Growing by the Bay

Month: September 2007

Capitola Kite Classic

Okay, the event takes place in May. Plenty of advance notice for next year.

Capitola, near Santa Cruz, is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco.

capitola kite classic

San Francisco skyline from Alameda / Oakland ferry

view of san francisco from oakland ferry

The Alameda / Oakland Ferry is a good way to get into the city from the East Bay, though a bit more expensive than BART at $11.00 round trip for adults. A full service beverage and snack bar is included. Bicycles can be brought along.

The ferry’s ports of call include Jack London Square, Alameda, the San Francisco Ferry Building, Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf, AT&T Park, and Angel Island. At present there are 13 trips a day between Jack London Square and the Ferry Building; the full schedule is here.


LINK: A quick guide to SF Bay ferries


Old De Young

Now that the excitement of the opening of the new de Young Museum has cooled a tad, it might be a good time for a moment of nostalgia. The main entrance to the old de Young is shown below. Straight ahead was a large room with high ceilings, popular for events. The Asian Art Museum was housed in a wing to the left. I used to park in the lot to the right, enter by the staff entrance over there, and cut through the darkened museum. It was wonderful to pad across the tile floors in the near dark. Sometimes I would stop briefly to enjoy the de Young’s marvelous Maya stela, its cool limestone fairly glowing amid the old building’s eerie shadows.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to that museum. It was, for one thing, earthquake unsafe, and the de Young could not get insurance indemnity to host major shows. Still, I especially loved this space in the early morning before the lights went up.

lobby of old de young building

San Francisco Bay Blues

By Jesse Fuller.

Pan American Unity

pan american unity detail one

In 1940, Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who had been divorced for a year, met on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Rivera was in town to paint Pan American Unity, a large mural commissioned by the Golden Gate International Exposition.

pan american unity friday kahlo detail

In the mural, Rivera had depicted himself with his back to his ex-wife. In the image he was holding the hand of Hollywood starlet Paulette Goddard. The gesture, Rivera said, symbolized “closer Pan-Americanism.” When the mural was unveiled, Kahlo did not attend the ceremony. “I do not want to meet Paulette and other dames,” she said.

Then, to the surprise of many, Rivera and Kahlo showed up together on December 8 at City Hall. There they were quickly married for a second time. But within a couple of weeks Kahlo — who had married on the condition that there would be no sex between the two and that Rivera would support her financially — left for Mexico, never to return to the city.

At the advent of the war the mural was put in storage, where it remained for two decades. Today it hangs in the lobby of the theater at City College, testament to the midcentury affairs of artists and nations.

For more, see Intersections: True Tales of San Francisco


Pelli Clarke Pelli / Hines: “a sense of lightheartedness”

pelli clarke pelli san francisco transbay terminal design

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority board approved the proposal of the Houston-based Pelli Clark Pelli / Hines group for the design of the new Transbay Terminal. (See photos of the three finalists here.) The tower envisioned in the group’s design soars to 120 stories high. The PCP/H proposal had previously won the favor of by a recommending jury not only on its design merits but committing $350 million to the authority (the second-ranked team only $145 million).

In keeping with the project’s general tone of excess, the jury’s report is available as a 5+ MB pdf download. (Which makes me cranky –why is it that us ordinary bloggers learn to optimize our graphics for the viewer’s convenience but as soon as your start throwing millions of dollars at something even the most fundamental things can’t be handled properly?) Here’s a portion of the jury’s report:

The Transit Center fits beautifully as part of the urban form of San Francisco both from an aerial perspective and at ground level. The Tower works as a marker on the skyline of the Transit Center below. The Transit Center edge is well scaled and retail is visible and inviting. The proposal expands the program of the Transit Center beyond a transportation hub to add value through a wonderful urban “City Park.” As a catalyst for development in itself, the park has the potential to link to new adjacent buildings as redevelopment proceeds, further defining the urban form. Design of the Transit Center structure and rooftop park conveys not only a sense of light heartedness, but also a concern for the environment, wholly in keeping with the San Francisco spirit. “Mission Square” provides a great room or hall as a civic space and grand entry to the Transit Center and City Park. The design also addresses and lessens the “tunnel” effect on First and Fremont streets. Overall, the design is not as much about itself as a single building as it is about its role in the neighborhood and City, providing new usable open space and vibrant street life as the focus of a mixed-use, dense neighborhood.

The photo is from the City Hall presentation. 

Stuck in second

san francisco traffic photo

Again this year the Bay Area is ranked second in the nation for traffic congestion by the Texas Transportation Institute. And highway 80 is the worst of a bad lot. Do you think maybe BART should expand in that direction?

How do you pass the time in traffic?

BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger gets pay raise to $322,500 a year.


rolling headsIn one of the more Byzantine maneuvers in local politics recently, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has requested that all city department heads and commission appointees submit their resignations so he can decide whom to reappoint after the January election (in which he appears to face no serious challenger). According to the Bay Guardian — which asserts that Newsom’s request was a spur-of-the-moment decision (the Chronicle says that Newsom was discussing the plan nearly a year ago) — “a review of more than 200 letters received by the mayor office shows many city officials nearly begging keep their jobs, others terse, others choosing careful language to protect their rights and jobs, others defiant, others groveling with praise for Newsom.”

Some letters were certainly written more effectively than others. In the Chronicle Cecilia M. Vega notes that “Ron Miguel, a member of the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, mentioned in his letter that he has spoken with various members of Newsom’s staff to offer his services, including Alex Tourk — who resigned in January as the mayor’s campaign manager after Newsom admitted to having an affair with Tourk’s wife.

Chris Daly has written to the city attorney, saying he is “interested in the legal definition of ‘acceptance’ and any provisions that allow the Mayor to ‘accept’ or not ‘accept’ resignations and/or resignation offers. If these provisions exist, how would this acceptance or non-acceptance be exercised?”

The move is not unprecedented — Art Agnos did something similar — but it has rarely or ever been exercized so extensively. What’s it all about?

  • BeyondChron, speculates that the mayor is trying to raise campaign funds, by encouraging nervous managers to contribute money to his campaign.
  • Randy Shaw, also at BeyondChron, hopes that a housecleaning will revitalize the Housing Authority.
    UPDATE: Gregg Fortner, the executive director of the Housing Authority, refuses to resign. (And Nathaniel Ford, the head of Muni, wrote that his resignation was “not voluntary and if accepted by you will be interpreted as a Termination for Convenience pursuant to … my Employment Agreement.”)
  • Cecilia M. Vega (cited above) reports that “city insiders speculate that Newsom has a short list of names he specifically wants to see resign. High on the list, city sources say, is Police Chief Heather Fong, a Newsom appointee who heads the Police Department amid rising homicide rates and whose low-key leadership style has been criticized. City sources also said commissioners who have publicly strayed from the administration’s message can also expect to have their resignations accepted. In May, police commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese, a Newsom appointee, went against Newsom’s wishes and cast the swing vote to install a new Police Commission president.”
  • But San Francisco PartyParty says that “Gavin ain’t firing no minorities, even if they are important scapegoats,” so he “isn’t going to fire Chief Fong … instead he is going to ‘not not accept her resignation.’”
  • Meanwhile, KGO notes that the move is not exactly businesslike. “Shareholders would not like to hear that an entire cross section of the management of a company is replaced — that creates chaos, it creates uncertainty,” said Professor Eugene Muscat, University of San Francisco.

Amid all the speculation, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, noting that “It would be more efficient to fire the folks who are not performing to the standards of the administration rather than putting everybody though this painful exercise,” may have made the most sense.

Image from Realonomics


Green flight

According to recent reports, many of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill are moving to the suburbs — relocating to Brisbane.


Litquake is starting to roll out details of this year’s festival.

“Authors appearing this year include Dave Eggers, Ishmael Reed, Vikram Chandra, Gail Tsukiyama, Noah Levine, Ann Patchett, George Smoot,” according to the Litquake website, “and about 300 others.”

I’m one of the 300 others. I’ll be reading at Encantada Galley and shop on Valencia at 20t, Oct. 13 at, I think, 7:00, along with contributors to the new Latin American literature anthology from the Center for the Art of Translation.

The Belgum Sanitarium

Hikers in the Wildcat Canyon hills above the city of Richmond may be surprised to come upon a glade full of palms and other exotic trees amid the chaparral and oak woodlands.

palms at the belgum sanitarium, richmond

These are the vestiges of a sanitarium that overlooked the bay, with views of San Francisco to the south southwest

san francisco view from east bay hills

and Richmond to the west.

view of richmond from tilden park hills

This was the location of the Grande Vista Sanitarium, founded by Dr. Hendrik Belgum in 1914. Residents of the sanitarium included drug addicts and alcoholics as well as the mentally or emotionally disordered — neighbors called it “the crazy house.” The sanitarium, advantageously located, catered to an up-scale clientele who wished to keep embarrassing members of their families out of view.

The centerpiece of the property was a large stucco mansion originally built by Jacob M. Tewksbury, a wealthy pioneer. Guests entered through a high-ceilinged foyer decorated with Tiffany chandeliers. Other features included a day room, library, kitchen, living room, and formal dining room. A curving staircase led to bedrooms and offices — nearly all with magnificent views — on a second floor.

One of these rooms served as Dr. Belgum’s office. As years went by, the doctor himself grew more and more eccentric and reclusive, preferring the company of his patients to that of the people he met on his expeditions into town. Neighbor children brave enough to sneak up to the mansion reported being spellbound by strains of enchanting music cascading down the hillside. It was said that the doctor and his ethereal sisters enjoyed dancing with the patients as the setting sun would cast its golden glow across the bay below them.

According to one of the doctor’s brochures, “To insure our guests an abundance of fresh, wholesome, nourishing food, so essential to the restoration of health, a select purebred dairy is maintained, also a poultry plan, an apiary, a fruit orchard, vegetable gardens, conservatories, private spring water system, etc.” Remains of some of the foundations can still be seen on the site.

In 1948 a grass fire suddenly flared up and threatened the idyllic estate. Dr. Belgum fought desperately to put out the blaze, and in that struggle he gave up his life. Then the mansion passed to his brother, Bernard N. Belgum, and sisters, Ida Ruth Belgum and Christine Heiman. A few patients remained with them as those melancholy years dragged on, though the surviving Belgums had no medical qualifications. As the turmoil of the fifties and early sixties raged in the cities ringing the bay, the sanitarium, in its remote setting, seemed frozen in time.

After Bernard’s death in 1963 at the age of 82, no heirs remained to inherit the estate. The grounds were simply abandoned, and all of the buildings had been burnt down by vandals by 1977. The following year, the East Bay Regional Park District acquired the land, which is now part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.

This part of the park is used for grazing cattle, who tramp down the hills above the sanitarium.

hils above the sanitarium

The sanitarium’s palms can be glimpsed beyond the thistles that grow where the cattle graze.

thistles and palms

To reach the site, take the Belgum trail from the Alvarado staging area in the Richmond hills.

alvarado staging area, wildcat canyon, richmond hills

A nearby display gives the history of the site. There is little material readily available about the Belgum sanitarium. (I have put up a few more pictures in my Belgum flickr set, which also contains larger versions of the images here.) Chad Dickerson of Yahoo posted some information about it, and consequently has been termed an “authority,” but really he just reprinted the material that is available at the site and does not appear to have done any original research. Still, he did post the materials from the site in their entirety, whereas I have been selective and have also added some narrative touches in order to tell the story of the sanitarium in a way that appealed to my imagination.

A more promising source of information is the El Cerrito Historical Society, which cites a publication called Richmond: Windows to the Past by Susan D. Cole (Contra Costa County Library, 1980). It includes “pictures and vignettes about early Richmond, including perhaps the best information available on the Belgum family’s Grande Vista Sanitarium, which was located near the mouth of today’s Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.” The Richmond Public Library probably has a copy, but I have not consulted it.

P. Joseph Potocki

What has become of P. Joseph Potocki, I wonder. He produced a most peculiar Frisco (Phrisco?) blog called San Francisco Phax & Phikshun. The last post on the blog is dated October 2, 2006. I doubt that he is Joseph P. Potocki. Where has the fellow gone?

Here’s is his summary of the sixteenth century in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • 1500’s: Nudist Natives live la-la-la-like in Bay Area Nirvana
  • 1542: Aspiring Conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo blows by Bay
  • 1579: Pirate (not yet Sir) Francis Drake plugs holes in his Hind at Point Reyes
  • 1595: His ship sinks, spices up Drake’s Bay, then Sebastian Cermeno paddles back to Acapulco
  • 1597: Nonplussed Natives yawn, resume civilized customs, until return of stinky death-cult barbarians–two centuries later

Lady from Shanghai

I’ve always enjoyed Orson Wells’s The Lady from Shanghai (1948). It was shot in San Francisco and Sausalito (and L.A.). Here are a few images, taken from the excellent site Film in America. At that site there are more images and commentary. I’ve taken the liberty of adjusting the tone of the images for clarity and photographic quality.

The Bay Bridge is visible from this shot in Sausalito

Free Days at San Francisco Bay Area museums

Most museums in the Bay Area waive the regular attendance fee one day a month. Following is a list of these free days. Museums may changes which day is free, so it’s worth calling or checking their websites (links provided below). Please let me know of errors or omissions in this list.

First Monday
Contemporary Jewish Museum (now closed through spring 2008)

First Tuesday
Asian Art Museum
Cartoon Art Museum (“pay what you wish”)
De Young Museum
Legion of Honor


First Wednesday
California Academy of Sciences

First Thursday
Berkeley Art Museum (BAM/PFA)
SF Museum of Craft and Design

Second Sunday
Oakland Museum

Museum of the African Diaspora

Rummy at Stanford

nob hill, 1902, with leland stanford and mark hopkins mansions

Most people think of the Bay Area as a hotbed of liberalism. Which it is. But the region was also host to a passel of robber barons. Several of these immensely wealthy industrialists settled on a hill overlooking downtown San Francisco — “the symbolic nexus of all old California money and power,” as Joan Didion called it — which consequently became known as Nob Hill.

One of these was Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad and founder of the university that bears his name (actually, the name of his son, Leland Stanford, Jr., who died of typhoid in Florence, Italy, as a teenager). At the time Stanford built his Nob Hill mansion it was the largest private residence in the state. In the image above, from 1902, it is the large building at the center top; the Mark Hopkins mansion is the turreted building to its left.

During the early 1860s Stanford served as governor of California. Ironically, for one who made his money from the railroads, in his inaugural speach he promised to protect the state from “the dregs of Asia.”

No one would deny that Stanford is an excellent school. Still, the legacy of the robber barons has not completely disappeared. Now the same school that gave us Condoleezza Rice is welcoming Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

According to the institution’s director, John Raisian, Rumsefeld will participate in a task force devoted to world peace.

UPDATE, 26 Sept. 07: Jon Carroll calls for Rumsfeld to be shunned.

Golden Gate Bridge in the fog

Cold ocean fog gets sucked through the Golden Gate, the narrow opening to the bay. The bridge that connects San Francisco at the south with Marin County at the north, though the second longest suspension bridge in the country, is only about 1.7 miles long, including the portions that extend over land. The narrowness of the Golden Gate prevented the immense bay (not nearly so large today as it used to be) from being discovered by early European explorers. When the fog would lift, Angel Island would create the illusion of a solid landmass.

The concentrated fog often takes weird winding routes through the city, contributing to its pronounced microclimates. One neighborhood can be warm and sunny while a neighboring one is suffused with a penetrating chill. This video was shot from a helicopter over the bridge.

Death of the Hippie

death of the hippie (san francisco, 1967)A couple of days ago I was talking about the so-called Summer of Love as a media concoction. To repeat, the flowers were already beginning to wilt by that celebrated summer. To indicate how short-lived the movement really was, recall that by October residents of the Haight were commemorating “The Death of the Hippie” in a mock funeral. PBS’s American Experience has a brief video clip of the event (click the image to visit the site).

Like all successful media constructions, the Summer of Love had a strong commercial aspect. B in the D, bellbottom sentiments were used to peddle Coca Cola. Today, the De Young Museum is pretending that the cliched commercial graphic designs of “psychedelic” artist Peter Max are fine art.

And the beat goes on.

Reuters: Wistful over lost dreams


City of riches

greedEarly Chinese immigrants to San Francisco referred to northern California as “Gold Mountain.” The name, an echo of the 49ers gold rush, expressed the promise of a land of riches. Many of those immigrants were doomed to disappointment, but the land of riches, has, apparently, come to pass. According to CNN Money, San Francisco is the third richest community in the nation, with a median income of $65,497. San Jose is second, with a median income of 73,804. (And, in case you’re wondering, Plano, Texas, is first at $77,038.)

It’s hard to be sure what this means. A median is the mid-point where half of the sample falls below, and half of the sample is greater. To pull the median up and rank among the top in the country for median income you would need a lot of people at the high end. But a high median can disguise the fact that there remain many people at the low end.

According to an article in the Chronicle, Hunters View, a 265-unit housing complex in Hunters Point, received one of the worst public housing scores from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of any housing in the nation. The inspection “found shattered glass on the ground, missing sewer and drain covers, roaches in apartments, malfunctioning appliances, and mold and mildew. Perhaps most remarkably, the inspection found 64 percent of the units had missing or inoperable smoke detectors. Hunters View was the site of the 1997 fire that killed a grandmother and five children – due, a judge ruled, to the San Francisco Housing Authority not having installed a smoke detector.”

The cost of living is high in San Francisco. It’s a difficult place for people with low incomes. I believe the city has lost some vitality because it is so difficult for adventurous young people to survive here. Today, Portland or Seattle seem in many respects more like the San Francisco of the mid twentieth century than our present San Francisco does.

Image: Zasu Pitts in Erich von Stoheim’s Greed (1924), based on the novel, set in San Francisco, by Frank Norris.

Summer of Love

summer of love, 2007

San Francisco celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Drugs Love in Golden Gate Park this weekend, and it sounds like it was a big hit. The weather certainly cooperated.

Something to know about the Summer of Love is that it was largely a media creation. By the summer of 1967 the peace, love, and pot movement had peaked and was about to decline. Probably its apogee was around January of that year, with the Human Be-in in Golden Gate Park. Within a year the Haight would look like a war zone, with abandoned and boarded-up business, the streets grim and taken over by hustlers, punks, and dealers of hard drugs.

National papers and magazines picked up on the counter-culture movement after the Be-in, and ran breathless articles about the Diggers and the “hippie” movement in San Francisco. That publicity fueled an immigration of teeny boppers from all over the country to the Haight. The release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album early that June kicked things into overdrive, as everyone in the country tuned into that album — it was not uncommon to hear the lingering chords of “A Day in the Life” reverberating from several different directions — reinforcing that sense that people were coming together in some sudden convergence of positive energy. And, in a way, they were. But it was short-lived. The Summer of Love was a swan song, really.

The image above, by Brant Ward, is from the Chronicle’s coverage of the weekend’s festivities.

Speaking of Sgt. Pepper, here’s the Shatner interpretation:

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