Fairyland for Grownups

August 19, 2019

Fairyland for Grownups
 

Children’s Fairyland is a small theme park attraction at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, and is normally only open to children accompanied by an adult. However once a year there’s a fundraiser organized by Oaklandish as a benefit for the park: Fairyland for Grownups.

On Friday I visited Fairyland for my first time ever — I’d never been to Fairyland as an adult, let alone when I was a child. I’ll have to say the park itself is pretty impressive, which I’ll get into more in a moment.

To make Children’s Fairyland a “grownup” experience it was a 21 and over event with an ID check and bag inspection out front. Inside the park there were stands serving beer and wine, as well as a couple of food trucks.

Several attractions too small to accommodate adults — most notably the rides — were closed. The (relatively new) old west town in the park was converted into a dance area with a DJ. Security guards stood around to prevent adults from climbing on attractions meant only for children.

 
Fairyland for Grownups
 

Upon entering the park you have the opportunity to buy a special key. You may also bring a key with you if you already own one. Both an affordable plastic key or a significantly more expensive keepsake metal key are available.

These keys can be inserted into keyholes throughout the park to play an old fashioned record telling a fairy tale. Small buildings, sculptures, gardens, and playgrounds near the keyhole boxes bring the stories to life. The quality of these recordings is honestly quite poor and worn out, but I found the idea of secret story boxes amusingly unique. Better yet each story has both an English and Spanish version available depending which keyhole is used, providing children a bilingual experience and the opportunity to learn a new language at a young age.

One recording that doesn’t require a key is a big googly-eyed dragon near the entrance. Pulling on his tongue plays a message welcoming you to the park.
 

Children’s Fairyland was originally conceived in 1948 and opened two years later. One early visitor was planning a much larger theme park of his own and was looking for inspiration. Apparently he liked Fairyland enough to poach a few of its employees.

The man’s name? You probably guessed it — Walt Disney.

 
Fairyland for Grownups
 

As for the park’s attractions they’re all focused on fairy tales, of course. The first one is a big shoe at the entrance, from the There was an Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe. The attractions are often intended to be climbed on, walked through, slid down, or all of the above.

I should point out upfront that some of the attractions are in much better shape than others. The story boxes are broken at a couple of them, and a few badly need a new coat of paint.

The real standout of the park is an Alice In Wonderland fun house with big dioramas, murals, and a maze of playing card people at the end. Of all the attractions this one seems to have had the most love put into it over the years.

I also appreciated the Chinese-ish pagoda in the sky, an overlook attraction that’s reached by walking up a series of ramps. There’s plenty of benches to sit down and relax there. It’s a good place to get one’s bearings of the park’s winding pathways.

 
Fairyland for Grownups
 

For the special Grownup night costumes were encouraged. A man in a Robin Hood outfit was happy to pose for photos. At least two groups of women were dressed up with matching mermaid outfits. One couple arrived dressed as Aladdin and Jasmine.

As the night went on the vibe started to feel more like a chill house party with plenty of friendly guests. As the sun fully set the park took on an otherworldly electric-lit glow.

The night ended with most of the guests gathered around the Old West area as many danced to the music. At closing time the DJ announced “one more” song as the security guards began clearing out the park.

 
Fairyland for Grownups
 

This year the tickets went for $35 each, which included two drink vouchers. Compared to other Bay Area events it’s a reasonable price, especially for a benefit. If you’re curious about going next year, check with Oaklandish for the exact date and price. It’s about a ten minute walk from 19th St. BART in downtown Oakland to the Fairyland entrance on Grand Ave.

The murals inside Coit Tower’s first and second floors

August 14, 2019

Coit Tower Murals
Coit Tower Murals Coit Tower Murals
Coit Tower Murals Coit Tower Murals
First floor murals
 

A couple years ago I visited the top of Coit Tower for the first time. In that blog post I noted:

I should point out there is a second activity at Coit Tower that isn’t as well advertised, and I have yet to try it myself: in addition to the Depression era murals in the lobby, there’s a small second floor above it with more murals.

On Saturday I finally went to tour the murals with the free City Guides Coit Tower Murals Tour. Here’s what I learned on the tour.

The lobby space was built without any particular purpose, but two local artists were able to secure funding from a New Deal program to hire muralists to paint the walls with frescoes. The left-leaning artists settled on the Social Realism style which was popular at the time, though not without some controversy.

As you can see from the photos at the top of this post, the themes of these murals focus on labor and daily life, as you’d expect for an art style closely associated with socialism.

Due to tourists slowly filling up the lobby (August is peak tourism season, after all) I wasn’t able to get as many photos as I would have liked. A particular mural depicts a scene at a library where most people are reading newspapers with headlines contemporary for the day, but is mostly known for prominently featuring a man in the front pulling a copy of Das Kapital off a library shelf. One group after another came in and snapped selfies of themselves in front of it.

It’s worth pointing out that the ethnicity of the people in the murals is skewed to the point of historical revisionism. The absence of Chinese Americans and Latin Americans is especially jarring.

 
What’s on the second floor?
 

Coit Tower’s second floor is densely covered in murals but was typically off limits to the public until their 2014 restoration. What’s up there? Let’s take a look.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

After going through a “secret” door, a spiral staircase features murals on both walls depicting life along Powell Street. Although these murals are approaching 90 years old it’s amazing how little has changed, fashion choices aside. People are carrying suitcases and walking their dogs, and the cable cars and oversized fire hydrants look identical to what you’ll see today.

Here’s another view from the second floor down the spiral staircase:

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

Compared to the murals downstairs, this street life scene appears to represent a transition of sorts. Instead of farmers and factory workers we see mostly well-dressed and presumably wealthier people. The workers are few and far between, many of whom are police officers.

This transition becomes more obvious when exiting the staircase to the second floor landing.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

Just above the stairs is a small landing with a series of sports murals. At first it seems like it could be Olympic games, but if you turn around and look at the wall over the staircase, it’s clearly a Cal-Stanford football game. So I think it’s safe to assume this mural is about local college sports.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

From there the hallway wraps around in a semi-circle, with murals on either side depicting outdoor leisure activities: hunting, picnicking, and relaxing in the sun around a creek. One man even has a large film camera with him.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

In the last room on the second floor there’s a much more abstract mural depicting a wealthy home, perhaps preparing a dinner party. This is the only painting that’s not a fresco, instead opting for tempera paint. The bright orange background color looks like a sunset, almost glowing.

This last mural also completes the transition on the second floor, depicting an increasingly wealthy life with disposable income. This family clearly doesn’t need to pick oranges at an orchard or work in a factory to make ends meet.
 

The second floor murals left me with a nagging question: who was supposed to see these murals? Unlike the first floor, Coit Tower’s second floor is so narrow there’s not much room for people to move around. Today it’s limited to about six people at a time.

As far as I’m aware the space has largely been used as an access to a back room for administrative purposes over the years, yet if it was intended to be opened to the masses the hallways are too narrow for murals. And if it wasn’t intended for the public, why have murals at all?

The guide did not have any answer to this one. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet the unused balcony over the entrance to the tower — accessible by the second floor — was originally intended for some sort of public use. Like the rest of the second floor, this balcony is not used much today either. It all raises more questions than answers.

Pony Express plaque on The Embarcadero

August 11, 2019

Pony Express plaque
 

Today I stumbled on a plaque on the west side of The Embarcadero. It honors a long forgotten pier that once stood on the other side of the street facing Oakland: the Broadway Wharf.

The plaque reads:

Pony Express Wharf
 

Nearby was the location of the Broadway Wharf, the wharf extended from Broadway and Davis Streets east to this location. All of the Pony Express mail that was delivered to and from San Francisco used this wharf. The Pony Express ran from April 3, 1860 to November 20, 1861.
 

The Pony Express mail was carried by either the “River Steamers” of the California Steam Navigation Company that operated between here and Sacramento or the ferry “Oakland” that operated between Oakland and here.

The NoeHill website features several related Pony Express plaques nearby but oddly enough not this one. The SF Chronicle wrote about the Pony Express a couple of years ago and mentioned these plaques in the article. Both links are worth reading.

I think it’s quite interesting that the Pony Express is so well remembered today despite not lasting very long. It was the first form of cross country express mail, albeit unaffordable for most.

The Pony Express was discontinued a couple years before the US Civil War, and several years before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. While it would be tempting to blame these events — or the simple fact that the Pony Express was a financial flop — on its rapid demise, there’s a much simpler explanation. The first electronic telegraph service arrived in San Francisco on the final month of Pony Express service, October 1861.

History repeated itself a century later when hand delivered mail fell out of favor entirely with the emerging technologies of email and text messaging. Who can say what’s next, let alone whether it will warrant its own plaque?

An oddly-behaved seal and the kindness of strangers

August 9, 2019

Strangely behaved seal
 

Walking along The Embarcadero this evening I encountered something unexpected. Near Pier 14 a small crowd had gathered. At first I thought a dog had somehow made it over the fence, but as I got closer I realized it wasn’t a dog at all, but a wild animal — a seal.

Although wild aquatic mammals are often spotted in the San Francisco Bay, we usually only see sea lions and various types of whales. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a seal, at least never this close. Typically they stay away from humans.

The other strange thing is it seemed intent on trying to walk through a fence — one more intended to keep humans from accidentally falling into the water than to keep our fellow aquatic mammals off of land. As far as I could tell it was by no means stuck there either.

 
Strangely behaved seal
 

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to do here, but fortunately several people in the crowd were already on their phones calling various local agencies. After one woman notified Animal Control, she announced that we all needed to take a step back for our own safety.

As soon as she said that a number of people who’d been on the scene for a while volunteered to stick around, shoeing people passing by to a safe perimeter until authorities arrived who could better handle the situation.

It’s worth pointing out here that approaching any strangely behaving wild animal is a bad idea. Even though seals may bear a resemblance to dogs and are generally harmless, they do sometimes bite people when threatened, and their sense of threat level could easily be skewed in the wrong circumstance.

Rest in ravioli

August 5, 2019

Mission mural in The Mission
 

Over the weekend I wandered by a brand new mural by local artist Sirron Norris, whose cartoonish illustrative style and bright colors are instantly recognizable.

This one’s located on a garage door in the Mission District. The imagery and the text “Soy de aqui” (Spanish for “I’m from here”) make the theme pretty clear: it’s about the neighborhood and respecting the past.

Front and center is Mission San Francisco de Asis itself, the oldest structure in the neighborhood still standing. Going upward we see the 14 Mission Muni bus line, BART, and a blue cartoon bear literally holding on to a piece of the past, the tower at Mission High School — the building on 18th Street across from the tennis courts at Dolores Park. The giant bell in Dolores Park also makes an appearance. The top features Bernal Heights Park and its weird looking antenna, an easily visible landmark in many parts of the Mission.

I’m not totally sure what’s going on with the left side, where a… dragon(?) has its head cleverly obscured by a firefighter’s pipe.

 
Mission mural in The Mission
 

On the left wall we see the New Mission Theater, over a century old at this point (and finally operating again after decades of neglect) with its iconic marquee repurposed to deliver a message: “Our mission is to preserve and honor the culture of the Mission District.”

If you didn’t get the message at first glance, it’s written here in plain text.

 
Mission mural in The Mission
 

The right wall features Lucca’s, an old school Italian grocery and deli that recently closed after generations in business on the corner of 22nd and Valencia. A sign out front reads “Rest in Ravioli,” a nod to Lucca’s full name of “Lucca Ravioli Co.”

It was the only store to pick up authentic Italian ingredients outside of North Beach in San Francisco, and had significantly more affordable prices to boot. Big handwritten signs written on butcher paper taped to the windows advertised the store’s current sales. To be clear this Lucca’s is unrelated to the similarly named deli in The Marina.

This is the saddest part of the mural in a way, yet in my opinion the loss of a neighborhood institution is perfectly understandable when the owner retires. We don’t last forever — nothing lasts forever.

And that goes for this mural too, so if you want to see it while it’s still fresh and new, you can find it between Mission and Valencia on 21st Street on the south side of the street.

Tara Mechani

July 29, 2019

Tara Mechani
Tara Mechani Tara Mechani
 

About two months ago Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley became the home of a new temporary sculpture: Tara Mechani from local artist Dana Albany. Originally built for Burning Man 2017, you may have also seen the 17-foot tall sculpture when it was previously on display in San Jose.

Tara Mechani’s built out of reclaimed materials, including pipes and gears, formed to shape a female Buddha figure. Perhaps a female robot Buddha? This is all very much intentional according to Albany’s own description of the sculpture on her website:

Playing with the contemporary fascination with technology, the artwork infuses the mechanical with the compassion and empathy associated with the ancient deity. Tara Mechani challenges us to embrace the future without losing sight of past beauty and ancient wisdom.
 
The sculpture’s art deco aesthetic is inspired by the robot Maria from the classic silent film Metropolis.

 
Tara Mechani
 

The first time I came to see the sculpture someone had left bunches of flowers around the base, as though they were leaving offerings to a religious figure. A handful of children were taking the flowers and were inserting them into the sculpture as decoration.

I barely noticed the wooden base — until I returned to Patricia’s Green as the sun was setting.

 
Tara Mechani
Tara Mechani Tara Mechani
 

When it’s dark out the sculpture not only glows from within, but the base lights up as well, in part to throw light onto the metal form. It’s far more magnificent in person than I was able to capture with my mediocre photography skills.

Fortunately you have about a year to see it for yourself as Tara Mechani is schedule to remain in the park until next June. This means plenty of early winter nights to view the sculpture in its nightly lit-up glory.

In defense of medium-term housing

July 24, 2019


 

Recently it was revealed that a new housing development at Church and Market in San Francisco isn’t going to be typical apartments, but will instead be offered as “hotel style” or medium term apartments — or what we would have called corporate housing before Airbnb came along.

There has understandably been some hoopla about this. Most of us who live in the area thought this building would be normal long-term apartments, after all. As someone who lives only a few blocks away it definitely came as a surprise.

However, I’d also like to point out that medium-term rental housing fulfils a very real need. While Church and Market is a strange spot for this type of housing it’s not altogether a bad one, especially since it’s right outside a Muni Metro subway station.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment and consider these scenarios:

  • You’re in college or about to graduate and have landed an internship. It’s in a city you’re not sure you’d like to live in for the long term, so signing a year-long lease on an apartment isn’t for you.
  • You’ve found a new job in an unfamiliar city — perhaps even an unfamiliar country — and you need a place to stay for a while while you get situated. Even if a hotel is an option financially, you’d prefer a “real” apartment until you find a place to stay long term.

Back in the day when most people worked at large corporations, folks in these situations would stay temporarily at corporate housing. Which is to say your employer would have spaces available at places nearby, sort of like a dorm or timeshare while you — as the new employee — would live for a month or three while you find a more permanent place to live.

These days though, well… times have changed. Interns and new employees are often left to find housing on their own, and that often means finding a room on Craigslist or Airbnb at a communal house; hardly ideal.

A year or so ago I worked with an intern who lived with roommates at an Airbnb in Daly City for an entire year — and it wasn’t even his first internship in the Bay Area! I wish I could say that was an extreme example, but in my experience it’s par for the course.

So before you get angry about some new medium-term housing development like this, take a moment to go meet those new neighbors if you can. Invite them for a cup of coffee — maybe at that new Verve Coffee across the street — and ask them to tell you their stories. I bet you’ll be surprised.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

July 21, 2019

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
 

Today I went to SFO not to catch a flight, but for the free “Community Day” to see the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1. No flights connect to it yet, the old Terminal 1 is still in service.

Despite everything looking shiny and new, part of it felt like a throwback — there’s no airport security line yet. Felt a little strange walking in without putting my backpack through a x-ray and taking my shoes off.

Initially I thought the idea of going to the airport just to see a new terminal wouldn’t attract too many attendees. As it turns out, I was completely wrong. The place was a mob scene.

Here’s what I experienced on this Community Day at the airport:

 
SFO BART
 

I took BART from the Mission District, which is a pretty fast trip if you time it right. SFO is a ring-shaped airport, the BART station is in the front at the international check in area. Terminal 1 is just to the right, though due to construction you can’t walk there at the moment.

When construction wraps up presumably there will be a way to walk there again. Well, a convenient way to walk there without going through the entire airport.

 
SFO Air Train
 

So I went upstairs and got on the AirTrain, the little blue driverless trains that shuttle people around SFO. On the way back I noticed the new AirTrain stop for the upcoming Hyatt hotel is still under construction — that’s all supposed to open in a few months.

 
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
 

The AirTrain stops across from Terminal 1 and I snapped this photo of the ring section of the SFO that’s still under construction. This is the section that will connect Terminal 1 to the International section at some point in the near future.

 
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
 

For the Community Day they had an DJ with a very on-theme outfit, some dancers, activities for kids, dogs to pet, various free samples, and some kind of clown/magician on stage in the very back.

Several of the airlines that operate out of Terminal 1 had their own events: JetBlue had a some sort of contest going on, and Southwest had a stack of paper for folding your own paper airplanes.

 
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
 

Near the entrance there’s a big temporary looking wall, presumably an area for expansion after the existing Terminal 1 is demolished. Right now it’s covered in an exhibit about Harvey Milk’s life and legacy.

 
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
 

Not many of the shops and restaurants were open, but most looked complete and had liquor licenses taped up. I spotted a bar, an Illy Caffe, an outpost of the local Mexican chain The Little Chihuahua, a chicken restaurant, an electronics store, and at least one magazine/souvenir shop.

The food options in particular look to be a major upgrade over the dreadful fare served at the old Terminal 1. I’m certainly not going to miss that one iffy breakfast cafe or the weird smelling Chinese-ish restaurant.

 
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
 

Lastly, all the airport necessities — the gates, waiting areas, bathrooms, and hallways — were all open for the event. They gates look ready to go, complete with the boarding pass scanners and the numbered line-up areas for Southwest.

SFO seems to have made it a point to have outlets and USB chargers all around the waiting areas, but I’m sure there won’t be enough. There are never enough.

According to the official project timeline the first gates at the new terminal will open later this month, with all construction complete and all gates open midway through 2023. So far at least, the arrival of the new Terminal 1 appears to be on time.

The Peanuts statues of Santa Rosa

July 8, 2019

Santa Rosa Peanuts characters
Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peantus characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters

All over Santa Rosa’s downtown I stumbled across statues in the likeness of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, etc.) They’re all about the same height, but made from different materials and from different artists.

These were all commissioned after Schulz’s death in 2000, apparently because he didn’t like the idea of statues honoring his characters in his own hometown. Once he wasn’t around to say no anymore, I guess the statues were inevitable.

As I made my way to the Downtown Santa Rosa SMART station on my journey home, I couldn’t help but to notice a guy laying down a blanket to take a nap with his dog right next to the Charlie Brown and Snoopy statue.

Cyclisk

Cyclisk
 

Easily the strangest thing I saw on this trip was the “Cyclisk,” an obelisk made of around 340 damaged bicycles. It was created by Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector as a public art project for Santa Rosa.

Ironically the statue is next to a car dealer and a car wash, but Grieve says “The statement is up to the viewer.” I’d also point out there are no bike lanes anywhere near the statue, and the street it’s located is even missing a sidewalk just north of it. So the meaning seems pretty clear… or is it?

If the nearby streets were rearranged with complete streets in mind, it would give the statue a completely different meaning. Perhaps in that context it could be seen as a call to action in its current state.