Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the name. ”Mr. San Francisco,” as he was sometimes called, wrote a Pulitzer-winning newspaper column for 60 years dedicated to his adopted hometown. Herb Caen was beloved locally but was largely unknown outside San Francisco.
Caen’s influence was so great that, when he wrote “Don’t call it Frisco” in 1953, locals stopped using the nickname. Instead he pleaded:
Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. And don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co… It’s SanfrnSISco.
Even now, more than 60 years later, those of us who live in Silicon Valley still admonish visitors when they say Frisco.
But Caen wasn’t above creating nicknames himself. He coined the term Baghdad-by-the-Bay to reflect the colorful personalities that filled the city. Caen came up with Berserkeley as an homage to the craziness of Berkeley in the 1960’s. Many people also credit him with the term beatnik.
San Francisco proclaimed June 14 as Herb Caen Day and, during the dedication ceremony, he told the crowd:
I’ve loved this town before I was born, and I’ll love it after I’m gone,
One day if I do go to heaven, I’ll look around and say,
It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.
Herb Caen died on February 1, 1997. San Francisco misses him almost as much as he misses the city.