The History and Staff of Washington Square Inn
History of Washington Square Inn
This historic San Francisco hotel was built (or rebuilt – after the earthquake) in 1910. Though there are photos dating back to around 1850. The Washington Square Inn was first used as an office building including a Pharmacy on the lower floor and Dental / medical offices on the upper floors. The Edwardian style building was then converted into a Bed and Breakfast Inn in 1978 by Norm & Nan Rosenblatt. Maria and Daniel Levin are the third owners. They purchased Washington Square Inn in 2004 after selling their inn in Mendocino. They are members of Select Registry and Unique Inns.
“North beach is San Francisco’s best loved neighborhood. Within its border are all things that made the city famous – food, literature, cable cars, music, movies, funky bars, good coffee, rollercoaster streets, great views and bohemian life.” Times – UK
“A neighborhood like North Beach is a rare thing. It manages to be a perennial hit with tourists as well as remain beloved by San Franciscans. It is best known as “Little Italy” and of all the neighborhoods in San Francisco, North Beach feels most like New York. The bustling sidewalls filled with tables of diners chowing down on pizza and fried calamari, the small, quirky specialty shops, and the plethora of bakeries, delis and old fashioned bars combine in a vibrant, changing neighborhood.” SF.- Chronicle.
History of North Beach
Part of the Barbary Coast; North Beach is steeped in history. A hundred and fifty years ago; it was a city of 20,000 or so, a boom town of tents born out of the Gold Rush. It was wild and dangerous. John W. Geary, the city’s first mayor, noted that San Francisco had no police, no fire department, no jail, no hospital, and no civic funds. “Public improvements are unknown in San Francisco,” he told the city’s common council.
Among the first acts of the city government was to set aside three public squares: Union Square, Portsmouth Square and Washington Square. Of the three, Washington Square looked the most unpromising. It was a cemetery, a cow pasture and later, the home of immigrants: first Russians, then Germans, then Italians, who built wooden shacks around the square and then up the side of Telegraph Hill.
In the 19th century, Montgomery Street was extended out toward the bay, cut on the diagonal, like a slash. It ran across one side of Washington Square, at Union Street, cutting off a corner of the original square and leaving a small park, now a little triangular jewel fronting what’s now called Columbus Avenue. This park, which contains a small pond shaded by poplars and guarded by two miniature golden bears, is technically part of Washington Square.
By the turn of the century, North Beach was Little Italy, a district of fishermen, homemade wine and garlic.
In the catastrophe of 1906 (earthquake), North Beach and the rest of the city was destroyed and Washington Square was turned into a refugee camp.
In the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, the square was the heart of Italian San Francisco; as recently as 50 years ago it was estimated that 70,000 persons of Italian descent lived within a few blocks.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti – the most influential poet of the beat movement along with his partner, writer Kenneth Roxroth opened the famous book store “City Lights’ in 1952, here in North Beach. There they hosted many other writers from the beat movement, such as, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac. The baseball great Joe DiMaggio, since the age of one; grew up in North Beach in a flat on Valparaiso and Taylor streets. He married his first wife, Dorothy Arnold at Saints Peter and Paul cathedral. After their divorce ( and because of it) the church would not allow him to remarry in the church again, so he married Marilyn Monroe at City Hall, then came to Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral for photographs.
By the 1970s, it had changed again. The young Italian families moved out and now Washington Square was full of old men in black suits, smoking black cigars in the long afternoons, dreaming of their past. There were still hardware stores, and until very recently a drugstore (now Washington Square Inn) on the square actually sold leeches, an old remedy.
“Life is moving on,” one of the old men told a Chronicle reporter nearly 20 years ago. “We come, we go.” He was 89 at the time, and his time came soon after.
Now the old Italian men have been replaced in the square these mornings by elderly Chinese women doing tai chi; graceful, slow movements, like time passing.
Washington Square Park has recently celebrated its 150th birthday, “the almost perfect San Francisco Place. Washington Square is like San Francisco itself; a beautiful place where nothing is really as it seems to be.” The late Herb Caen loved to recite the park’s contradictory virtues:” It is a square that isn’t a square, the heart of North Beach, which isn’t a beach. Washington Square isn’t on Washington Street and has a statue of Benjamin Franklin instead of George Washington. The statue was erected by H.D. Cogswell, a teetotaler, but the square is surrounded on three sides by bars and restaurants and on the fourth by a church.
Washington Square is also a historic remnant of a city swirling in change.
“Benjamin Franklin has stood on his pedestal there since 1904,” said Julienne Christensen, a North Beach neighborhood activist, “while the park and the city has changed enormously.”
For those who have not seen Washington Square, it is a lovely green island, with Lombardy poplars in its center.
It is surrounded by the city, the movement and color of cars, electric Muni buses and taxis. Washington square is the center of a small valley, Russian Hill to the west, Telegraph Hill to the East.
Standing in the middle, one can see the Top of the Mark and Coit Tower, tall apartment houses in one direction and wooden flats in another. At one end of Columbus Avenue is the Transamerica Pyramid, at the other, views of the Bay and a Mount Tamalpais. The Mason Street cable car is only a block away. North Beach is the most densely populated place in the city, (next to China Town) and Washington Square is the only park where one can lay on the grass and see the sky.
We have an international staff and between us, we speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, French. Our front desk staff is available 24/7 and can help you with room reservations, as well as booking shuttles to the airport & sightseeing tours. They can also guide you to things to do in and around our area of California, suggest restaurants & make reservation for you, etc. We have a houseman here to help guests with luggage & help you in just about any way they can.
Photo below: “Max” – Just one of our most favorite staff members set to welcome you to Washington Square Inn!