Monday, January 26, 2009

A Trip Back in San Francisco History

This video shows Market Street in San Francisco in 1905, before the 1906 earthquake and fire wiped most of this out. I loved how people are running in front of the camera, the total traffic chaos, and the newsboys carrying their stacks of paper.

I took some other visits to the past recently. I went to visit the Levi Strauss archives at Levi Plaza in San Francisco. Lynn Downey, the company archivist who is writing a biography of Levi Strauss, opened her climate-controlled locked vault to show me some old Levi jeans. One pair was from 1879, and while it resembles some of today's jeans, there are some notable differences. Number One, the rivets are dated, a detail that was discontinued when the company's patent expired in 1890. Number two, the jeans have XX written on them, not 501.

I went to visit Downey and the archives because there is a long-standing relationship between the company and the Hellman family. As I noted in Towers of Gold, Levi Strauss sat on the board of the Nevada Bank, which Hellman purchased in 1890. Strauss was one of the prominent Jewish shareholders of the bank.

Strauss died without any heirs, and he left the company to the sons of his sister, Fanny Stern. Elise Stern eventually married Walter Haas, who took over Levis. Well the Haases and Hellmans have been friends for centuries, reaching back into their common birthplace, Reckendorf, in Bavaria Germany.

Walter Haas's father Abraham was partners with Herman Hellman, Isaias Hellman's brother, in a wholesale drygoods business in Los Angeles in the 19th century. Other Haases -- William, Jacob, Kalman, etc. -- did business with the Hellmans in one form or another for years. That relationship continues today. Until recently, Warren Hellman, the founder of Hellman and Friedman and the man behind the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, served as a director of Levi Strauss.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Based on your comments about the old Levis, I think you'll find this story from the January Outside magazine about a "denim hunter" fascinating: