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San Francisco, California (U.S.)

Last modified: 2002-10-12 by rick wyatt
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[Flag of San Francisco, California] by Rick Wyatt

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Description of the flag of San Francisco

Description: A white field, with a phoenix rising from flames. There is a motto beneath the phoenix on a ribbon, "Oro en paz. Fierro en guerra." According to Whitney Smith's The Flag Book of the United States [smi75a]:, the flag was official as of 16 Dec 1940.
Jon Radel, 25 October 1996

About the yellow border: the original flag was white with the Phoenix/motto, and a yellow FRINGE. When it came time to mass produce the flag, the yellow fringe somehow became part of the design of the flag itself. Then when an indoor flag is needed, you guessed it, it gets yellow fringe in addition to the yellow border!
Nick Artimovich, 23 October 1996

Motto: Translated, the motto is "Gold in Peace, Iron in War".
Jerry Lorigan, 26 October 1996

The phoenix was chosen as a symbol to commemorate not the 1906 earthquake/fire (which hadn't occured yet), but the even more disastrous fire of 1852. This fire destroyed even more of the then mostly wooden city, which was quickly rebuilt, earning San Francisco the slogan "The City that Knows How."
James J. Ferrigan III, 8 December 1999

Origin of the flag

On January 8, 1900, San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan addressed the S.F. Board of Supervisors, and as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle of January 9, 1900, stated: "I recommend to the Board finally to adopt a flag for the city of San Francisco. Other cities have their ensigns. Upon ours should be inscribed the sentiment now upon the city's seal. Oro en paz fierro en guerra. It is singularly appropriate by reason of the fact that California is the Golden State and San Francisco has become the point of debarkation for our troops, whose heroic work in the Pacific has been the principal event of the closing century, and our own California boys, mustered in San Francisco, were the first to the front [in the Spanish American War]. Gold is emblematic of prosperity and iron emblematic of fortitude and courage and when the war ceases we hope that productive industries and prosperity, of which iron is also emblematic, may permit us to read the inscription, Gold and iron in peace."

The Chronicle reported that Mayor Phelan had won a $50 prize for an article he had written on "How to Make Corporations Pay Their Taxes", in an article of February 21, 1900, "and at once offered to give the $50 as a reward for the best design to be submitted for a municipal flag, which he has for some time advocated."

On March 17, 1900, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in its editorial column, being no friend of Phelan: "By invitation of Mayor Phelan, designs are being submitted for a municipal flag. Competitors may choose a guinea pig, a rat or a monkey as the central figure."

On April 15, 1900, the Chronicle announced the selection of a design for the San Francisco flag, the design of John M. Gamble, stating: "A design for a municipal flag was yesterday [4/14/1900] selected from among some fifteen designs placed in competition before the Commission appointed for the purpose of recommending the most appropriate civic banner to the Board of supervisors .... Action by the Board of Supervisors will be necessary before the flag is regularly adopted as the official banner of the city, and it is probable that this action will be taken on Monday ...." The design is shown, along with Gamble in line drawings accompanying the article. The flag as designed does not bear the yellow border, nor any other border, nor the words "SAN FRANCISCO" as does the present flag.

In an April 19, 1900 Chronicle article it was reported that Mayor Phelan had transmitted the flag design to the Board of Supervisors for adoption, with the adoption issue coming before the Board on the following Monday at its regular session. The Mayor is reported to have stated: "New York and other cities have such flags, which are used on appropriate occasions. The desirability of a city ensign occurred to me during the reception of the troops returning from the Philippines last fall, when the city tug, which met every returning transport, had no official mark of identification."

The San Francisco flag appears to have been first displayed publicly during the annual San Francisco police inspection parade held on or about May 1, 1900 [ I can't immediately find the date of the Chronicle's report of the parade]. The flag is displayed in a line drawing accompanying the article, upon a staff. The mayor delivered a silken San Francisco flag along with the national flag. I have seen a photograph of what I believe to be this parade, with the San Francisco flag displayed on a staff.

Bill Trinkle, 12 October 1998

Early Flags of San Francisco (1900-1940)

[San Francisco Almanac 1899 image] by Guillermo Tell Aveledo, 1 July 2000
1899 Almanac Image

The City of San Francisco's original flag is illustrated in the SF Municipal Almanac 1899-1900 edition. This flag was described as white with a black phoenix and scroll, with golden yellow flames, lettering and scroll reverse. There is no mention of fringe.

[San Francisco Chronicle image 15 April 1900]       by James J. Ferrigan III, 12 July 2000
April 1900 Newspaper Image

A slightly different image appeared in the SF paper on April 15, 1900. This flag is also shown without fringe. Both flags are shown with 8 points on the flames. This flag was used by the SF Police Department in parades and ceremonies.

[Overland Monthly Magazine image October 1929] by James J. Ferrigan III, 12 July 2000
October 1929 Magazine Image

In 1926 the flag was described as no longer serviceable and a replacement flag was sought. This flag was replaced with a flag in 1929, an illustration of which appears in the Oct issue of Overland Monthly. Note the appearance of fringe.

In 1940 the flag was placed before the S.F.Board of Supervisors to be officially adopted, which it was on 16 December 1940.

The flag in City Hall was yet another version also bearing fringe. The fringe was described as "bordered in gold." This is the origin of the golden yellow picture frame border shown on the Museum of San Francisco's web site.

Both of the flag manufacturers in San Francisco, The Emerson Flag Co. and The Paramount Flag Co. began to produce versions of the flag. Paramounts more closely complied with the ordinance, Emerson's was more embellished, three colors in the flames and serifs on the letters. In 1963 Mayor George Christopher identified the Paramount design as the "official flag". Note the two color flames and the San-serif lettering. Both versions are still in use at City Hall.

James J. Ferrigan III, 12 July 2000

Bay Area Rapid Transit

[flag of Bay Area Rapid Transit] by Michael Smuda, 14 April 2001

B.A.R.T. is the acronym for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit operating in the San Francisco/Oakland area. I have had this for some time and haven't sent it before, but the other day this flag was flying upside down outside the headquarters building. Fulfilling my duty as an vex person, I phoned them and they corrected the problem. BART, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit operating in the San Francisco/Oakland area, is a public transit system, which makes it basically a government agency. The Board of Directors are elected in public elections representing various areas of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The system operates computer controlled trains on six foot gauge track with third rail electrical pickup. One interesting feature is the Oakland to San Francisco tube, a two track bore running 265 feet under the San Francisco Bay for about 7 miles.

The flag is almost an LOB. The logo for BART is a black lower case 'b' and a light blue/teal 'a' in a white background the "BART' in black letters above the 'ba'. The flag is a light blue/teal rectangle (3:5) with the black 'b' and a white 'a' without the 'BART' portion of the logo. The logo can be seen on the BART web page at

Michael Smuda, 14 April 2001

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