Archive for September, 2019

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Salesforce Tower Tour

September 30th, 2019

Salesforce Tower Tour
 

I got to see the city from a new perspective yesterday thanks to the free Salesforce Tower Tour. Tickets for this are rarely available and are snapped up quickly — somehow I was able to snag one back in June.

The line to enter the tour is on the small plaza at Mission and Fremont, which is also an entrance to the Salesforce Transit Center next door and the location of the gondola ride to Salesforce Park.

I should point out that despite the names, neither of these two buildings — nor the park — are owned by Salesforce; they just paid for the naming rights.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour Salesforce Tower Tour
 

There’s a dedicated lobby area for the tour where Salesforce’s “National Park” aesthetic begins complete with astroturf throw rugs, curved LED screens, a plastic bear, and “trees” disguising the building’s outer columns. This theme contrasts strangely when placed in the almost comically bland Salesforce Tower. Oh and there’s also a completely deserted gift shop for some unknown reason. As Yoda might say, “Disneyland, this is not.”

After checking in with my ID I got a plastic wristband disguised to look like a blade of grass, as well as a Salesforce sticker I put on my hoodie. I was also handed a map and a pamphlet and was told this was a self-guided tour, or to put it another way not really a “tour” at all. But that’s fine, it’s really all about the view.

From there we went through metal detectors and a bag check. I had to place my keys and phone in a bowl, but kept my belt on without setting off the metal detector. I was also allowed to bring the small water bottle I’d brought with me, although this turned out to be unnecessary as complimentary water was available.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

From there we were directed by staff over to a row of elevators in the center of the building. The photo above is looking toward Mission Street at a roped-off bank of elevators. Presumably those were for workers if they had to come in on the weekend.

The elevators for the tour were preprogrammed to whisk us to the top of the building, the Ohana Floor. It’s a pretty quick ride and while my ears popped going up, it’s worth pointing out that the building isn’t really as tall as it looks. Not including the building’s “hat,” it’s only 61 stories tall. While that’s tall by San Francisco standards, it’s nowhere near the height of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
Salesforce Tower Tour Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Before getting into the views, I should point out what’s on the Ohana Floor. It’s intended to be a space for nonprofits to use as part of Salesforce’s philanthropy efforts. As such there’s plenty of seating, living plants all over the place, a conference room, restrooms, and even a full service restaurant.

Unfortunately the restaurant was not open, which seemed like a missed opportunity. People will pay a lot of money for cocktails or a weekend brunch with a nice view. You don’t have to take my word for it, that’s been the business model of Top of the Mark since the late 1930’s.

I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth here, I’m glad there’s an opportunity to see the space for free. All I’m saying is this seems like an untapped source of revenue — some of which could be used to benefit the nonprofits hosted by Salesforce.

The last feature I want to point out here are the skylights. These round windows peer up into the building’s “hat” known for displaying videos at night. During the day these provide natural light, but also raise the question of what it looks like on the Ohana Floor after dark.

All that aside let’s get into some of the views.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Looking south, we see the city split by a freeway that unfortunately runs through it. Near the bottom center is the gray windowless AT&T building that serves as a giant internet hub, where a whistle-blower reported mass surveillance by the NSA years before it was confirmed by Edward Snowden.

I briefly worked at the building across the street, 303 2nd Street, which features a grassy terrace and series of fountains that make for a hotspot for outdoor lunches. Moving diagonally up 2nd Street you can see the Clocktower Building as well as the ballpark.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Looking south-ish we can see the bay in the distance with numerous cargo ships in the background. The tall building in the back center is One Rincon Hill, which for many years stood as the tallest tower in SOMA.

Recently a number of other towers have popped up, which mostly either mimic the circular tower of One Rincon Hill, have taken on a reflective mirror coating to blend in, or have some combination of the two.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Looking east we have a nice view of the Bay Bridge leading to Alameda County in the background. Sailboats dot the bay with Yerba Buena Island and its man-made neighbor Treasure Island in the center.

The three piers jutting out into the bay from left to right are two SF Bay Ferry terminals at the Ferry Building, followed by the public Pier 14.

If you noticed the shadow at the bottom left that was cast by Salesforce Tower itself.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Going north we can see some of the most iconic elements of the San Francisco skyline. From left to right there’s the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bank of America Building, the extremely pointy Transamerica Pyramid, and Coit Tower and Alcatraz.

Next to the Bank of America Building the creepy Corporate Goddesses are visible. That’s the building where the Jejune Institute was located.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Turning further to the west it looks like chaos in the foreground, with buildings built along different street grids rather than facing each other.

Although outside city planners came up with complete redesigns of the street grid after San Francisco was leveled in 1906, those plans were rejected and the city was rebuilt along the same awkward street layout.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Lastly here’s a view to the west with Sutro Tower in the distance. Mission Street is prominently visible running down the center.

This seems like a good as point as any to point out that the windows of Salesforce Tower were a little grimy during my visit, not that I’m volunteering to go outside and clean them. But the dirt is visible in some of these photos, particularly on the west side where the sun was shining toward the windows.
 

My recommendation: Definitely try to sign up for a ticket if you’re interested, this is a one-of-a-kind way to view the city. Your ID is essentially your ticket, so they are non-transferable (in other words, don’t try buying them from scalpers.) Do be aware the tower is tall enough it’s often engulfed in fog, and there’s no way to predict if that will be the case months in advance.

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The Tony Bennett statue

September 23rd, 2019

Tony Bennett statue
Tony Bennett way Tony Bennett statue
 

Today I came across the statue of Tony Bennett just outside the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. It’s been there since 2016 though I don’t think I’d ever gotten around to seeing it until now. The statue is in the front lawn of the hotel on Mason Street — a block also now known as Tony Bennett Way.

Though many would rightfully associate Tony Bennett with his home in New York City, he debuted the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” at the Fairmont Hotel in 1961. The song wasn’t originally written for Bennett, yet he released the first recording of the song a year later.

The following two lines of the song stick out to me:

To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care

Decades later those same foggy weather patterns persist, and thanks to an almost insurmountable effort those little cable cars are still climbing halfway to the stars.

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The Emperor Norton plaque is back

September 13th, 2019

Emperor Norton plaque
 

Those who visited the old Transbay Terminal before it was demolished may remember the plaque dedicated to Emperor Norton next to the front door.

The plaque reads:

Pause traveler
and be grateful to
Norton 1st,
 

Emperor of the United States
Protector of Mexico, 1859-80,
whose prophetic wisdom
conceived and decreed the
bridging of San Francisco Bay
August 18 1869
 

Dedicated by E Clampus Vitus, Feb 25th, 1939

Recently the plaque was restored and installed at the new Salesforce Transit Center, the replacement for the Transbay Terminal. The plaque was restored by the de Young museum, naturally by a current member of E Clampus Vitus.

All the rust was carefully removed and it now looks nearly as good as new. It’s located next to bus bay 7 inside the transit center, where it won’t have to weather the elements nearly as much as before.

A plaque next to it recalls the history of the Norton plaque when it was relocated from the Cliff House to the Transbay Terminal.

 
Emperor Norton plaque
 

This second plaque reads:

This plaque re-located and re-dedicated on the 50th anniversary of the bridge envisioned by Emperor Norton
 

And so recorded by E Clampus Vitus Nov. 11, 5991 (1986)
 

Yerba Buena Chapter 1
Joaquin Murrieta Chapter 13

For many more details on the history of this plaque, see this blog post from The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign.

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The Central Subway is here… on the web

September 10th, 2019


 

Hot on the heels of my previous post about subway station plaques, it appears three new San Francisco subway stations are online: well, on the web, anyway.

Today I was making my way to Muni Metro and happened to pull up SF Muni Central on my phone to see if I had any chance of getting a train at a reasonable time. But something looked a bit off.

See, normally the SF Muni Central website displays a screenshot of the train positions in the subway. It’s part of the train control system and not very user friendly, but it’s easy enough to figure out once you’ve gotten used to it.

This time, a separate section appeared underneath the subway map…

 

 

It’s clearly a desktop window with the title “Line Overview.” But why? What does this even mean?

I’m going to make a wild assumption this is something we wouldn’t normally see: the user interface for the train control system. If you do a Google image search for the keywords “thales line overview” you’ll find slides with screenshots that look remarkably similar to this. Thales is the company that provides Muni’s train control, now that Thales owns a former division of Alcatel — it’s all very complicated.

 

 

But I’ve saved the best for last. On the bottom right is a new subway! Yes, it’s the yet-to-open Central Subway.

Following Muni’s convention of three letter platform designations with the first two letters indicating the name of the station, we have:

  • CT: Chinatown
  • US: Union Square
  • YB: Yerba Buena

The other two platforms at either end are presumably for maintenance purposes.

Now, obviously this isn’t finalized and probably not even meant to be shown to the public, but if this is the layout I’m already seeing two big problems.

  1. There’s only one place for trains to turn around at the end. We saw how poorly this worked with Embarcadero back in the day, with Muni eventually moving the turnback into the N-Judah extension that had room for more than one “scissor” turnback section. That could be a problem if a lot of people are using the subway to get to Warriors games, for example.
  2. The entire map seems flipped around. Conventionally Muni Metro has positioned outbound to inbound as right to left, but here it’s the opposite. Unless they intend Chinatown to be an outbound station, but that wouldn’t really make sense — inbound has always meant “towards downtown.” I hope that’s not how they’re going to label the stations, because that would be very confusing.

We’ll know more once the Central Subway finally opens. But as of now we don’t even have an official opening date yet.

 
Update: The bottom half of the image disappeared from SF Muni Central the next day.

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Every single BART plaque I could find in San Francisco

September 1st, 2019

“Always read the plaque” is the unofficial motto of one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible. Following that advice, over the past months I’ve been tracking down every BART station plaque located within San Francisco as a scavenger hunt of sorts.

Conventional wisdom tells us there are eight BART stations in San Francisco, so there should be eight of these, right? Well… not exactly. Read on to find out why.
 

Embarcadero Station plaque

 
Embarcadero

Serves: BART, Muni Metro

For some reason BART didn’t originally plan on this station, making it (in a way) the first infill station in the BART system. It was a smart decision in the long run as it’s now surrounded by offices buildings, and the nearby waterfront is much nicer now than it was in the 70’s.

The plaque is well hidden in a hallway off to the side on the ticketing level where payphones were once located. I had to step around a mop and bucket in order to get there. Since I took this photo this part of the station has been partially walled off.
 

Montgomery Street Station plaque

 
Montgomery

Serves: BART, Muni Metro

On weekdays everyone at Montgomery is in a hurry to get to or from their office jobs in the Financial District or SOMA, yet on weekends it’s practically a ghost town. The plaque is easy enough to find, it’s right next to one of the entrances on the ticketing level.
 

[ This space intentionally left blank ]

 
Powell

Serves: BART, Muni Metro

San Francisco’s downtown is the Union Square neighborhood, and this is the closest station. As such it’s often overrun with tourists and shoppers at any given time. The station features two entrances directly into the basement of the Westfield SF Centre mall, as well as now barricaded off exits into other basements, and a half-completed pedestrian tunnel to Yerba Buena Gardens.

I spent enough time wandering through the station’s corridors to find a plaque but came up empty handed. My guess is it’s in one of the parts of the station currently closed off for construction.
 

[ This space intentionally left blank ]

 
Civic Center/UN Plaza

Serves: BART, Muni Metro

Once again I came up empty handed. If the plaque’s still there it’s probably either hidden behind something — the bicycle storage area for example — or is in one of the underground corridors recently sealed off for good.
 

16th Street Mission Station plaque

 
16th Street Mission

Serves: BART

Even BART employees often incorrectly refer to this station as “16th and Mission,” which makes sense as it’s located at that intersection. But no, it’s called “16th Street Mission.”

This plaque is pretty easy to find as it’s right next to the escalator leading out of the station on the southwest side.
 

24th Street Mission Station plaque
 
24th Street Mission

Serves: BART

Almost everything that can be said about 16th Street Mission applies here as well as the two stations are nearly identical, including the placement of the plaque.

The easy way to tell the difference between the two stations is the color of the tiles.
 

Glen Park Station plaque

 
Glen Park

Serves: BART

This BART station is a good example of Brutalist architecture, with bare concrete and simple, functional forms. Unfortunately it hasn’t aged well in part due to a lack of maintenance — I’m sure it looked a lot nicer back in the day when BART had a budget for maintaining their plants and gardens.

The plaque at Glen Park is in the small outdoor plaza; not the most obvious place to look.
 

Balboa Park Station plaque

 
Glen Park

Serves: BART, Muni Metro

Going south this is the last BART station in San Francisco. It’s a sprawling mess of a station that also serves Muni Metro in the most disjointed way possible.

The plaque is again outside the station, near the bus stop on the street outside. I had to wait for a guy to finishing peeing on the wall before taking this photo. Perhaps the station could use a bathroom.
 

So we’re done now, right? Not so fast — we covered all the stations that are served by BART in San Francisco, but there are three more BART stations… sort of. BART built the entirety of the Market Street subway, including the stations only served by Muni Metro. So, let’s continue on!
 

Van Ness Station plaque

 
Van Ness

Serves: Muni Metro

While BART’s subway bends from Market to Mission, Muni Metro continues straight under Market. Van Ness is the first station in that direction only served by Muni Metro.

This plaque is tucked away in a corner above a drinking fountain in the paid area of the station.
 

Church Street Station plaque

 
Church Street

Serves: Muni Metro

Continuing along Market, Church is the station where the two platforms switch from a shared center platform to two side platforms, to the confusion of many passengers.

The plaque at Church Street can be found near the entrance on the north side of Market Street.
 

Castro Street Station plaque

 
Castro Street

Serves: Muni Metro

The final station under Market Street is Castro. It’s the only station with a curved platform, so please mind the gap. Back in the day streetcars would exit from the Twin Peaks tunnel onto the surface of Market Street, but that all changed in the early 80’s when the streetcars were replaced with light rail and were re-routed underground.

This plaque is just inside the paid area on the outbound side.
 

For the sake of completeness I visited Forest Hill and West Portal to see if they had any plaques. Neither of these were built by BART. Forest Hill is the oldest subway station in the city still in operation, dating back to 1918. While I couldn’t find any plaques inside, on the outside the words “Laguna Honda Station” are chiseled in stone on the front of it, reflecting the original name. Not really a plaque.

Although not really a subway, the current incarnation of West Portal Station was built around the same time as BART. The only plaque I could find were commemorative plaques about the original station, when it was just a pair of streetcar stands outside the tunnel entrance.

There is one defunct subway station, Eureka Valley. No idea if there’s a plaque down there as it’s not open to the public, though you can see the remains of the station between Castro and Forest Hill (it’s much closer to Castro.)
 

So there you have it. I don’t think anyone’s ever gone to every subway station in San Francisco for the purpose of hunting down plaques but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I’d also be curious to know if anyone out there has been able to find the Powell and Civic Center plaques.