I walked by this place on my way to Blackbird Guitars in the Mission district. I'd never heard of Whiz Burgers even though they've been around "Since 1955," as the sign says (too small to read in this photo). I assume the name was meant to suggest how fast they could deliver food.
Growing up in Ohio, I saw plenty of hamburger stands of all brands built in this style: a shed roof over one big room with a glass front. Mostly I saw them near strip malls with big parking lots in front.
I never expected to see one shoe-horned into a corner lot in a densely packed urban neighborhood. Other street corners in the area have restaurants built into corner retail spaces beneath apartments.
I guess back in 1955, the city let developers level a corner lot to build their standard model hamburger stand. Somehow, I don't think they would today.
Whiz Burgers is still whizzing along. As you can see, there was a customer at the window when I took the picture, and later folks were sitting out at the picnic tables.
My friend, Liz, and I visited Blackbird Guitars in the Mission District. This factory, about the size of a typical auto body shop, builds acoustic guitars and ukuleles using sheets of linen fiber strengthened with resin.
Blackbird says their product is sustainable because it doesn’t require harvesting hardwoods like mahogany and rosewood, which come from rainforests. True enough: flax, the source of linen fibers, is a part of traditional agricultural.
We gave their guitars and ukes a good workout, and they are very fine instruments. For all the romance about traditional wood construction, there is no reason good-sounding instruments cannot be made from other materials.
Playing guitar remains an important part of my writing life. After pounding out as many pages as I can, I play a few tunes. When I sit down to write again, it seems as if my brain has organized the words that come next.
It’s not unusual for authors to write in sprints, alternating with some activity to refresh the mind. Some take walks. I know one writer who plays pool. Patricia Highsmith writes about how important naps are for a writer. “I go to sleep with the problem and wake up with the answer.”
I sometimes take naps or go for walks, but focusing my brain and my fingers on rhythm, melody, and harmony seems to have an equally clarifying effect.
,Market Street in San Francisco starts at the Ferry Building and runs southwest in a straight line all the way to Castro Street. Streets on the north side of Market run north-south and east- west. This creates lots of pointy street corners.
Architects usually design pointy buildings, "flatiron buildings," for these corners. This new one is at 15th and Market. Apart from its sleek, contemporary styling, there's nothing unusual about it except . . .
. . . the architects have given the corner rooms big windows that go all the way to the point. This gives the apartment-dweller a living room (presumably) with wrap-around daylight and nowhere to hide. They must have curtains that can travel from the solid walls out to the point to give privacy after dark. But for daytime, these flats are see-through.
This view of San Francisco reveals a lot about its history. The large domed building in the upper left corner is the Palace of Fine Arts, a pavilion left over from a world's fair the city hosted in 1915. That event was crucial to the city's recovery from the earthquake and fire of 1906 that nearly wiped it off the map.
The cluster of tall buildings to the right of the Palace is the Financial District, As soon as San Francisco become a city due to the Gold Rush of 1849, it became a banking capitol, the "Wall Street of the West." As banking grew through the 20th century, the buildings grew taller. You can see the pointy building known as the Transamerica Pyramid.
The cluster of tall buildings further right went up mostly in the last five years. They represent the explosion of the tech industry in the last twenty years. The tallest of them, and the tallest in the city, is the Salesforce Tower.
Across the middle of the picture, the low buildings with red roofs are part of the Presidio, which was a U. S. Army base from the time of the Civil War until 1994. Before that it was base for the army of Mexico when California was its territory. And before that it was the Spanish El Presidio de San Francisco, established coincidentally in 1776. Now it is a national park.
The railing seen across the bottom of the picture is part of one of the newest structures in the city. It's on a bridge spanning the highway below. A section of that highway has been covered with tunnels. Soon we will be able to walk over them from the Main Post of the Presidio down to the park along the Bay.
So I think it's fair to say, until the bridge was completed last year, no one had ever seen this view of the city.
San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department takes care of big things like Golden Gate Park, Dolores Park, several golf courses, and a marina, as well as medium-sized things such as Alamo Square, Alta Plaza Park, and Lafayette Park.
Then there are the mini parks, nameless patches of green that turn up in residential neighborhoods inviting the passerby to pause and take a breath before moving on.
This one occupies about two building lots. On the left of the photo you see the wall of an adjacent house. to the right, just out of view, is the small Victorian house I wrote about recently. In fact, you can see a bit of this park in the photo of that house.
Though I have no credentials in landscape architecture, I will say these mini parks seem to be little masterpieces of design. In the photo you see a densely planted area. It has a path meandering through it. Behind me as I took the photo, the rest of the park is a a sparsely planted shade garden beneath mature trees.
I found no list of mini parks on the website for Recreation and Parks, but a search for "Mini Park" turned up a long list of articles about individual minis. The variety is amazing.
San Francisco is famous for its grand Victorian houses. For instance the "Painted Ladies" around Alamo Square are three and four stories tall, have become a tourist attraction, and are featured in an annual open-house walking tour.
But throughout the city there are pockets of lesser Victorians. On a walk yesterday, I chanced upon this little gem, just one-story tall and probably 25 feet wide. Nonetheless it has a fancy cornice to make it look taller, a hood over the door, a bay window, and lots of trim. The proud owners have given it a three-color paint job.
Local historians can date a house by its decorations. After the Gold Rush of 1849, the city was built up with plain square houses. In the decades that followed, as businesses flourished, new houses became more ornate.
Bay windows became popular after small factories were set up south of Market Street, where they could be fabricated. They were then carted to the building site and attached to the front of the house.
It's amazing to see so much ornament lavished on such a small house. It's even more amazing to see a one-story house surviving in a city where every square foot becomes more precious every day.
When we first walked down this section of Pine Street, I wondered why the builders of these houses put the front door so far above the street level. Why not just put it down one floor and call it a three-story house?
I met some folks who are local history buffs and asked about this. To begin with, those garages are not original. These houses were built in the late 1800s. Cars showed up about 40 years later, and garages were added.
Furthermore, these houses were built at the peak of a hill. At that time, the street was higher, much closer to those front doors. Later, the city re-graded the streets to flatten the peaks and make this neighborhood less hilly. For the homeowner that meant, "Build a longer stairway!"
We were walking along the Embarcadero in San Francisco when we came upon this. The Embarcadero is where you embark. Once upon a time that meant getting aboard all kinds of ships. Today that means boarding a ferry to take you across San Francisco Bay.
The whole point of building (and rebuilding, and maintaining) the Embarcadero was to let you keep your feet dry while walking to the dock and stepping aboard the boat. As you can see, that's not working so well any more.
That fence between us and the splashing water is a recent addition. Behind it is a set of stairs that used to descend to sea level so you could tie up a small boat, step out of it and walk up to ground level. The city fenced off the stairs because now it's a rare day when more than two of them are dry.
To be fair, this picture was taken on a day when we had a king tide, defined by Wikipedia as ", , , the highest tides. They are naturally occurring, predictable events." So the Embarcadero is not like this every day. On the other hand, this is now predictable.
Christmas in San Francisco is complicated.
In some ways it seems normal. Macy's provides the backdrop at Union Square, center of the downtown retail district. People scurry about on foot and in cars.
The Christmas-tree lights on the palm trees seem normal, but the trees themselves are not. All trees in San Francisco are exotic species. In its natural state, this peninsula was nothing but sand dunes.
The white shed on the right, glimpsed beneath the trees, is part of the ice-rink concession, another exotic import. There is no naturally occuring ice here, but we have three ice-rinks downtown.
In the upper-right corner there seems to be an angel topping the giant Christmas tree, but she really stands atop The Dewey Monument, placed in 1901. At the time it seemed like a good idea to celebrate the admiral's victory in the Spanish-American War. So our angel celebrates war rather than peace on earth.
In the lower left corner a crane and fencing around a construction site have become familiar sights over the past three years, and they will be there for a while yet. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is digging a tunnel for a north-south subway line. We have several major transit projects underway that seem to be taking a little longer than expected.
So we celebrate the season in our improvised, incoherent, semi-imaginary city, where so many things seem to be coming soon. Merry Christmas to all. Be of good cheer.
Relentless in its quest for innovation, San Francisco has introduced curling. In a city that has not seen naturally occurring snow or ice in decades, this is nothing short of visionary.
Such wonders do not happen overnight.
Long ago, an ice rink opened at the Embarcadero Center for a few weeks in December and January. It remains a popular holiday destination under the sponsorship of . . . you guessed it: Hawaiian Airlines!
More recently the merchants around Union Square duplicated the success of the Embarcadero by opening their own December-January ice rink.
And this year, ever-eager for public-private synergy, the city's Parks and Recreation Department has teamed up with a contractor to open the Winter Park at Civic Center. As you can see by the monumental architecture in the background, this one is in front of City Hall, and it has outdone the other two seasonal ice rinks by offering curling lessons.
What's next in a city that seems determined to astonish? Just thinking out-loud here: we have the hills for urban skiing.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the neighborhood adjacent to Lafayette Park in San Francisco. That house on the left has wreaths with red bows in the windows.
The FedEx truck has stopped at Octavia Street, and, if you look very closely, you can see the driver returning from a visit to Danielle Steele's house on the right.
Hers is the one with the hedge that envelopes the first floor. It looks like the setting for a novel by Jane Austen, or rather it would if it had rolling green lawns around it.
Instead, it is perched at the top of a hill overlooking San Francisco Bay. I should say almost at the top. Lafayette Park sits a bit higher, which is how I was able to take in the view and snap this photo.
I sometimes tell myself I am walking by a fellow writer's house. Then I remember her books have sold 800 million copies. I have some catching up to do.
Ms. Steele has turned up before in my blog. The proprietor of the Argonaut Book Shop has an amusing story about her, as I mentioned in my blog post on the shop.
Why is there a life-size sculpture of a blue whale at Crissy Field?
Why not? Given the choice between having something this cool and not having it, I think most people would go for it.
But there's a little more to it than that. This lovely sculpture is made entirely from plastic trash collected in California.
Why make a blue whale out of plastic trash? Because, Every nine minutes, 300,000 pounds (the approximate weight of a full-grown blue whale) of plastic and trash end up in the ocean.*
*According to National Geographic.
Come on, people, we can do better than this!
By the way, Crissy Field was formerly a military airstrip. It's part of The Presidio. The whale sculpture is a joint project with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and some other great organizations. You can read all about it here.
There are six of these stately buildings along the north side of the Main Post at the Presidio in San Francisco. Though they look grand they were built as enlisted men's barracks in the 1880s when the U. S. Army decided to put down roots on this land by the Golden Gate.
Today they house museums, offices, a restaurant, and a hotel. One of them is home to the Walt Disney Family Museum.
We paid no attention when it opened several years ago because we thought "family museum" meant it was a place to entertain children. But instead the name means it was created by the Disney Family, as opposed to the Disney Corporation.
The permanent exhibit shows how Walt and his brother Roy progressed from doing illustrations for ads in newspapers, to creating short animated cartoons, to something unheard of at that time: a feature-length film entirely animated, Snow White.
All along the brothers pushed creative boundaries, forced technical innovations, and found ways to get paid. Creative types in all fields today might learn a lot from their model.
They also have excellent changing exhibitions. A recent one paralleled the careers of Walt and Salvador Dali. They admired one another's work, became friends, and collaborated. Who knew?
The San Francisco Bay Area is rightly famous for its tech industry. Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber etc. . . . and those are just the consumer brands. There are also business-to-business brands like Oracle and Salesforce.
Everyone has their favorite phone, tablet, laptop, app, website, and so on. Everyone also has their nominee for dubious achievement by a tech company. Mine is the insulated cup with a built-in USB port so you can plug it into your computer and it can tell you if you're drinking enough water.
And then there's this robotic coffeebar. It's exactly what it sounds like. You can stroll into this place, tap the app on your phone that orders your drink and pays for it, and watch as a robot makes your latte, mocha, or whatever.
I've been trying to think of possible advantages for the customer.
1) Assures him he is cool.
2) Liberates him from having to deal with a barista who says things like, "How's your day going so far?"
3) . . . honestly, that's all I can come up with.
For the owner, I assume the robot is cheaper than employees.
I've posted a lot of pretty pictures of California and have had fun writing about what was in them. Today is a different story.
This is not a cloudy or a stormy day in San Francisco as seen from our apartment. This is a day when the city and much of the Bay Area are enveloped in smoke from the deadly Camp Fire 200 miles away.
In less than forty-eight hours, the Camp Fire destroyed the town called Paradise ("nestled among the Ponderosa pines") and became the most destructive fire in the history of California. That's saying a lot after last year's wine-country fires. As I write this, the wind in Butte County has picked up and over 100,000 acres are blazing.
Here in the city, we are experiencing four days of "very unhealthy" air quality. Flights have been cancelled at SFO. All are advised to stay indoors with the windows closed. Fortunately our temperature is in the low 60s, so we're not tempted to open up and let a breeze through.
In the photo, the sky is gray at 1:15 p. m. The tall buildings in the picture are two blocks away. On the hillside beyond, we can see every single house on a clear day, not so much today.
Simultaneously two major fires are burning north of Los Angeles.
Climate change plays a part in postponing our rainy season and encouraging these giant firestorms. According to officials at Cal Fire (the state's fire-fighting agency), another cause is people building houses on the edges of the forests.
To protect those houses, we have put out every small fire for decades. In doing so we have not let the forests go through their natural cycle of burning underbrush. Now, when a fire starts, extraordinary amounts of fuel are on the ground.