National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco
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Charlotte Mignon Crabtree was born in New York City in 1847. In 1851, her father came to California seeking gold.
Two years later, Lotta and her mother joined him in Grass Valley where they were neighbors of the dancer and actress Lola Montez who had been the mistress of King Ludwig I, Alexander Dumas père, and Franz Liszt. Montez recognized little Charlotte's talent and encouraged her singing and dancing.
The Crabtree family moved to Rabbit Creek (La Porte) forty miles to the north where Lotta made her first professional appearance at a tavern owned by Matt Taylor. Soon Lotta was traveling to all of the mining camps performing ballads and dancing for the miners. As depicted by Joan Broneske at the Nevada County website:
The miners in the Sierra of Northern California were used to the loneliness, dirt and disappointments that came with the search for Gold, but Gold of another sort appeared in 1853 to ease this routine and her name was Lotta Crabtree. The tiny, red-haired, six-year-old jigged and danced to their clapping hands, while they showered her with nuggets and coins which her mother hastily collected in her apron.
Lotta's mother served as her manager and collected all of Lotta's earnings in gold, carrying it in a large leather bag. When this became too heavy, it was transferred to a steamer trunk.
In 1856, the family moved back to San Francisco. By 1859 Charlotte had become "Miss Lotta, the San Francisco Favorite". Soon she was touring California, then Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, London.
She appeared in stage adaptations of Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Old Curiosity Shop. She smoked thin black cigars, which became her trademark. She became wealthy. She never married.
In 1875, Lotta Crabtree commissioned a fountain for one of San Francisco's most noted intersections: Kearny, Market, Third, Geary.
After the 1906 Earthquake and Fire the fountain became a gathering point for survivors. Names of the dead, the missing, and the found were posted. On Christmas Eve, Luisa Tetrazzini sang at the fountain. Every year since, on April 18, at 5:13 AM, well into the 21st Century, the survivors have gathered in remembrance.
Lotta Crabtree's final public appearance in San Francisco was in 1915, "Lotta Crabtree Day" at the Panama-Pacific Exposition.
Oh, how we loved Lotta Crabtree and Lola Montez. As much as we were later to love Janis Joplin and Grace Slick.
The Lotta Crabtree Fountain is also San Francisco Landmark 73.