Much has been said about San Francisco Chronicle writer Peter Hartlaub’s recent piece about the word Frisco when referring to that city atop our Peninsula. Seems Hartlaub wasn’t just going against the grain, he really had something to say!
And by the letters appearing in the Chronicle lately, the topic, and the word itself, certainly are spark plugs for revving up opinions. Some say one should never ever use the nickname Frisco, others say it’s not so bad since it had its origin in the Barbary Coast days.
Herb Caen, that justifiably beloved columnist from Sacramento, gave a nod to those Barbary Coast days when he tip-tapped his iconic column, “Don’t Call It Frisco” and actually said it was because of its roots in those days that the name should not be used. The rationale was simple, San Francisco the name had an elegance to it, and for him, San Francisco was an elegant city.
Is it still? Sure, in places. And also in my memory. When I was younger, going to the city meant going downtown. And not wearing white shoes. When we moved down the Peninsula, going to the city still meant going downtown. And not wearing white shoes. That city may be no more but there are remnants, vestiges like those telephone nooks you still find in some homes.
But outside of that, it’s also rag-tag and strange, with tension about newcomers from those who were newcomers just a few years ago. Have people already forgotten about what the dot-com boom did to the city? And where exactly were those who protest in front of Google buses when the first high-tech Gold Rush skyrocketed rents and forced longtime residents out? Could they not galvanize in time before the bust meant pressboard furniture with free signs on it dotted formerly low-income areas of the city when the techies lost their jobs and moved elsewhere?
All I’m saying is that city constantly reinvents itself while maintaining a respect for its past, and that’s part of its allure.
So is it San Francisco? Or is it Frisco? Elegant or rough-and-tumble? Maybe a bit of both. But I, for one, won’t be calling it Frisco. Why not just call it what everyone actually calls it? The city. And you don’t even have to capitalize the c.
Speaking of nicknames, it’s time to once-and-for-all do away with the disparaging moniker Deadwood City. Anyone who has been there lately should know the term is quite the opposite of what is happening there. Opera in the plaza on occasion. A bustling cinema crowd. New restaurants. A lively Fox Theatre. And more construction activity you can shake a stick at (though I don’t suggest trying that, the county lockup is nearby and you don’t want to tempt placement there). So what do you say? What’s the new nickname?
It was with great sadness that I learned of the recent death of Jack Russell, longtime newspaperman and the first president of the Peninsula Press Club, now the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club, of which I am a board member.
Russell was the former editor of the San Mateo Times in its halcyon days in the middle part of the 20th century. At press club meetings, he always made a point to pull me aside and register a few comments about our coverage and reporters. He appreciated the hard work we put in, and also recognized that we were making a go of it here at the Daily Journal when others were failing. His grasp of the issues we were reporting showed he paid close attention to our coverage and I always appreciated that — especially from someone who had been in the business so long.
He was dedicated to the club, knew its history and purpose and appreciated the nuances of the craft we call journalism.
I’m lucky to have known him.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.