Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 3

June 30th, 2020

Since last month’s entry in this ongoing series, a number of local, national, and world events have occurred. It’s been a strange, though hopeful time for the most part. Here’ some more changes I’ve seen around San Francisco.

 

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In the most literal sense of the title of this post, the city’s Department of Public Health has been busy printing and distributing signs with the ever-changing set of rules we’re all supposed to be following.

Many of these signs are related to the reopening plans. As it turns out our entire economy is built on people eating at restaurants and shopping for clothes. It took a pandemic to make anyone realize this was a horrible idea, but here we are.

 

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The official signs apparently are not enough as some people have been making their own signs. In this case it seems someone was frustrated by people not wearing masks near Valencia and 18th Street.

While it’s true not everyone is wearing masks on the sidewalk, as far as I know nobody around here has thrown a tantrum over mask requirements in stores… yet.

 

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I’m not entirely certain what the intended message is here, but someone’s been placing stickers of infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci around the neighborhood.

 

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Indoor dining is strictly not allowed (you can’t eat and wear a mask, obviously) but some restaurants are opting for the outdoor and sidewalk seating approach.

To position tables less than six feet apart, some restaurants — like the 16th Street outpost of Pakwan pictured above — are placing barriers between tables. Does this actually work? Should we be dining out at all? I’m guessing probably not on both counts.

I’m not sure people are really interested in sitting outside in 60/65 F weather anyway. Maybe that will change when San Francisco’s summer begins in mid to late August.

 

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Although many stores and restaurants have reopened in some limited capacity, many dragged (or are continuing to drag) their feet on removing the boards on their storefronts. And of course many will not reopen, so there’s plenty of space for street art.

 

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At the beginning of the month there was a large Black Lives Matter protest that began at Mission High School at 18th and Dolores. This led to many store owners running essential businesses to board up their windows. Turns out that was an overreaction as there wasn’t really much in the way of property damage anyway.

But it also sparked a change in the art appearing on boarded up storefronts. Rather than being largely decorative a new theme emerged: Black Lives Matter. Many of these took the “Say Their Names” approach, listing names of Black people who were murdered by police.

And on that note…

 

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Thoughts on extending the T line

June 16th, 2020

With all the recent news of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, even avid readers of local news might have missed that two new BART stations opened over the weekend in the South Bay.

Here in San Francisco, Muni Metro’s T line extension is still under construction with the Central Subway from SOMA to Chinatown. That hasn’t stopped people from pondering how the subway could be extended further north — the tunnel already goes well into North Beach, and with further digging could connect Fisherman’s Wharf and perhaps the Marina.

I think it’s also worth considering ways to extend the T line in the south end of the city to connect both neighborhoods without much transit access and to existing Muni Metro rail lines. This also has the advantage of connecting to San Francisco’s BART and CalTrain stations.

To some extent at least one of these routes seems inevitable, if for no other reason the SOMA to Chinatown subway would benefit from more connections to the south half of the city. All of these options could be built partially or entirely at street level to reduce cost.

Credit for the Muni Metro map goes to the German version of Wikipedia. I’ve annotated it in pink with my proposals. You can tell which segments would require new construction as they’re not next to an existing Muni Metro line.

16th Street to West Portal

Although this corridor is already well served by transit, hear me out. This would provide light rail to the new Chase Center, UCSF Mission Bay, 16th and Mission BART, and potentially something far more exciting — access to the Twin Peaks tunnel.

An above ground route on this alignment would already have rails connecting Market Street to the K, L, and M lines via the (unused) above ground rail connection near Castro and Market to the existing subway heading towards Forest Hill and West Portal. This connection to the subway hasn’t been used since the early 1980’s but could be brought back into service.

This route could either overlap or replace Muni’s 22 bus line alignment on the east/west half of the existing 22 line.

Cesar Chavez to Noe Valley

Connecting the T to the J line in an alignment on the south end of the Mission on Cesar Chavez would complement 24th and Mission BART and provide a connection to the Bernal Heights area as well as Noe Valley. 

This could provide a much needed connection to BART while also taking advantage of the little used J line tracks to better serve this section of the city.

Hunter’s Point to the Zoo

While an exact alignment is tricky to pin down, the goal would be to take passengers from Hunter’s Point to the Alemany Farmers’ Market to Glen Park BART, share the M-line tracks to the L-line tracks to Stern Grove and finally to the SF Zoo.

Both this new line and the existing L line would share a terminal stop at the same location.

Although it may not seem like the most interesting route today, with new housing slated for Hunter’s Point it has a lot of promise for the future. And personally I’d love a rail connection to the city’s largest farmer’s market.

Geneva Avenue to Park Merced

This corridor on the southern edge of the city could provide access to the Cow Palace before connecting with the existing M line toward Park Merced and SF State’s main campus.

Park Merced already has a long standing desire to improve transit access for its residents.  This could also connect with BART at Balboa Park depending on the alignment.

Just go to SFO already

There’s probably zero chance of this happening, but it would be great for both locals and tourists alike if the T line somehow went so far south it connected Brisbane, South San Francisco, San Bruno, and connected to SFO (perhaps via the AirTrain?)

Unfortunately all of these new stops would be in San Mateo County, outside of Muni’s operating area of San Francisco. Would San Mateo County be willing to chip in for this? One can dream. 

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 2

May 22nd, 2020

Since last month’s entry the pandemic-related changes around the Mission and Castro area have only accelerated. As retail slowly reopens some of these changes may be short lived, so let’s take a look at where things stand now.

 

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The city’s Department of Public Health has plastered almost every block with signs about social distancing, wearing masks, getting tested, etc. Many of the signs are in multiple languages. Anecdotally it seems most are following the spirit of these new guidelines, though the part about wearing masks hasn’t quite gotten to everyone yet.

At the same time, the signs that went up a month or so ago about sheltering in place have disappeared. Presumably this coincides with phase two of the reopening plans.

 

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The flat grassy section of Dolores Park that’s often used for soccer and volleyball now has circles painted on the grass to encourage staying apart while picnicking.

Other sections of the park with more hilly terrain didn’t get the circle paint treatment. I’d assume this is simply due to it being more challenging to measure or paint.

 

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After numerous storefronts were covered in plywood, they’ve slowly been transformed by street artists. Many of the murals were commissioned by Paint the Void, which is raising money to fund this type of art during the pandemic.

At least for me even with the murals it’s a little more jarring to see fashion retailers boarded up than a neighborhood bar. For example before they were boarded up, Everlane looked like an Apple Store that accidentally started selling clothes.

 

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Not all the plywood-covered storefronts are decorated with murals… some have whimsical wheatpastes instead.

All of these photos of wheatpastes were taken on Market between Church and Castro. That stretch has had a lot of retail vacancies recently so I’m not sure these are all necessarily related to COVID-19 or just the collapse of retail there in general.

 

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Some of the street art is very topical, such as this wheatpaste depicting a coyote walking down a deserted sidewalk.

The graphic is patterned after a real photo which I believe originated in this tweet.

 

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Finally, fnnch’s honey bears now have an N95 mask version. Here we have a honey bear with pizza, a David Bowie honey bear, and a honey bear with an ice cream cone. Of course, eating and singing aren’t really activities that lend themselves to wearing a protective mask.

Signs of the COVID-19 times

April 24th, 2020

With the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading so quickly, everyone’s had to adapt at a rapid pace. Some of the changes are clearly sad and less than ideal, yet safety has to be prioritized or more people will wind up dead. It’s worrisome that some don’t seem to mind the latter part of that equation.

Like most of us I’ve been doing my part to shelter in place as much as possible, though sometimes one does need to get out whether it’s buying groceries or just stretching one’s legs a little.

On the occasions I’ve ventured around the neighborhood, here’s some of the changes I’ve noticed.

 

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The notoriously cramped Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street rapidly rolled out changes including limiting the number of shoppers inside the store. To that end they painted icons on the sidewalk outside showing people where to stand six feet apart. It would help more if the sidewalk weren’t so narrow but it’s a start.

The “stand here” icon seems to be somewhat universal as it’s quite similar to the one used in those TSA scanners at the airport. At least you don’t have to take your shoes off in this case.

 

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The Valencia corridor is eerily quiet, with many retail and restaurant businesses closed — and many boarded up. Ostensibly this is to prevent vandals from breaking the windows and/or looting the place.

It’s especially jarring to see upscale retail stores boarded up, though with the way the retail economy has been going these past few years I suspect boarded up storefronts are here to stay for some time.

 

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Elixir bills itself as the second oldest bar in San Francisco, dating back to at least 1858. (The oldest bar is the Old Ship Saloon, which once operated out of — you probably guessed this — an old ship.)

Like many bars and restaurants Elixir is focusing on delivery and has also put up a GoFundMe to help support their staff. This is all advertised in spray paint on the side of the building.

 

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Signs all over Dolores Park tell people to stay six feet apart, and in four languages no less. Park goers largely seem to be following the rules at least in spirit. The park isn’t really designed for social distancing with benches right next to narrow sidewalks.

While there I noticed a couple unexpected things. One is the tennis courts were locked. Of all sports tennis seems like one that’s almost ideal for social distancing. The other is that even though Muni Metro is not operating they were performing some kind of testing on a new train on the tracks in the park.

 

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Unsurprisingly tattoo and piercing shops are not an essential business. But I was surprised Body Manipulations on 16th Street felt it necessary to tell people in a “driver does not carry cash” fashion that they have no toilet paper on the premises.

Are they serious about this? They’re one of the most respected places in the Bay Area to get unusual piercings (think nipple rings, etc.) so who knows! All I can say for certain is it’s definitely a sign of the times.

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

March 1st, 2020
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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.

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.

Rest in pieces at Buena Vista Park

February 24th, 2020
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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.

How to cross the street

February 22nd, 2020
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Spotted outside the Victoria Theater at 16th and Capp, this guerilla installation alters the pedestrian signal instructions to promote friendly behavior.

16th Street changes: Goodbye Katz, hello cat

February 19th, 2020
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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; she’s a good fit for life on 16th Street.

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.

 

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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.