Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

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.

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.

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.

A ride on San Francisco’s boat tram

August 23rd, 2019


 

On Wednesday I mistakenly clicked on bookmark to streetcar.live, an online map displaying the current locations of each of San Francisco’s historic streetcars that are currently running. Before I had a chance to close the tab, I noticed something unusual: one of the Blackpool “boat trams” was running! I decided to take a long lunch and go for a ride.

There are two of these unusual boat trams in the fleet. They’re roofless, windowless streetcars (or “trams” for non-Americans) with a certain whimsical appeal. They’re not very practical since they can only operate on warm days when there’s no chance of rain. Though I’m not sure who came up with the “boat tram” name, I think they missed the opportunity to call these vehicles “railboats.”

Unbeknownst to me Muni has been running these all summer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between the Ferry Building and Pier 39. Normally the boat trams are only trotted out during special events, or for chartered rides.

In the video above I filmed the entire ride to Pier 39, sitting in the very front seat. Maybe not the best spot in terms of cinematography, though you can see a number of local sights along the way and an encounter with a Muni supervisor.

I also took a few photos before and after the ride:
 

Boat Tram Boat Tram Boat Tram Boat Tram

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.

Tara Mechani

July 29th, 2019

Tara Mechani
Tara Mechani Tara Mechani
 

About two months ago Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley became the home of a new temporary sculpture: Tara Mechani from local artist Dana Albany. Originally built for Burning Man 2017, you may have also seen the 17-foot tall sculpture when it was previously on display in San Jose.

Tara Mechani’s built out of reclaimed materials, including pipes and gears, formed to shape a female Buddha figure. Perhaps a female robot Buddha? This is all very much intentional according to Albany’s own description of the sculpture on her website:

Playing with the contemporary fascination with technology, the artwork infuses the mechanical with the compassion and empathy associated with the ancient deity. Tara Mechani challenges us to embrace the future without losing sight of past beauty and ancient wisdom.
 
The sculpture’s art deco aesthetic is inspired by the robot Maria from the classic silent film Metropolis.

 
Tara Mechani
 

The first time I came to see the sculpture someone had left bunches of flowers around the base, as though they were leaving offerings to a religious figure. A handful of children were taking the flowers and were inserting them into the sculpture as decoration.

I barely noticed the wooden base — until I returned to Patricia’s Green as the sun was setting.

 
Tara Mechani
Tara Mechani Tara Mechani
 

When it’s dark out the sculpture not only glows from within, but the base lights up as well, in part to throw light onto the metal form. It’s far more magnificent in person than I was able to capture with my mediocre photography skills.

Fortunately you have about a year to see it for yourself as Tara Mechani is schedule to remain in the park until next June. This means plenty of early winter nights to view the sculpture in its nightly lit-up glory.