People from all over the world make their way up London Ranch Road in Glen Ellen in search of Jack London.
They’re not just tourists working off a bucket list or ticking off the Top 10 recommendations on Yelp. They come to Jack London State Historic Park to get closer to “Jack.” He spent the last 11 years of his life there, when he wasn’t traveling the world.
Jeff Falconer, who leads tours of the ranch, said many are downright pilgrims, including many from Russia, where London’s socialist writings and tales of the rugged north resonate deeply. Flowers are frequently left on his grave, marked by a large rock rolled over from the ruins of his Wolf House.
But London’s footsteps are all over the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. His struggling family moved frequently, and many of the homes and small farms where he lived as a child and young man are torn down, built over or moved. That includes the place where he was born at 615 Third Street in San Francisco. But a plaque on the Wells Fargo Building at Third and Brannan marks the spot.
London was born in San Francisco, but Oakland has embraced him as a native son. The blue collar city on the other side of the bay is where London spent most of his youth, along with short periods in Alameda, Livermore and San Mateo.
The author’s most ardent followers invariably make their way to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, a rickety bar built in 1880 from the timber of a whaling ship at the foot of Webster Street in what is now Jack London Square. Although a fire in the 1920s destroyed a lot of the interior and memorabilia, some things were spared, including the original pot-bellied stove and 1902 ice cooler now wired for electricity, said Bryan Wells, who manages the old sailors’ hangout.
The floor is slanted from the 1906 earthquake. The worn bar counter and the foot rail where London would have rested his boots also remain, as well as several of the original tables, including the first one by the door — duly marked — where young Jack sat poring over a giant dictionary, Wells said. A pair of withered boxing gloves hanging from the ceiling by the door are said to have come from a legendary fight between Jim Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons covered by London.
“It’s amazing the people we get in here because of Jack London and how far they come,” Wells marveled. “A professor from The Jack London Society in Japan comes once or twice a year. He usually comes with a new group of students or colleagues.”
A lot of Russians also make their way to The First and Last Chance — so named because it was the first place sailors could hit for a drink coming off ship and the last joint before they put out to sea.
Barkeep Johnny Heinold was one of London’s original mentors and supporters, and even loaned him money when he was scraping up the funds to attend UC Berkeley. London wrote notes for “The Sea-Wolf” and “Call of the Wild” while hanging out at Heinold’s and refers to it multiple times in “John Barleycorn,” his semi-autobiographical novel.
Where to find Jack London today
Birthplace: Plaque at Third and Brannan in San Francisco marks where London was born. House burned in 1906 quake.
Jack’s Cottage: His writing den with his typewriter and desk and sleeping porch where he died. At Jack London State Park.
The Ranch: Pig Palace, barns and concrete silos show Jack’s agricultural innovations at the park.
Jack’s grave site: The ashes of Jack and Charmian marked by a boulder at the park.
Wolf House ruins: At the park, his nearly complete dream home burned in 1913.
House of Happy Walls: Charmian built this house after Jack’s death. Now a museum at the park.
Heinold’s: Waterfront saloon at Oakland’s Jack London Square where Jack hung out. Nearby is a recreation of the cabin where he stayed in The Yukon.
Oberon Grill: Former saloon at 516 Second St. in Eureka where legend says Jack fought a lumber baron’s son.
Special Section: Jack London Centennial