Queen Elizabeth II, England's longest-serving monarch and the second-longest-serving monarch in the world, died Thursday. She was 96.
The event of the queen's death, even though it's far removed from the U.S. and will have no impact on global politics, feels inescapably historic, and thus will dominate news cycles for days and maybe weeks to come. Prince Charles immediately became King Charles III today, something he's anticipated for all of his 73 years on earth, and his coronation will be the first England has seen in three generations.
San Francisco as a city has deeper ties to Ireland, historically, than the UK, but it's home to plenty of Brits, likely both pro- and anti-monarchist. And the occasion of the queen's departure from this mortal coil is occasion enough for the SF Chronicle to run a couple of photos and a quick recollection of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's March 1983 visit to San Francisco — the first and only time the queen came to the city.
Famously, during that visit, the queen was treated to a concert and a special performance of Beach Blanket Babylon at Davies Symphony Hall, arranged and planned by the show's creator, Steve Silver, and California's then Chief of Protocol, socialite Charlotte Maillard Schultz — who just died in December.
The show's longtime backstage manager John Camajani and past SFist contributor Beth Spotswood did a promotional video series for the show a decade ago on YouTube in which they detailed that legendary performance for the queen.
A big reveal in the performance was a hat displaying a skyline of London, like the famed, over-the-top San Francisco hats worn by Beach Blanket Babylon performers — and doors on it opened to reveal a royal family portrait. And while the queen may not have been seen laughing out loud like Prince Philip, she did crack a smile for the performers.
As ABC 7 recalls, Broadway star Mary Martin sang at the show as well, and Tony Bennett sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Robin Williams was also apparently there. The station has some archival video.
Mayor Dianne Feinstein got up at the event to present the queen with a bronze plaque and a "working key to Mission Dolores." And Feinstein joked about the stormy weather that day, "This kind of weather happens in California every few centuries."
Amusingly, and maybe this was Philip's idea, the couple also had dinner and drinks at Trader Vic's, which had some protesters outside.
President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan hosted a banquet at the old deYoung Museum for the queen, some photos of which you can see below. Mayor Feinstein and her husband Richard Blum were of course in attendance, along with Governor George Deukmejian and his wife, Gloria.
As the New York Times reported at the time, "Large trees from the city's greenhouses were brought in to stand in the entrance foyer, and white potted azaleas and primroses punctuated the Adrian Gruhn Court of the Asian art wing, where most of the guests had their predinner drinks." And, "The museum furnished the galleries with some 18th-century pieces from its collections, laid down several Persian and Indo-Persian rugs, usually seen only in exhibitions, and hung the walls with American paintings by such artists as John George Brown and George Caleb Bingham." The paintings included one of Windsor Castle, with a museum official quipping, "We thought perhaps the Queen might be homesick."
SF socialite Denise Hale was quoted saying, "I'm in seventh heaven tonight."
As she explained, "'For me, this evening has special meaning because an Englishman saved my life and without him I wouldn't be here,'' referring to husband, Prentis Cobb Hale, then the chairman of the executive committee of the American Retail Federation. ''When I was escaping from Yugoslavia in a rowboat in 1946, the captain of an English minesweeper picked me up," Hale said.
The queen and Prince Philip had intended to fly into Los Angeles and then sail onboard their yacht, the Britannia, up to San Francisco. But inclement weather prevented them from doing so and they flew here instead, with the yacht arriving later. Below, the Reagans see the royal couple off on March 4, 1983, onboard the boat in San Francisco Bay. The dinner on the boat was meant as a celebration of the Reagans' 31st wedding anniversary.
It wasn't all galas and dinners though. There were protests, as violence in Northern Ireland and the conflict known as the Troubles was ongoing at the time.
As the Chronicle recalls, "Firebrand Warren Hinckle led the charge. But the protests, like the miserably wet weather, rolled off the back of the irrepressible queen who withstood the populous bowing before her in good cheer while her acerbic husband Prince Philip kept his potshots to a minimum."
The aforementioned concert, as the UPI reported at the time, was interrupted by Irish Northern Aid leader Seamus Gibney, who stood up in the orchestra section and screamed, "stop that torture!"
The protest at Golden Gate Park was apparently far enough away from the museum banquet that guests couldn't hear it, but was apparently 5,000 people strong.
The Reagans and the royals both stayed the night at the St. Francis Hotel, before it was a Westin, and as the Chronicle reports, a spokesperson boasted, "The St. Francis has been hosting heads of state since 1904. We’ve had a half-dozen presidents, emperors and empresses, so the hotel and staff are accustomed to it.”