtown to metropolis. The era ushered in the Gilded Age that would last until the early 20th Century. The Gilded Age was a time of great wealth, corruption and Corporate interests bribed governments, locally and nationally. Some of the world’s greatest fortunes were made and lost during the silver boom. The “Big Four”Leland Stanford, Collis P Huntington, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins would dominate the city, link the country via railroad, and bring in tens of thousands of Chinese workers who were despised by their neighbors; yet Chinatown thrives to this day.
Because the political landscape was considered so corrupt, an emperor was
proclaimed in 1859, lived in San Francisco and may or may not have wandered the city with two dogs. He printed his own currency that was accepted all over San Francisco.
He fired President Lincoln and abolished Congress, attempted to solve the civil war and end anti-Chinese sentiment. He also ordered the building of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube in the 1860’s. The self
proclaimed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I was the Emperor of the US and Protector
of Mexico. He declared himself the Protector of Mexico in response to the French
invasion of Mexico in 1861. Luckily, on Cinco de Mayo 1867, Mexico ousted the French
so the Emperor did not have to send any American troops.
Emperor Norton bans the F-Word
Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word “Frisco,” which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars.
Adolph Sutro was the King Of the Comstock, he also became a defender of the common
man and fought to break up the control that monopolies had on the everyday citizen.He spent great amounts of money on gifts to the population of San Francisco. He built He built
the Sutro Baths and also built a railroad from downtown to his bathhouse, the train fare
was a nickel. He became the city’s first Jewish Mayor. He built
the Sutro Baths and also built a railroad from downtown to his bathhouse, the train fare
was a nickel. He became the city’s second Jewish Mayor. Although, not remembered for
being a great mayor, as a citizen he was beloved by all.
We’ll look at the:
*Wells Fargo Museum
*Pacific Heritage Museum
*The Original Federal Mint
*Alleys of Ill Repute
*Pony Express Headquarters
*Leidesdorff Street-Named for explorer, merchant and SF’s 1st Black citizen,
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- Geordie Lynch
- David Brown
- George Kelly
- Ben Ferrer
- Jason Williams
Co-Producer/Co-Director. Geordie is a filmmaker who comes primarily from a post-production background. He has been motion graphics designer, production assistant, and assistant editor with various production and post-production companies, including for the award-winning television series ‘More Than Entertainment’ for Frame By Frame Productions. He most recently created, directed, co-produced, and co-wrote a half-hour sketch comedy for cable television.
With a passion for history and the film arts, he is now answering the call to blend the two spheres together.
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