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A Taste of History

Today’s blog post comes to us from Sonia Kahn, one of the student employees in the Digital Collections Unit. Sonia has been digging into some of our favorite digital collections and writing posts to highlight some of the fabulous digitized material from the Bancroft collections.

With Halloween just around the corner, many of us have chocolate on our mind, and some of you may have already dipped into the sugary arsenal meant for potential trick or treaters. But having a sweet tooth isn’t a seasonal event and many of us crave chocolate year-round, especially here in the Bay Area, where tourists from all over the world flock to Ghirardelli Square to sample the offerings of one of San Francisco’s most famous companies.

But the Ghirardelli chocolate company’s history stretches back much farther than the 1964 opening of now iconic Ghirardelli Square. Did you know that the Bancroft Library is home to a Ghirardelli company photo album that contains 56 photographs of the chocolate making process? This short and sweet collection includes photos dating from 1882 to the early 1920s.

[Factory workers in canning area.]

[Factory workers in canning area.]

The Ghirardelli company’s story began in 1849, when Italian immigrant Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli, hoping to prosper from the excitement over the California Gold Rush, set sail for California and established a general store in Stockton to serve the local miners. In 1852, Ghirardelli opened a confectionary store in San Francisco, and by 1893 success led the company to purchase a building and move manufacturing to the current site of Ghirardelli Square. In 1923, the brightly illuminated Ghirardelli sign, which still shines today and has become synonymous with San Francisco, was revealed to the world.

[Factory buildings, seen from south.]

[Factory buildings, seen from south.]

In the 1960s, manufacturing was once again relocated, this time just slightly southeast of San Francisco to San Leandro. The old manufacturing site was purchased by a couple of affluent San Franciscans who worried that Ghirardelli Square might be torn down in the midst of urban redevelopment. In November 1964, Ghirardelli Square was reopened as the dining and retail site it is today, and in 1982 the site received National Historic Register status to ensure its preservation for the future.

In 2012 the Ghirardelli company celebrated its 160th anniversary, and today Ghirardelli Square continues to beckon to tourists and locals alike with its tantalizing sweets. The history of the Ghirardelli company is just one of the many collections on California’s cultural heritage that the Bancroft is working to preserve.

Check out the collection here: https://calisphere.org/collections/8416/

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