Legendary Dog Tales
San Francisco has a long tail of dog stories that stretch back to its early Gold Rush days. And with National Puppy Day coming up on March 23rd, we thought a brief trip back in time befits celebrating our famous canines.
As you probably already know, San Francisco has long been a playground for writers and dogs. Two of its most famous stray dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, gained celebrity status after demonstrating their expertise at killing a record number of rats when they roamed the streets in the 1860s. Newspaper writers competed with one another, indulging their imaginations when reporting their exploits, whether it was stealing a bone from another dog, being accidentally locked overnight inside a jewelry store, or stopping a runaway horse and cart on Clay Street.
On June 16, 1862, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors exempted the two dogs from a strict ordinance that banned all dogs downtown without a leash or muzzle.This allowed Bummer and Lazarus to roam free wherever they wished. Edward Jump, a young French artist, included the two dogs in a series of satirical cartoons lampooning the city’s notable characters, one of whom was Emperor Norton. These cartoons helped forge the legend of Bummer and Lazarus, which purportedly accompanied Emperor Norton but researchers have found this yet another tall tail.
There’s also the famous Poodle Dog restaurant that dates back to 1849 and how it got its name. In 1898, the restaurant at the corner of Mason and Eddy was the destination for elite lawyers, bankers and politicians who would dine and gaze upon a ceiling fresco of a black poodle posed in various scenes. It was the most prestigious French restaurant where the ground floor was used for guests to enjoy the best of fine dining. But it was also infamous for its hidden passage and secret elevator lift that brought men to private rooms on the floors above where they’d have an evening tryst with ladies of the night.
And before turning our attention back to the here and now dog tales, it’s worth mentioning one of our City’s beloved neighborhoods, Dog Patch. Unfortunately, there is no definitive explanation for its name around World War II, but one popular tail is it was inspired by the packs of dogs that used to scavenge discarded meat parts from Butchertown (a slaughterhouse district located in Bayview) along Islais Creek. It’s also one of the few neighborhoods to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, and has some of the oldest, largest and most intact historic industrial buildings remaining in the city, including legendary shipyards and mills on the waterfront at Pier 70.
Many family stories tie San Franciscans to its legendary history and institutions. As for me, the Poodle Dog restaurant was where my great grandparents had their wedding reception, as described to me by my grandmother with all of the beauty and flourishes that befits a tale larger than life.