Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

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; 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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Seven Stills tour

November 25th, 2019
Seven Stills tour

 

Last night I took a tour of the new Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery, a brewpub located on the edge of the Design District and Mission Bay in San Francisco. The six year old company is in the process of moving their operations to this new facility but it’s not up and running just yet.

It was the first day of the tour in the new facility, and the tour wasn’t quite going according to schedule. I assume that will be resolved soon. The dining area isn’t fully open yet either.

The tour began at a small tasting bar just inside the front door. The tastings began with a glass of pilsner as a palate cleanser, while our guide explained their concepts. As a local company the name Seven Stills is a play on words, referencing the “Seven Hills” in San Francisco. Some of their products reference specific hills and their surrounding neighborhoods on their packaging.

The origin of the company was a home brewer met an experimental home distiller. A few years later they decided to launch a unique brewery and distillery company, with the distillery focused on making whiskey from their own beer.

 

Seven Stills tour

 

As we got underway our guide explained the key components of beer brewing: grain, yeast, and hops. All basic stuff, until he got into brewing with fresh hops instead of the dried stuff. Turns out the more boutique brewers like Seven Hills have fresh hops trucked in from Washington state for special beers when hops are in season.

The first real tasting of the night was Five Pounds, a west coast style IPA paired with a whiskey distilled from it. I’m not a huge fan of this style of IPA, but I really enjoyed the pairing between the two. Even though the hoppiness is lost in the flavor of the whiskey it’s still very much present in the scent.

 

Seven Stills tour Seven Stills tour Seven Stills tour

 

We walked into the back room and we were hit by another surprise. The brewing tanks are brand new, still covered in plastic wrap. The plumbing was still in progress. The copper still wasn’t fully built, with the main boiler still dangling from a hoist on the ceiling and other parts in the room outside.

Personally I found it interesting to see all of this equipment in its bare, just delivered state, essentially a factory waiting to be assembled. It’s supposed to be all up and running in the next few months. If you want to see what a brewery and distillery looks like while it’s being built, now’s a good time to go.

Before returning to the front for another whiskey and beer pairing, we sampled a “negroni” beer that really just tasted like a sour beer with a berry aftertaste. The guide discussed some of the beers they’ve made with unusual adjuncts, including a guacamole beer which didn’t sound very good to be honest.

We also had small samples of the vodka and gin they make. The vodka just tastes like a good vodka — not bad but also not very interesting. The gin had a strong pine tree scent to it, almost like a perfume.

 

My recommendation: How often do you get to taste whiskey and the beer it was distilled from in the same place? On the other hand the historic Anchor Brewing is located just up the hill with a similarly priced tour. For those only interested in one, which should you go with? If you’re more interested in beer history Anchor’s your best bet. For newer types of beer and whiskey distilling Seven Stills is worth checking out instead.

The murals at 23rd and Capp

November 18th, 2019
Murals at 23rd and Capp

 

At the intersection of 23rd Street and Capp — two relatively small streets — there’s a series of colorful murals so wide it spans two buildings and a fence. I couldn’t find a way to fit it all in one shot.

Surprisingly it still looks good as new despite being up for nearly a decade. Of course it’s been touched up a few times, but even some of the most beloved murals in the Mission tend to be more short lived than these.

 

Murals at 23rd and Capp Murals at 23rd and Capp

 

The murals facing Capp Street are on the abstract side, with a man vs. machine vibe against a sky blue background. There’s a lot to unpack with various hidden faces, skulls, cracked teeth, and more; all woven together in a quasi-organic fabric.

 

Murals at 23rd and Capp Murals at 23rd and Capp Murals at 23rd and Capp

 

On the 23rd Street side the murals depict daily life in the Mission District — on the surface, anyway. Street food vendors are selling ice cream, hot dogs, fruit, and tamales. In the background we see landmarks like the New Mission Theater, Mission San Francisco de Asis (aka Mission Dolores), and the long gone Giant Value building.

But on closer inspection, the food theme extends beyond the street food vendors. The streets themselves have been replaced with colorful stripes as though they were rows on a farm. If that’s too subtle, the eagle logo of the United Farm Workers Union takes up a section of the mural.

What I find particularly notable about these murals is how much they stand out — both in size and color — compared to everything else on this corner. And yet you don’t have to go terribly far from this little island of murals to find all the street art around 24th Street, most notably Balmy Alley.

Portals of the Past

November 11th, 2019
Portals of the Past Portals of the Past Portals of the Past

 

While wandering through Golden Gate Park on a particularly foggy afternoon, I stopped by Lloyd Lake to see one of the park’s more unusual features up close.

Although Portals of the Past looks like a sculpture — and in a way it is — originally it was something else entirely.

Some time ago while on a tour of Nob Hill, the guide mentioned the doorway to a California Street mansion was the only part of the building to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire. She then opened a binder and showed us a photo of Portals of the Past in Golden Gate Park. That doorway was donated and moved to the park shortly after 1906.

It’s pretty easy to find Portals of the Past on Google Maps. From the Music Concourse just walk on the sidewalk to the right of JFK Drive. After you see the waterfall on the right, follow the little creek until it ends at Lloyd Lake.

For more information, check out this Atlas Obscura article.

Haunted Ghost Tour from Wild SF Walking Tours

November 10th, 2019

Over Halloween it occurred to me that I tend to gravitate toward “ghost tours” everywhere I go, but I’d never taken any traditional ghost tours at home here in San Francisco.

The tricky part it turned out was figuring out which one to go on — there’s a surprising number of such tours from different companies in different neighborhoods. I eventually decided on the Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour from the relatively new Wild SF Walking Tours.

This tour is only offered after dark, beginning at Union Square and making a loop through the Tenderloin. The group I was in was maybe 15 people or so, led by a very entertaining drag queen performer who goes by “Mary Vice.”

As with a typical ghost tour format, it’s a mix of high profile murders and other deaths, morbid historical events, as well as reports of mysterious activities attributed to ghosts.

I never know how much to give away when reporting on a tour like this — I don’t want to say so much as to spoil it for anyone who’s interested, but I do have to mention a few key aspects to provide a taste of what’s involved. I’ll do my best here to provide a high level overview.

The tour includes:

  • San Francisco’s ban on new cemeteries and eventual relocation of all (known) buried human remains.
  • The Zodiac Killer and the time he was spotted committing a murder by multiple witnesses.
  • The rise of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and the resulting Jonestown atrocities.
  • Several tales involving the 1906 earthquake and fire.

One of the more interesting traditional ghost stories is at the St. Francis Hotel, which have apparently freaked out guests on the top floor of the old wings of the building.

In general ghost tours are best led by theatrical minded guides and “Mary” was no exception. The tour has two other guides, or three if you include Mary’s alter ego.

On my way home after the tour I started thinking about all the subjects this tour didn’t cover. Most were well out of the tour area like the somewhat mysterious death of President Harding at the Palace Hotel, the double assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk at City Hall, as well as my personal favorite local ghost story — the Lady of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.

The only story I could think of that might fit the tour was the attempted assassination of President Ford outside the St. Francis Hotel. Then again it may not be noteworthy: it was the second time someone tried to kill him that very month. Besides, there’s already enough spooky stories at that hotel anyway.

 

My recommendation: With so many ghost tours in San Francisco I can say this one is absolutely worth considering. It’s reasonably priced, about the right length, and not too strenuous of a walk. There are stairs and the stories include subjects not suitable for younger children. If you’re interested it can be booked through their website or through Airbnb Experiences.