Many of San Francisco’s major attractions have a Jewish connection, and several are linked to the extended family of Levi Strauss. Here’s a quick guide to some of them.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge was the world’s longest single-span bridge when it was completed in 1937 and was considered one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering.The chief engineer and promoter of the project was Joseph Baermann Strauss (1870–1938), the descendant of German Jews (but not, as far as I know, a relative of Levi Strauss).
A bronze sculpture of Strauss stands just below the San Francisco entrance to the bridge and has a plaque that describes his accomplishment in language that echoes God’s promise to Noah after the flood: “Here at the Golden Gate is the eternal rainbow that he conceived and set to form, a promise indeed that the race of man shall endure unto the ages.”
Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters and visitor center
Levi’s Plaza, 1155 Battery Street
Accessible by #10 bus or F line light rail
These modern red-brick offices are near the site of the company’s 19th century headquarters. A visitor center on the ground floor has historical displays, including films, about Levi Strauss and the company.
1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard, directly above Levi’s Plaza
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Accessible by steps from Levi’s Plaza or by #39 bus
The tower affords an incomparable view of the city and the bay. It was built in the 1930s under the supervision of Herbert Fleishhacker, the then president of the Board of Park Commissioners and scion of one of the most prominent pioneer Jewish families.
Artist Bernard Baruch Zakheim, an immigrant from Poland, led a group of local artists in seeking the commission to paint murals around the base of the tower. The murals portray life in California and express the social, political and economic concerns of the Great Depression. The three volumes of the Hebrew Bible appear in the middle of Zakheim’s depiction of a public library. Zakheim’s daughter, Masha, leads tours.
Accessible by #1 bus
This Queen Anne-style home, with a square bay window, gabled roof and round tower, was built in 1886 for Bavarian-born William Haas, whose nephew, Walter Haas, would eventually take over the Levi Strauss company.After William Haas died, his daughter Alice, who married Samuel Lilienthal, lived here until 1972. There is no mezuzah, and the family had a Christmas tree every year.
Many Victorian homes were destroyed in the fire that raged through the city after the 1906 earthquake; many of those that survived were torn down later. The Haas-Lilienthal House is the only Victorian home open regularly as a museum. Here visitors can see how a merchant’s upper-middle-class family lived. Volunteer docents lead tours on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard
Accessible by #28 bus
This lush, wooded park was created by Rosalie Meyer Stern as a memorial to her husband, Sigmund Stern, Levi Strauss’s favorite nephew. Free outdoor performances on Sunday afternoons begin in mid-June, offering excellent programs of symphony, opera, jazz, pop music and dance.
San Francisco Zoo
1 Zoo Road
Open daily 10 to 5
Accessible by L line light rail
Herbert Fleishhacker, whose father was a peddler in Bavaria, made his fortune in a variety of business ventures and in banking. As president of the Board of the Parks Commission, he built Fleishhacker Pool, the largest public swimming pool in the United States. He is considered the “father of the San Francisco Zoo,” originally named The Herbert Fleishhacker Zoo.The Mother’s Building, a Renaissance-style structure near the entrance, was commissioned by Herbert and his brother Mortimer in honor of their mother, Delia Fleishhacker. It was designed as a place where mothers could relax with their children. Four murals inside depict Noah and the animals of the ark. Today it is the Zoo Shop.
Exploratorium – Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception
3601 Lyon St.415-397-5673
Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 to 5
Accessible by #30 bus
This hands-on museum helps children and their parents understand basic principles of science, in a playful atmosphere. Physicist and teacher Frank Oppenheimer, the son of a businessman who had immigrated to the United States from Germany, founded the Exploratorium and was its director until his death in 1985. He was the brother of Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, and he also worked on that project. The Exploratorium is behind the Palace of Fine Arts, the remnant of the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. Prominent Jews were involved at all levels of producing the exposition.
1090 Point Lobos
The Cliff House, a luxurious dining resort built by Westphalian-born Adolph Sutro, burned down in 1907. In 1909, Sutro’s daughter Emma built a new, more modest Cliff House. Since then, the great and famous have dined in this restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Seal Rocks. In 2004 it reopened following renovations that restored the neoclassical design of the 1909 building and added a new wing.
2 Lake Street, corner Arguello Boulevard
Accessible by #1 bus
Descendants of the family of Levi Strauss and of other German-speaking pioneer families are members of this large Reform congregation. The temple has Byzantine and Roman architectural elements, and its enormous, red-tiled dome—inspired by the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts—can be seen from many parts of the city. The stained glass windows represent “fire” and “water,” the two mystical elements of creation; the bronze and enamel ark stands under a marble canopy; and the Skinner organ has more than 5,000 pipes. Volunteer docents provide guided tours.
Lincoln Park, opposite the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (a museum of European art)
Accessible by #18 bus
A man in prison garb peers out at the bay through a barbed wire fence, while behind him nine naked bodies lie tangled together. All the figures are white. This evocative sculpture by George Segal was installed in 1984. The inscription on a plaque nearby contains the promise to “pledge our lives to the creation of a world in which such evil and such apathy will not be tolerated.”
Holocaust Center of Northern California
Reopening on January 1, 2011, at:Jewish Family and Children Services
2245 Post Street
Accessible by #38 bus
An usually large collection (more than 500) of “yizkor” books – memorials to the Jewish communities in Europe destroyed in the Holocaust – is part of the research library at this Holocaust center. Founded in 1979 in response to a confrontation between neo-Nazis and Holocaust survivors in the city, the center engages in education and documentation and provides genealogical information.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.