Posts Tagged ‘san francisco’

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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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The Wave Organ

May 29th, 2019


The Wave Organ, photo by Frank Schulenburg via Wikipedia
 

On Memorial Day I found myself in the Marina in the evening with a little spare time. I figured I’d try visiting The Exploratorium’s Wave Organ. Though I’ve been before it was seemingly never working. As it turns out, I simply hadn’t followed the directions — as the official website explains, The Wave Organ only works at high tide. Fortunately this time the tide was coming in. Sure enough, it was working!

The Wave Organ is built out of reclaimed concrete and stone at the end of the Marina Harbor jetty, with metal pipes sticking up that produce sound as the waves splash past the lower end. Here’s a short clip I recorded from one of the pipes:

 

 

I don’t know what I had in mind, certainly the echo-y sloshing sound of the waves coming through big pipes is nothing like your typical church or old fashioned movie theater organ. It’s more of a natural, meditative soundscape. It’s not super loud, but if you put your ear up to the pipes it sounds much louder than the passing waves down below.

During my visit the place was crawling with people… most of who were taking selfies instead of listening to the organ. To be fair it is a decent spot to get a photo of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I didn’t get any decent photos of my own before I had to take off; the photo at the top of this post is from The Wave Organ’s Wikipedia page.

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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.

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Riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr: Life on board the train

May 11th, 2019

Amtrak
 

I assume most people have never ridden the California Zephyr route — if they’ve ever been on Amtrak at all. This post is for those curious about what life is like aboard the train. It’s an important consideration since the entire route is a serious time commitment at around 52 hours.

From Chicago heading west the trains quickly became less crowded. The train was full in Chicago but had plenty of empty seats by the time we reached Omaha. Aside from April not being peak travel season, I suspect Amtrak is a more typical form of travel for those east of the Mississippi.

As for what to do on the train, I’d recommend downloading some TV shows or movies onto a laptop or tablet. Over the course of the trip I had enough time to read two books and start a third, but a few sections of the train track are too bumpy to make reading a pleasant experience.

Another thing to do is plan adventures your for your next destination — particularly when there’s wifi or at least cell service. I figured out details like how I was going to get around, booked tickets for tours and events, found unusual sights to see, etc. I wouldn’t recommend booking accommodations at the last minute though, nor anything that could sell out months in advance.

 
California Zephyr
Crossing the Mississippi River
 

The most obvious thing to do is look out the window. The lounge car is built specifically for this since the windows are very large and you can go downstairs to the cafe for drinks and snacks. But really there’s a good view from any upstairs window seat.

Occasionally we got an announcement about what we were seeing, such as when we went over the Mississippi River. For the most part when I was curious about what I was seeing I relied on Google Maps.

At least one group of people on each train I was on took a booth on the lounge car and passed the time with card games. A deck of playing cards can be purchased from the cafe.

 
California Zephyr
Coach legroom with my backpack
 

Even at its most packed the coach section is roomy, with big aisles and plenty of legroom. When the seat next to me was empty I’d often stretch out and use all the space, which felt surprisingly luxurious. In coach from what I understand you can switch seats whenever you like as long as you stay in the same car and move the destination card above the seat with you. Be warned that if you switch cars you could miss your stop — passengers are assigned cars by destination, and not all doors open at every stop!

I have less to say about my two nights on the sleeper cars because, well, I was asleep. Yes they’re a little cramped, though comfortable enough. In general I had no problems sleeping in a roomette aside from getting jolted awake a couple times. To reduce noise I brought along “Leight Sleeper” brand foam earplugs. The train announcements stop during the night so people can sleep without interruption, though the train whistle still goes off throughout the night for safety reasons.

While in the sleeper cars I always set an alarm on my phone to wake up in time. Conductors go around knock on doors to wake people up before their stop, though I wanted to wake up a little early for a shower and breakfast.

There was only one part of the trip where we were told not to move between cars; inside the Moffat Tunnel between Denver and Salt Lake City. It’s a long tunnel and the ventilation is bad, so if anyone opened the doors between cars it might fill up with diesel smoke.

Every few hours at a stop we’d be invited to exit the train for a “fresh air break,” which in practice was mostly a chance for smokers to take a quick cigarette break on the station platform. That said it’s a good chance to go stretch your legs and take photos.

In the cafe, nearly everything is prepackaged and the food is often microwavable (they work the microwave for you.) It’s somewhat overpriced and disappointingly is not open 24/7. You can allegedly order “meals” here but they’re ghastly smelling TV dinners. The worst thing I personally ate from the cafe was a bagel, a chewy mess.

 
Amtrak breakfast
Dining car early breakfast
 

The dining car is a step up from the cafe. It’s included if you’re in a sleeper (but bring cash for a tip) or as a paid option in coach. Not the most exciting menu, but it meets most diets. Unlike on an airline it’s served on plates with metal knives and forks. There’s even a tablecloth! Don’t get me wrong though, the food’s more like Applebee’s than a gourmet restaurant.

The worst item I tried on the menu were the salads, all of which came with wilted lettuce; they should have taken them off the menu. The best item was the baked potato side dish. The after dinner deserts were all fine, but I only ordered them so I’d have an excuse to stick around and chat.

All tables on the dining car are communal, which is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ride. If you’re traveling as a couple or group you’ll get seated together, but those of us traveling alone could get seated anywhere. This is an underrated aspect of dining on Amtrak — meeting random people on the train. The conversation starters are obvious:

“So where are you going?”
“..and why Amtrak?”

A surprising number of my fellow passengers were just like me: those who’d never been on Amtrak before, but were curious to try it. It doesn’t bode well for Amtrak’s California Zephyr if most of the passengers are new rather than loyal riders. I’d expected the typical rider would be older men afraid of flying; yet I only met one passenger who fit that profile during the entire trip.

Another surprise was how many passengers were heading to San Francisco. I didn’t want to play tour guide since I was on vacation myself, but I did answer some basic questions. This worked out fine as nearly everyone had a concrete plan already. Mostly the SF-bound crowd only wanted to chat about their plans or to ask simple advice like where to find good coffee near their hotel.

The entire time I was in the dining cars I couldn’t help but to worry about my backpack, especially if it was in coach. In practice Amtrak seems relatively secure, though if they had private lockers it would have given me more peace of mind.

 
Amtrak
A scenic fresh air break
 

Tipping is an aspect of Amtrak I’m not sure I fully understand. It’s straightforward enough in the dining car if you treat it like any other restaurant. Still, what do you tip the conductors? They accept tips in cash when they greet you as you leave the train. It never felt mandatory to me in coach, but on the sleeper cars conductors do everything from making the beds to making coffee.

I’m not very good at remembering to carry cash so unfortunately I only tipped the second sleeper car conductor. I gave him $20. Was that the right amount? Hell if I know. Just because I’m American doesn’t mean I understand all of our tipping practices.

It’s worth pointing out that food on the dining cars — but not alcohol — is included in the price for sleeper passengers. You just write your car and room number down similar to how you’d bill something to your room at a hotel. However this doesn’t mean tips are included, and the only option is to tip in cash. This is a little confusing since you won’t see a bill, you’ll just have to remember the menu price of what you order and tip accordingly.

 
Amtrak
 

Conclusion

The big question is, would I do it again? The answer is yes and no. Yes, I’d consider riding Amtrak again, but not this route. Why? Three reasons. First, I’ve already done it, so if I took another Amtrak trip like this I’d go on a different route and visit new places. Second, my favorite stops by far on the trip were Chicago and Denver, and both of those are far away enough it’s faster and cheaper to fly.

The third reason I wouldn’t repeat this route is a personal one: of all the major stops for travelers on this Amtrak route, the last destination is where many are headed for their trip: San Francisco. As I went across the Bay Bridge on an Amtrak shuttle bus from Emeryville to San Francisco I couldn’t help to watch other passengers marvel at the city skyline and try to spot Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.

Yet all I could think about was going back to work on Monday. I was the only passenger who left the bus at the first stop, the Temporary Transbay Terminal. Everyone else was headed to a hotel — where my vacation ended, theirs was just beginning. I couldn’t help but to feel jealous.

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Future transbay tube fantasy planning

February 4th, 2019

Recently there’s been talk of building a second rail tube under the San Francisco Bay. This new tube would be larger than the existing transbay tube and serve two major purposes:

  1. BART could offer limited 24 hour service while still having a maintenance window if one of the tubes had to be closed
  2. Future expansion possibilities for CalTrain, high speed rail, and perhaps even Amtrak

If we put aside the question of when to build this second crossing the next question is where? There’s no pressing reason to build a second tube next to the existing BART tube between Embarcadero Station and West Oakland.

BART has previously expressed concern about a tube to Treasure Island due to soil stability issues so I won’t include that as an option (even though I personally like the idea.)

Here are the fantasy transbay tube plans I’ve come up with. All maps images are courtesy of Google.
 

Alameda connections

The distance between San Francisco and Alameda (the island, not the county) is short enough that a tube could be practical. Today Alameda isn’t well served by transit so this route may help bring visitors to Alameda’s breweries and boat adventures.

On the Oakland side BART could connect to the existing Lake Merritt Station, ideally stopping along the way at a new Jack London Square Station. There’s also an obvious place to connect to Amtrak as well.
 

Geary Street

Let’s start with the obvious: BART intended to build a subway under Geary Street since day one, but somehow never got around to it. It’s easy to see the appeal: Geary is close to the Legion of Honor, Japantown, the Presidio, and could potentially go all the way out to the beach and the Cliff House. It’s also a major shopping district with restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, etc.

On the eastern side this subway could connect to the existing Market Street BART subway before meeting at the Transbay Transit Center and exiting San Francisco through a tube to Alameda.

The biggest problem with BART adding a Geary Street subway at this point is how it would get there: Muni Metro’s’s upcoming Union Square station is quite deep, probably too deep to tunnel under. Digging under the Financial District seems equally troublesome. If only San Francisco had some kind of “subway master plan”
 

Mission Bay

Connecting somewhere near Mission Bay, BART could build a new line to major event spaces like AT&T/Oracle Park, the new Warriors stadium, etc. It comes close enough to the CalTrain line to provide an opportunity for future expansion, and would serve as a connection to Muni’s upcoming Central Subway line near the south portal.

On the San Francisco side BART would have a few places to connect to its existing subway, though all of them would be expensive. The longest route would be to tunnel all the way to Cesar Chavez, the shortest would be to go under 16th Street.

The pros of this plan seem pretty clear: connecting BART to one of San Francisco’s biggest new neighborhoods is a no brainer. The cons? There’s no direct connection to BART’s busy Market St. tunnel or the Transbay Transit Center.
 

 

North Bay connections

It’s unclear BART will ever go to the North Bay, but this was part of the original plan and I have a few ideas. Just getting BART to connect with the new SMART trains in the North Bay would be a major achievement and is worth considering for that reason alone.

For better or worse these plans involve skipping the East Bay entirely and focus on the North Bay via San Francisco. Connections from the North Bay directly to the East Bay are out of scope for now, negating the ability for BART to operate 24 hours — but it’s still worth thinking about. These are fantasy plans after all.
 

Golden Gate Tube

Okay, let’s return to the Geary Street subway. Originally BART planned for the Geary line to go over the Golden Gate Bridge on the lower deck. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be feasible today without major changes to the bridge. Building a second Golden Gate Bridge presumably wouldn’t be very popular, so why not go underground?

The subway tunnel would head west under Geary, take a sharp turn somewhere near the Presidio, then go underneath the Golden Gate before connecting somewhere on the North Bay side. Clearly there’d be a BART stop in the Presidio, if not two.

How this would connect to the Transbay Transit Center is a whole other can of worms but it does provide a potential shared crossing, assuming some minor hand-waving about the details of the Transbay Transit Center connection.

 

Island tubes to Tiburon

I’ve saved my favorite for last, a costly plan best described as “a series of tubes.” Specifically three of them.

What if BART built a subway tunnel from Market Street to Columbus Avenue in North Beach to a tube system connecting via islands to the North Bay? This would hit many key areas including the Financial District, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Tubes would be built to connect Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Tiburon.

Connecting this huge tunnel system to the Transbay Transit Center could be reasonable depending on the route configuration. While some North Bay locals would benefit from this plan, it could also be a huge benefit for tourism. Imagine coming to San Francisco on vacation and taking a train to not only Alcatraz but also into wine country. Obviously the ferry companies would strongly disagree with me here.
 

Those are my proposals. Will any of these ideas ever come to fruition? If so hopefully I’ll be remembered as a modern day Emperor Norton.

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I built the San Francisco LEGO kit

January 25th, 2019

LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Today after coming back from lunch the office manager stopped me to say “Hey, I got something for you. It’s on your desk.” When I saw what she’d left me I couldn’t help but to laugh.

A few months ago I spotted a rumor in the SF Examiner about a supposedly upcoming San Francisco LEGO kit. I half-jokingly posted to a company Slack channel that we should get one for our San Francisco office.

Turns out it became a real product, and I now had one! After powering through a long day of work I got to my second job: building San Francisco.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Unlike the kid-friendly LEGO kits this one doesn’t come with an easy to assemble base. Building the base part felt tedious due to all the flat and tiny pieces.

You might notice some extra pieces in the corner of the photo. I think it’s normal for LEGO to include a handful of extra pieces, so good news if you tend to lose small objects between sofa cushions.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Following the instructions the first building to go up is Salesforce Tower. Clearly they weren’t going for chronological order.

The most interesting part is the way the pieces fit together with some bricks fitting in the typical top-to-bottom fashion, while others hang on to the sides. Other buildings and the Golden Gate Bridge towers used similar techniques.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Here’s the downtown skyline wrapped up. From left to right: Bank of America building (aka 555 California), Transamerica Pyramid, Salesforce Tower.

Two co-workers who wandered over while I worked on this important project didn’t recognize the Bank of America building — not because I screwed up or LEGO’s design was way off, but they weren’t familiar with it in the first place.

I think the slanted road at the bottom with the blue and red boxes is supposed to depict cable cars, maybe? Not sure.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Alcatraz goes over the black “offset” pieces in the base. The tower on the left looks to be the island’s water tower, and on the right its light house.

For the record the red piece sticking out on the right is not part of the island, that’s a tower mount for the Golden Gate Bridge. It doesn’t actually touch Alcatraz.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Next up: The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square. Perhaps not the best LEGO depiction of Victorian architecture, though at this scale you have to temper your expectations.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

The second to last step is Coit Tower, which looks kind of pointless without Telegraph Hill lifting it up to the skies. I wouldn’t have even guessed it was supposed to be Coit Tower without the instructions.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Finally, the Golden Gate Bridge! To build this I assembled the two towers, then the roadway between them, and then gently bent the three included plastic “straws” in place between the towers and ends of the bridge.

As I fitted the straws in place I snickered at the result — rather than holding up the bridge, it caused the towers to bend away as the straws attempted to straighten out. Look I’m no civil engineer but that’s really the opposite of what you want from your cables in a solid suspension bridge design.

 
Many have criticized this LEGO kit for failing to include their favorite parts of San Francisco, like the Ferry Building or Chinatown. One coworker jokingly suggested the Millennium Tower.

My criticism is the depiction of the city’s geometry. I realize the kit is a diorama and that’s fine, but from what possible perspective could you see the Transamerica Pyramid between the Bank of America building and Salesforce Tower? Since the set places Alcatraz in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point on the left that means we’re looking at San Francisco from the East Bay, so the skyscrapers should be ordered Salesforce, Bank of America, then Transamerica in left-to-right ordering. Coit Tower is roughly in the right position, but the cable cars should be behind the skyscrapers and the Painted Ladies would be facing in the opposite direction.

Still it’s somehow recognizable as San Francisco. Not sure it’s worth the $50 price tag though if you ever get a chance to build this kit for free while sipping complimentary LaCroix from an office fridge, it’s a solid 90 minutes or so of frustrating yet fun entertainment.

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Mission mural roundup

January 20th, 2019

Calvin and Hobbes mural
 

It’s been too long since I posted about murals at home here in the Mission District. To fix that here’s some recent photos of murals in the neighborhood, starting with the Calvin and Hobbes one above across vacant storefronts.

The image seemed familiar; after Googling around I found the original on this page, which claims it was for the LA Times to accompany an interview they did with Bill Watterson.

 
Mission Street Mural
 

Further down Mission Street is this mural depicting a bird’s impossibly-colored feathers with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. It’s by Cameron “Camer1” Moberg, who also created the mural at the nearby Cornerstone Church.

Now on to Clarion Alley. I haven’t been terribly impressed with many recent murals there, but a few caught my eye.

 
Clarion Alley mural
 

The mural of a woman here somehow fits this funny bookmark-shaped spot perfectly. If it looks familiar, it replaced a similar mural by the same artist group, WHOLE9 from Osaka, Japan.

 
Clarion Alley mural
 

The least serious mural here is a depiction of Adam Bomb (scroll down) of the Garbage Pail Kids. If you don’t remember the Garbage Pail Kids, they were collectible stickers parodying the wholesome Cabbage Patch dolls by depicting them in disgusting and disturbing situations.

There is a local street artist who goes by GPK, but the “GPK” here could also be a reference to the Garbage Pail Kids? Or both? I’m not sure about this one.

 
Clarion Alley mural
 

Somehow I never took a photo of Girlmobb‘s depiction of disembodied hands holding smartphones until recently, but the mural’s been there for a while. There’s something amusing about taking a photo of this one with your smartphone.

 
Clarion Alley mural
 

I’m afraid I’ve saved the saddest one for last. This one’s by Twin Walls in honor of Luis D. Gongora Pat. If this mural’s the first you’ve heard of him don’t be surprised — he was killed by SFPD but the news of his death didn’t get much local coverage. For all the details you’ll have to read about it in The Guardian. (The British paper, not the defunct local publication.)

Toward the end of his life Gongora Pat became homeless and spent a lot of time practicing soccer on Folsom Street in the Mission. Never knew the guy but that’s where I remember seeing him, kicking a ball around on the sidewalk.