Posts Tagged ‘san francisco’

The forgotten monument that was once on top of San Francisco’s Mount Olympus

September 4th, 2020
San Francisco's Mount Olympus San Francisco's Mount Olympus San Francisco's Mount Olympus

 

While poking around Atlas Obscura the other day I came across a truly odd monument that I immediately knew I had to check out.

Eccentric businessman and former mayor Adolph Sutro had a statue named “Triumph of Light” built to mark the center of San Francisco. The problem is if you consider the landmass on the peninsula, the true center of San Francisco is a good deal south from this point. Like many of Sutro’s ventures this was likely a gimmick to draw tourists to the area.

Although the statue mysteriously disappeared decades ago and the plaque has faded away, today the statue’s pedestal and what remains of the plaque is still visible in a San Francisco park called Mount Olympus. 

 

San Francisco's Mount Olympus San Francisco's Mount Olympus

 

Never heard of this Mount Olympus? That’s no surprise; it’s a tiny park on a small hilltop peak. Today the area around it is surrounded by housing and you have to walk up some staircases and through a narrow street to find the park itself. Look for either Monument Way Stairs or Mount Olympus Stairs to find your way up the hillside on your way to the park.

Read more at Atlas Obscura. Do beware that the address listed on Atlas Obscura is currently incorrect; look for Mount Olympus on Google Maps to find correct directions.

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 4

August 20th, 2020

It’s been a couple months since my last entry in how this global pandemic has transformed daily life in San Francisco. There’s still no vaccine on the horizon despite Russia’s premature announcement, and likewise the United States has utterly failed to combat the pandemic under Trump’s leadership.

In other words, the important things haven’t changed since last time.

Fortunately there are many far less important things to focus on here in San Francisco: the many ways we continue adapting to the pandemic.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

For work I had to take Muni downtown and walk through SOMA to the office a couple times to help wind down the office operations and clear out my stuff. Much of the area around Market Street downtown felt unusually empty — boarded up storefronts, no cable cars, etc.

Today I heard The Gap’s flagship location will be closing for good. For those who remember that was a Woolworth location back in the day, which used to have an entrance directly from the Powell Street subway station.

Oddly the Westfield SF Centre mall across the street was open at the time, but has since closed again. There was a time when I suppose the grocery store in there could have been considered essential (remember Bristol Farms?) but those days are long gone.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Construction on the new Four Seasons tower is much further along than when the pandemic started. The bottom floors will one day house the Mexican Museum, assuming those plans are still on the table.

Across the street the Yerba Buena Gardens had obviously not been cleaned recently, with the pathways absolutely covered in pigeon droppings.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Entering the office was a little surreal — very few others were there, and the elevator had markings indicating it was now only suited for two people at a time. Normally we’d pack it with eight people easily, but not anymore.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Muni is still operating at a very reduced capacity with surface-level buses only and is enforcing a mandatory mask policy. At some stops attendants remind people to wear masks and try to stop buses from getting even slightly crowded.

As seen above signs on the doors indicate that a mask is required. To protect the operators, passengers are only allowed to board through the back doors unless they require special assistance.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Several streets have been converted to outdoor dining areas, including two blocks of Valencia for four days of the week. The sidewalk, parking, and bike lane areas have been converted to outdoor dining with the middle of the street reserved for walking; technically bikes are supposed to be walked but that isn’t really enforced.

Personally I’d love to see this continue on a regular basis — weather permitting of course — though with hundreds of wildfires burning throughout the state right now and smoke billowing through San Francisco this experiment clearly came at the wrong time.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

Street art continues to dominate blank, boarded up walls. In July the theme shifted largely to Pride, since there were obviously no “official” Pride celebrations this year.

That said, there was definitely an LGBTQ+ presence at the Black Lives Matter protests in June, with people holding signs with slogans such as “Black Trans Lives Matter.”

Recent movie review round-up (first half of 2020)

July 4th, 2020

It certainly hasn’t been a great year for movies with the global pandemic so a handful of these are from last year. What can I say, it’s been a good year for streaming and catching up on good movies we missed in theaters.

The order here is disjointed just like last time. Whatever, roll with it.

 

Spaceship Earth

This documentary looks back at Biosphere 2. For those unfamiliar, Biosphere 2 was an experiment where a group of eight people lived in a large greenhouse with an airtight seal for two years starting in 1991. Ostensibly the goal was to attempt to live as though they were on the moon or another planet. (Biosphere 1 being the planet Earth.) The project was largely met with skepticism from scientists and created a media sensation.

The movie starts when everyone involved met in the 1960’s in San Francisco and formed a theater company that sailed around the world. After returning to the US, the group moved to Arizona and got started on their new project: Biosphere 2. It doesn’t go into the personality clashes or the tourism aspects very much — but it does contain a lot of footage from inside Biosphere 2 and interviews with the various participants you won’t see anywhere else. 

Oh, and it does cover the part where a certain Wall Street guy named Steve Bannon got involved, tossed out all the data, and tried to use it to “disprove” climate change.

Like a lot of documentaries, Spaceship Earth covers an interesting topic broadly, though barely scratches the surface of any of the questions it answers. It’s also remarkably non-critical of the inherent problems with Biosphere 2. I think it would have been better as a miniseries where each episode takes a deep dive into each of the questions it’s asking about the project and the group (or cult?) that was behind it.

Best moment: Let’s just say it’s an oddly fitting movie to watch during a pandemic when we’re all sealed off from the outside world.

Rating: 5/10

 

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Somehow I missed this one when it was in theaters — a big mistake on my part. The story centers on a young Black man named Jimmie living with his friend Mont in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. A bit of an outcast, Jimmie’s obsessed with the Victorian home he grew up in in the Fillmore neighborhood. When the current owners get kicked out of the home, Jimmie and Mont squat the place.

This is one of those rare low-budget indie films where everything from the writing to the performances are completely perfect. But this movie has another trick up its sleeve; it depicts San Francisco as a real place with real people instead of some postcard idealist fantasy.

From its heartfelt message to its philosophical moments, this is the kind of movie that would win an Oscar in an alternate universe. 

Best moment: The skateboarding scenes, especially the long one near the beginning. These add a sense of scale and space to the movie that I suspect would simply come across as padding in the hands of a lesser filmmaker.

Rating: 10/10

 

The Vast of Night

Framed as an episode of a Twilight Zone style TV show, this indie sci-fi film tells the story of a small town in the southwestern United States in the 1950’s where a teenage switchboard operator and her friend at a nearby radio station investigate a mysterious electronic signal.

Despite an unoriginal concept the storytelling is more gripping than one would expect. The nearly unknown cast pull off excellent performances.

I think this film would have benefited from a theatrical release at art house theaters. Due to COVID-19 it’s streaming exclusively on Amazon instead and their clumsy marketing department didn’t do this one any favors.

Best moment: For a low budget flick I was really wowed by the cinematography, particularly the moment where the camera goes through a basketball game at a gym, exits out the back window, and then continues down the street.

Rating: 7/10

 

The Lighthouse

In the late 19th century a young man named Winslow (Robert Pattinson) accepts a job at a decrepit lighthouse and has to put up with poor working conditions — especially the longtime lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe), a demanding and potentially insane man who speaks like a Moby Dick character. 

Winslow quickly begins going mad himself while trapped in the remote location, a process that accelerates when the two start drinking together and a massive storm arrives. In a twist of fate this makes the movie perfectly suited for sheltering in place.

I don’t want to give away much else as this psychological thriller is best watched fresh. 

My only issue with this movie is there’s a lengthy stretch before the end where it becomes repetitive. I do realize it’s an intentional choice to serve the story’s mood, though it’s edited in such a way that makes it feel more dull than I think was intended. There’s a nearly perfect ~90 minute movie in here somewhere.

Best moment: Willem Dafoe’s unhinged monologues are all absolutely golden.

Rating: 6/10

 

Cat Video Fest 2020

People have been filming their pets for as long as home video has been around. The yearly Cat Video Fest is devoted to new and classic cat videos. As expected there’s a lot of things being knocked off shelves, harassment of dogs, and generally odd feline thinking.

This “film festival” raises money for cat rescue organizations, including Give Me Shelter in San Francisco. 

Rating: I’m not sure how to rate this one as it’s not a typical film at all. I’ll just say if you like watching cat videos on YouTube or TikTok, it’s for you. That said, humorous content is best watched with an audience — and this was the last movie I was able to see in theaters so far this year.

 

Color Out of Space

In an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name, Nathan Gardener (Nic Cage) moved his family to an old house in the middle of a forest to run a small alpaca farm. A wise but eccentric old hippie (Tommy Chong) squats in a nearby shack.

A meteorite crashes just outside the house, and after it gets repeatedly hit by lightning everything goes bonkers.  The town’s hydrologist warns them not to drink the water from their well though it’s far too late — unusual plants grow, insects and animals mutate, everyone slowly goes crazy, and even reality itself collapses into psychedelic madness.

The film comes across as more uneven than unsettling, careening between 1980’s throwback sci-fi horror to outlandish comedy. Which isn’t to say a film has to be one thing, it just tends to work better if it has a central foundation other than “weird.” What does work very well in the film’s favor is the vibrant cinematography, especially for a story that seems unfilmable. “It’s just a color, but it burns.”

Best moment: There are many “Nic Cage dialed up to 11” moments in this film it’s a challenge to pick just one, but I’ll have to go with Nathan (Cage) shouting at his older son to “get the alpacas back in the barn by ten” as he’s preparing to take his wife to the hospital.

Rating: 8/10

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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…

 

COVID-19 changes

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

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
Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square

 

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.

Rest in pieces at Buena Vista Park

February 24th, 2020
Buena Vista Park Buena Vista Park Buena Vista Park

 

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
How to cross the street

 

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