Posts Tagged ‘99 percent invisible’

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.
 

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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.
 

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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.

Petaluma’s temperance fountain

July 7th, 2019

Abstinence fountain
 

I happened to walk by a stone drinking fountain in downtown Petaluma with a curious inscription on the side:

ERECTED 1891

TOTAL ABSTINENCE
IS THE WAY TO HANDLE
THE ALCOHOL PROBLEM

It seemed odd at first glance, I think mostly because the word “abstinence” is generally only used in modern American English by religious zealots peddling unscientific sex-ed material. But in this context the word is referring to abstaining from something else: drinking alcohol.

Yet again, the connection seems unclear: what does a drinking fountain have to do with avoiding alcohol?

An episode from the 99% Invisible podcast about the history of modern drinking fountains explains the connection — in fact this very fountain in Petaluma is mentioned at about 10 minutes into the episode.

The gist of it is this: back in the day water wasn’t always safe to drink due to bacteria, so many people stuck with alcohol. Once modern science made water reliably safe to drink, the temperance movement promoted the use of drinking water as an alternative to alcohol.

Obviously people still drink alcohol today, but thanks to plentiful clean water (well, in most places) we don’t have to choose between feeling thirsty and feeling tipsy.