The Jejune Institute is coming to the small screen

November 26, 2019
Teaser trailer for Dispatches From Elsewhere

 

“Welcome to The Jejune Institute,” a disembodied female voice declares as someone enters a small room.

When I first saw a list of TV shows AMC was working on, Dispatches From Elsewhere immediately jumped out at me. Both the name of the show and one of the characters — Octavio — were lifted straight from Games of Nonchalance, an alternate reality game of sorts which ran in San Francisco from 2008 through April 2011.

In the first chapter, players would visit an office tower downtown at The Jejune Institute, where they’d be sent to a small room to watch a video recording about the “institute” and its founder, Octavio Coleman, Esquire.

For the show they’ve changed the setting to Philadelphia, but a lot of it looks similar — an unusual induction center for a mysterious institute, flash mob protests, cryptic messages from payphones, confusion about what’s going on… who knows what else could be in store?

According to IMDb the show will star Andre 3000, Sally Field, and series creator Jason Segel among others. It will debut sometime next year.

Seven Stills tour

November 25, 2019
Seven Stills tour

 

Last night I took a tour of the new Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery, a brewpub located on the edge of the Design District and Mission Bay in San Francisco. The six year old company is in the process of moving their operations to this new facility but it’s not up and running just yet.

It was the first day of the tour in the new facility, and the tour wasn’t quite going according to schedule. I assume that will be resolved soon. The dining area isn’t fully open yet either.

The tour began at a small tasting bar just inside the front door. The tastings began with a glass of pilsner as a palate cleanser, while our guide explained their concepts. As a local company the name Seven Stills is a play on words, referencing the “Seven Hills” in San Francisco. Some of their products reference specific hills and their surrounding neighborhoods on their packaging.

The origin of the company was a home brewer met an experimental home distiller. A few years later they decided to launch a unique brewery and distillery company, with the distillery focused on making whiskey from their own beer.

 

Seven Stills tour

 

As we got underway our guide explained the key components of beer brewing: grain, yeast, and hops. All basic stuff, until he got into brewing with fresh hops instead of the dried stuff. Turns out the more boutique brewers like Seven Hills have fresh hops trucked in from Washington state for special beers when hops are in season.

The first real tasting of the night was Five Pounds, a west coast style IPA paired with a whiskey distilled from it. I’m not a huge fan of this style of IPA, but I really enjoyed the pairing between the two. Even though the hoppiness is lost in the flavor of the whiskey it’s still very much present in the scent.

 

Seven Stills tour Seven Stills tour Seven Stills tour

 

We walked into the back room and we were hit by another surprise. The brewing tanks are brand new, still covered in plastic wrap. The plumbing was still in progress. The copper still wasn’t fully built, with the main boiler still dangling from a hoist on the ceiling and other parts in the room outside.

Personally I found it interesting to see all of this equipment in its bare, just delivered state, essentially a factory waiting to be assembled. It’s supposed to be all up and running in the next few months. If you want to see what a brewery and distillery looks like while it’s being built, now’s a good time to go.

Before returning to the front for another whiskey and beer pairing, we sampled a “negroni” beer that really just tasted like a sour beer with a berry aftertaste. The guide discussed some of the beers they’ve made with unusual adjuncts, including a guacamole beer which didn’t sound very good to be honest.

We also had small samples of the vodka and gin they make. The vodka just tastes like a good vodka — not bad but also not very interesting. The gin had a strong pine tree scent to it, almost like a perfume.

 

My recommendation: How often do you get to taste whiskey and the beer it was distilled from in the same place? On the other hand the historic Anchor Brewing is located just up the hill with a similarly priced tour. For those only interested in one, which should you go with? If you’re more interested in beer history Anchor’s your best bet. For newer types of beer and whiskey distilling Seven Stills is worth checking out instead.

The murals at 23rd and Capp

November 18, 2019
Murals at 23rd and Capp

 

At the intersection of 23rd Street and Capp — two relatively small streets — there’s a series of colorful murals so wide it spans two buildings and a fence. I couldn’t find a way to fit it all in one shot.

Surprisingly it still looks good as new despite being up for nearly a decade. Of course it’s been touched up a few times, but even some of the most beloved murals in the Mission tend to be more short lived than these.

 

Murals at 23rd and Capp Murals at 23rd and Capp

 

The murals facing Capp Street are on the abstract side, with a man vs. machine vibe against a sky blue background. There’s a lot to unpack with various hidden faces, skulls, cracked teeth, and more; all woven together in a quasi-organic fabric.

 

Murals at 23rd and Capp Murals at 23rd and Capp Murals at 23rd and Capp

 

On the 23rd Street side the murals depict daily life in the Mission District — on the surface, anyway. Street food vendors are selling ice cream, hot dogs, fruit, and tamales. In the background we see landmarks like the New Mission Theater, Mission San Francisco de Asis (aka Mission Dolores), and the long gone Giant Value building.

But on closer inspection, the food theme extends beyond the street food vendors. The streets themselves have been replaced with colorful stripes as though they were rows on a farm. If that’s too subtle, the eagle logo of the United Farm Workers Union takes up a section of the mural.

What I find particularly notable about these murals is how much they stand out — both in size and color — compared to everything else on this corner. And yet you don’t have to go terribly far from this little island of murals to find all the street art around 24th Street, most notably Balmy Alley.

Portals of the Past

November 11, 2019
Portals of the Past Portals of the Past Portals of the Past

 

While wandering through Golden Gate Park on a particularly foggy afternoon, I stopped by Lloyd Lake to see one of the park’s more unusual features up close.

Although Portals of the Past looks like a sculpture — and in a way it is — originally it was something else entirely.

Some time ago while on a tour of Nob Hill, the guide mentioned the doorway to a California Street mansion was the only part of the building to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire. She then opened a binder and showed us a photo of Portals of the Past in Golden Gate Park. That doorway was donated and moved to the park shortly after 1906.

It’s pretty easy to find Portals of the Past on Google Maps. From the Music Concourse just walk on the sidewalk to the right of JFK Drive. After you see the waterfall on the right, follow the little creek until it ends at Lloyd Lake.

For more information, check out this Atlas Obscura article.

Haunted Ghost Tour from Wild SF Walking Tours

November 10, 2019

Over Halloween it occurred to me that I tend to gravitate toward “ghost tours” everywhere I go, but I’d never taken any traditional ghost tours at home here in San Francisco.

The tricky part it turned out was figuring out which one to go on — there’s a surprising number of such tours from different companies in different neighborhoods. I eventually decided on the Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour from the relatively new Wild SF Walking Tours.

This tour is only offered after dark, beginning at Union Square and making a loop through the Tenderloin. The group I was in was maybe 15 people or so, led by a very entertaining drag queen performer who goes by “Mary Vice.”

As with a typical ghost tour format, it’s a mix of high profile murders and other deaths, morbid historical events, as well as reports of mysterious activities attributed to ghosts.

I never know how much to give away when reporting on a tour like this — I don’t want to say so much as to spoil it for anyone who’s interested, but I do have to mention a few key aspects to provide a taste of what’s involved. I’ll do my best here to provide a high level overview.

The tour includes:

  • San Francisco’s ban on new cemeteries and eventual relocation of all (known) buried human remains.
  • The Zodiac Killer and the time he was spotted committing a murder by multiple witnesses.
  • The rise of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and the resulting Jonestown atrocities.
  • Several tales involving the 1906 earthquake and fire.

One of the more interesting traditional ghost stories is at the St. Francis Hotel, which have apparently freaked out guests on the top floor of the old wings of the building.

In general ghost tours are best led by theatrical minded guides and “Mary” was no exception. The tour has two other guides, or three if you include Mary’s alter ego.

On my way home after the tour I started thinking about all the subjects this tour didn’t cover. Most were well out of the tour area like the somewhat mysterious death of President Harding at the Palace Hotel, the double assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk at City Hall, as well as my personal favorite local ghost story — the Lady of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.

The only story I could think of that might fit the tour was the attempted assassination of President Ford outside the St. Francis Hotel. Then again it may not be noteworthy: it was the second time someone tried to kill him that very month. Besides, there’s already enough spooky stories at that hotel anyway.

 

My recommendation: With so many ghost tours in San Francisco I can say this one is absolutely worth considering. It’s reasonably priced, about the right length, and not too strenuous of a walk. There are stairs and the stories include subjects not suitable for younger children. If you’re interested it can be booked through their website or through Airbnb Experiences.

Haas-Lilienthal House

November 4, 2019
Haas-Lilienthal House

 

A block away from Lafayette Park in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood is the Haas-Lilienthal House, a well-preserved 19th century Queen Anne Victorian home.

Today the house is a museum of sorts. I took the tour earlier today. The only way to see the interior is on this tour, which takes around an hour.

The tour begins in the “basement” ballroom — really the first floor of the home — where the guide explains the history of the Haas family. The gist of it is two German Jewish immigrants, William Hass and Bertha Greenebaum, moved to San Francisco separately, met there, and got married. Mr. Hass worked his way up in the family’s food wholesale business. The couple built their home in 1886.

The Hass family had three children, and the house stayed in the family for three generations until the early 70’s when it was vacated and left to SF Heritage to use as a museum.

Surprisingly, the house went largely untouched over the years. The original furniture, wallpaper, and even children’s toys are still there.

To enter the house properly, we went outside and walked up the stairs to the main entrance from a tiled porch. The guide demonstrated how heavy sliding doors in front of the main entrance would have been closed in the Victorian era to indicate the family was not accepting pop-in visitors. In the days before phones it was common to meet friends and neighbors without advance plans, sort of like a professor’s office hours in a university.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House Haas-Lilienthal House Haas-Lilienthal House

 

Visitors accepted into the home would be first taken into a drawing room on the left. Here the adults in the family could chat with small groups and individual visitors for a few minutes.

Through the next set of doors is the dining room. According to the guide the table could be pulled out with removable leaves dropped in, supporting a party of up to 20 at a time.

This is easily the most ornate room on the tour, with hand-crafted redwood paneling, furniture, and decorations. At some point (I think it was in this room) our guide pointed at the chandelier and remarked that it had lights facing both up and down. The upward facing lights were gas lamps, whereas the downward facing lights were electric. An indoor light source that could be pointed downward was a novel concept at the time.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House

 

Behind the main dining room was a smaller and much more ordinary dining room where the servants would eat. The guide said the Haas family would sometimes use this room for breakfast as well.

The strangest part of this room is the window in the photo above — not only is it unusually large, it’s not a typical window. The entire thing including the wood panel below slides upward to provide a short but usable service entrance. This may have been used for moving furniture in and out of the house.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House Haas-Lilienthal House

 

Entering a doorway to the right leads to the first part of the kitchen area, the dish room where servants washed dishes and stored them in a large cabinet. A hidden cabinet in this room stores the leaves to extend the dining room table.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House Haas-Lilienthal House

 

The second part of the kitchen is where the chef would prepare food. It features a large Magic Chef oven/stove combo and a tiny refrigerator, both of which are new relative to the house, but still quite old considering the family lived here up until the 1970’s.

The small fridge was due to the fact that the backyard was originally intended for growing produce, and daily deliveries from the local butcher — sort of a proto-Instacart I guess — meant there wasn’t much need for cold storage on-site.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House

 

Next we were led upstairs to the “second” (really third) floor. Though the room is roped off to visitors, we could pop our heads in to see the baby room complete with an antique dollhouse.

Our guide explained that the dollhouse isn’t always present as the family’s descendants are still very much attached to it and borrow it from time to time.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House Haas-Lilienthal House Haas-Lilienthal House

 

In the front corner of this floor is a former bedroom the family later converted to a dining room. With the rise of the automobile, front-facing bedrooms were no longer desirable due to the noise.

Turning the corner we entered what would have been the original master bathroom. Not all of the plumbing looked original, though it certainly looks dated. The guide pointed out a large vanity mirror which had medicine cabinets on either side. The mirrored doors of the medicine cabinets were hinged on opposite sides so it could be easily transformed into a wrap-around mirror.

The next room is a small, fairly plain bedroom intended for the girls in the family.

The adults and some of the servants would have slept upstairs. Unfortunately we were not allowed up there as its currently the head offices of SF Heritage. But the guide did mention another upstairs room: the children’s playroom.

 

Haas-Lilienthal House

 

Heading back down into the “basement,” our guide ended the tour showing us part of the toy Lionel train set that at one time took up much of the playroom. He hit a switch and the lower train jumped into action, going around in a circle.

One strange coincidence: before I started writing this post I looked up the Haas family to learn more about them. The name seemed familiar since in Los Angeles I stayed in The Haas Building, but I assumed there was no relation. Turns out it was originally owned by William Hass’ brother Abraham. Small world.

 

My recommendation: Anyone interested in Victorian-era life and architecture in America should enjoy this tour. It’s the only museum of its kind in San Francisco, though it very much reminded me of the similar Driehaus Museum in Chicago. Be aware there are many stairs involved. For up to date tour information see the museum’s website.

The Broad

October 30, 2019
The Broad

 

My final stop on this trip to Los Angeles was The Broad (pronounced more like “The Brode”) a free modern art museum financed by the wealthy Broad family.

The museum’s main gallery is on the top and third floor, which unfortunately was the only part I had time to visit before heading to the airport. So take what I have to say next with a grain of salt.

 

The Broad The Broad The Broad

 

The main gallery is an almost paint-by-numbers collection focusing on most of the modern art superstars you probably have seen before: Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, etc. If you’ve never seen works from these artists by all means go to The Broad immediately and get up to speed on modern art. For the rest of us it’s largely comfort food.

One clever piece you’ll only see at The Broad is Under the Table by Robert Therrien. This is a giant table and chair set that seems to be a selfie-magnet, as though you’ve somehow been shrunken down after taking the pill that makes you smaller from Alice and Wonderland.

Another artist in the main collection I found particularly interesting was Robert Longo, who takes (or stages) photos, projects them, and then paints them with attention to movement and/or makes subtle differences to re-contextualize them in unusual and interesting ways.

One gallery focused on Ellsworth Kelly, who somehow turned canvases into art that I found physically painful to look at due to the bright contrasting colors. When I attempted to take photos I found some vindication as my iPhone camera had serious issues with autofocus when pointed at his pieces.

 

The Broad

 

What I did find particularly impressive about The Broad is the building itself. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro — the same firm that designed the Moscone West screen that never really worked — it looks like a white cheese grater on the outside, but on the inside it’s as though someone built an Apple Store inside of a hollowed-out cave.

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, I just can’t think of any other way to describe the design without sounding like a crazy person.

 

My recommendation: To be clear I’ve only seen the main gallery on the third floor at The Broad. If you’re unfamiliar with modern art it’s a pretty solid introduction and the price is right — just make a free reservation online and go. Otherwise I’d suggest checking out the special exhibits instead. The friendly staff on the first floor will check in any bags and coats as needed.

Thought Experiments in F# Minor

Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major

 

The Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry is the home of Los Angeles Philharmonic, aka “LA Phil.”

In the early afternoon on non-concert days several tours are available. Thought Experiments in F# Minor from artist duo Cardiff and Miller is an immersive video narrative piece that leads the audience around the labyrinth-like building as a story unfolds.

Best of all it’s completely free.

After checking in at a desk just to the left of the entrance, you hand in a photo ID in exchange for an iPad and a pair of headphones. The experience starts at a specific bench in the lobby.

I don’t want to give too much away here but the video begins with an adorable cat in a cardboard box before synchronizing with the current location, and begging you to walk around with it.

A seemingly detached narrator guides you to walk from place to place with the video as you follow two characters played by the wildly talented actress Jena Malone around the building.

The story is difficult to describe, but suffice it to say it involves life, death, the space in between — and Schrodinger’s Cat.

In real life, security guards stationed at key points open doors that would otherwise be off limits to the general public during the tour hours.

At one moment in the narration the audience is instructed to look at their reflection in a mirrored wall — if you ignore this and watch the video instead, you see the camera operator as he mimics the action, revealing himself in the reflection. I thought that was a clever Easter Egg, perhaps a nod to the impossible mirror scene in the film Contact (also featuring Jena Malone when she was a little girl.)

What really sets Thought Experiments apart from any immersive experience I’ve ever done are the musical performances from LA Philharmonic featured throughout. I’m not even a big classical music fan but I found these to be a treat.

In the final segment I found myself almost dancing as I followed the camera choreography in an empty room as the video veers through a small orchestra performing in the same space.

 

My recommendation: This is an unforgettable experience — I can’t think of a single criticism, it’s the most unique and well put together piece of immersive content I’ve ever seen. Be aware it involves stairs and escalators, and it’s only recommended for those 10 years old or over due to the content. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Angels Flight

 

For my last day in Los Angeles I was determined to cross a few items off my bucket list, and in order to get there I thought I’d cross off another: riding Angels Flight, the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s really a diagonal elevator with two cars that act as counterbalances.

On my previous visit to LA I went on a walking tour that included Angels Flight, but I didn’t read the fine print correctly. Although they promised a 50% discount off the $1 fare if you had a TAP card, they were not capable of charging the fare to a TAP card and required cash payment — which I didn’t have on me.

This time around I had plenty of quarters left over after going to a fancy new arcade and doing laundry, so I figured I’d give it another go. In the video above I’ve documented this quirky, jerky short railway in all its original 1901 glory.

Well… sort of. The history of Angels Flight isn’t quite what you might think. It was originally located at a different location, closed in 1969, and reopened in 1996 at the new space, only to close repeatedly over the years after a fatal accident. You can read all the details over at Wikipedia.

Armed with a pocket full of quarters I took the trip up the hill — only to find they now have a TAP card reader at the ticket booth at the top. Better late than never.

I also took a few photos of Angels Flight:

 

Angel's Flight Angel's Flight Angel's Flight

Santa Monica

October 29, 2019
Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica Pier

 

After leaving the California Science Center I took the Metro Expo Line — soon to be renamed the E Line and combined with the Gold Line — all the way to the last stop in Santa Monica.

It stops a couple blocks from the beach right by the touristy Santa Monica Pier. Not having been to Santa Monica before I decided to wander around the pier just to see what’s there.

The pier has a few restaurants, a small amusement park with rides called Pacific Park, an arcade, a lot of buskers, and some very nice views. In a lot of ways it felt like a smaller version of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk but with much nicer weather.

It wasn’t particularly crowded when I went but that’s hardly surprising considering it was a Monday afternoon in October. I was more surprised the rides were running at all — there were no lines.

The beach around the pier is fairly pleasant. Lovely sand, lots of space to walk around, sun tan, or play volleyball. Probably best to stay away from the pier if you want to go out in the water though as they do allow fishing from certain parts of the pier.

Walking back up from the beach I wandered along the bike and pedestrian path next to the beach at street level. For whatever reason there’s a couple of old cannons placed there.

As I followed the signs to the nearby downtown area, I saw an older pale guy with long hair, sunglasses with small lenses, a cane, and a mumbling British accent who was having a friendly conversation with a storekeeper. If I didn’t know better — and to be clear I do not — I’d say that guy was Ozzy Osbourne. Then again Halloween’s coming up so who knows.

 

Downtown Santa Monica Downtown Santa Monica Downtown Santa Monica

 

The focus of downtown Santa Monica seems to be the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian street with numerous restaurants, mall stores, two movie theaters, kiosks, and some very 1980’s water features with a dinosaur theme. Unlike most downtown areas these days there’s plenty of seats if you’d like to take a break.

Again, none of this was particularly busy on a Monday afternoon.

On the South end of Third Street there’s a more traditional mall with a Nordstrom. Walking through that mall leads right back to the end station of the Expo Line.

There’s quite a bit more to see in Santa Monica if you have the time of course. The nearby Cat Cafe Lounge would be at the top of my list.