George Christopher

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George Christopher
George Christopher.jpg
34th Mayor of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 1956 – January 8, 1964
Preceded by Elmer Robinson
Succeeded by John F. Shelley
Personal details
Born George Christopheles
December 8, 1907
Arcadia, Greece
Died September 14, 2000(2000-09-14) (aged 92)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Tula Sarantitis
Profession Accountant, businessman

George Christopher (December 8, 1907 – September 14, 2000) was a Greek-American politician, and the 34th Mayor of San Francisco, serving in that office from January 1956 until January 1964. He is to date the last Republican to be elected mayor of San Francisco; all San Francisco mayors since he left office have been Democrats.

Biography

Early years

Born George Christopheles in Arcadia, Greece, the son of James and Mary (née Koines) Christopheles.[1] He and his family emigrated to the United States in 1910 and settled in San Francisco's South of Market Street neighborhood, then known as "Greektown", when Christopher was two years old. Christopher left school at the age of fourteen when his father James became seriously ill, and he became sole support of his family. He sold newspapers and became a copy boy at the San Francisco Examiner.[1] While working, he also attended night classes at Golden Gate College and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting. After becoming a citizen of the United States in 1930, Christopheles changed his last name to Christopher.[1]

After college, Christopher worked for numerous small firms keeping their accounts and eventually bought out a small dairy on Fillmore Street, which became the Christopher Dairy.[1] In 1935, he married Tula Sarantitis.[1]

Career

Regarded as a moderate Republican,[2] Christopher began his political career in 1945 when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; on re-election, he became board president. Christopher ran for Mayor in 1951 and lost by fewer than 3,000 votes to incumbent mayor Elmer Robinson. However, in November 1955, Christopher won election as mayor in a landslide over Democrat George Reilly.[1] During his administration, San Francisco hosted the 1956 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace, in which the party renominated incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate in the upcoming presidential election. He was re-elected in 1959 for a second term.[3]

Christopher was instrumental in bringing the New York Giants baseball team to San Francisco in 1958 (where they became the San Francisco Giants) and in securing the funding to build Candlestick Park, on the abandoned lands of Sunset Scavenger on Candlestick Point; the ballpark opened for the Giants 1960 season. His administration has been credited with the building of the Brooks Hall, twelve new schools, seventeen firehouses, six public swimming pools, the five-story Fifth and Mission and the underground Civic Center garages.[1]

Christopher was known for his strong stand on civil rights. He gained worldwide headlines offering his home to Willie Mays after it was reported that a Forest Hill realtor had refused to sell to Mays.[4] Christopher also lobbied and succeeded in opening mental health and alcohol treatment centers under city funding.

Christopher presided over the redevelopment of major portions of city and private lands, labeled slums, some not without controversy; Embarcadero Center and Golden Gateway, displacing the old wholesale produce market from the filled land southeast of Telegraph Hill to the Alemany location where it remains, Japantown and the Fillmore urban renewal that displaced the African-American and the remnants of the Jewish Community for concrete highrises, the new Hall of Justice and the opening of the Embarcadero Freeway, which blocked the Embarcadero and Ferry Building from the city, spawning the first Freeway Revolt.

Another controversial issue was the loss of the historic Fox Theatre movie palace on Market Street at Polk Street. In early 1963, the owners of the Fox closed the theatre, and offered it for sale to the city of San Francisco for $1,050,000. Mayor Christopher turned this down, and demolition of the Fox proceeded; by August, the theatre was gone. Theatre historians worldwide agree that the San Francisco Fox was one of the most magnificent movie palaces ever constructed. Movie palace fans still mourn the theatre's loss over 45 years later, longer than the building actually existed.

In Christopher's second term, the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities held hearings in the City Hall supervisor's chambers. A large group of students and active citizens were fire-hosed down the marble steps inside City Hall rotunda by the San Francisco Police Department when they protested their exclusion from admission to committee hearings. Christopher later told the Federal Government they were no longer welcome in city buildings, but he sided with the committee and spoke for the propaganda newsreel-style film made by the committee about the event titled, Operation Abolition,[5][6] that blamed Communists for the so-called City Hall riot of May 13, 1960. Christopher was criticized for endorsing the film while saying that "at least 90% of the students were not organized by the Communists."[6]

In 1958, Christopher was defeated in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate by Governor Goodwin Knight. In 1962, when Richard Nixon ran for governor, Christopher ran for lieutenant governor, losing to incumbent Democrat Glenn Anderson. He lost the June 8, 1966 Republican primary for Governor of California to former actor and conservative icon Ronald Reagan, who won with 77 percent of the vote.[2] Historian Geoffrey Kabaservice points out that a Drew Pearson column that highlighted a 1940 arrest of Christopher for buying and selling underpriced milk, a story fed to Pearson by the staff of incumbent governor Pat Brown, and Christopher's underwhelming response to that column contributed to the loss.[2]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Nolte, Carl (September 15, 2000). "George Christopher 1907–2000: Big-Thinking S.F. Mayor Of '50s and '60s Is Dead". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 25, 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c Kabaservice, Geoffrey (2012). Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 169–172. ISBN 9780199768400. 
  3. ^ Boyd, Nan Alamilla (2005). Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 204. ISBN 9780520244740. 
  4. ^ Spander, Art (November 15, 2007). "Discrimination, S.F. style, hit Mays". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved March 25, 2018. 
  5. ^ De Looper, John (October 19, 2010). "Operation Abolition and Operation Correction". The Reel Mudd. Princeton University. 
  6. ^ a b "Operation Abolition". Time. March 17, 1961. Archived from the original on February 5, 2008. Retrieved September 12, 2015. 

Further reading

  • Dorsey, George (1962). Christopher of San Francisco. New York: MacMillan Company. LCCN 62013596. 
  • Gladys Hansen (September 14, 2000). "George Christopher (1907–2000)". Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. Archived from the original on July 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  • Oral history interview on California politics [1]
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