09 September 2010

Nob Hill

It's no wonder that the historic Nob Hill district of San Francisco has earned the nickname "Snob Hill." Its former residents, current demographics, outstanding views, and reputation as one of the most affluent areas in this already-expensive city have helped it on its way. All kidding aside, the origin of the name "Nob Hill" still remains a mystery. Some believe the hill's knob shape inspired the name. While others claim similarity to the words "nabob" (18th century slang term for wealthy) or "nobility." Regardless of namesake, one thing is for sure. The rich and famous arrived, and stayed.

Locally know as the Big Four, the Central Pacific Railroad executives built their homes on Nob Hill once they built their fortunes. Mansions taking up city blocks; imported and rare building materials; castle-like architecture with spires and gables. Those were the 19th century homes of Stanford (as in the university), Huntington, Hopkins, and Crocker. Other former residents include the silver tycoons Flood, O'Brien, Fair, and Mackay. While the San Francisco fire of 1906 destroyed the mansions of times past, affluent visitors and residents continue to flock to reputable Nob Hill and its high-end hotels named for the city's founders (Fairmont, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, Stanford Court, and Huntington hotels). 

But it's not just the neighborhood nor its residences, current and former, that exude the "Snob Hill" nickname.  Even its cathedral is a bit over the top. Grace Cathedral welcomes its visitors with one of the few replicas of the Gates of Paradise. Often thought to mark the beginning of the Renaissance, these doors moved away from the flatness of religious art and brought perspective into play. The cathedral itself is a monolithic stone building reminiscent of European religious grandeur. In addition to elaborate stained glass depicting more than just bible scenes (look for the spaceship in the window closest to the entrance), a large section of redwood was chosen for the altar table top. This single section is so large it could only come from a tree that was alive during the time of Christ.

While the people now living on Nob Hill belie their neighborhood's nickname, it is clear that this historic neighborhood (and its historic affluence) still thrives.

1 comment:

  1. When we were in Florence this spring we saw another copy of the "gates of paradise", on the church there. The real ones were damaged in a flood in 1966 and later removed and the previously made copies put up (1991). When we went to the museum in Florence, there was only one original panel on display.

    Since my Uncle was a Bishop at Grace Cathedral for many years, I have attended many events there. (and using his private parking space was a godsend when going to events that they used to hold at the Masonic Auditorium across the street). About that altar, I attended a Steve Miller concert at Grace Cathedral, I guess late 60's. The place was jammed with people in various states as you might imagine. From budding hippies to Church matrons. At one point, a long hair needed room to see and sway and climbed up onto the altar and was grooving away, that is until the the Dean of the Cathedral (Dean Barlett) took a dim view of this and climbed up and wrestled him down. At least that's the way the current memory reads. I'm sure at least some of it happened.

    "We are children of the Future", "Somebody get me a cheeseburger!" with apologies to Mr. Miller.