07/13/13

San Francisco?
No Shortage of Challengers in California

United Nations Plaza in San Francisco (photographed April 2013).

United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, a commemoration of the events of 1945. (Photographed April 2013).

Hope flowed into San Francisco in 1945 as diplomats gathered for the conference to draft the charter for the new United Nations. Chapter 2 of Capital of the World is an immersion into the ambitions and intrigues of those days, when San Francisco had its chance to prove it could be the Capital of the World, if only for a couple of months. I had the opportunity this week to reflect on San Francisco’s place in UN history on Zócalo: The Public Square, and it is a pleasure to welcome new visitors to this blog who are linking from Zócalo and circulating the post on Twitter in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco pursued the prize of becoming the UN’s permanent home, but this did not stop other contenders from California. Here are a few more, culled from the UN Archives and the Earl Warren Papers at the California State Archives in Sacramento:

Monterey Peninsula: S.F.B. Morse, president of Del Monte Properties Company, suggested Monterey on the basis of its climate, beauty, resort hotels, and location 100 miles from San Francisco. “The city of Monterey is the most historically important town in California,” he stated in a letter on October 27, 1945. “It was the capital of this region both under the Spanish and Mexican regimes, and is situated dead center of the state.” A resident of Los Angeles, Jack Brunt, also suggested to the Governor of California that the UN be placed “somewhere along the 17-mile drive between Monterey and Carmel by the sea.” The Monterey Peninsula was discussed by visiting site inspectors a year later but rejected as too distant from San Francisco.

Palm Springs: The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce delivered an early invitation for a UN headquarters to President Roosevelt in March 1945, but additional interest emerged in connection with an elaborate plan to create a peace memorial called the “Tower of Civilization and World Unity” in Palm Springs. The promoter of the memorial project, Parker W. Meade of San Diego, submitted an extensive proposal to expand his memorial plans into a world capital, with a world university, to be located near San Francisco.

San Simeon: Despite the strong isolationist position of William Randolph Hearst, San Francisco resident Jerome Landfield suggested the Hearst Estate at San Simeon because of its magnificent buildings and available land. “I take it for granted that [Hearst] must realize what a white elephant San Simeon would be after his death, since it is not suited to any public use and that it is most unlikely that anyone could be found able and willing to acquire it for a residence,” Landfield wrote to Governor Earl Warren on March 12, 1946.

In the United States at the end of World War II, civic boosters seldom crossed city lines to form coalitions. Instead, they jumped into competitions for the betterment of their own home towns (and if their ambitions also would promote peace for the world, so much the better).  To see if your home town entered the race to host the United Nations, link to the complete list of contenders — and to understand this dramatic, surprising, and at times comic story of America in the world, I hope you will spend some time with the book, Capital of the World.

Related:

Comedy and Tragedy

Of Starfleet and Grand Hotels

 

 

04/16/13

Comedy and Tragedy

Lobby of the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco (see Chapter 2 of Capital of the World)

Lobby of the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco (see Chapter 2 of Capital of the World)

In the theater of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, where diplomats convened in April 1945 to draft a Charter for the United Nations, the masks of Comedy and Tragedy flank the stage. As I was reminded during a visit this week, the Opera House was a suitably impressive venue for the enormous and somber task of creating a new world organization to secure a peaceful future. But those masks also seem symbolic of the difficulties the UN encountered with such a mundane task as selecting a place for its permanent home. With the tragedy of war still unfolding in 1945, civic boosters from Philadelphia and the Black Hills of South Dakota showed up in San Francisco to push their interests in becoming the Capital of the World even before the United Nations officially existed. And San Francisco’s boosters aimed to show how suitable their city could be.

United Nations Plaza, San Francisco

United Nations Plaza, San Francisco

I thought of the masks of Comedy and Tragedy, too, as I walked through United Nations Plaza, the commemorative space near the San Francisco Public Library. The flag of the United Nations flag flies there, and pillars topped by symbolic globes bear the names of all of the member nations. Amid inscriptions of human rights and dignity, the plaza on this day was populated by apparently homeless people, bundled against the cold whipping wind, sleeping, and safeguarding shopping carts of belonging.  One had a boom box tuned to a radio station blaring a commercial for easy credit. At one end of the plaza, vendors offered a miscellany of goods for sale: sunglasses, jewelry, colorful scarves.  As offices began to empty in the late afternoon, commuters dashed through all of this for the Civic Center transit station and seemed unaware–or numbed–to it all. For those who notice, United Nations Plaza is far from the hopes and dreams of the boosters of 1945 who sought to make San Francisco the Capital of the World.

03/5/13

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.

PadreSteve.com

PadreSteve.com

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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