In a neighborhood called Pacific Heights, Upper Fillmore, or Western Addition, depending on who you talk to, this hospital replaced two blocks of Victorian homes. It was designed in the Brutalist style, which is the architectural term for unbelievable masses of raw concrete.
It's not a hospital any more. Sutter Health/CPMC built an even bigger hospital eight blocks away. This building is now used for a variety of outpatient services: dialysis, cancer treatment, podiatry, etc.
One might wonder what is going on upstairs in all those old hospital rooms. A Google search of the address, 2333 Buchanan Street, yields this from AirBnB: "Rent Apartments in CPMC Lab from $20/night." Just for the record, that works out to $600 per month in a city where small studio apartments go for around $1,500 per month.
I wonder if the neighbors in their stately homes dream of getting rid of this monster. Could it even be done? How does one take down a building made of poured concrete? Dynamite?
While taking a walk in the Presidio the other day, I was treated to this spectacle. Looking through the trees along the path and over Presidio Parkway, I watched fog slide in from the straits, slip under the Golden Gate Bridge, and cover the north side of the bay. Eventually it covered the roadway of the bridge, leaving the towers visible.
Meanwhile the south side of the bay, where I was walking, stayed clear. In fact I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Presidio and enjoyed warm, sunny weather, while the bridge and the bay remained shrouded. Sometimes the fog does that: goes just so far and stops.
Fog's gotta do what fog's gotta do.
Most of us first learn about Alcatraz Island from movies such as Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and The Rock with Nicholas Cage. Most of us think of it as a prison. But, as the National Park Service delights in telling visitors, it is also a sanctuary for endangered species of birds, a museum of military history, an ancestral site for the Ohlone people, and often recently, an art museum.
Thanks to the Presido Trust, we rode the ferry out to the island to see an exhibition called "Future IDs at Alcatraz." The work shown is the result of helping people in prison imagine replacing their prison ID with another ID card when they are released. The project challenged them to imagine a new identity and create a pictorial representation of it.
I'm no expert in this field, but intuitively it seems right to add this exercise in imagination to the job-training, counseling, and parole-supervision that help people re-join society.
Four years ago, we visited the island for another art exhibit "@Large". That one featured work by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was then under arrest in his country. He sent instructions for the installation, without sending any art objects. There have been other exhibits on the island, but those featuring art that comes out of imprisonment have a special resonance.
By the way, I did not use any filters to create the photo, taken from the boat on the way to the island. There was some mist in the air that morning, and it created the impressionist style.
This low-budget film was made in the year World War II ended, the threshold of film noir. Only 67 minutes long, it is not one of the great films in that genre, but it was favorably reviewed when it was released and each time it was rediscovered. In 1992 it was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Most of the critical raves focus on the director, Edgar G. Ulmer. In his review, Roger Ebert said Ulmer "was an assistant to the great Murnau on 'The Last Laugh' and 'Sunrise,' and provided one of the links between German Expressionism, with its exaggerated lighting, camera angles and dramaturgy, and the American film noir, which added jazz and guilt."
This film could be a textbook on making a low-budget film without disappointing the audience. Street scenes in New York show two characters standing under a street sign surrounded by fog. Stock footage of a switchboard operator tells us the hero is making a long-distance call. Visually it's minimal, but enough.
I must say the acting was the least enjoyable part of the movie. For whatever reason, the two main characters were reduced to a single attitude and every line is delivered in the same tone.
The story is perhaps the most interesting and most noirish part of the movie. A singer decides to leave New York and try her luck in Hollywood. Her boyfriend, a fine pianist, decides to follow her. His luck goes from bad to worse as he hitchhikes across the country. As he says at the end, fate can destroy anyone at any time.
The film is based on Martin Goldsmith's 1939 novel, Detour, adapted by him and Martin Mooney.
The film is in the public domain and is freely available from online sources. Be sure to look for the restoration by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 2018. available from the Criterion Collection.
The original Petit Trianon was built in the 1760s by Louis XV of France for his chief Mistress, Madame de Pompadour, though she did not live to see its completion. Upon ascending to the throne, Louis XVI gave it to his chief mistress, Marie Antoinette.
This copy of the Petit Trianon stands in the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. It was built from 1902 to 1904 by a husband and wife who came from merchant families. At their housewarming they dressed as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
One wonders why they chose to identify with the king and mistress who presided over the collapse of the monarchy and were beheaded, rather than with the king who built the original Petit Trianon and his mistress.
In the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, now being written, some of the action centers around this house and its fictional occupants.
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.
This recent (2017) suspense novel compares well to classics such as I Married a Dead Man (film version: No Man of Her Own) by Cornell Woolrich, After Dark My Sweet by Jim Thompson, and Nothing in Her Way by Charles Williams.
In each of these, the hero struggles not only with adversaries (law enforcement, con artists and thugs), but also with her or his own defects that result from a traumatic past. The conflict is both internal and external. The hero's problems are both in the present and the past.
Greyson's The Girl Who Lived is a pleasure to read not only for the complexity of the puzzle and the intensity of the hero's struggle, but also because the prose reads effortlessly. To use a figure of speech, not an ounce of fat.
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.
Originally titled Hell Hath No Fury and published in 1953, The Hot Spot is "what many consider to be the ultimate Charles Williams book" according to Rick Ollerman. That may be true, but the other novels by Williams I have read are not far behind.
The Hot Spot includes all the tropes that made the paperback originals of the 1950s a commercial success. A drifter down on his luck, a get-rich-quick scheme that can't miss (until it does), a villain we love to hate, a good woman who could make our hero happy, and a bad woman who takes him for everything he's got.
The Hot Spot has the intricate plotting of Nothing in Her Way and Dead Calm, and excels in evoking the the hero's terror as he struggles to carry out his schemes.
Despite excellent storytelling, Williams never became a household name. There was no major Hollywood film adaptation of his work in his lifetime. Even now, it's difficult to find used paperback copies of his novels. Most are available as ebooks.
A lot of people in San Francisco and Oakland see the clock tower of the Ferry Building more often than the Golden Gate Bridge. After all, this is where you get on the ferry to cross the Bay.
The building itself (behind the palm trees) was completed in 1898 and survived the earthquake and fire of 1906, and the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. It has had a checkered history, but since a renovation in 2002 has been a great hall of restaurants and vendors of locally produced foods.
Justin Herman Plaza, seen here in front of it, is controversial both for its modernist fountain and because Herman presided over redevelopment in the 1960s that displaced many residents in poor neighborhoods.
About halfway through the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, Nicole and Pat walk through the plaza and turn north from the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero to watch the light show installed on the western span of the Bay Bridge, glimpsed just to the right of the clock tower. Then they come back to the Ferry Building to have dinner overlooking the Bay.
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.
On my way to lunch with a friend, I passed this bit of street art. The drawers reassembled as planters on the city's utility poles were the first in my experience. I hope they survive, though I have a feeling they won't pass inspection.
The painted bench is delightful, and neighborly. There are two more alongside this house, which stands on a corner.
Sidewalk planter boxes are seen occasionally, but nowhere so extensive as at this address. The attached seat backs are especially charming, and I love the yellow swing hanging from the tree limb:
The Inner Sunset is one of the few neighborhoods in San Francisco to remain this easy-going. I know that goes against the city's "groovy" reputation, but in the golden age of tech, so many places have gone upscale. Perhaps that's why I decided Nicole Tang Noonan's home is in this neighborhood.
San Francisco's city hall was built following the earthquake and fire of 1906, which destroyed three-quarters of the city, including the old city hall. Legend has it the mayor at that time, James "Sunny Jim" Rolf, insisted the top of the dome be higher than that of the US Capitol, thus ensuring bragging rights.
Citizens come and go on routine errands: getting a marriage license, attending meetings of the Board of Supervisors, visiting the offices of the Planning Commission and many other government offices. All this is done in an interior as magnificent as the exterior.
City Hall is the grandest of the grand buildings that surround Civic Center Plaza, including state and federal court houses, the Asian Art Museum, Main Library, and the Civic Auditorium built for a world's fair in 1915 and renamed for Bill Graham in 1992.
I recently wrote a scene for the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery in which Nicole and her friend, Irene, are strolling through Civic Center Plaza, admiring the magnificent buildings, and observing the pitiful life of the people on the streets. Irene asks, "Why did the French Revolution happen?" Nicole says, "The rich got too rich, and the poor got too poor."
Memorial Day at the Presidio felt like the reunion of a very large family. Veterans, active-duty personnel, teenagers from military academies, couples, families. Some wore the uniforms of bygone days, World War II, the War in the Phillipines, the Civil War. The mood was surprisingly festive, considering all were there to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I felt like a member of the family, which was strange since I've never served in the armed forces. I stood around in my vest that says "Presidio Trust/Volunteer" and gave directions to the restrooms and the road to the national cemetery. I even helped one woman find where the Buffalo Soldiers are buried. At the end of the day, I joined the volunteers folding the garrison flag.
Toward the end, as Ann and I were handing out boxed lunches, a Vietnam-era vet thanked me for my service. Made my day.
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.