The International Settlement and Pal Joey


I periodically walk through the Jackson Square Historic District on my way to more modest areas in San Francisco. I cursorily acknowledge that the neighborhood is “fancy” with all the design firms and antique shops. My next thought is that I better walk a little quicker before they spot me and give me the boot.

All Herb Caen-esque kidding aside, this little three square block neighborhood is special, not for the fancy inhabitants but for the layers of history that ooze from the bricks.

The neighborhood, specifically the single block of Pacific Avenue between Kearny and Montgomery, has been the site of several long gone San Francisco entertainment districts.

International Settlement from Montgomery 1940s

The International Settlement is of particular fascination for me. This was the block’s exotic name from the late 1930s to its decline in the late 1950s. Jazz music, tropical clubs, and leggy stage shows were the style of the time, themes aimed at attracting sailors passing through town. The result was a potent mixture of glamour and grit.

Sailors enjoying their shore leave outside the House of Pisco (the drink Pisco Punch was a San Francisco invention). Pisco Punch recipe here on the Chow Hound website.


The movie Pal Joey (1957) is a great visual account of the history of the street. It stars Frank Sinatra as an out of work entertainer and cad looking to make a buck in SF and Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak as love interests. As movies go, it’s middling. But seeing the street in color is really exciting.

IS_Hurricane stageshow
Sol Bright, the Polynesian Gene Autry, with his dancers at the Hurricane Club.

IMG_8289 2My friend’s grandparents (far left) and aunt and great-great-uncle Jack De Maria (far right) at the Hurricane. Jack was the manager and maybe the owner.

Hurricane Bar Interior

This fantastic photo of the Hurricane bar gives an idea of the vibe they were going for.

Hurricane Mug

Also from my friend’s collection, this heavy duty outrageous mug from the Hurricane. It took a while before I noticed that the bartender in the photo is holding one of these. There is more info on the period’s clubs on this Tiki fan site, Tiki Central’s page on the Hurricane Bar.

Before International Settlement days, the street’s first incarnation was the Barbary Coast, famed center of Gold Rush debauchery and vice. The 1906 earthquake demolished most of it, bringing an abrupt end to that chapter.

Ladies of the Barbary Coast.

After the Barbary Coast the street was rebranded as Terrific Street, with clubs like Spider Kelly, Hippodrome, and The Midway. This phase ended when prohibition was enacted, but many of the names and signs from the period were reused when the International Settlement was created.

1909. No cars!

Time has erased much of the evidence of rolicking fun in the area but you can still see some bits and pieces if you look closely.

Sign Post Remnants Pacifc at Montgomery 2018
The old piers for the neon International Settlement sign.
Looking down Pacific Ave. from Kearny Street, 2018.

Unless noted, all vintage photos are from the SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY.

Thanks for reading,

Empress Norma

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