When San Franciscans Paid $100 Each For Ball Tickets




SAN FRANCISCANS of today are justly proud of their reputation for hospitality, but our fathers were not so slow, for they laid the foundation of the reputation we are maintaining when they gave a ball and banquet admission to which was by ticket $100 each. The time was the night of November 17, 1863, the event celebrated the visit of a Russian squadron and the place was Union Hall, located on the south side of Howard street, between Third and Fourth streets.

It was a military ball given to Admiral Popoff and thirty-five officers of the Russian fleet then anchored in the bay of San Francisco. The country was in the throes of civil war. The relations of the United States were, at best, strained with leading nations of Europe, except Russia. Russia had manifested the sincerest friendship to the Union. In recognition of its friendship New York made a great demonstration on the occasion of the visit of the Russian squadron to that harbor, and when the Pacific squadron under Admiral Popoff visited this bay it did not take long for patriotic San Franciscans to decide upon giving a similar friendly demonstration in Russia’s favor here.

The ball and banquet was inaugurated by the City Guard, the oldest militia organization in the State, and its officers took the leading part in its management. Once it was decided upon the leading citizens of the State became active in its arrangements.

Admission was obtainable only by special invitation, and, with the exception of the guests, it cost $100 a ticket. But money was plentiful in those days, and it was easier to get a subscription of $100 for any cause than it is to get $5 now. Nearly 1000 invitations were sent out. Colonel William C. Little, afterward the agent of Mayor Adolph Sutre, was the Captain of the City Guard and the leading spirit in the movement, and his family still retains in possession, as precious mementos of the event, the memorandum book containing the invitation list and photographs of many of the Russian officers, with whom he was on terms of the closest personal friendship.

The Russian fleet consisted of five vessels carrying in all eighty-seven guns and manned by crews aggregating nearly a thousand men. They were the flagship Bogatyre and the corvettes Gaidamach, Calevala, Abreck and Rynda. Admiral Popoff was one of the most distinguished of Russia’s naval officers and a great ship designer. He designed and constructed the imperial yacht Livonia, a novelty in its time in marine architecture, and also the greatest ironclad in the Russian navy.


The committee of arrangements consisted of twenty-four of the leading citizens of the State, namely, Fred F. Low, then Governor-elect; Ogden Hoffman, United States District Judge; Brigadier-General George Wright, commanding the military department of the Pacific; Charles Jones, Collector of the Port; W. S. Farwell, naval officer; Richard Cheney, naval agent; R. B. Swain, Superintendent of the Mint; H. P. Coon, Mayor of San Francisco; E. H. Washburn, afterward United States Minister to France; Major E. Sparrow Pardy, U. S. A.; Major-General L. H. Allen, Colonel C. L. Taylor, Major John Hewston Jr., Captain W. C. Little, William C. Raiston of the Bank of California, Charles Wolcott Brooks, William R. Garrison, Fred W. Macondray Jr., I. Ward Eaton, Frederic McCrellish, editor of the Alta California, William M. Greenwood, Benjamin C. Howard and Eugene Casserly, who served a term to the United States Senate.

The decoration for the event were wonderfully elaborate. The committee of arrangements had plenty of funds, for the response to the invitations were very general, and although the ball opened at 9:30 o’clock in the evening, when the distinguished guests arrived, participants continued to crowd in until after midnight. The floor managers were Captain W. C. Little, Major E. Sparrow Pardy, F, W. Macondray Jr., Major John Hewston Jr., and Charles Wolcott Brooks. The music was under the direction of Professor Herold, conductor of the Italian opera, who has been dead many years. The orchestra consisted of forty brass instruments, divided into two bands, one of fifteen pieces, performing during the intervals between the dances, and the remaining twenty-five furnishing the dance music.

The scene was one of the most gorgeous ever witnessed in a San Francisco ballroom. The rich costumes of the ladies were outshone by the gorgeous naval and military uniforms. Conspicuous among the latter were the white coats and tall black busbies of the City Guard, all members if which organization were in attendance in full regimentals. The snowy uniform worn by the guards in those days when on dress parade has been long out of fashion. There is a striking contrast between it and the simple and somber uniform which has been adopted generally by the National Guard in these latter days to accord with that worn by the regular Army, which has, however, the merit of greater serviceability, whatever it may lack in effective display. Every feature at the scene was heightened by the brilliant lights and elaborate decorations.


The ball opened with a grand march to the Russian national hymn, and then followed twenty-four quadrilles, polkas, waltzes, gallops, lancers, and schottisches. The supper was served from 10 P.M. until 5 A.M., and such a supper! It is interesting now to know what was eaten and drank by those who participated in such a swell affair, although the menu is now covered with the must of years. It comprised the best and rarest of everything procurable for money. The committee stinted nothing. Following was the bill of fare combined home patriotism and a generous recognition of the friendly nation honored:


Raw Oysters. Pickled oysters.

Fried oysters. Oyster pates.



Vol-au-vent a la Financiere au vin Champagne,

Terrapins au vin de Madeira,

Westphalia Hams, au vin Champagne.



Pâtés de Foie Gras Suisse,

Boned Turkey aux Truffles,

Smoked Tongues, iced and jellied.



Turkeys stuffed with treffle sauce,

Capons, Madeira wine sauce,

Canvas Back Ducks, with Russian cranberry sauce.

Geese a la California.



Young Pigeons stuffed. Champagne sauce,

Quails a la Maitre d’Hotel,

Pecassin a la Bordellaise,

English Snipes, larded and broiled,

Teal Duck, broiled.



Chicken Salad, a la Mayonnaise,

Lobster Salad, decorated,

Anchovy Salad,

Salad, Italian style,

Russian Caviar,




Olives, etc.



Charlotte Russe, Madeira Jelly

Fruit Jelly, Maraschino Jelly,

Meringues a la crème, Macaroons,

Ram Jelly, Orange Jelly,

Vanilla Ice Cream, Roman Punch,

Coconut Cakes, Ladies’ Fingers,

Lemon Ice Cream, Strawberry Ice Cream,

Meringues a la Comfiture, Pine Apple Cream,

Loyal Kisses, Union Drops,

Russian Jelly,

Lafayette, Citron, Sponge, Wine, and Fruit Cakes, Mottoes, etc.



Strawberries with cream, white grapes, Los Angeles grapes, Isabella grapes, pears, peaches, plums, apples, etc., and preserved fruits in endless variety.



Temple representative of the alliance between Russian and America, ornamented with national flags.

Temple of Liberty. Marine Trophy.

Russian Man-of-war.

Trophy of War. California.

The Kremlin, Moscow.

A Castle of Ice.

Pyramids of coconut, orange, nougari, preserved fruits, etc.

Coffee and tea.

The banquet was spread in the big basement underneath the main hall. Nearly two generations of San Franciscans have since been born and have grown and matured who know nothing of this festive international event. The men and women who were present at the festivities of that memorable ball who have not been "buried with their fathers," have been frosted by the hand of time, but they live over again in memory the experiences of that night. In far-away Russia there is probably more than one fireside at which the lavish hospitality of the friendly Americans at San Francisco is pleasantly remembered, and with it springs before the Russian mental vision, no doubt, recollections of some friendly international contests over the cup that cheers and inebriates, at the close of which the American competitors arose sober as judges, while some Russian representatives were dead to the world and all that is in it — under the tables.


The San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, April 19, 1914, Magazine section, p. 1.