Sam's Grill has been around in one form or another since 1867. It's one of a handful of businesses remaining from the Gold Rush era. There's also Tadich's Grill, The Mechanics' Institute, and, of course, Levi Strauss.
A few years ago Sam's was set to close and a group of customers banded together to buy the business. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, they remain anonymous. Since then there have been management changes and even a lease to renegotiate, but Sam's endures.
Stories like this keep turning up. Borderlands Books on Valencia Street was set to close when customers and neighborhood folks showed up with cash and expertise to keep it open. At the time this was referred to as "the public radio model."
We may be witnessing a merger of the non-profit and the for-profit. Sometimes, it seems, we don't believe in survival of the fittest. Maybe we don't want to live in a world populated entirely by the fittest.
We celebrated the holiday by going to hear the Golden Gate Park Band play "Music Celebrating American Independence." This year that included "America Forever" by Malinda Zenor, "Lassus Trombone" by Henry Fillmore, "Armed Forces Medley" arr. by Roc McNaughton, and others.
Now in its 137 season, the band is sponsored by San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department and is compromised of members of American Federation of Musicians Union Local #6. It plays free concerts on Sundays from May through September. To my ear they sound mighty fine.
It is such a pleasure to hear instruments play without amplification. The soft passages are perfectly clear; the loud passages are easy on the ears. The band shell lets them be heard perfectly throughout this section of the park.
I sat back and felt proud of my country.
Yerba Buena Gardens is one of the lovliest urban open spaces I've seen. It's winding paths invite a change of pace. It has a pleasant mix of wooded and open spaces. The outdoor stage frequently offers concerts and dance troops in the warmer months. The sound of its waterfall sculpture buffers the noise of the city.
On a recent visit I found it filled with people wearing ID badges, gathered in circles, studying workbooks, and talking earnestly to one another. I asked a couple of them what was going on and learned this was a leadership conference for "managers and up" of the corporation that runs Panda Express, the franchise restaurant.
The corporate presence in San Francisco seems to grow daily. On this day, it spilled into Yerba Buena Gardens and a place for rest became a place for work.
When the Smuin Contemporary Ballet does a program entitled, "The Best of Smuin," they refer to choreography by the founder of the company, Michael Smuin. Over several seasons, I've seen dances he choreographed to the music of classical composers beginning with Bach as well as dances to the music of the Beatles, Xavier Cougat, Leon Redbone, and hundreds more.
The spring 2019 program included a solo dance to the song, "Fever," by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. In the 1950s, it became Peggy Lee's signature song. More recently Madonna and Beyonce have had success with it.
In Michael Smuin's choreography, the song, with its obsessive refrain, "You give me fever," becomes an encounter between a woman and a folding chair. This photo by Chris Hardy of company member Erica Felsch suggests the mood of the dance, but the variety of interactions must be seen to be believed.
In a previous post, I wrote about the graveyard of ships that lies outside the straits known as the Golden Gate, the only entrance to San Francisco Bay. Here is a photo of it, taken at relatively low tide (I did not consult tide tables. I just happened to be there.) You can see some of the off-shore rocks that become submerged at high tide.
According to the National Park Service, there have been "countless" shipwrecks in these straits since the Gold Rush of 1849 first brought ships to San Francisco Bay. Many natural features make this entrance perilous, including a channel hundreds of feet deep beneath the bridge. But one feature causes more wrecks than any other: fog.
Among the victims of fog was the the Ohioan, which ran aground in 1936 about where this picture was taken. It's cargo was salvaged for months, and it's skeleton lay exposed for two years. Parts of it can still be seen at low tide.
You can read about other infamous wrecks at the Park Service page linked above.
When the new building on the left was proposed, members of the church on the right fought against approval of its design because it would block sunlight from some of the clerestory windows that let light into its sanctuary.
As you can see, it does. Since the new building is on the south side of the church, the effect is greatest in the winter. You can also see the new building was modified to pull its top story back to let more light in through the windows of the cupola.
Some church members went so far as to say the sunlight was an essential element of their worship and that therefore blocking it compromised their freedom to worship as they pleased. The builders said if that were true the church's architect was wrong to put those windows so close to the property line.
Shade is often an issue for zoning and approval as the city becomes more crowded. It seems a shame for owners of an older building to be told they are losing daylight. But access to sunlight doesn't mean you have partial ownership of the land next door.
Approval of the new building may have gotten a boost from the character of the neighborhood. Across the street are tall industrial buildings housing the Anchor Steam Brewing Company,
The tall buildings in the upper-right corner of the picture are on Russian Hill, more than a mile east of where I was standing in Cow Hollow. Yet they seem to rise up and loom over the houses close to me.
Because it's built on hills, San Francisco is full of view like this. About four years ago, standing in about the same spot, I looked north and saw an ocean liner on the Bay seeming to loom over the houses down the hill from me.
Trying to understand what makes view like this so uncanny, I found an article on the psychology of perception. It seems we have several ways of understanding the sizes of objects.
For instance, if I'm standing close to a house, it fills most of my visual field, so it looks big. If I stand far from it, it fill less of my visual field so it looks smaller, but I know the house is the same size as it was, so I correct for that mentally.
But when I know a distant object (tall building) is bigger than closer objects (houses), and closer objects are going down hill, and distant objects are going uphill, I have a lot more mental correcting to do. So, I guess, that makes the view more fun to look at.
Fortunately we do all this without having to think about it.
This picture is not crooked. The house is standing up straight. The street is steep. That's why the cars look funny. This is the northern part of Fillmore Street, descending into Cow Hollow on the way to the Marina District.
In a city built mostly on hills, parking gets interesting. In general, turn you wheels toward the curb when you parallel park. That means, turn them as if making a left turn if your car is pointed uphill; turn them as if making a right turn when your car is pointed downhill.
If you don't, the parking authority will write you a ticket. Putting the transmission in park and setting the emergency brake won't always keep a car from rolling down hill. If your wheels are turned to the curb, apparently the car will stop before it can get rolling. I've never tried it.
But on really steep streets like Fillmore, parallel parking with wheels turned to the curb won't do the job, so we park perpendicular to the curb. On the signs it actually says, "90-degree parking only."
This way you can be sure the car won't roll down the hill on its wheels, but if you open the passenger-side door suddenly, it feels as if the car is going to roll over on top of you.
I've written several times about The Presidio, a former army base turned into a National Park. I have featured the view of San Francisco Bay from the Main Post and The Walt Disney Family Museum.
I've been volunteering there to introduce people to the four sculptures in the park by Andy Goldsworthy. I've featured two of them here, Tree Fall and Earth Wall.
But I haven't written about the neighborhood along the southern border of the park, Presidio Heights. These hillside homes are highly desirable because they look over the treetops of the forest planted by the U. S. Army and have a view of San Francisco Bay.
But it's not all sweetness and light. You can't walk more than a block or two among the mansions without coming upon a scene like this. Indeed sometimes you'll find two houses in the same block with a tool shed and a dumpster parked in front.
You should not conclude from this that the neighborhood became run down and has to be rehabilitated. I doubt Presidio Heights has ever been anything but splendid.
No, the orgy of remodeling is driven by the boom times in the city's economy. People with big houses have big bucks to spend swapping out the oak flooring for cherry, adding a roof garden, and doubling the size of the kitchen.
No one seems to mind the cluttered streetscape. I wonder how they would react if someone parked an RV at the curb.
I visited San Francisco's Old Mint over the weekend for the annual SF History Days, a chance for every organization in town to pass out brochures about how they preserve the city's history.
Walking by, it's easy to think this building is just another old court house, but it's architecture and history are extraordinary. To begin with, it's not the oldest mint in town. The first one, built in 1854 for turning gold from the Gold Rush into coins, occupied a modest brick building which still stands on Commercial street.
This grand building replaced it in 1874, when the amount of money in the city was much greater. At a time when gold was used in everyday transactions, this was the U. S. Government's factory for stamping out coins. It once held one third of the Treasury's gold reserves.
Those front steps are steep and hard to climb, the harder for robbers to run in and out. The foundation is built of granite and concrete to prevent tunneling into the vaults. It has its own water supply, accessible in a central courtyard.
But my favorite feature is the gallery that graces the old counting room.
It looks like a decorative feature, but it had a practical purpose. Back when people brought gold dust, bullion or coins to the mint, this room was set up for weighing and counting the precious metal as it changed hands. Men with rifles were stationed on the gallery high above to discourage any attempts to rob the mint.
In 2003, the federal government sold the building to the City of San Francisco for one dollar. There's been talk of converting it to a museum of the city's history, but at the moment it opens only once a year for San Franciscans to gather and trade information on that subject. It seems a shame to have it sitting empty.
My recent post, A Visual History of San Francisco, was all about the buildings. A recent visit to Fort Point reminded me that the city's history is more a product of its natural setting than its architecture. Seen from Fort Point, the city appears miniature compared to the bay that surrounds it, even though this photo shows only a small part of the bay.
Fort Point stands at the southern side of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Spanish explorers called this entrance "la buca," the mouth.
In 1846, an early settler, John C. Fremont, decided to call it the Golden Gate because it reminded him of the Golden Horn at the harbor of Byzantium. That name proved prophetic when gold was discovered two years later, touching off the Gold Rush.
The U. S. Army built Fort Point on this spot for the same reason the Spanish built a presidio here in 1776. Aim a few cannons at la buca, and you control the harbor and defend the city.
That fort, completed in 1861, still stands. It is now beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937.
The sign for AMC Theatres will soon be gone from this grand old building on Van Ness Avenue. A few years ago AMC took over the Sundance Cinema six blocks away and we had to wonder how long they would compete with themselves.
Years before that, AMC turned this four-story building into an eighteen-screen mutiplex. We've ridden up and down the escalators many times and watched many movies here. And we may see more. Word has it another company will re-open the theaters under its name.
One sign will not be leaving the building. In the stone over that fancy entrance is carved the word "Cadillac." It may seem strange now, but this was originally an auto dealership.
Back when cars were new, Van Ness Avenue was home to many dealerships. Quite a few still operate there. As I took this photo, I stood in front of a Land Rover/Jaguar dealer in an art deco building. No sign of its original brand.
Around the corner from "Cadillac" is a building of similar vintage, though not as large. Over its door is carved the word "Packard."
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.