Posts Tagged ‘photos’

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class="post-8479 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-missions tag-northbaytrip2019 tag-photos tag-san-rafael tag-travel">

Mission San Rafael Arcangel

July 5th, 2019

Mission San Rafael Arcangel
 

For the Forth of July weekend, I decided to split the difference between a real vacation and a “staycation,” opting to explore several parts of the North Bay I’ve never or rarely been to in the past.

My first stop is in San Rafael, named after the second to last of the Spanish missions in California: Mission San Rafael Arcangel.

The above photo is the current incarnation of this mission. Nothing stands of the original structures. I’m not entirely clear why they built something that’s clearly an architectural mashup between a modern church and the style of an early 19th century mission, especially since it just comes across looking ridiculous. But that’s what you’ll find if you walk a couple blocks up from downtown San Rafael trying to find the mission the city was named after.

To be fair the history of the mission is clearly posted in the front plaza, you can read the official story if you zoom in on this photo:

 
Mission San Rafael Arcangel

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class="post-8452 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-festival tag-lake-merritt tag-oakland tag-photos">

Lakefest at Lake Merritt

June 23rd, 2019

Lake Merritt
View of Lakefest from across the lake
 

Today was Lakefest at Lake Merritt in Oakland. I’d never been to this festival before and decided to go take a look.

Lakefest is a free street festival outside the boat house at the north side of the lake. There’s your typical street food vendors, artists, and local businesses with booths. Walking over from the 19th St. BART station the first two booths I encountered were Oakland Police recruiters, followed by “The 90’s Experience,” which is apparently something like the Museum of Ice Cream. I couldn’t help but to chuckle when I noticed everyone promoting it was too young to have any nostalgia for the 90’s.

Wandering past all the food vendors I spotted another area behind them that wasn’t at all obvious how to get to. I snuck between a couple of food trucks and found a large booth selling Bud Light. I was about to turn away until I noticed they also had a frozen margarita machine. Wasn’t the best margarita, but given the heat I was happy to part with ten dollars and suffer from brain freeze to cool down a little in the hot weather.

At the other end of Lakefest were some kid friendly activities like carnival games, a little “train” ride, and an inflatable slide thing. These attractions had a shared ticket booth.

Lower down towards the lake was another area with a music stage set up, a second Bud Light/margarita bar, and various clothing vendors. If you wanted any type of t-shirt with “510” or some variation of the Oakland city logo, that was the place to get one.

 
Lake Merritt
 

In some places the event was listed as the “2nd Annual” Lakefest, which isn’t exactly true since there was a similar festival at Lake Merritt of the same name back in 2008 and 2009. While I wasn’t there, my understanding is it was at a different location. Further back in time there was an annual event called Festival at the Lake in the 80’s and 90’s.

It’s worth pointing out that Lake Merritt began attracting increased attention two years ago when the racist “BBQ Becky” incident made national news, and quickly became an internet meme. Whether that incident spurred the organizers to resurrect Lakefest or it was just a coincidence, it’s a great example of the old saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

After leaving Lakefest I went for a walk around the lake. It was easily the busiest I’d ever seen it. Aside from the usual joggers and the drum circle that’s somehow always under the pergola, there seemed to be a record number of picnics taking place around Lake Merritt — including plenty of black picnickers with BBQ grills.
 

My recommendation: I don’t know if they’ll do Lakefest again next year, but if you live in the area or want an excuse to visit Lake Merritt it’s worth checking out. There’s something for kids and adults alike at Lakefest, but of course the same can be said of Lake Merritt itself.

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Pride rocks! (Sure, we’ll go with that headline)

June 17th, 2019

Pride rock
 

The space at 2223 Market Street has seen many restaurants come and go over the years, including the memorably named 2223. These days it’s home to Izakaya Sushi Ran, a Japanese gastropub (no, I’m not exactly sure what that means either.)

The new restaurateurs placed a large rock — if not a small boulder — outside a window facing Market Street where there’s an overhang. Presumably this was to prevent homeless people from sleeping there, or it could be some strange experiment in collecting dog urine.

To celebrate the upcoming San Francisco Pride weekend, the restaurant owners had the rock painted in the distinct pattern of the LGBT rainbow flag.

 

Photo by Max Canon
 

Which got me thinking… there’s another, much more famous rock in the city that was recently painted with the rainbow flag.

The Bernal Boulder in Bernal Heights Park has been painted numerous times over the years, taking on identities from a slice of watermelon, to candy corn, and perhaps most memorably as a poop emoji. Around this time last year as seen above, it was painted in the colors of the rainbow flag.

Are “pride rocks” a thing now? are two instances enough to make something a trend? I don’t know, but something tells me this isn’t the last time we’ll see a rock painted like a rainbow for Pride.

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Vaillancourt Fountain

June 9th, 2019

Vaillancourt Fountain
Vaillancourt Fountain Vaillancourt Fountain
 

Of all the controversial elements of San Francisco, Vaillancourt Fountain easily evokes the strongest love-it-or-hate-it response of any water feature. Sitting in the corner of Embarcadero Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) it looks like a large knot of rectangular pipes spewing water in various directions — when it’s on, that is.

Over the past couple decades the fountain hasn’t always been running, but was turned back on three years ago and has mostly been running since then.

Many critics today point out that the fountain fit the area better when it was in the shadow of the similarly Brutalist architecture of the Embarcadero Freeway. They have a point. Aside from the visual style, the fountain’s pump moves water at a blistering pace, creating a loud soundscape of splashing water that could easily down out the sound of the freeway that once stood behind it.

 
Vaillancourt Fountain
 

Unusually for a fountain there’s a walkway through it on a number of concrete slabs. This seems to be a major attraction for kids, but be warned it’s always slippery and you’ll likely get wet walking through it. Also note there’s no handrails so be careful down there.

It’s certainly worth taking a chance on the walkway if you’re up for it, the view from there is completely unique.

 
Vaillancourt Fountain
 

At some point in recent years the back of the fountain was fenced off. This is unfortunate; two staircases behind the fountain lead to overlook points facing toward the Embarcadero Center (and away from the former Embarcadero Freeway) which was a nice spot to take photos if nothing else. Perhaps there’s a safety concern, but then again these stairs and overlooks always seemed safer to me than walking through the fountain down below.

For some reason the fountain is operated by the city’s Recreation & Parks Department despite being located on private property — it’s part of the Embarcadero Center office/retail complex. This arrangement gives the fountain some protection against critics who want to see it demolished.

I will say this: critics of the fountain only seem to crop up when it’s not running. There’s a lesson here about public art. If it’s going to be successful in the long run it needs a maintenance budget. Pretty much everyone appreciates the idea of public art, but when it’s sitting there broken it’s not going to win over any new fans.

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Pink Triangle Park and Memorial

June 4th, 2019

Pink Triangle Park and Memorial
Pink Triangle Park and Memorial Pink Triangle Park and Memorial
 

After delving into the potential futures of Harvey Milk Plaza yesterday, I thought I’d hop across the street and discuss one of the most overlooked public places in San Francisco hidden in plain sight.

Located on a small triangular piece of land between Market Street and 17th Street, Pink Triangle Park and Memorial — often simply referred to as Pink Triangle Park — commemorates the LGBT victims of the Nazi regime during WWII.

According to PinkTranglePark.org:

Being one of the earliest minority groups targeted, approximately 100,000 men were arrested during this time and as many as 15,000 were sentenced to work and death camps. Assumed feminine by nature, Homosexual men were tagged with Pink Triangles. Lesbians however, were not considered Homosexual but Asocial, they were given Black Triangles and forced into prostitution.

During the later part of the 20th century, the Pink Triangle transformed from a symbol of hatred to one of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer pride.

From Market and Castro there isn’t really a designated safe way to approach the park as Streetsblog SF pointed out last year. Unfortunately whatever plans were in the works to address this issue were never completed. Your best bet is to carefully walk from the 17th Street side, but be warned that for whatever reason motorists absolutely floor it down this tiny residential street! Still, at least it’s a one way, one lane street at this intersection.

So as memorials go it’s not the most serene place by any measure, with cars whizzing by on two of the park’s three sides. Still, at least the shape of the place is appropriate. The space is maintained by volunteers; if you’d like to help out visit PinkTranglePark.org for more info.

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“Save Harvey Milk Plaza” written in dust

June 3rd, 2019

Save Harvey Milk Plaza
 

Yesterday while walking through Church Station I noticed the renovations there were winding down, and behind the semi-demolished storage area someone had written SaveHarveyMilkPlaza.org in the dust on the orange railing.

This is a reaction to proposed changes at Castro Station, the next station outbound from Church. The plaza on the south side of the station was dedicated to Harvey Milk back in 1985, and hasn’t changed much since. Muni intends to make some changes to the plaza to address ADA compliance issues, which somehow ballooned into a complete overhaul of the plaza. Two years after deciding to make big changes, the architectural firm they’ve hired still hasn’t settled on a final design.

The people behind the the aforementioned “save the plaza” website would prefer making minimal changes to the plaza, although even they have some ideas to improve it, like installing murals, AIDS memorials, and other historical links to the area. The groups who want to replace vs. restore Harvey Milk Plaza may have more common ground than they think; both want a nice subway entrance at Castro and Market, and both agree that some changes are necessary.

For my part I don’t have any particularly strong opinions about whether the plaza should be renovated vs. replaced, mainly because I don’t really like the idea of transit plazas in the first place. Just look at the 16th and Mission BART plaza or the Powell Station sunken plaza by the cable car turnaround — nobody would argue those are excellent uses of public space.

Fortunately Harvey Milk Plaza is significantly smaller and doesn’t suffer from the same problems, but it’s not perfect either. For my part I’d advocate for making the following changes.

First, the above ground portion of the plaza isn’t well integrated into the bus stop along Market Street. In part this is due to the geography of the area, but the bus stop is on a narrow part of the sidewalk and is located a ways back from the main plaza entrance. One way or another this should be addressed.

Second, the plaza’s maintenance is an embarrassment. The sunken garden part of the plaza was fenced off and abandoned long ago, the exposed concrete is dirty and covered in streaks of rust, etc. A new plaza alone isn’t going to address this issue — or could make matters worse if it’s designed without a maintenance plan and a budget to accompany it.

There is a certain irony of course in advocating against certain changes by scrawling in a thick layer of dust to reveal a 1970’s orange paint job. Then again, if they’d simply written “WASH ME” I might not have taken the time to write this blog post.

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Musée Mécanique

May 20th, 2019

Musée Mécanique
 

Musée Mécanique is a family run museum of coin operated amusements, many of which are antiques. It’s free to enter but you’ll have to bring or purchase quarters to try the machines. These include everything from arcade games to moving dioramas — I’ll get to what you can expect to find in the museum in a moment.

The first time I visited Musée Mécanique it was a somewhat forgotten back road attraction in the dusty, leaky basement of the Cliff House. There were tarps everywhere to protect the machines, which gave it the feeling of a collection in a dilapidated warehouse rather than a proper museum. Still, the place had character and made sense as much of the collection came from the defunct Playland at the Beach amusement park once located down the street.

When the Cliff House was closed for renovations in 2003, Musée Mécanique relocated to a larger and more tourist friendly location at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s not terribly difficult to find; it’s roughly between the Fisherman’s Grotto and the historic ships at Pier 45.

Now, onto the machines themselves. Having visited Musée Mécanique a number of times over the years, I think they’re best described by category.

 
Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Arcade Games seem like the most obvious category of machines, and I found more than I previously remembered seeing during my visit yesterday.

They have everything from mechanical games like pinball or one where you guide a little bulldozer around, to games you might find at Chuck E. Cheese like a ball toss and air hockey, all the way to video arcade games including everything from a Pong knockoff to two player 90’s racing game Cruisin’ USA.

 
Musée Mécanique
 

Creepy Machines are just what they sound like, and typically feature mechanically animated puppets laughing. The best known of these is the life-size Laffing Sal near the entrance, which lurches back and forth and she laughs.

Sal is only one of several of these throughout the place, but it’s by far the largest and best maintained.

 
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Fortune Tellers typically feature the upper body of an old female mannequin who moves around a little, waves her hand over some tarot cards or a crystal ball, and then a fortune appears in a slot below.

It might seem racist and even sexist that the fortune teller figures always appear to be older female gypsies, but as we’ll soon see that’s just touching the tip of the iceberg here in terms of stereotypes.

 
Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Love Machines claim to rate how attractive you are, how good of a kisser you are, etc. They’re all conceptually similar to the fortune tellers, but instead of just spitting out a random fortune there’s often some element of input involved, like squeezing a lever or putting your hand on a metal plate.

 
Musée Mécanique
 

Music Machines play, well, music. From the player piano above to a Swiss mechanical music box, it becomes a cacophony of sound when they’re all going at once.

The most impressive of the bunch is a Wurlitzer “band box” near the entrance. It’s behind glass, probably for safety reasons. When fed enough quarters it springs into action, playing a variety of instruments in time with one another as a band would. It can play a handful of tunes, all of which fit the theme of an old carnival or amusement park.

 
Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Stereoscopic Photo Machines flip through a series of 3D photos in a special viewer. Many feature local themes like the 1906 earthquake and fire. Several claim to offer risque images though in practice the photos are very much G rated.

 
Musée Mécanique
 

Feats of Strength test your strength. These range from machines where you have to pull two levers together, hit something, or in the photo above, arm wrestle a machine.

The arm wrestling machine is noteworthy because it features a large warning that the machine could break your arm. If you’re not careful at least you’ll have an entertaining story to tell your friends when they ask why you’re wearing a cast.

 
Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Dioramas typically show a scene of daily life in motion, or a little stage show with dancers. There’s often an element of music involved. These range significantly in size from a small cabinet to about the dimensions of a ping pong table.

These are often the least reliable category of machines, which includes their two subcategories below — prepare to lose a quarter or two.

 
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Morbid Dioramas are the same thing but with a focus on the macabre. I’m not entirely sure why there’s so many of these, but then again if you want to watch something morbid or violent you have plenty more options these days.

 
Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique Musée Mécanique
 

Last but certainly not least, we have the category of Offensive Dioramas. It seems these amusements didn’t stand the test of time at all, raising many questions about what should be considered appropriate entertainment.

In the photos above we have a diorama of an opium den, complete with stereotypical Chinese people depicted as opioid addicts who do little than squirm back and forth. Susie the Can-can dancer seems to be a stereotypical depiction of an African woman with enormous lips, but for some reason is dressed like a Polynesian dancer. What this has to do with Can-can dancing I’m not really sure. And then there’s Dan, the alcoholic puppet you can watch take a drink, because once again addiction is something we’re apparently meant to laugh about.

I’m sure none of these were created with the intention to offend, but they’re regrettable enough in retrospect it’s easy to see why they’re in a museum instead of at, say, a Six Flags.

 
My recommendation: I think anyone who wants to see antique amusements, old arcade games, etc. should consider stopping by. It’s easily the most unique attraction in the entire Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood.

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Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze

May 19th, 2019

Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze
Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze
 

If there’s one common trait among tourists, it’s a complete lack of spacial awareness. Everywhere I’ve been from Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter to Millennium Park in Chicago and any place in between, I’ve always had to dodge tourists who stop and jump out excitedly pointing out some mundane detail to their equally clueless companions, like “Look, they have Pizza Hut here too!”

So when I visited Pier 39, San Francisco’s infamously tacky tourist trap, I was there for one reason only: to find my way through Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. What better way to feel at home among a bunch of easily confused tourists than to enter a carnival-style mirror maze?

The first puzzle is finding the maze itself. Pier 39 is laid out like a generic 1970’s outdoor shopping center, but the Mirror Maze is on the upper level and difficult to spot from below. I went to consult a map, only to spot the maze across from me. To say I wasn’t off to a good start would be an understatement.

The maze entrance is in a short hallway. I stowed my soaking wet umbrella into my backpack and walked in. The woman at the desk didn’t seem to notice me at first, so I said hi. She replied only with “hi” and I actually had to ask about buying a ticket. I handed her a five dollar bill (they also take cards) and she told me to take a pair of plastic gloves from a box. At no point during this interaction did she look at me.

I put the gloves on and went to the maze entrance. It’s dimly lit with color-changing lights inside, and looks nearly the same in every direction. Forging ahead I spotted a family on one side of me, only to realize they were on the other! Soon I found myself seeing my reflections on more and more sides; a dead end. At this point the gloves became helpful, allowing me to touch the mirrored walls without smudging them with fingerprints.

The maze itself isn’t particularly long though I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to the layout. It’s obviously sort of ring-shaped, but aside from that I have no idea. It’s intensely disorienting in there — which of course is the entire point. By the time I stumbled across the exit I’d only been in there ten minutes or so.

As I exited and disposed of the gloves I couldn’t help but to think I’d have a much better impression of Pier 39 if they had more carnival attractions. They already have gift shops and junk food stands, why not throw in say a love boat ride and a ferris wheel?
 

My recommendation: I have a simple mnemonic to remember how to avoid tourist traps in major cities: “Hard Rock Cafe? Go the other way.” Pier 39 itself was the inspiration for this simple rule. Still, if you have the focus to visit Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze without getting distracted by tacky restaurants, insufferable gift shops, and crowds of blissfully unaware tourists, it’s a fun but short little adventure. I’d consider trying it again if I were in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

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Last of the Howard Street folding streetlights removed

May 18th, 2019

Folding streetlight removed Folding streetlight removed
 

For many years the section of Howard Street just outside Moscone Center featured some unusual French folding streetlights. During the day they stood straight up, and at night folded over the street as their lights turned on.

I’m not clear on the details, but somehow Willie Brown got these fancy lights for free; I assume they must have fallen off the back of a truck.

During the recent renovation of Moscone Center all but one of these streetlights were removed, leaving a single folding streetlight at the corner of 3rd and Howard — until last week when this last one was removed.

While walking past the corner I took the above photos showing the hole in the ground where the streetlight once stood, and later the sidewalk patched up to cover the hole. An unremarkable end to one of the more unique street design elements from San Francisco’s recent past.

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Finding the Faery Door in Golden Gate Park

May 13th, 2019

Faery Door
 

Do you believe in faeries? Also spelled “fairies,” these small human-like woodland creatures appear in numerous fantasy stories. Are they related to elves or hobbits? I’ve never been certain about the lineage. Perhaps I’ll inquire if I ever meet one.

This morning I woke up with the idea that I should visit more of the local oddities here in San Francisco. After my recent trip across America I’d explored some of the stranger off-kilter attractions across the country; why not continue the trip in a way by finding one of many such attractions here at home?

I decided to track down the Faery Door, a tiny but magnificent little door installed at the end of a log somewhere in Golden Gate Park. The location is a secret; all I’ll say is it’s outside the Japanese Tea Garden in a public area of the park. It took me a while to find it, I walked right past it at first. It’s well hidden in plain sight along an off the beaten path trail.

It was clear others had stopped by recently to leave fresh flowers both outside and inside the Faery Door. Perhaps this door is less secret than I had assumed; or were the fresh flowers the works of the faeries themselves?

The Faery Door has several sister doors throughout the Bay Area and an official website. For those seeking more answers an official book regarding these magical little doors is available from the website.