Portsmouth Square, or the 'Plaza' as it was also known, was the center of civic life in Gold Rush San Francisco. Delineated well before California's entrance to the Union, the square was host to many significant events. Although it was principally encircled with saloons, gambling halls, brothels, and theaters; the square was also home to such respectable establishments as the Justice Court, the Alta California Newspaper, and the Atwill & Co. Publishing firm.

This view portrays the Southwest corner of the square as it looked before the fires of May 4th, 1851 and June 22, 1851. At the time, many structures were still made of canvas or wood, but the right side of the scene shows the front of an Adobe structure remaining from the days of the Mexican Alcalde. On the extreme left of the picture is shown a portion of the City Hotel, a structure which also predated California's admission to the Union and one from which the fire of May 4th, 1851 originated. Both buildings were destroyed by fire that year.

 

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