On the 100 year anniversary of the United State’s annexation of the Phillipines and Guam, Greater San Francisco historian and geographer Gray Brechin published Imperial San Francisco, his account of the city that at the end of the 19th century staked its reputation and milked the federal purse on the promise of its destiny to inherit the Westward Course of Empire Taking its Way.
At the height of the dot-com bubble, with indigenous digital technology striking out across the globe, Brechin documented that bygone triumphalism, and mapped the deployment of the fortunes of the city’s leading plutocrats toward bringing about that destiny. His book spent 16 weeks on the bestseller list of the San Francisco Chronicle – a publication the history and origins of which the book tells in uncomfortable detail. (The Chronicle panned the book in its review.) It’s been a staple in the San Francisco section of local bookstores since, though now has passed into print-to-order status.
On the hundred year anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, Brechin added an updated preface, in which he wrote:
“I’d used San Francisco as a case study of how imperial cities parasitize their hinterlands for the benefit of those who own their land and much else besides – especially the channels of information that shape perceived reality for millions. That city’s magnates hoped to make it the new Rome or New York of the Pacific, but San Francisco, of itself and for all its charm, was a failed star, an also-ran in the firmament of truly imperial cities.”
On a recent Wednesday afternoon I caught up with Brechin, 100 years after the Panama Pacific International Exhibition where the leading capitalists of a rebuilt San Francisco declared Asia their imperial oyster with a copious bombast about the city’s endemic entrepreneurship and showcasing the wonders of technology (and the myth of the impending global conquest of the Aryan American race, an idea which the city’s leaders proudly and frequently extolled, and even engraved into their monuments, many of which remain but carry plaques saying, essentially, sorry)…