Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

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Former Macy’s Men’s Store slims down for a new look

March 1st, 2020
Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square

 

The former Union Square Macy’s Men’s Store at 120 Stockton Street is sporting a new look at the moment. The down-to-the-bones renovation is transforming the almost windowless stone box into one with floor to ceiling windows. SocketSite has a before photo with a rendering of what’s to come.

Although I shopped there when it was still open I can’t say I really miss it. It always felt like a jail that happened to sell clothes.

The revamped building is intended to mix retail, offices, and a rooftop patio restaurant. Time will tell if this combination works out — though I can’t imagine downtown office space so close to a BART station remaining vacant for long.

Two other department stores in the area are exploring similar transformations, with part of the Macy’s across the street (the former I. Magnin building) potentially converting to offices and condos, and the nearby Nordstrom in the Westfield SF Centre mall switching its top two floors into offices as well.

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Jason Segel explains “Dispatches From Elsewhere” on The Late Show

February 28th, 2020

 

In the above clip from The Late Show, Jason Segel explains his upcoming TV show Dispatches From Elsewhere to host Stephen Colbert.

The quick version: While searching for inspiration for a new TV show to create, Segel learns about The Jejune Institute and manages to contact the man behind it all, who Segel likens to Willy Wonka. This quickly leads to a story far more interesting than your average talk show anecdote as Segel travels to San Francisco, finding a trailhead laid out just for him.

Obviously I can’t speak to Segel’s experience, though what he described sounds more like The Latitude to me. I’d be interested to hear more about it.

Colbert is a great interviewer as always, and I really like Segel’s description of Nonchalance’s guerilla art installations as “magic as an act of defiance.”

Dispatches From Elsewhere debuts March 1st on AMC. Looking forward to confused people stumbling on my blog posts while trying to understand this TV show.

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Rest in pieces at Buena Vista Park

February 24th, 2020
Buena Vista Park Buena Vista Park Buena Vista Park

 

Buena Vista Park on Haight Street is one of San Francisco’s oldest public parks. Built on the side of a hill, on a clear day one can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and downtown between the trees at the top of the park.

Today you’ll find everyone from wanna-be hippie kids to dog walkers to young couples having picnics in the park.

But if you look closely you’ll also find something else: pieces of old headstones.

When San Francisco started evicting graveyards in the early 20th century to make more room for the living, many headstones were scrapped for material — recycled rock, basically.

In the 1930’s a WPA project was tasked with updating Buena Vist Park’s pathways and addressing flooding issues. Many of these new pathways were lined with gutters paved from rocks; including old headstones.

For the most part the headstones aren’t noticeable, aside from the unusual decision to pave gutters with white stone. However in a dozen or so places around the park, parts of the original engravings are easily to spot. Three of these are in the photos above.

More information can be found on Wikipedia and on Atlas Obscura.

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How to cross the street

February 22nd, 2020
How to cross the street

 

Spotted outside the Victoria Theater at 16th and Capp, this guerilla installation alters the pedestrian signal instructions to promote friendly behavior.

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16th Street changes: Goodbye Katz, hello cat

February 19th, 2020
Katz Bagels closing

 

As Eater SF reported today, Katz Bagels on 16th Street is preparing to close next month after 27 years in business. Once a local chain, this was their last outpost.

This comes about seven years after the death of the founder, not to mention numerous attempts to rebrand as bagels waned in popularity over the years.

 

Kit-Kat on 16th St

 

Meanwhile, an actual cat appeared a few months ago a block down 16th at the Randa’s Market liquor store.

The aptly named “Kit-Kat” supervises as beer is delivered and guards the store from dogs being walked down the street. Though not the friendliest feline, Kit-Kat is not easily spooked either; a good fit for life on 16th Street it would seem.

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The mysterious album from The Jejune Institute’s second chapter

February 9th, 2020
Sounds of Ascension cover

 

While cleaning my closet I happened to come across an unusual CD in a cardboard sleeve. It’s called The Sound of Ascension: Audio Kool-Aid From The 70’s Most Eccentric Cults & Communes. This is an artifact from the second chapter of The Jejune Institute saga.

The timing of this discovery is perfect as the TV show Dispatches From Elsewhere comes out next month, loosely based on the real (?) events of The Jejune Institute here in San Francisco.

In fact the name “Dispatches From Elsewhere” was the name of the pirate radio show that advertised (among other things) this album. The Jejune Institute’s second chapter essentially started when you brought a radio to Dolores Park and tuned in — turning on and dropping out were strictly optional.

As for this album only a couple of record stores sold it, and you had to ask for it at the register. I bought mine from Aquarius Records on Valencia.

 

Sounds of Ascension outer artwork Sounds of Ascension outer artwork Sounds of Ascension inner artwork Sounds of Ascension inner artwork Sounds of Ascension inner artwork Sounds of Ascension CD label

 

The contents of the album listed on the packaging is pretty much what you’d expect from the title, starting with a track from The Manson Family. The full track listing and more details are listed on Discogs.

At the point where someone jumped through all the hoops to get this album, it’s almost comically obvious there would be a hidden track. For historical interest, I’ve ripped the hidden track and put it on Soundcloud. Listen below if you like.

 

 

The track is a walkabout following a young Eva Lucien and her mother Peggy through San Francisco’s Mission District. With them is a guest known as “Brightwell,” presumably the man making the field recording.

As explained in the liner notes Peggy Lucien was involved with various communes and cults in California, which is why she collected the audio on this album.

Let me delve into the details of the tour.

The walkabout begins on Chula Lane, a tiny alley between Church and Dolores streets. At the time the starting point was marked in the middle of the alley with two painted footprints surrounded by a compass — the first of many guerilla art installations on this tour.

The “fairy tree” Eva mentions is a palm tree on Dolores that has a bunch of holes in it, possibly due to rot. There were a bunch of tiny gold hand prints in the holes at the time to indicate fairies had been there.

Eva’s dad sounds like he’s voiced by Jeff Hull, the man behind Nonchalance (parent entity of The Jejune Institute.) The guy has a very distinctive voice.

One building mentioned in the track was a damaged and abandoned rectory next to an empty lot at the corner of 15th and Dolores. Once a church that burned down under mysterious circumstances, the whole thing was fenced off for at least a decade. A few years after The Jejune Institute closed the rectory building was restored and condos have gone up in the empty lot.

At the same corner there really were unusual hopscotch outlines painted on the sidewalks on either side of Dolores. Nonchalance dutifully repainted these on a regular basis.

The “green boxes” that gave Eva headaches are ordinary utility boxes. At the time they had fake but realistic warning stickers on them, alerting the public of “microwave harassment.”

As they walk down Albion Street, Eva whispers that things are getting smaller. At this point in the walk there were tiny doors, windows, and even a tiny gas meter glued on the side of the building that houses Kilowatt. Unfortunately these were removed by vandals or thieves pretty early on.

The final destination is Adobe Books. They’ve since moved, but at the time they were located on 16th Street. The door in the bookshelf Eva leads you to contained a small art installation, and the shelf itself had a book labeled “Interdimensional Hopscotch” that was chained to the shelf.

That’s the end of the recording, though there are a few other details I can recall.

There were other physical objects to go along with this chapter, many of which were advertised in the Dispatches From Elsewhere radio broadcast. There was a map of the area which included key points along this tour. I also acquired some wooden nickels (or “hobo coins”) from a newspaper stand at 16th and Valencia. These could be traded at the Paxton Gate curiosity shop for a small envelope containing plastic teeth.

Separately you could order a “box of Nonchalance” which came with the microwave harassment warning stickers as well as a wire fence sign explaining that all fences and walls would be “soon obsolete.”

There’s actually quite a bit more to all of this part of the chapter, which is very well documented on Cardhouse.com. I’m sorry to say I didn’t get to dance with Bigfoot though I did meet several people who had the honor.

I did however get invited back to Eva’s fairy tree one final time for the fourth chapter of the story, which I’ve previously documented here.

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Chinese New Year at the mall

January 28th, 2020
Chinese New Year at Westfield SF Centre

 

After doing some shopping at the Westfield SF Centre mall the other day I thought I’d go upstairs to the fourth and “top” floor of the Emporium half of the building and see what’s up there these days. As it turns out not much: most of it’s now a co-working space and only two restaurants remain.

Even the bar didn’t make it, which I guess isn’t surprising given the limited appeal of a bar inside a mall that closes at 8 PM.

Yet the mall is still dutifully decorating the antique dome. Currently it has red lanterns hanging from it for Chinese New Year, as seen in the above photo.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it decorated for Chinese New Year before, but then again I never go up there, and by the looks of it nobody else does either.

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Embarcadero waterfront at night

January 12th, 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.

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Exploratorium’s Curious Contraptions exhibit

December 22nd, 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.

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The Jejune Institute is coming to the small screen

November 26th, 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.