Everywhere you look
German-American Sites in San Francisco

The Goethe-Institut is located in the heart of San Francisco, adjacent to the Gate to Chinatown. In the past decades the city has grown by a multiple, but approximately 200 years ago, the present site of the Goethe-Institut was located at the city’s very origin, at that time called “Yerba Buena”. The diverse cultural influences have always converged on the West Coast thus giving distinction to San Francisco’s cityscape. German immigrants could also prove their talents and know-how during the foundation and further expansion of the city. Their influence can still be seen in many places in the architecture and construction of important landmarks. The Goethe-Institut invites you to a historical search of traces of German culture and architecture in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s history was greatly formed by German immigrants. On the following pages you’ll find out where and how these immigrants left their unforgettable marks.

Yerba Buena San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library When Jacob P. Leese, son of German immigrants, settled in the area around Bush Street and Grant Avenue in the 1830s, he was at the heart of a town named Yerba Buena. San Francisco's Goethe-Institut has been located near the center of the city's origins since its establishment in 1967.
Jacob P. Leese San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library The son of German immigrants Jacob P. Leese (1809, Ohio – 1892, Monterey/Salinas) was one of the first settlers to the peninsula of what is now San Francisco. He settled in the area around Bush Street and Grant Avenue in the 1830s, after marrying the daughter of General Vallejo. His trading center and his house, which he built in the present heart of Chinatown in 1836 , were the foundation blocks of the new and expanding village, Yerba Buena. Yerba Buena’s oldest urban center can be identified with today’s Kearny and Grant Streets as its north-south axis and Sacramento, Clay, Washington, Jackson and Pacific as its east-west streets. The new settlement soon incorporated the two older but decayed Hispanic pueblos Mission and Presidio.

Yerba Buena transformed into San Francisco in 1847, after the inhabitants rebelled against the Mexican government and proclaimed an independent state of California.

San Francisco's Goethe-Institut has been located near the center of the city's origins since its establishment in 1967.

Levi Strauss public domain His pants changed America! In 1873 Levi Strauss designed the world’s first cotton jeans – and created a symbol of American identity.

As the youngest son of Jewish parents, Levi was born in Buttenheim/Bavaria in 1829. When he was 18, he followed his siblings to America, with the wish to succeed as an independent businessman.

Levi spent a couple of years in New York where he learned the trade at his siblings' dry good wholesale business. In 1853 gold-rush fever struck him, and he joined the stream of people moving West. In San Francisco Levi established a dry goods business under his own name and served as representative of the family’s New York firm.

In 1873 his dream came true! Thanks to a brilliant idea (in cooperation with a Nevada tailor named Jacob Davis), Levi began to manufacture new pants for his customers: he placed metal rivets at the points of strain – pocket corners, and at the base of the button fly. Suddenly blue jeans were born!

Levi Strauss founded the Levi Strauss & Co. and quickly became an American icon. In the 20th century, Levi Strauss’ 501® blue jeans established themselves alongside Marlboro and Coca Cola as one of America’s most popular trademarks. For decades Levi Strauss & Co. had its factory on 250 Valencia Street, with the main office still located on Battery Street. Nevertheless, LEVI’S® Jeans are no longer „made in America“: the last US-factory in San Antonio (Texas) was closed in 2003. Despite its worldwide impact, Levi Strauss remained a family business. After Levi’s death in 1902, Levi Strauss & Co. was run by his four nephews.

Levi Strauss is buried at the Home of Peace cemetery in Colma, next to the graves of Adolph Sutro, and the Haas- and Lilienthal-families.
German immigrant Albrecht Kuner carved himself into California history.

They were detail-oriented German hands that created one of the most important symbols of California, which continues to decorate the Capitol and represent the State’s people and resources: The Great Seal of the State of California.

George Albrecht Ferdinand Kuner was born in Lindau/Bavaria in 1810. Since he was skilled as a silver and goldsmith, the Gold Rush attracted him to San Francisco. In 1849, he set out on his own with an abundance of seals to be engraved. Caleb Lyons, supervisor of the new California Seal that had recently been designed, was so impressed by the high quality of Kuner's craft, that he engaged Kuner to engrave the California Seal as well - and thus it came to pass that Albrecht Kuner played a major role in California's history.

According to ancient Roman myth, the Seal depicts the Goddess Minerva gazing over an idyllic scene of mountains, oak trees, the mighty sea below, and of course - Gold. California is shown as the Golden State. People should envision it as promising a life of paradise and prosperity. Today the Great Seal is for the official use of the Governor; it is stamped on all approved bills signed into law, as well as other important documents.

The Great Seal of California  
Adolph Sutro is one of the most famous persons and driving forces of civil urban development in the history San Francisco.

In the Great Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California public domain
Sutro, born in Aachen in 1830, emigrated to the USA at the age of 20. With his excellent skills in the field of mining engineering, he founded the Sutro Metallurgical Works and initiated the construction of the Sutro tunnel in East Dayton NV, which facilitated the transportation of rich silver ore out of the mines. In the following years Sutro created a small empire in San Francisco. For a while he owned Sutro Heights (part of today’s Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach) which at the time comprised eight percent of San Francisco’s landmass. Here he bought the Cliff House and rebuilt it after it was destroyed by a fire. In 1898 he constructed the Sutro Baths in close proximity to the Cliff House: huge baths of salt and fresh water, varying temperatures and water slides for thousands of visitors in search of recreation. His social commitment must have certainly helped him win, when Sutro successfully ran for San Francisco’s Mayor at a ripe old age in 1894. Four years later he died.

Adolph Sutro is buried at the Home of Peace cemetery in Colma, next to the graves of Levi Strauss, the Haas- and the Lilienthal-families.

The Sutro baths burned down in 1966. The reason is still unclear. Nowadays the only remains are concrete ruins.
A 1940's traffic jam on Bush Street and Grant. A 1940's traffic jam on Bush Street and Grant. | San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library The Goethe-Institut San Francisco was established in 1967, with the goal of organizing and supporting cultural events together with American institutions.

The cultural focus of the institute concentrates on film and media, as well as modern art. In addition to cultural programming, the institute organizes public discussions pertaining to contemporary social-political events.

In the educational liaison arena, the Goethe-Institut San Francisco consults with teachers and students of the German language in the States of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The language department of the institute offers intensive German language courses at all levels, as well as special courses relating to German literature, contemporary issues of German life, or conversation. Exams providing evidence of ones German language proficiency and information regarding study opportunities and stipends in Germany all belong to our customer service assistance.

The same place today: the Goethe-Institut is where you see the arcades (530 Bush Street). The same place today: the Goethe-Institut is where you see the arcades (530 Bush Street). | Photo: Chantal Buard Furthermore, we are on hand for consultation on various language learning opportunities in one of the 14 Goethe-Insitut’s in Germany and are happy to help with the placement.

Goethe-Institut San Francisco  


San Francisco’s openness made this city to a Mekka of innovative architecture. This openness was already apparent at the end of the twentieth century, when German architects found new opportunities to realize their architectural visions right here in San Francisco.


Many German artists found a new home in California during the Third Reich.
Especially for German photographers, San Francisco became a new home and creative outlet.

John Gutmann (1905 - 1998) belongs to the group of European photographers who came to America and established themselves in very successful careers. Thanks to his photographs, exhibits and teaching at San Francisco State University, he is regarded as one of the most important artists of San Francisco.

As a pupil of Otto Müller, who is associated with German expressionism, Breslau born Gutmann began a promising career as a painter. But following Hitler's takeover in 1933, as a Jew, Gutmann was forbidden to work, exhibit or teach. Gutmann escaped to San Francisco and advanced quickly as a documentary- and media-photographer, finding himself very much in demand. His photos were soon published in several newspapers and magazines, as well as being exhibited in museums in the late 1930s. Most of them show the phenomena of urban life through advertisements, cars, people on the street, festivals or assemblies. Often they portray a surreal effect, everyday occurrences appearing in an exotic way: this was, and still is, the special quality associated with Gutmann's artistic aesthetics.

Besides his work as a photographer, Gutmann founded the Department of Photography at San Francisco State University in 1938 and taught there until 1973.
In San Francisco, German immigrant Hansel Mieth became a pioneering female photojournalist, creating some of the most indelible images of mid-20th century America.

Together with her life partner Otto Hagel, Hansel Mieth (born in 1909 in Fellbach near Stuttgart) decided to dodge the approaching National Socialist movement and headed for San Francisco in 1931. It was in the midst of the Great Depression: people were without jobs and broke. Mieth and Hagel survived by accepting any work they could find. From this perspective, they began to focus their cameras on the everyday life of poor people surrounding them - migrant day laborers, workers on cotton plantations, unemployed and ethnic minorities. Furthermore they captured images of the general strike in 1934, which won wide recognition. As a result, the internationally recognized magazine LIFE became interested in Mieth and hired her as photojournalist (Hagel, however, remained a lifetime freelance photographer). Eventually, Mieth courageously carved out an impressive career in the male-dominated world of photojournalism. She continued documenting the casualties of social injustice — from Depression-era hardships to the alarming assault on civil liberties in Japanese-American internment camps. These works appeared in virtually every pictorial magazine in the world. At the end of the 1940’s, as victims of the McCarthy-inquisition, Mieth and Hagel were forced to return to Germany, where they began documenting the post-war era. A few years later, however, they returned to their farm in Santa Rosa, where they lived out their final days. Hagel died in 1973 and Mieth in 1998.

Thanks to

Thanks to:

Original Web Production:
Chantal Buard

Original Web Design:
Glows in the Dark Studios
Jon Betts

Chantal Buard

Research, texts and translations:
Jessica Kraatz Magri
Hans-Christian Mennenga
Madeleine Cornu Catero
Ulrike Hack

Webmaster Goethe-Institut San Francisco:
Madeleine Cornu Catero

Special Thanks to:
Bernd Brunner

Everywhere You Look is a project of Goethe-Institut Washington for the United States and Canada.

General Editor:
William Gilcher, Goethe-Institut Washington