Back in 2003, on a visit to San Francisco, we saw School of Rock at the Alexandria. I enjoyed it. A lot of the scenes had a real heartbeat, even though overall it was the familiar story of the eccentric teacher/coach/captain who leads his students/team/crew to victory or at least personal growth.
The Alexandria is NOT a victim of the pandemic. It has been closed since 2004 after operating since 1923. A year ago, the city's Planning Commission approved a plan to turn it into a center for after-school programs, including a swimming pool. No action so far.
The twenty-five years during which I have visited and lived in San Francisco have coincided with the decline of movie theaters. I'm photographing those that are left.
Painting houses black is recommended by realtors and house-flippers as a way of making a quick sale. The architecture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle hates it, and it has called it a sign of gentrification.
Three weeks ago, I posted a photo of a row of Victorian houses in which all but one are painted in in traditional light colors with contrasting trim. One of them is painted black . . . almost.
A closer look reveals it is really dark gray with black trim and some silver and gold highlights. These variations give the house a sense of proportion, but the overall effect is still black. As a long-time friend remarked, it looks like the Addams' Family's home.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Boarded-up Windows, San Francisco, and featured some of the murals that have appeared on the plywood used to cover the windows of stores and restaurants since the State of California ordered them closed. Some of these are casual, painted by uncredited artists. Others were commissioned and the artists have signed them.
Since that post, this mural has appeared on the corner store shown at the top of that blog post. It is now on the plywood facing the bus-stop in that picture. Apparently it was work for hire, because the inscription on the lower right says "copyright Friends Liquor," the store pictured.
The humor and the pathos are universal but especially apt for San Francisco where the average apartment size is 747 sq. ft. and the average rent is $3629 according to rentcafe.com. Rents are dropping as people are leave the city due to job-losses, but no one expects this to bring rent on a decent apartment within range of an individual who works for a living.
It's always delightful to reach the northern end of Van Ness Avenue, turn right, walk through Acquatic Park, and see these historic vessels tied up at the Hyde Street Pier. The tall ship on the left is the Balaclutha, a steel-hulled cargo ship built in 1886. The three-masted ship on the right is the C. A. Thayer, a lumber schooner, built in 1895. There are four other vessels, including a paddle-wheel steamer for passengers and a rare paddle-wheel tug built in England.
Delightful as it is to see them, it's even more fun to go aboard. The National Park Service (NPS) does its usual excellent job of making them accessible and providing all the information you need to understand what you're seeing. There is also a visitor center, an indoor museum, and a library.
In years past, I have seen announcements that the Balaclutha goes out for a sail around San Francisco Bay and that the interpretive rangers lead passengers in singing sea-chanteys. Truly they are among the greatest teachers we have.
Plywood started appearing on store-fronts and restaurants as soon as the shelter-in-place order was announced. That was scary. Was there really reason to think people would start breaking in and taking things? Early on there were a few burglaries, mostly wine and liquor taken from bars.
In this dark moment, artists came to the rescue. Even though they were declared "non-essential" they made our lives a bit brighter and more bearable. For instance, these mousies started popping up around town, saying and doing different things each time.
Some stores have let art happen. Others have hired an artist to make the streetscape more bearable:
I thank the health-care workers. I thank the governors. I thank my neighbors who wear masks. I thank the artists.
San Francisco's Victorian houses are usually painted in color schemes that emphasize their ornamental woodwork. When a house is being painted, you usually see a sign for the color consultant along with a sign for the painting contractor.
Recently some home owners have taken the opposite approach and painted the whole house black---walls, windows, trim, everything. Usually, there is just one of these on a block, as you can see here.
There is a certain appeal to this look, but our local architecture critic, John King, has started sounding the alarm. In a recent column, he writes, "I can now state emphatically, without reservation, that the black house craze has gone too far." He particularly objects to other architectural styles being painted black: bungalows, Spanish revival. mid-century modern.
When I walk by one of these, I enjoy the surprise and the dramatic impact. But I agree with Mr. King when he warns against taking this too far. Two or three of these in a row or a whole block of them would be overwhelming.
These two Victorian houses are the last of their generation on this block. They sit hemmed-in by more recent apartment buildings.
As you can see, the one on the right is freshly painted---blue, with white trim. The pair of front doors indicates it was built with separate first- and second-floor apartments. Not all Victorians were built as grand, single-family homes. The four electric meters suggest that the ground level has been remodeled to make two studio apartments.
The house on the left could use a coat of paint. Someone painted the first story in a shade of blue that does not match its neighbor. The plywood on the front door and the drawn shades, except for the upstairs room with no shades, suggest the house sits empty.
It's not unusual to see run-down empty houses in San Francisco, despite the astronomical price of real estate. Sometimes we see one repainted and remodeled after years of neglect. Who knows why?
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the city shut down Geary Street and removed the pedestrian bridge at Steiner. The crew started early on Saturday and by Sunday morning it was reduced to rubble as you can see below.
No one will miss this bridge, because no one ever walked on it. It let you cross busy Geary Street at will, but climbing up the ramp at one end, crossing the bridge, and coming down the ramp on the other end took longer than waiting for the light to change and crossing at street level.
This bridge was a vestige of the 1960s, when this section of Geary was widened to six traffic lanes and turned into a mini-freeway with an underpass at Fillmore and closure of Buchanan and Octavia streets. The result was a nine-block gash through a traditional neighborhood that has never healed.
Another surface-level crosswalk is being added at Buchanan, and Geary is being narrowed with bulb-outs for bus stops and parking. All this should make the neighborhood more livable.
In 1881, Adolph Sutro bought 22 acres north of San Francisco's Ocean Beach. On a rocky promontory he built a mansion and gardens with wide vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Marin Headlands.
Sutro came to San Francisco in 1851 and set up as a shopkeeper. In 1860, he went to Virginia City, Nevada, and, after a few career changes, made a fortune at the Comstock Lode. He returned to San Francisco, served as mayor and carried out many philanthropic projects.
After his death, his daughter lived at the cliff-top mansion, which overlooked the first inn and restaurant called The Cliff House. By the time she died, the house and grounds had fallen into disrepair.
Today, only the foundations of the house remain, but on a foggy morning one can still imagine the grand life he led.
The policy of social distancing means there aren't many people around when we go out for a walk, and we avoid those few we see. The streets and plazas and neighborhoods feel empty, and traffic signals seem useless.
But we're having lovely weather, and the place still looks nice. The skies lately remind me of that fine old song by Joni Mitchell, ". . . ice cream castles in the air, and feathered canyons everywhere . . ."
The new Transbay Transit Center has a roof garden. This is good because it covers four city blocks. It's nice to have four blocks of places to catch city buses and commuter buses that go outside the city. It's even better to get a big public park in the bargain.
The bit of greenery shown here is a collection of "living fossils," plants that were around long before people were. I find this reassuring, and I'm not sure why. Plants elsewhere in the park exemplify cloud forests, desert landscapes, Australia, and other cool stuff.
It's not all plants. There's a climber for kids, a plaza with cafe tables ringed by food and drink vendors, and a flat lawn with a stage incorrectly described as "amphitheater." All very cool.
I took this pic standing on a pedestrian bridge that connects the park to the fourth floor of an office building. We hit the coffee bar and sat out on chairs such as he one you see. We had our choice of chairs, which was unusual in the busiest part of town. This happened because everyone has been told to stay home through March 22, 2020.
We went out anyway. In our hearts we are from New Hampshire: "Live free, or die!"
Next stop: Japan.
Oceanside cliffs are common in and around San Francisco. This one is just around the corner from the Golden Gate. It's kind of awesome to stand here and think that if you head due west, the next land you reach will be Japan.
The National Park Service has placed the Land's End Lookout here so you can have a cup of coffee and a sandwich while contemplating the immensity of the globe.
You can also learn a bit about the history of this spot or pick up a sweat shirt in case you came here thinking all of California is sunny and warm.
On a really clear day, you can see three tiny triangles on the horizon. They are the Farallon Islands. The water between here and there is the Gulf of the Farralons. It is home to the largest population of great white sharks in the world.
This is a great place to be glad you're on dry land.
San Francisco's historic cable cars are popular but misunderstood.
They are not trolleys. Trolleys are powered by electric lines overhead. Cable cars are powered by a system of cables that move constantly in channels beneath the street. The gripman operates a clutch that grips the cable, causing the car to move, and releases the cable to stop the car.
They aren't used for transportation any more. There used to be fourteen lines fanning out over the eastern portion of the city. They were invented because there were accidents involving teams of horses pulling heavy loads up the steep hills in the city.
Now there are just two lines. The Powell Street car runs from Market Street, up and over Nob Hill and winds up a Fisherman's Wharf. At either end you can watch a turntable turn the car around to go the other way. It is hugely popular with tourists
The California Street car (pictured above) starts near the Embarcadero, runs up and over Nob Hill and ends at Van Ness Avenue. The latter half of the ride is mostly residential and there's no tourist destination. Usually there's no waiting in line for this one. Just hop on!
I suppose every now and then someone rides them just to get from here to there, but mostly they are museum pieces, and delightful ones at that, although they are expensive.
Landmark has announced it will close the Clay theater, which was built in 1910 as a movie house---no backstage! Reportedly they have lost money for years on this single-screen neighborhood theater, showing new art-house films and cult classics.
Elsewhere in the city, Landmark is doing well. Its Embarcadero Cinema emerged from a re-do with luxurious seats and upgraded food and beverage service. Landmark has announced it will refurbish the Opera Plaza Cinema, which needs it. Both are multi-screen houses.
There is hope the Clay will be saved by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which has saved the Vogue (1912) and the Balboa (1926). The Castro (1922) survives in all its glory thanks to community support. A few others survive around the city, mostly divided into multi-screen theaters.
As you can see in the foreground, Potrero Hill is a traditional San Francisco neighborhood with attached houses, small apartment buildings, and street trees. It even has a neighborhood bar with hard-boiled, private-eye vibe. It's less dense than many places. Here, people park in front of their houses.
As you can see in the background, Potrero Hill has a commanding view of downtown, or at least the newer part, south of Market street. Most of those big buildings went up in the last ten years. The building boom was driven by The tech industry's need for office space.
I've heard that in just a few years the city built space for 15,000 people to live and work. And yet people still get squeezed out of gentrifying neighborhoods. Partly that's because tech hubs down the peninsula---Mountain View, Cupertino, Redwood City, etc.---refuse to build housing. Instead they remain true to the vision of their founders: houses on lots of a half acre or more.
Of course there are also neighborhoods in San Francisco that refuse to allow building higher than three stories.
And we all complain about traffic.