Of Starfleet and Grand Hotels

As Steve Dundas points out today in his generous review of Capital of the World, even though San Francisco lost its bid to become the permanent headquarters city for the United Nations, it achieved fame in another realm.  As any Star Trek fan will remember, San Francisco of the future served as headquarters of the United Federation of Planets.  Approached by starships, the city still could be identified by the distinctive Golden Gate Bridge.



If anyone knows of documentation for Gene Roddenberry’s inspired choice of San Francisco for Starfleet, I would love to know about it!  I know a bit more about why San Francisco was chosen as the city where diplomats gathered in 1945 to draft the United Nations Charter.  Among other factors, the presence of San Francisco’s famed hotels helped the city gain the first opportunity to prove that it could be a Capital of the World.

San Francisco had an abundance of enormous fashionable hotels, a legacy from the great wealth generated in the late nineteenth century by the barons of mining and banking.  The barons filled their bank accounts, built their mansions, and outfitted their families with the finest fashions and furnishings. And then, they and their descendants built grand hotels intended to rival anything in New York City or in Europe. Many are still in business today.

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The Black Hills and the World

From the beginning, I knew that I would go to South Dakota. Most books about the early history of the United Nations do not pay much attention to the question of where to place its headquarters, but when they do, there is usually a throw-away reference to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  How absurd, they suggest, that such a place would have offered to become the Capital of the World.

Granted, on the surface and in hindsight, it seems far-fetched. During my research trip, one day I sat on a bench in the Black Hills town of Keystone (pop. 337 in 2010) and tried to imagine the diplomats of the world mingling outside the Dairy Queen. Not likely. But spend a little time in and around the region, and the motives for a Black Hills invitation to the United Nations begin to come into focus. Continue reading