Archive for August, 2019

Fairyland for Grownups

August 19th, 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 14th, 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 11th, 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 9th, 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 5th, 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.