An Abridged History of the St. Andrews Society of San Francisco
Delivered by Gerard Sample at the Society meeting on October 21, 2013
An abridged history of the St. Andrews Society of San Francisco, California on its sesquicentennial year, at least that is the published age of our Society, “established 1863”.
A smallish group of emigrated Scottish gentlemen decided what they and The City needed was a Saint Andrews Society!
It took more than a few Scots to establish our Saint Andrews Society, and those fearless Lads did just that!
Soon after the Society’s seeking official status from the State of California there would be a compliment eighty or more Member’s present in their then meeting hall, joining hands as well as paying dues.
Very shortly after this gathering, a much larger group now, there were insurgents that proposed to the membership that our Society should celebrate their heritage by organizing an annual Highland Gathering and Games.
This proposal brought on much discussion and derision. Eventually the canniest members voted down this venture in fear of a great liability to the Society and its members.
It came about that the unscathed organizers of this grand plan withdrew, but not resigned, from the Society and formed a new “club”, The Caledonian Club of San Francisco, founded in November 1865, and goes proudly on today.
On some wall in our Firehouse there hangs an original print from “The Illustrated London News” dated 1868. It is an artist’s view the Caledonian Club’s third annual games in Sausalito. There is a bit of a tale about this print.
First of all this illustration depicts a “beach scene”, some years later this tide land had been filled, thus changing the topography as it is seen today. On the west edge of this beach is First Street. After fill was completed a new shoreline was created and Bridgeway Boulevard came in to being. Then “First Street” was renamed Caledonia Street in honor of the “Games”. That being so, our original water color is a very significant piece of our history.
Back to the ancient history of our Society, Eventually the two organizations owned a building in San Francisco. It and many other buildings came down with the great shake and bake of 1906. Regardless they sold the property to the City, which was the eventual area of the old San Francisco Public Library. The two “Clubs” divided up the poke which gave Society an opportunity to jump start their valuable portfolio.
At the first Annual Banquet November 30th, 1863, Peter Donahue, a declared Irishman, presented as a gift the “Traditional Society Ram’s Head”. It has a sneezing history being in use today to provide a pinch of snuff to the brave hearts in attendance!
After my presidency I would carry the “Ram’s Head” around the room to offer this titillating experience. My wife, Shirley, also joined in on this fun-filled adventure as we explained what the Ram’s Head and the snuff was all about..
Historically the “snuff” was only used by the ladies while the Gentlemen left the hall for cigars and “usquebaugh”.
The Society’s motto, as I am certain you all have put to memory:
“Our ain ills aye hae strength to bear, anither’s aye hae heart to feel.”
As we wind down together there are a few Members, Past Presidents I would like you to note of:
No links on the Social Register
John McLaren ❊ 1893
Well known Gardner
James Rolph, Jr. ❊ 1901;
Mayor of San Francisco
Governor of California
Judge Robert L. McWilliams ❊ 1943
Circuit Court, Northern California
Donald M. Campbell, MD. OBE ❊ 1962
Of course I should mention
Past President Norman Macleod, OBE
(Order of the British Empire) an Honour well deserved At least that’s what Norman told me!
Plus so many, many more joining for the camaraderie, their heritage and to help those in need. Members who gave up many hours of their private life to take part in the Society’s activities and needs. Officers who put so much unselfish work for the Society, for the eleemosynary goals and commitments of the Society.
Fasten your seatbelts; we are going to fast forward to almost the present day of the Society. When I joined, 1971, we met in the old Native Sons Building on Mason Street. We shared our digs, on the 3rd floor, with the Theosophical Society. One floor up was Ron Hubbard’s Scientology group.
I got to know an be guided by several Past Presidents of that era, Charlie Doig, Don Sinclair, Jack Adams, Davy Scott all deceased and all good Scots!
I followed Davy Scot, and I often mused that mine was an appointment rather an election. In those days we barely had the quorum of nine members at our meetings. So it was inevitable that I would be a President of our great Society.
When we did not have a quorum then Secretary, Charlie Doig would phone down to the Edinburgh Castle, a pub on Geary Street, and ask Dougie Kirk owner and fine Member of the Society, to rush up here, we need him for a quorum, and of course Wee Dougie came a running.
We continued to meet in this facility, sharing it with the Theosophical Society and their overwhelming incense layered room on Mason Street. Our numbers were going through a growth that it had not seen in many years. It changed demographically as well. When I joined in 1971 the membership was about 80 to 90 per cent Scottish born. Now it was closing in on American born Scots with a keen interest in their heritage. Our meeting place was getting too small.
At the first meeting in the chair, January, 1976, I asked for “opinions” on trying to find a better home for our Society. That very night a newly elected member of the Trustees, John Ritchie. “timidly” stood up to tell us there was a decommissioned Fire House that could be available for us if we work at it.
There you have the prelude to moving into “Our Firehouse”.
It was a merry-go-round for a while, John Ritchie and I met with Mrs. Davies and discussed how we, St. Andrews Society, would use it for meetings once a month and try to help with the upkeep. It was then that we learned that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had their interest as well.
Nothing was sealed in concrete.
We spent time looking at other properties, especially on the new take over of the Presidio of San Francisco by the National Park Service. We did not make the short list there; we were then a “men-only” organization!
We looked at for sale property of the Free Masons. There was a very nice hall out in the “Avenues” but way too big, too much for us, even with the Caledonian Club joining us.
For a while we searched and tried different venues, the Press Club, convenient but terrible acoustics, but we kept coming back to the Firehouse, not yet our name.
At this time our membership meetings were not well attended, members didn’t know where we were going to be next.
Eventually we settled in to the Firehouse, in spite of having to move two huge horse drawn Fire Engines, to make room for our meetings. No, the horses were elsewhere.
Sadly, during this time, Mrs. Davies passed away. Her daughter, Maryon Davies Lewis, half heartily managed the Firehouse; she never really cared for it.
Our St. Andrews Society had finally taken hold along with the Engines being moved every third Monday of the month.
Maryon hired a person to look after the Firehouse. This did not go to well. One cold winter evening he decided to build a comfy fire, right on the floor of the “garage”! It was not well taken by the neighborhood what with the Fire trucks rushing to the “burning” Fire House. It was the end of the Firehouse for Maryon; she called me at my office right after the fire episode and asked point blank, “Does the Saint Andrews Society want the Firehouse?” I replied with a firm YES!
So now the task ahead is dealing with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Our Trustees formed a plan to meet with the trust and offer to buyout their interests, they or we were “hooked, line and sinker! The Trust had lost its major financial support from the Government so they were in the want of MONEY! The Society put our bid on the table, the NTHP grabbed it. Our only obligation this Historic Building was to maintain the façade in its original manor. We also pledged to keep it as a “Good Neighbor” to the neighborhood, which meant opening it up for public local purposes.
So here we are sitting in a most historic and prominent Fire House, the Saint Andrews Society of San Francisco, a most historic and prominent Society.
Just a few notable interesting achievements of our Society: In about the 1980’s, I think, we shook the foundation for our Burns Dinner by inviting Wives and families to partake in our once male only gathering. An evening to toast and quote from the many poems and songs of Scotland’s own, Robert Burns.
In the early 1980’s a spirited few of our members planned and executed an attempt to reach top of Mount Everest by way of the East route. This trek was not really to reach the peak, but to survey and layout a plausible route via the East Face. One of our Past Presidents, Bruce McCubbrey partook in that venture.
Then the follow up in October 9th, 1983 our outstanding Member Dr. Dan Reid and his wife Barbara reached Base Camp, he wearing his kilt. On the final ascent he carried a wee Flag of Scotland! An outstanding accomplishment, he was one of a few that achieved that goal.
Tragically he and his wife Barbara were killed in a climbing accident in Kenya in 1991.
As you look around this room, our “Great Hall”, it is hard to believe that just forty years ago it was tough to get a quorum of nine members to a meeting. Only the guid men came to that dusty auld room on the third floor of the Native Sons Building on Mason Street.
There are many stories and humorous tales that warmed the hearts of this Grand Society; most locked in the memories of those passed.
And here we are this evening enjoying the revivification of our Society, voting just a few years past, opening our Membership to the Ladies! God Bless ‘em!