To be totally fair, my interest in the building at 2323 Market had nothing to do with the building and everything to do with what is inside of it, namely piles of glittering jewels, wine on tap, and attractive, stylish people that will feed you wine and put the jewels on your body so you can parade around and check yourself out in various angles of light.
I am not a gems person at all, and I did not ever think I’d be wearing a sparkly engagement ring, but my sweetie and I stumbled into D & H Sustainable Jewelers one afternoon thinking about wedding rings, and even though we both said, “no diamonds” curtly, the owner, Shawn, put a non-traditional diamond ring on my finger, handed us a glass of wine, and suddenly we wanted this ring, badly. It looked like something that someone making a life commitment would wear, and maybe I don’t know what that means, but if our commitment looks like metal and sparkles, this ring is it. It was all very surreal.
Even if we said ‘no diamonds,’ of course I am the result of a diamond company marketing campaign; that marketing taps, with precision, into those deep places where I sometimes feel insecure, or where I have lost important cultural rituals. Knowing the human rights abuses associated with diamonds, my sweetie and I (who both work on corporate accountability issues) started hammering Shawn with questions about things like traceability to the mine, and he just smiled and sighed and patiently poured us more wine while bringing out us folders of documents and certificates and photographs of himself in Botswana. In the end, one of their designers crafted us a custom ring with an Australian conflict-free stone. But it was somewhere in those few hours that we started talking about the building and he mentioned he didn’t know what it had housed originally.
2323 Market is part of a 2-story building with 10 units – five narrow storefronts with five apartments above. A Belle Plummer, widow of Dr. Richard H. Plummer, built the entire building in 1910. Richard was a prominent physician, surgeon and professor of anatomy at Cooper Medical College (now Stanford Medical School) and Belle had apparently gotten into the real estate market after Richard died. There are photographs of him at the operating table, available in the Stanford Medical History Center
I have never been to medical school so I can’t tell whether or not these photos actually depict anything gruesome, but these photos moderately terrify me –something about the narrow stadium seating, the pale white feet on the operating table. As I do with many old photographs, I stared at this photo so long I thought my eyes might burn holes in it, trying to visually carve out details that would tell me something about Dr. Richard H. Plummer’s personality, trying to imagine what choices his later widow made when constructing herself a 10-unit building with his money. Reading Richard’s obituary, he was noted as a self-made man who rose to prominence in the medical and surgical field, although farther down the obituary, the author refers to Belle as “his widow, the devoted wife who did so much to assist him in obtaining the high position he occupied professionally and socially.” I unfortunately found no photographs or articles about Belle, the devoted wife.
Richard died in 1899, just a few days after Belle’s mother had died, and so Belle simultaneously inherited almost the entirety of Richard’s estate and a portion of her mom’s estate.
Although Belle initially moved into boarding house with her son Melville, within just a few years, Belle moved to her late mother’s house at 1615 Broderick, and became a businesswoman. In 1902, with a brisk stock market, she obtained a building contract for an apartment building on Jackson Street, and then did renovations on her late mother’s house using some of the same contractors. Those same contractors were also her workers of choice in 1910 when she obtained a contract and began construction on the parcel that comprises 2317 through 2335 Market, where D & H Sustainable Jewelers is.
The building is just a few doors down from the SF Fitness (pour one out for Gold’s Gym, RIP) at Noe and Market, and catty corner to the Lookout (hay, gurl, hay). When Shawn told me to take our ring outside to see it in the sun, I discovered that the building itself is really nice to look at (especially when you have a sparkly ring on your finger and you hold your hand up to it). The building has smooth sweeps of gently dentilated cornices and the roof line alternates between red tile and small false front projections with medallions. Truthfully, before we were looking at wedding rings, I had never been into the store (see: not a gems person) and I had never really noticed the building itself or thought of that block as a series of connected units. I think a lot of us walk down this portion of Market Street with our eyes at either window level or, perhaps, ass-level/chest-level/whatever eye-candy level you prefer to look at. The Canary Island palms arch overheard, the F-Market clangs down the track, and the sidewalk bustles with flurries of sculpted men going from gym to juice bar to salon. At least, this is how my sweetie and I do. We pretend we are boys because that is how we feel even though we have lady bodies. Like suddenly wanting a wedding ring, I can’t explain this, but unlike the ring, I don’t feel I need to. We are just ladyboys.
This neighborhood had, until the turn of the century, been largely rural. This particular block of Market was once part of a large subdivided plot of land called Mission Dolores (different than the boundaries of today’s Mission District neighborhood), and before that it had been Rancho San Miguel, and before that it had been Ramaytush/Ohlone territory, just about a mile away from the seasonal Yelamu village of Chutchui (about location of present-day Mission Dolores).
Let’s pour ourselves a glass of wine from Shawn’s wine tap and curl up in front of an 1861 map called the Wackenruder map (go here: http://rumsey.georeferencer.com/map/52p5M4O7FQ2LvQL2UOS4QS/201502231909-BRucGI/visualize). Like I said, I don’t love diamonds, but if I could wear vintage maps on my hands as a symbol of everlasting loyalty and love, I might choose this 1861 map. This map depicts the San Francisco peninsula with subdivision and land ownership information, although it doesn’t differentiate between what was built at the time and what was just plotted in terms of ownership. The amazing David Rumsey has georeferenced this map so you can toggle between present and past view, essentially creating a time machine for you.
At some point, you should spend some personal time with the map (I frequently need to be alone with maps, to let my map libido fully flower), but let’s also be clear: my love for vintage maps isn’t a pure and holy love. Maps are political, and land “ownership” is often a fiction obscuring theft, colonialism, and profit. This land we live work and breath on was stolen by the Spanish from the Ohlone, who were enslaved by Mexican colonists into the Catholic Mission system, threatened by European disease and violence, and then the land was a spoil of war and part of the United States territory. When California became a state, Mexican land title didn’t neatly conform to the United States legal system, so the ranchos were sold in pieces to industrialists and capitalists who then subdivided it further into house-sized lots for working and middle class people to purchase. And of course white supremacy was already baked into the property system by then, so even though California was admitted as a non-slave state, definitions of who could own property or employ all of their legal rights were racially charged throughout our history.
If you’re still looking at the map (and if you’ve gone into a white guilt k-hole, come on back, we’ve got work to do), we can see that 2323 Market was at the western edge of the Mission Dolores. You can also see three parcels nearby, at about present day Corona Heights, labeled Geo. Flint, D.W. Parley, and Wool. I started digging deep into these three guys because that’s where my house is, and while I don’t want to blow my map wad all at once, you gotta hear about D.W. Perley.
Duncan W. Perley was a pro-slavery lawyer who was involved in the Broderick-Terry duel of 1859. Specifically, Perley was a friend with David S. Terry, the pro-slavery Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court and they were both involved in the Vigilance Committee, which brought frontier justice and “law and order” to early San Francisco with groups of men who carried out patrols, arrests and even lynchings. D. W. Perley was brunching at a hotel in Sacramento across from David Broderick, an anti-slavery state senator. David Terry had been shit-talking Broderick in a fiery speech to the state convention, and Broderick complained to Perley at brunch about this abuse. Perley, outraged on behalf of his friend as well as the Vigilance Committee and really the Southern pro-slavery contingent as a whole (there’s a lot more backstory here, obvi) told Terry, who challenged Broderick to a duel near Ocean Beach where Broderick died. Duels were illegal in California but they did it anyway, and when Broderick lay dying, he gasped that they had killed him for being against slavery and corruption. I biked out to the location of the duel once. There are markers set up and you can walk the paces yourself; the whole thing is barely marked and sandwiched in between a housing development and a private tennis club. The very Broderick Street that Belle Plummer lived in was named for this David Broderick upon his death.
Market Street was not graded or paved past Dolores until the 1870s, and did not extend past 17th in its current form until the late 1920s. The area around 2323 Market was populated with mostly small farmsteads (Duboce Triangle) or dairies (the hills above Eureka Valley), with a long looping curvilinear wagon road up to Twin Peaks and to the ocean (same sweep up the hill as present-day Market Street).
The photo above is taken from Noe and Market in 1888 (so before the current building); the photo is so low-resolution that we can’t read the original sign, but we farther down the block we can see a drug store, which was D.H. Wulzen’s.
The Market Street Cable Railway completed the Market-Castro Line in 1888, providing rail service from the Embarcadero eastward to Castro and then down to 26th. Developers were then able to attract middle class tradesmen into the area, and Eureka Valley and Duboce Triangle started filling in with single-family homes and stacked flats. But development was still haphazard, so the Eureka Valley Improvement Club formed in 1905 to lobby for improvements to the neighborhood. For example, Market Street had a notable “hump” or ‘hogback’ right around the current Safeway that stretched about a block and made transit past Dolores street slow, and by the Eureka Valley Improvement Club and other area clubs successfully advocated to remove the hogback so that transportation and circulation could be improved westward.
The 1906 earthquake had mostly spared the neighborhood in comparison to the total destruction in other parts of San Francisco, but the building boom across the city was evident in Eureka Valley as well, and the commercial areas along Market Street and Castro Streets started to spring up. In 1910, when 2323 Market was built, development accelerated as part of a post-quake building boom. The neighborhood transitioned from muddy, mossy, verdant farmland to a densely built district with modern apartment buildings. Development of the land and infrastructure itself was up to the property owners, which meant it often didn’t get done, but the improvement clubs at the time urged property owners to subdivide the area into smaller parcels to get more people in, and to also pave the streets and construct the sidewalks, install cisterns and lights and stables.
The neighborhood then is not totally dissimilar from the current configuration, as we can see from this 1906 view from Twin Peaks.
The neighborhood retained a somewhat wildish rockiness: tunnels had to be blasted into the expanse of red chert rock, and cable cars had to be constructed to haul people up dizzying heights before anyone would consider moving here. The quarries at the top of Corona Heights punctuated the air with blasts and dust and headaches, sewers and sidewalks were built block by block by groups of homeowners pooling their money together, and Duboce Park was not the neatly arranged teardrop of grass it is today but was a trash heap of debris and trash leftover from developers, set aside for the hospital and then nearly forgotten about in the haphazard carving of lots, and a pack of Irish boys stole dynamite from the quarry and blasted their faces off in a vacant lot (true story). It still feels wild to me sometimes, on Corona Heights, with the sprays of sticky monkey flower, where my sweetie proposed to me, with the ring we’d found together. Just before she proposed, we’d been bird watching at sunrise (“lesbian birders!” Shawn would exclaim dryly when we retold the story to him), watching the street lights twinkling in the crepuscular light, and I been breathing a deep feeling of comfort, feeling like I could sit still in one location and see wagon teams hustling down an unpaved Market street or watch women in bulbous sun hats carrying eggs up to the Corbett Toll House.
This deep comfort can also be terrifying. I think the hardest thing is being vulnerable, opening up your soft insides to whatever someone else can do to them. I was 28 the first time I felt like I loved someone fearlessly and even still I cried on their cheeks and tried to hold their hand too long and crept over to their house in the middle of the night and threw pennies at their window as an early snow softly fell. I’ve always kept going way too far in relationships – brooding over exes, trying to lure in lovers with exotic late-night adventures to abandoned train depots or overwrought poems written on antique typewriters. But in the end, the bravest is to show up as yourself with just you and all of your insides – your dreams, your hopes and, yes, all of the ugly, boring, tired thoughts that you drag around with you all day – and know that you are worthy of love. The work of love is to just show up as yourself every damn day, and I knew this but was still overwhelmed with this truth after I accepted my sweetie’s marriage proposal on Corona Heights.
The contractor who built 2323 Market for Belle Plummer in 1910 was Fred Miller, along with B.F. Woodall. Fred Miller was the contractor of record for at least 15 other buildings in San Francisco between 1897 and 1905. Some were residential houses and cottages, but a few were impressive structures, like the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Ebenezer Church on southwest corner of Dolores and Fifteenth, which was the center of Swedish cultural and religious activity in the neighborhood. The plumber of record was William Snook; Snook was a prominent plumber who had come to California in 1849, and scored many of the city’s contracts during the building boom. His sons may have been doing much of the work by 1910; he died in 1911 as the oldest plumber and gas-fitter in San Francisco.
Snook had been a member of the Vigilance Committee, the group that David Terry and David Perley were affiliated, whose aim was to bring “law & order” in frontier San Francisco. Then and now, “law & order” is a racial dog-whistle, and threads of racial superiority and surveillance of identities are woven throughout San Francisco’s history, as it was woven throughout the civic and cultural life of this country. As today, with Trump’s intonations to ‘watch the polls’ or homeowners promising that they will ‘stand their ground,’ the law for some seems self-defined, with authority bestowed merely by a sense of entitlement. David Terry participated in writing the California state Constitution before he shot David Broderick, and later returned to his home in the South and joined the Confederate Army.
The crowds in the above photo are part of the procession to the dedication of the McKinley school at Castro and 14th; the procession marched up Market to Fourteenth, then back down Market to Fifteenth, up Fifteenth to Castro and on to the school. Newspaper accounts praised the procession for its patriotism, and noted the “little misses” who executed complicated hand gestures in time with the music; sadly there are no pictures of them but I can’t help think of of the “Freedom Kids” that performed at a Donald Trump rally.
The first name associated with 2323 Market was a tailor named Emmanuel “Mannie” D. Koplan in 1913. He and his wife Gertrude lived at 2323 Market from at least 1913 to 1925; it seems that Mannie worked from their home. Mannie and Gertrude both emigrated from Poland – he arrived in 1885, and Gertrude in either 1904 or 1905. Their engagement was announced in 1904, but her immigration may not have been complete until they married in 1905 in a ceremony at her sister’s house in Portland.
Now starting to plan a wedding, I can appreciate getting married in someone’s sister’s backyard. I want people there to witness our ceremony, but I am a bit jealous of turn of the century weddings where they just grabbed a spray of asters, went to church and then had dinner at a social club. I am not sure why modern weddings have become so large, but we have a large community and family we want present. Perhaps I sometimes worry I am unworthy, or ridiculous for wanting a lot of people there, or I worry that I am worrying about things like what centerpieces we will have and if our guests will judge us or not. Like my neighborhood, I am in my own transition phase, from a punk-ish queer aesthetic gilded with cloudy emotions like self-doubt, and I am still oftentimes selfish enough to indulge myself in that same self-doubt. I have a large extended family of Russians who are religious and conservative and racist, and they won’t be coming to the wedding because they don’t know that I am gay. They don’t know that I am in love; they don’t know that I am happy or healthy.
I think about Gertrude Koplan emigrating and immediately having her wedding – what friends did she have? Was so close to her sister? Was her family there? Did she know Mannie from Poland or did she meet him while traveling somehow? What did her wedding ring look like? DeBeers didn’t popularize the diamonds as engagement rings as aggressively until the 1930s so it’s possible they didn’t even have wedding rings at all.
Mannie and Gertrude Koplan were Jewish. Browsing the census records for the neighborhood, there are not a lot of entries of Jewish folks on this block, but after the earthquake, the Jewish community flourished in the Western Addition, just north of Duboce Park. I wonder where Mannie and Gertrude went in their day-to-day lives? How did they traverse their neighborhood? The Twin Peaks Tunnel was completed in 1918, opening up the neighborhood to its neighbors to the west, and the Market Street extension was completed in 1920, opening up the hillside to auto traffic, so I imagine in the ten years they lived on this block, they evolved how they moved about, how they shopped and hauled home groceries, where they went to enjoy a Saturday.
There aren’t many details associated with the next three residents of the 2323 Market based on the records I researched. Peter Blake, also a tailor, lived at 2323 Market from at least 1927 to 1933. He was 50 at the time of the census, Irish but born in Australia and living alone. For one year in 1935, Erick Nelson appears at the address with an occupation of “expresser/mover.” By 1940, it appears that 2323 Market was retail, since a Bertie Benell, refrigerator repairman, has a business listing there (he and his family lived in the Mission on York Street). We can see from the census that in 1940 the monthly rent for the adjacent apartments on the second story were $28 per month; they were occupied by a pharmacist, a clerk for a drug company, and a liquor salesman.
The next seven years of 2323 Market are by slightly different types of tailors – successive flag-makers/embroiderers. Miss Florence Austin had her own flag-making business that she brought to 2323 Market from another location; she was here from 1942 to 1951, and then Elite Emblem Company was here from until about 1955. We don’t know much about the proprietor of Elite, Runie Goodmundson, but her name suggests an affinity for the neighborhood’s Scandinavian roots.
You know what else suggests Scandinavia? The next tenant of the store: Bengt’s Accordion Studio! Polka time! Bengt’s is apparently a very well-known and reputable brand of accordion; it’s unclear if this was a franchise or the name just referred to the brand for appeal. The next few tenants, through the early 1960s were two different recording studios, GVA Music & Recording Company and Drumfire Recording. The store was then home to three successive art galleries through the 1970s, and then clothing stores through the early 1980s.
In a way, I guess, then it can be said that the history of 2323 Market is still so Castro: clothes, art, a little booze and drugs, and men who can lift and fix shit. I maybe had never noticed this jewelry store before, but I walk down this block and wonder about all the other Mannie and Gertrude Koplans who emigrated and sewed up the holes in peoples’ clothes, the Belle Plummers who invested their husbands’ estates and constructed apartment buildings or storefronts or saloons, the president of improvement clubs who laid awake at night practicing their speech to persuade the city to pay for sewer construction, the union electricians who installed the lights after spending nights in long restless meetings at the Building Trades temple.
The diamond engagement ring we bought is perfect for me. It sparkles, but it’s also kind of like death metal or like an art deco bridge tower. There are three small gems, set upside down and off-center, and the tops are sharp, like volcanic peaks. I could blow at any minute, but my promise is that I won’t. What DeBeers wanted me to believe is that the ring is a symbol of purity, but in fact it is representative of kinetic energy, of pressure, of geological history, or unexpressed emotion that becomes beautiful with exactly the right chisel.