One of my favorite poems about my hometown comes from Charles Kellogg Field, a San Francisco native. After the great earthquake and fire of 1906, editorials in newspapers across the country were speculating that the destruction was God’s punishment for the City’s wicked ways. Field’s answer to that claim was:
“If, as they say, God spanked the town, For being over frisky
Why did He burn the churches down, And save Hotaling’s whiskey?”
Who was Mr. Hotaling? And why did he have a warehouse full of whiskey? Here is a clip from a PBS documentary about the area known as Jackson Square, hosted by writer and historian Daniel Bacon and KQED Host Greg Sherwood, to answer those questions:
The great earthquake and fire in 1906 wasn’t the only threat to preserving San Francisco’s history. In 1959, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency started demolishing hundreds of Victorian buildings in the Western Addition neighborhood in the name of “urban renewal.” In 1967, San Francisco’s Planning Code was amended to include a provision to designate City properties with the “landmark” status, and to protect landmark sites from demolition. The Landmark #1 designation went to Mission Dolores in 1968. In February 1969, Mr. Hotaling’s properties were designated Landmark # 11, Hotaling Stables (on Hotaling Place, seen in the video clip), Landmark #12, Hotaling Building (451 Jackson Street), and Landmark #13, Hotaling Annex East (445 Jackson Street).
And what about the whiskey? The original Old Kirk brand that was in Hotaling’s warehouse is long gone. But the tradition of distilling whiskey in San Francisco lives on in a place that is mostly known for beer. Anchor Steam Brewing, the beer company, has a partner making “spirits” on Potrero Hill called the Anchor Distilling Company – http://www.anchordistilling.com/company/about-us
In 2006, they bottled “Old Potrero Single Malt Hotaling’s Whiskey,” in honor of the 100th anniversary of the earthquake and fire. It is old fashioned whiskey made of rye. If you want a taste, rumor has it that it is difficult to track down. Good luck.