The Barbary Coast,
The Barbary Coast,
There were not nearly enough dwellings in San Francisco during the gold rush to shelter even a small proportion of the newcomers, most of whom consequently were housed in leaky canvas tents or in hastily constructed board shanties with muslin or linen partitions. Many of the lodging houses, and some of the more pretentious hotels as well, consisted simply of one or more large rooms with bunks fastened to the walls and rows of uncomfortable cots on the floor. To sleep in a bunk or a cot cost as high as fifteen dollars a night, although none had either springs or mattresses. Very few private rooms were available, and the cheapest rented for from two hundred to three hundred dollars a month, payable in advance. The best brought from five hundred to a thousand dollars for a similar period. Enterprising landlords also rented sleeping space on tables, benches, and other articles of furniture at from two to ten dollars for eight hours. One man is said to have realized fifty dollars a night from the rental of half a dozen rickety old rocking chairs. Another placed wide redwood planks on sawhorses and sold the right to sleep on them for three dollars, the occupant to furnish his own bedding. In all of these flimsy places roamed millions of flies, lice, and other noxious bugs and insects, besides the huge gray rats, which almost immediately began to infest the waterfront and the muddy streets. Many of these repulsive rodents attained such size and ferocity that they were more than a match for a terrier, and they often attacked sleeping men, biting large chunks from ears, noses, and cheeks. In several houses, signs were displayed warning the guests to cover their heads. Even this didn’t help much, however, for the thrifty landlord usually removed the covers from a man’s body as soon as he was asleep and gave them to a latecomer.