Recent movie review round-up (2019)

January 21, 2020

Despite intending to on plenty of occasions, I’ve never used this blog to review movies. In an attempt to change that I’ve written up short reviews of movies from the past year or so. Films are reviewed from newest to oldest.

 

 

VHYes

In the mid 80’s a boy gets a camcorder and starts filming random stuff with his friend… over his parent’s wedding video. The first half or so of the film is a comedy based mostly around the deeply weird stuff the boys record on late night television including an Antiques Roadshow knockoff with an unflappably chipper host, a home shopping show hosted by a clueless bickering divorced couple, and a Bob Ross style painting show hosted by a woman who’s clearly nuts.

Oh, and there’s an “edited for television” porn flick about global warming.

For the first half of the film’s short 72 running time it’s packed with genuinely funny, though not always original sketches; making fun of low quality TV has been a staple of sketch comedy all the way from Monty Python to, say, Key & Peele.

Unfortunately the film falls apart as it tries to tug all the different threads into a coherent plot, relying on Lynchian nightmare logic to arrive at a conclusion. The ending makes very little sense and drags on far too long for a movie this short.

Best moment: Mark Proksch’s character smiling as he happily describes how a stained antique bowl was used in unsuccessful heart transplants.

Rating: 6/10

 

 

Uncut Gems

Howard has a lot of problems: he’s deeply in debt with dangerous mobsters, hopelessly addicted to gambling, and his marriage is failing. His fortunes are finally about to turn around though as he’s acquired an uncut gem (under mysterious circumstances) reportedly worth millions.

When NBA star Kevin Garnett shows up and sees the uncut gem, he insists on borrowing it as he thinks it’s a good luck charm. This triggers a series of events that send Howard further into his chaotic downward spiral.

What sets this movie apart is how it manages to ratchet up the tension for over two hours without much physical action. It’s more of a fast-paced drama than a traditional thriller. The synth-heavy soundtrack somehow pairs perfectly with the tone.

Best moment: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but everything about Adam Sandler’s performance as Howard is perfect. I suspect his reputation for lazy frat boy comedies may have unfairly turned audiences away from this one.

Rating: 10/10

 

 

Knives Out

Bestselling mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey died under strange circumstances after a family party at his creepy mansion. As it turns out Harlan has cut off the family financially, so almost everyone at the party has a reason to be angry with him — but would any of them resort to murder?

Private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig with a goofy southern accent) is hired to solve the murder, but by who? He doesn’t know, which presents a second path to investigate. Like any good “whodunnit” story there’s a lot of twists and turns — and the discovery of a secret passage — before the detective can unravel the mystery.

My only criticism is the movie takes its time in the beginning with a slow setup, though to be fair there’s a good balance between setup and payoff throughout this movie once it gets going.

Best moment: Detective Blanc using the novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” metaphorically, only to immediately reveal he’s never read it and suspects nobody else has either.

Rating: 8/10

 

 

Us

When a family travels to Santa Cruz for a vacation, the mother (Lupita Nyong’o) has flashbacks to her unsettling experience visiting the Beach Boardwalk as a child. Her concerns are brushed off… until a family of scissors-wielding doppelgangers appear outside their vacation home one night.

Us blends horror with social commentary and a few dashes of humor, which won’t be a surprise for those familiar with Jordon Peele’s previous film Get Out. This time around the same ingredients are much better prepared and presented.

Everything gets a little doughy in the middle of the movie when the characters start killing each other. After a certain point it feels like you could take a bathroom break and still know who killed who.

Best moment: Without spoiling it, the twist ending left me thinking about this movie for days. If you like this movie you’re going to want to see it a second time.

Rating: 8/10

Embarcadero waterfront at night

January 12, 2020

Over the past year or so I’ve taken to walking along the Embarcadero waterfront, if for no other reason than to stretch my legs after work. With the early sunsets this winter I’ve been experimenting with after dark photography with my new iPhone 11 Pro Max. Here’s a few I’ve taken along the waterfront.

 

Pier 7

 

Pier 7

This public pedestrian pier features a wooden walkway with classic light fixtures, and is a magnet for both wedding photos and people trying to catch fish in the bay. At night the electric glow of the lights gives it a completely different feel.

Believe it or not, the ye olde fashioned lights and wood deck were built in 1990. In a previous life it was a typical commercial pier with a concrete deck.

There’s an artifact in this photo I really don’t like — the green dots that appear below the lights at ground level. I suspect these are due to the lens material.

 

View from Pier 7

 

San Francisco Belle

Viewed from Pier 7, this paddlewheel ship looks like something from a Mark Twain novel.

Looks can be deceiving however as this ship was built as a floating casino in 1994, and was later moved to San Fransisco and repurposed for dinner cruises and corporate events.

 

Exploratorium

 

View from The Exploratorium

As you can tell from the reflection in the upper left corner, I shot this one through a window. Specifically it’s looking back towards the city from The Exploratorium at night during an After Dark event.

This photo shows just how bright a thin layer of clouds can appear at night when lit from below by a relatively small urban area.

 

Exploratorium

 

Buckyball

This soccer ball within a soccer ball sculpture was installed outside The Exploratorium in 2016. It’s one of those fixtures you can’t help but to notice at night when the LEDs inside it are glowing.

You don’t have to look closely to see the same ghostly green artifacts in this photo like I mentioned earlier regarding Pier 7. From a distance the artifacts look like part of the sculpture.

 

Bay Bridge

 

Bay Bridge and a yacht

The flashy Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge are all lit up as a brightly-lit yacht (at least I think it’s a yacht) glides toward the bridge.

The sky in the background almost looks like a painting. I suspect that’s Apple’s “night mode” quietly stitching together several photos into one. The end result is a little off, but somehow closer to human vision than an unprocessed photo.

 

Moon under Bay Bridge

 

Wolf Moon under the Bay Bridge

Last night was the “Wolf Moon” lunar eclipse in the southern hemisphere. We don’t get to see the eclipse, but the moonrise lights up the sky in the northern hemisphere for an hour or so with a bright orange glow.

The moon often looks larger to our eyes than it does in photos, though when near a human-scale structure like the Bay Bridge the difference is negligible.

Review: Dracula (2020 miniseries)

January 10, 2020

 

The new Dracula three part miniseries from Moffat and Gatiss (Sherlock, Doctor Who) adapt Bram Stoker’s classic novel with the sort of twists and trappings we’ve come to expect from this duo, for better or worse.

It’s available on both BBC and Netflix if you’d like to see it. Here’s my review.

 

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead

Much like the 1950’s Japanese monster movies Dracula is fundamentally an invasion story: a vampire leaves his castle in Transylvania, sailing to England in search of new blood. The obvious modern choice would be to make this a story about immigration with some kind of Brexit allegory, but that’s nowhere to be found in this adaptation.

The first episode starts in the late 19th century with Dracula’s first major victim in the story, Jonathan Harker. We initially meet Harker in a semi-alive state in the care of a convent of nuns. A mysterious nun named Agatha is keen to understand his story and learn more about Dracula, despite her already vast knowledge of vampire legends. We see Harker meet Dracula through flashbacks.

Dracula’s strengths and weaknesses won’t be a big surprise. He feeds on human blood, only comes out at night, can’t stand sunlight or crosses, sleeps in a coffin, drinks blood, etc. Every vampire story is a little different but I suspect most of us have at least a passing familiarity with Dracula.

The first plot twist is kind of a let down either way. For those familiar with the story it’s clear from the start that Sister Agatha is a vampire hunter, and for those that aren’t the reveal of her last name won’t mean anything.

The second big twist involves another one of Dracula’s vampiric traits: he has to be invited in. It’s clever enough that I won’t spoil it here.

 

The second episode focuses on Dracula’s voyage to England. It’s a typical murderer in an enclosed space horror story where the audience knows what’s happening, yet the characters struggle to figure it out before they’re all dead.

We confirm something about this version of Dracula from the last episode; he doesn’t just drink blood to live, he absorbs certain aspects of his victims via their blood. This keeps him a step ahead of everyone else.

The ship contains a big secret: no, not Dracula — we know that from the start. As it turns out Sister Agatha is on board. She’s still trying to understand Dracula right up until she has stop the ship from reaching England.

The episode ends with Dracula reaching the shore of England anyway. But wait! Time has skipped forward by just over a century. Dracula is greeted by armed guards and… Sister Agatha? Huh?

 

The third and final episode is the most original of the series… and the biggest let down. Dracula rapidly adapts his old ways to modern life as though he were a supervillain with a time machine.

Meanwhile the descendant of Sister Agatha who looks exactly like her — and sort of is her, through blood in another obvious twist — continues the journey to discover the true nature of Dracula and the mysterious rules he lives by. Why is he afraid of sunlight and the cross? What do the undead see when they look in the mirror?

All of this comes crashing down in an unsatisfying ending that only partially answers the questions it raises about Dracula.

 

Looking critically at this series I think it needs to be split in half. In the first two episodes we see the setup of the story, with some key twists on a familiar tale. It’s a solid adaptation: just different enough we don’t know exactly what to expect.

The third episode is a unique beast: it takes the stakes (sorry) and drives them forward, but stumbles repeatedly along the way.

The primary climax is perfect: Agatha and her descendant unearth Dracula for who he really is, and how his weaknesses are all related to a central personality defect. The downfall of Dracula isn’t some hero pounding a stake through his chest — it’s Dracula’s own primal fears laid bare.

I want to pause here because it’s a legitimately good twist: “Agatha” forces Dracula to pause and examine himself. After reflecting on his decisions Dracula decides to finally die on his own terms.

The dissection of Dracula’s traits isn’t without its flaws however, as many of them are never explained. Dracula can turn into dogs and bats, and in exactly one scene we see him fly. Are these rules also part of Dracula’s personality? Do they apply to other vampires or undead characters? What exactly are mirrors reflecting? Unfortunately these questions are not addressed. It’s unclear if other vampires like Dracula even exist.

Several parts of the story fall flat in the third episode. Dracula’s last victim is Lucy, portrayed as a vain narcissist who’s so unsympathetic I was rooting for her to die immediately. Dracula’s lawyer (played by Gatiss himself) serves as a comic relief in a story that already has enough comic beats to make his scenes redundant.

Overall I think Dracula is a decent enough adaptation, though the third episode suffers from focus and pacing issues — there’s a solid, unique 60 minute story stretched out to 90 minutes with completely unnecessary “clever” ideas. It would have been a more compelling story if we had the time to see Dracula come to terms with himself.

Just as with the later seasons of Moffat-era Doctor Who and the third season or so onward of Sherlock, Dracula slurps up some promising new ideas before ultimately sputtering out. 

Exploratorium’s Curious Contraptions exhibit

December 22, 2019
The Curious Contraptions in action. No audio due to copyrighted music played at the event

 

50 years ago the Exploratorium opened, a first of its kind museum aimed at teaching science to kids and teens with a 100% hands-on approach to learning. Six years ago the museum relocated from their original Palace of Fine Arts to a new space at Pier 15, adding the new 21 and over “After Dark” series on Thursday evenings.

If there’s one thing both kids and tipsy adults have in common, it’s a tendency to break stuff. Which makes it all the more impressive that many of the exhibits I remember seeing at the Exploratorium as a kid are not only still there, but still work today.

The current Curious Contraptions special exhibit of hand made automatons doesn’t quite have the same hands-on appeal, but it still feels like a natural fit for the Exploratorium, filling the gray area where science meets art.

These automatons are whimsical hand made mechanical contraptions that bring a small scene of some kind to life. Some are powered by electric motors, others need to be cranked by hand. Most are small, not much larger than a shoe box.

As you can see in the video at the top of the post these are all relatively new automatons, built in the last 60 years or so. That surprised me the most; I tend to think of cuckoo clocks or the 19th century coin operated dioramas like you’d find at Musée Mécanique.

Compared to their predecessors the artists building automatons today aren’t as interested in hiding the mechanics in a cabinet, and feature more abstract scenes. What hasn’t changed is the humor — there’s something inherently silly about a little contraption driven by a crank where a more serious story wouldn’t fit the medium. If these were books they’d be pop-up books, not novels.

The largest and in many ways most impressive automaton is the Exploratory Lunacycle from British cartoonist Rowland Emett, featured at the end of the above video. It’s like a psychedelic Jules Verne story brought to life.

Although it wasn’t technically part of the exhibit, I couldn’t help but to notice the Exploratorium’s transparent pinball machine was located nearby, itself an automaton of sorts with all the guts exposed.

Curious Contraptions runs through January 26th.

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.