Monday, June 21, 2010

Save Children's Village

This is my first post in awhile - getting busy in my day job (public affairs consultant - check me out at But I'm back with a rant about a pending catastrophe in San Francisco's child care community.

Children's Village Child Development Center, for 10 years an award-winning early childhood center in SOMA, serving infants to 5 year olds, is being shoved out by the property owner, the San Francisco Archdiocese, and the programming agency Catholic Charities, so that the facility can be sold to real estate speculators.

Over 100 families, 110 kids (babies! toddlers!) from every conceivable characteristic that reflects the city's diversity are losing their childcare slots, and neither the Archdiocese nor Catholic Charities has done one thing to help the families find alternative slots or support them in any way (they may have space for them next year - too late!). They're just OUT, in a city where waiting lists for child care are two years, for young kids even longer.

Then the plot thickens. The school folks start looking for alternative spaces to move the school, see a spot that looks promising, call the real estate agent on the sign, he shows them the property, peppers them with questions, and within days he BUYS THE CHILDREN'S VILLAGE PROPERTY FROM THE ARCHDIOCESE. Chris Harney of HC&M is his name. What ethics! What morals! What a guy! And he and his partner Tom Murphy of SFRents won't talk to the parents either, they send their flak Dan Dillon to deal with them, who first tells them no worries, the property needs a lot of work, you'll be able to stay for a long while, then, at the VERY NEXT MEETING tells them they have a new tenant so Children's Village must leave. 110 babies and toddlers with no place to go while their parents work.

And here's yet another rub - the City of San Francisco has invested two million dollars ($2,000,000) into Children's Village to make it a state-of-the-art child care facility, especially for young children. That's two million of your tax dollars down the toilet.

So what do we do to save Children's Village? We organize.

CALLS: Michaela Alioto-Pier and Chris Daly are the supervisors helping with this - call them, thank them, tell them you support their efforts.

Michaela Alioto-Pier: 554-7752
Chris Daly: 554-7970

Catholic Charities: Call them to say Children's Village needs to stay: 614-5500

WRITE: Letters to the Editor of the Chronicle and Examiner bemoaning the state of things in SF that this can happen and demand accountability (from the City and from Catholic Charities that gets great gobs of funds from the City). Write to the Archdiocese while you're at it and say, "SHAME ON YOU":;;

DO NOT USE: Chris Harney/HC&M or Tom Murphy/SFRents for your real estate transactions.

Go to the Save Children's Village website to learn more:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Supreme SF Sculptural Artist Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa is San Francisco's premier public artist who set the standard by which public art is and should be judged.

Landscape architect Tito Patri once said public art should have historic, cultural and/or geographic relevance to its site. Ruth Asawa's art reflects all that and adds even more community connection to the mix. A Japanese-American born in Southern California, she and her family were interned during World War II. That experience helped shape and define her art. When she moved to San Francisco to work and raise a family, her career as a teacher, artist and advocate began.

Co-founder of the Alvarado Arts Workshop in the 1970's, Ruth was responsible for putting the arts in public schools. Dan Goldensohn, a musician and teacher (and my husband) was a member of her coterie who traveled between schools sharing the love of their craft with students who never had art and music in the classroom. Their approach was and continues to be that giving children the opportunity to experience and enjoy art has tremendous value. It provides a venue for exploration of the world, of culture and history and nature and community, in a way that isn't didactic or dry but rather joyful and personal and pure.

Ruth's work can be seen across the City. Andrea's Fountain ("The Mermaids") in Ghirardelli Square was controversial when unveiled because she dared use maternal images of bare-breasted mermaids, one nursing a mermaid baby, in her bay-themed water sculpture. Her fountain on the front steps of the Grand Hyatt in Union Square depicts the history of San Francisco in exquisite detail. She created it with hundreds of school children in her backyard in Noe Valley out of bread dough before casting it in bronze. I bet you've passed it a thousand times. Have you ever really looked at it? Start at the top with the Ohlones and travel through time as you circle the sculpture, water from the fountain falling on Mission Dolores and Playland at the Beach, cable cars and Chinatown. It's a wonderful way to learn about San Francisco history. Public art at its best.

To read more about Ruth Asawa and see her work go to her website:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Faves and Raves

Check out "My City" in Sunday's Examiner (5/16/10), pg. 25. That's me and my "Faves and Raves" - San Francisco points of interest to share with y'all. Some I've written about here (Glen Canyon Park, Mission Creek, the Wave Organ). A couple new spots were added in the article. Click on the photos at right to go to the article.

Can you believe there are only two bowling alleys left in the entire city? We may lose the Presidio Bowl if planners at the Presidio Trust get their way and totally rehab the Main Parade Grounds. That would be a catastrophe - if you have kids or just like to bowl, the Presidio Bowl is a sweet little bowling alley in the middle of a national park with a totally awesome snack bar. Great for kids' birthday parties.

The other is in Yerba Buena Gardens. Between the bowling alley, the ice rink, the playground, Zeum and the Metreon, there's tons of stuff for kids to do in this downtown urban oasis. The Martin Luther King Memorial is inspired - walk under thunderous waterfalls to read his words etched in the walls. It is a moving architectural masterpiece.

Note to anyone with a sweet tooth: treat yourself to a Beard Papa's cream puff across the street from the park, or bring a dozen home to the family. They'll make your teeth ache but wow, are they worth the sugar rush.

Photos courtesy of Juan Carlos Pometta Betancourt of the Examiner.

Info on the Presidio Bowl can be found here:

Info on Yerba Buena Gardens here:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Corwin Community Garden

In San Francisco guerilla gardens are everywhere. Empty lots get converted to thriving green spaces by neighborhood activists who grow tired of watching weeds take over and become fire hazards. I'm always amazed at the willingness of ordinary folks to put in back-breaking labor and every spare minute to create gorgeous gardens for all residents to enjoy. Their generosity of spirit inspires neighbors to join them in an effort that fosters community stewardship and radiates with civic pride.

Check out Corwin Community Garden to see what I mean. In the netherworld between the Castro and Noe Valley, at the north end of Douglass Street where Corwin begins, perched above the famous (infamous?) Steward Park Slides, neighbors fought to save one remaining lot for open space as developers filled the hillside with apartment houses. After winning the battle, the lot stood vacant and choked with weeds until local residents took matters into their own hands by planting a garden on the steep slope.

Serene and lush, the garden is a surprisingly quiet respite in an utterly urban setting. Spectacular views of downtown and the city's northern edge are visible from the rustic bench near the top. Plants and trees of varying height have been introduced that provide color and texture without blocking site lines. All are draught-tolerant so need little water.

Bill Murphy who gazes at the garden from his kitchen window has led the transformation of the site over many years. He talks fondly of every plant and tree, knowing the history of each. Bill dreams of planting an orchard in the space between the garden and the slides. His goal is to provide fresh fruit for folks in the neighborhood and to just give away. He's on a quest to gather resources he needs for this venture. If you think you can help, let me know (in Comments below) and I'll pass the word on to Bill.

Cris Carlsson has also written about the garden on foundsf:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mission blues are baaaaaaack!

Our favorite native plant people have succeeded in returning the missing Mission Blue Butterfly to San Francisco. This is the best news, the kind of thing that makes San Francisco the greatest place to live ever.

Mission Blues are SF natives but, like other butterflies written about in earlier posts, have disappeared from the city as their habitat has been replaced by invasive species and encroaching development. Our heroes, the Nature in the City folks, working with Recreation and Park staff and plant biologists, recreated the ecosystem the butterflies need to reproduce. They reintroduced native lupines to Twin Peaks, brought pregnant Blues over from San Bruno Mountain, then sat up with them all night like midwives caring for expectant mothers. Yesterday the first butterfly baby spread its beautiful blue wings and flew off to feed and find a mate, demonstrating yet again how important our native plant communities are to preserving our fragile San Francisco ecosystems.

Keep your eyes out for more Mission Blues and let the Nature in the City folks know when and where you've spotted one. Here's how to contact them:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Alemany Farmers' Market is the Bomb

So many farmers' markets in the city now. I remember when Alemany Farmers' Market at the bottom of Bernal Heights was the only one (over 60 years old!). It's still the best because it's so unpretentious. Saturdays only, jammed with people of every economic and ethnic stripe. Zillions of kids. Women in burqas. That funny person playing the saw with the dancing wooden cat she moves with her foot. Shoppers crowded around favorite vendors carefully picking through produce that I can't identify. Murals of food and farmers painted on all the stalls (some now covered in graffiti, makes me sad). Free samples everywhere (I confess, I go there for breakfast).

Today at the market:

Last week of citrus - oranges still so sweet, seedless Matsuma tangerines
Greens of all sorts, including those I can't name
Tamales and tortas and huaraches (not the shoe, the delicious egg and chile dish)
Best breads ever (seeded Crowns for my family always)
Purple asparagus
Apples and apple cider
Peanuts (boiled I think)

People love the Ferry Building Farmers' Market and I do too, but it's all organic and so darn pricey and all the implications of that. Alemany has organic produce too but not exclusively, so that works better for me. And I bought a gorgeous box of sweet strawberries there for just $2 today. At Alemany we get (relatively) local produce straight from the farmers who grow it. Beats buying produce at Safeway where everything tastes like it grew in a sunless warehouse and shipped from god knows where.

Here's a link to the Alemany Farmers' Market on the city's website:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Victoria Manalo Draves Park

Victoria Manalo Draves, the great Olympic diver and San Francisco native, has died. A wonderful park named for her can be found on Folsom Street in South of Market near where she was raised. Soon after it opened San Francisco Beautiful gave the park an award. Here is an excerpt of my presentation of that award when I was SFB’s Executive Director:

"…[A] sunny and green public park has opened…spanning a massive South of Market block. Victoria Manalo Draves is an Olympic gold medal winner, a diver who grew up around the corner from the park named for her, the first American woman, the first Asian woman and the first Filipina to win an Olympic medal. SoMa neighbors, led by the South of Market Community Action Network and the South of Market Project Area Committee collaborated with the Recreation and Park Department to design and build the new park. In a neighborhood landlocked in a sea of concrete, residents wanted their park to be green so wide, grassy lawns and a baseball field stretch across the space. The basketball court is constantly in use. A lively playground anchors the park, and just beyond it, carrots, radishes and sweet basil spill over the planter beds in the community garden. Jason Ortega grew up in the neighborhood and has his own plot in the garden. Jason leads the Friends of Victoria Manalo Draves Park, community stewards who fought for the park and come every day to keep it clean. Near-by resident Laura Weil got Stan the Submerging Man, an art sculpture from Burning Man, installed near the playground. Stan is an 18-foot-tall figure lit from within and constructed of reclaimed plastic toys and colored vinyl demo records. Irene Pijoan designed decorative fencing that celebrates creatures from the air and sea.[...]"

To read my full narrative and see the accompanying drawing (and all of that year’s award recipients) by the incomparable Robin Chiang, go to, click on Awards and go to the 2007 Awards Presentation.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Tribute to the Vis Valley Greenway

Fran Martin and Anne Seeman are San Francisco heroines. With no more spare time than other mortals, the intrepid neighbors managed to convert a half-dozen empty, weedy lots owned by the SFPUC into a sinuous strip of gardens and green spaces. If you've never seen the Visitacion Valley Greenway, go today. Go now. It's Earth Day. Go.

Vis Valley has for years been such a neglected part of the city on the far side of McLaren Park (the second largest park in the city and its most underused). You can't even get into McLaren from Vis Valley although it's RIGHT THERE. With Leland Avenue, the area's commercial corridor, virtually vacant, there's been no green spaces or public places for social activity (of the healthy sort) in Vis Valley for years. That's starting to change with the extension of the T-Line into the southeast sector, but it really started long before, with Fran and Anne, who figured where the money was (gazillions of dollars) and advocated endlessly for their forgotten neighborhood.

With support from the Trust for Public Land and other non-profits, they raised the money to design and build the Greenway. Do you know how hard that is to do? The odds were against them from the start, and there were multiple bumps in the road that would have brought other people and projects to a screeching halt.

Community gardens, a children's recreation area, an herb garden, a teaching garden, a native plant garden, a greenhouse, the list goes on of the resources the Greenway now offers to the public. Each lot is unique, and uniquely beautiful. They didn't skimp on the quality of materials or the design of each site. Jim Growden, Fran's husband and a talented and generous sculptural artist, created the Greenway's decorative gates.

Tenacity, ambition, vision, frustration, art and gardening skills, the gift of persuasion, begging. Fran and Anne applied all over 14 years to this project. Last October the Visitacion Valley Greenway was finally completed, every abandoned lot now bursting with color, plants abuzz with bees and people enjoying this remarkable gift with their families.

Go to Hans Schiller Plaza on Leland Avenue to start your tour, then wind your way upupup through each section of the Greenway. You can even take public transport there. Here's more info about it:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Streets in the Shape of a Mission Bell

Where would the Mission Bell be? Look closely at a San Francisco street map. Here's a hint: if it's a tourist map you probably won't find it because most of those maps show the city stops at Market Street. There's your hint. The answer is at the bottom of this post.

But first, I'm still grumbling at the tendency of perfectly decent newspaper journalists to write about SF neighborhoods other than those they're accustomed to with descriptions like "way out there" and "out of the way" and "most people have never heard of it". Those who live in these neighborhoods know where they are, and you know, they're not any more out of the way than the Marina or North Beach.

In recent weeks the Chronicle's Carl Nolte has written about the Excelsior and the southern stretch of Noe Valley as if these neighborhoods were at the ends of the earth. But really, are they any further from the center of town then, say, Presidio Heights? No, they're not. We should question these habits and assumptions in the press and elsewhere (those confounded maps). And then knock it off. San Francisco is 49 square miles, and stretches from the Pacific Ocean to Daly City to the Bay. Oh yeah, and the Golden Gate! I forgot because it's so far out there!

So, in praise of neighborhoods every bit as populated and interesting and unique as our neighbors to the north, I celebrate my own neighborhood, St. Mary's Park. Considered South Bernal by some, it's squeezed between Mission Street and 280 a few blocks from the Glen Park BART station. It's the former site of St. Mary's College, which packed up and left for Moraga at the turn of the century because it was too bloody cold here. The sweetest little houses you've ever seen (in the words of the accountant in It's a Wonderful Life) built in the 1920's.

Look to your right to see the Mission Bell from the sky and in a zoning map. That's St. Mary's Park. Our streets are named after priests from the college (Justin, Murray, etc.). Landmark designation at College/Mission is an actual mission bell. Cool, right?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ode to ATT Park

Don't mean to repeat myself, but boy, do I love our baseball stadium. If you like baseball, and I do, it's hard to beat this downtown, waterfront, modest but more than adequate, faux-brick throwback to the days when baseball was for everyone - stadium in the middle of town easily reached by public transport, cheap seats (some less than $20), fun food, an outfield fence for furtive viewing. Plus, I just discovered you can enter the park through the back gate even when it's not game day or even season. Did you know the tot lot is open every single day? And it's free! Kids can play baseball and ride the slide (the giant Coke bottle billboard, is what I meant to say). Young people hired by the Giants play with the kids. Who knows about this? You do now! Go before the season starts when it's jammed.

My stream-of-consciousness lovefest to ATT Park and the Giants:

The brick, which is fake, I know, I know, but I love it anyway. Fits among the real brick buildings like a (baseball) glove.

McCovey Cove and its black old-fashioned drawbridge named for Lefty O'Doul (Who he? Take the quiz in the earlier post).

The walkway along McCovey Cove, imbedded with plaques commemorating great moments in Giants history.

China Basin Park across the Cove with a small diamond for the wee ones and sidewalks lined with giant baseball bollards.

Splash Hits (Where are we? 45? Most belong to Barry Bonds.) And rubber chickens - remember those? Strung on the right field wall for each intentional walk. Ended with Barry. Sigh.

Cha Cha Bowls. Better than garlic fries.

Kruk and Kuip, John and Dave. Best sportscasters anywhere, period.

Sitting in View Reserve watching massive container ships come and go beneath the Bay Bridge.

The Berkeley campus campanile clearly visible across the Bay.

ATT Park is SMALLER than Candlestick. And cleverly designed to block the wind inside the stadium.

Watching batting practice before the games in zillion dollar seats, players so close you can almost touch them.

The kid's play area open year round (see above). The fact that they HAVE a kid's play area.

The south side fence where you can watch games. For free.

And, our Giants, who, I believe, given my eternal optimism, will make the playoffs this year. Timmy. The Panda. Bengie Molina (so glad he's back). Very excited about Buster Posey too. Really miss Omar though.

Btw, SI (St. Ignatius) varsity plays arch rival SH (Sacred Heart) at ATT on April 16th. Full disclosure: my son Charlie is SI's catcher (made varsity as a sophomore, uh huh, that's right, oh yes he DID). Total fun (and you can sit in a zillion dollar seat for just $10!), so c'mon out and root for the Wildcats (or the Irish, if you must). (go to Athletics to find out how to buy tickets for 4/16)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Old St. Luke's Hospital

Even though I live within spitting distance of St. Luke's Hospital on Valencia, I didn't notice the stately old building hidden behind trees (and a big stupid fence) high off the street until Gillian Gillett pointed it out to me. It's easy to miss because most of the campus is dominated by those dreadful buildings built later. But the older building, dating from the turn of the century, is worth wandering over. It reminds me of the scary state hospitals of a bygone era, imposing and elegant, but a little sinister too. For some reason the grand stairway leading to its front doors is closed off (Why? It should be freed up so neighborhood folks can enjoy that bit of open space). Peer through the fence to see the original hospital in its dignified splendor, framed by large trees, including the city's first designated heritage tree, a mammoth Monterey Cypress looming over the front wall.

To the left of the old hospital is a chapel of the same era. Gillian took me on a tour of it awhile back and I found it again today (it's not easy, there are no signs to tell you where to go, but it's on the second floor through the glass-walled weird lobby thing and up the elevator). So quiet, so soothing, a peaceful place of respite and worship for those wishing to pray for a sick loved one.

St. Luke's is now owned and operated by CPMC. After fighting to keep it open (CPMC wanted to close the only hospital south of Market Street, huh.) folks are still working to make sure the hospital continues to serve its community as it has for almost 140 years.

Here's a good place to get info about the on-going St. Luke's/CPMC tug-of-war:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Green Hairstreak Isn't What You Think

Had a ball facilitating the Nature in the City retreat at the Marin Headlands recently. These folks save and restore the vestiges of our natural areas so the flora and fauna dependent on them survive. One of their many programs I find fascinating is the Green Hairstreak project. Punk mohawks? No. Green Hairstreaks are butterflies indigenous to San Francisco that have all but disappeared due to systematic eradication of our native plants. Just three modest areas in the city are left where their habitat remains - Hawk Hill, a rocky outcrop in the Sunset and one spot in the Presidio. The Green Hairstreak project seeks to restore plantings in and between these sites to give this beautiful butterfly an extended habitat corridor in which to live and breed. Take a gander at the gossamer wings on this gorgeous creature and tell me native plants aren't worth saving. Yeah, that's what I thought.

You can join Nature in the City and help bring back the Green Hairstreak, or any of the many programs they provide to save San Francisco's natural heritage.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Seems we have a lot of labyrinths within our 47-square miles. I mean, they're not THAT common and yet I count 6 without breaking a sweat (2 are in the same location but still, a labyrinth is a labyrinth, wouldn't you agree?).

The first labyrinth I ever walked is inside Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill across from Huntington Park. The second is outside Grace Cathedral. What a great outing with my son Charlie - cable car ride up California (with our Fast Passes, because really, $5 each way? This is not Disneyland, and we are, after all, locals.) to the Cathedral, walked both labyrinths together, a session on the swings in the park, then back down the hill to Chinatown for lunch (he was much younger then, and not yet taller than his mum, in Facebook parlance). Maybe a ride in the outdoor elevators at the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square. Sigh.

But I digress. Two relatively new labyrinths have been built in neighborhood parks. One is on the Scott Street side of Duboce Park, small but lovely and surrounded by pretty landscaping and bright mosaic tiles imbedded in the perimeter. The other is in the recently refurbished Potrero del Sol (La Raza) Park, off Potrero Avenue next to Buena Vista School that also includes an actual skateboard park (SF now has TWO skateboard parks, modest as they are, but still, about time.). This labyrinth is different from Duboce - more hardscape, less landscape, but very cool and a popular addition to the park. Patients from near-by SF General use it because it's good exercise and manageable for them.

There's a very different sort of labyrinth in Chinatown but I confess I don't know its location (please share if you do).

And last-but-not-least, the labyrinth at Land's End, assembled from rocks just a stone's throw from the Golden Gate. So simple in its way but in a wildly spectacular setting.

A well-used park has something for everyone. Delicately complex art pieces, labyrinths provide a more meditative recreational experience that can draw those who may not otherwise visit their neighborhood park.

The Friends of Duboce Park planned and raised the money for their labyrinth:

The Friends of Potrero del Sol La Raza Park did the same for theirs:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Glen Canyon Park

Been thinking about San Francisco's natural areas, and the people who take care of them for the rest of us. By "natural areas" I mean the remnants of our indigenous local landscapes, the flora that supports our fauna. There's been such a tug of war through the years over these precious bits of green (brown, yellow) spaces in a city so disproportionately paved with asphalt and concrete. Sometimes it's easy to lose the thread that connects plant life with wildlife. If it gives you a thrill to see a red-tail hawk, then think about the food it eats, the small vertebrates that live in our parks and open spaces. What do THEY eat? Follow the thread that eventually leads back to plants and trees growing native in our clay/rocky/sandy soil sustaining life that gives the hawk its lunch. To lose our natural native areas is to lose the little bits of wildlife left in the city. The folks who work to preserve and maintain the vestiges of our native plant cultures are full-blown heroes in my book.

I've talked about natural areas in earlier posts, but for me, the best place to experience nature in the city is Glen Canyon Park, 60 acres of quiet, almost rural open space smack dab in the middle of San Francisco yet totally removed from the urban cacaphony around it. My son Charlie went to pre-school at Glenridge, tucked way back in the canyon, a daily hike along pathways bordering Islais Creek under tree canopies (Eucalyptus mostly, non-native, drops camphorous bits of detritus that poison the undergrowth, and yet, love walking under those trees, guilty as charged). The Friends of Glen Canyon Park working with the city's Natural Areas Program pull out great swaths of blackberry bramble beside the creek to daylight the natives beneath. Talk about sweat equity - this is back-breaking work. Follow the path all the way in, past the school building, to the raised walkway, an ingenious method enabling hikers to cross sensitive habitat areas without harming them. My son grew up here, learning the value of land not built upon but preserved by human hands. Lucky kid.

I may get blow back from folks who just love to let their dogs run off-leash here and think 4-year-old kids are a menace who interfere with their fun, but I don't care. My blog. Put your dog on a frickin' leash. And clean up the poop - it's ruining the creek.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

3400 Cesar Chavez

The giganto housing development at 3400 Cesar Chavez is really taking shape. It looks as if the Walgreens on the ground floor will open any day. The whole building has gone through several shades of color, and at first I really disliked what they'd chosen, but now I'm thinking those were just the undercoats because it's looking better. Saw a gaggle of artists beginning to create a mural on the Cesar Chavez side - just a drawing at this point but I see images of local flavor including Carnaval and familiar Mission District faces (it's the white patch on the south side). Wasn't there supposed to be street trees and nice landscaping around the building? What happened to those? I know this development was highly contentious when conceived (chain stores/day laborer displacement/affordability) but frankly I'm happy to see new housing and retail (yep, even if it's another Walgreens) that will encourage pedestrian activity on this stretch of Mission Street because it will bolster other businesses here. Plus there's reserved parking for City Carshare and bikes, retail spaces for local businesses and 15% affordable units with a first-time buyer's program. On balance a benefit for the neighborhood, in my humble opinion.

Down the street, Chicken John's house is for sale on Cesar Chavez. It's got a spiffy new mural on it too. John Rinaldi, aka Chicken John, ran for mayor not long ago. Seemed like a joke that wasn't supposed to be funny. Or something.

Monday, February 15, 2010

ATT Park from Mission Bay

Glorious day at Mission Bay today. Walked all the way around Mission Creek (well, not ALL the way around it, but from the Channel Street side to Berry Street and back again). The fog was burning off at the ballpark when I took this picture from the kayak launch in the Creek. The Lefty O'Doul Bridge is in front of the ball park (Question: Who was Lefty O'Doul? Was he a) a baseball player, b) a labor leader, c) a mayor of San Francisco? Answer below). God, I love our baseball stadium. For such a modestly-sized structure it packs a very satisfying punch along the skyline as you come upon it from the Embarcadero. It looms over Mission Creek like the perfect punctuation mark. Look at me! Over here! But it respects its space, its neighbors and the history of its site. A downtown waterfront ballpark that isn't gargantuan in scale. What's not to love?

Plus, added bonus, a Great Blue Heron was sitting on the roof of a houseboat taking in the sun, looking like it was in no hurry to leave. I know, you can't really see it in the photo (right). It's on the middle houseboat.

Props to the developers who did a superb job integrating the Mission Bay apartment buildings with the creek via natural landscaping and materials that preserve the views and the creek's vitality. I talk more about the Mission Creek Conservancy's role in preserving the Creek in an earlier post below, but I gotta hand it to the Mission Bay folks as well - that side of Mission Creek is also awesome.

(Answer: a) a baseball player - Lefty O'Doul was a San Francisco-born major leaguer. How perfect is that? btw, if I could have typed this upside-down, I would have.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Heart Mission Street, Take 2

For Valentine's Day, more things I love about Mission Street...

Women carrying baskets of bouquets to sell in local restaurants.

The man trying to chip gross gum off the sidewalk. You go guy.

Little churches in former retail spaces.

Grilled meat aromas drifting out of taquerias.

La Corneta.

The Miracle Mile, movie houses on every block. Can you imagine?

Salsa lessons at Roccapulco.

Those brown historic (looking) light poles. No crappy Cobras on Mission.

Homemade tamales for sale at the 24th St. BART station.

Blue and red mosaic tiles imbedded in sidewalks, by Precita Eyes I think.

Precita Eyes.

Mariachis with beautiful battered guitars who play at each restaurant.

Volver, Volver, Voooooollllverrrr.

Happy Valentine's Day Weekend!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Peace and Love

San Francisco is rich with great public art (and some not so great, but let's not go there), so much so that sometimes some of the best, if not in a prime tourist zone like the Embarcadero or a neighborhood known for it like the Mission, gets overlooked. Welcome to the Western Addition Peace Wall at Daniel Koshland Park at Page and Buchanan, a labor of love over many years by people in Hayes Valley and the Western Addition who had enough of the cycle of violence in their neighborhoods and chose to send a message. The Wall is a series of tiles painted by local kids and other neighborhood residents representing their vision of a peaceful world. Stretching around the corner and down the block in exuberant colors and images, the Wall honors families who have lost a loved one to violence. Someone I consider a mentor once said that public art should have historic, cultural or geographic relevance to its site. The Peace Wall is all that. When friends come to visit, rather than taking them to an insipid bow and arrow by the bay (oops!), go gaze at our Peace Wall instead.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Billy Goat HIll

How is it possible that a rustic open space with sweeping views to the bay hasn't been desecrated with a McMansion yet? Billy Goat Hill still sits in all its natural splendor, plants so thick you may need a machete to make your way down the path to the rope swing (see it?). Named for the goats that roamed the dairy farms here (Right? Or did I make that up?), the hill is a designated city park in the upper reaches of Noe Valley or Glen Park or somewhere in-between. There's no better view of downtown and the East Bay than from its rocky perch, an easy walk (just kidding about the machete) from the Harry Street stairs leading from Laidley to Beacon Street, a vertical climb through banana trees and enviable cozy cottages. The winter rains bring native lupines that dot the hill with color. Soar over the city on the swing - so scary but worth the ride.

Residents of Noe Valley work with Recreation and Park's Natural Areas Program to restore and maintain the native plants on and around the hillside. Join in!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mission Creek (not the Mission but just as cool)

Perhaps you've heard that somewhere in San Francisco folks live on houseboats. Where could that be? Most of the City's waterways now lie under our houses (and flood our basements - karma kickback). Mission Creek still runs free on the east side of town (if you can find it - the Mission Bay development road closures makes it even more of a challenge than usual). That's where you'll find the Mission Creek Conservancy folks living on houseboats who care for the creek and its shoreline park. The houseboat community negotiated a long-term lease with the Port, and good thing too, because if it hadn't been for them the creek would have been buried below concrete long ago. Birds use the creek as a rest stop as they cruise the Pacific Flyway. The gargantuan Mission Bay buildings present an urban counterpoint to this bucolic bit of heaven. An unlikely new park has recently opened under the freeway adjacent to Mission Bay along the creek and it will blow your mind. Volleyball and basketball courts, a colorful kayak shed, chairs and tables to sit and gaze at the view. Low-maintenance landscapes that wind beside serpentine walkways. And just the right amount of grass. Too much dog poop (don't get me started) but otherwise very pretty, and green because it's February.

Take Channel Street from 3rd near the ballpark to find the houseboats and walk along the creek. The park is on the other side, accessible from 16th Street. Be respectful (Hey! You with the dog! Pick up the poop for cryin' out loud.). This is someone's neighborhood.

The park was built by the SF Redevelopment Agency and is managed by MJM Management Group that also manages Yerba Buena Park, Union Square, etc. The best thing about MJM is how they manage public spaces while remaining virtually invisible. They totally get that it's a buzz kill to see guards in uniform patrolling our parks.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Also Loving Mission Street

Why do I love Mission Street? Let me count the ways.

The gentleman in mariachi gear on the 14-Mission trying not to block the aisle with his giant guitarron.

Sizzling sausages on makeshift bbqs near the 24th St. BART station.

Sounds of Latin music spilling onto sidewalks after dark.

Papel picado metalwork at the 16th St. BART plaza.

Arroz con leche for $2 a bowl on bridge tables up and down the street.

Small shops full of low-cost crap. This is a good thing. Have you seen Union Street lately? Empty storefronts. But in the Mission, not so many.

Cole Hardware.

A boy with backpack dashes into Zocolo, then out, opens the gate and runs upstairs to his family's apartment above the restaurant (I watch this from my office above the SoCha Cafe).

Medjool. Pupusas. Mission Pie.

That drunk guy peeing against the trash can outside my building? Not so great. Ditto for the 49-bus driver who saw me standing at the stop near Valencia waving my Fast Pass, came to a full stop, saw me start to run for the bus, and suddenly drove away. Why?

That's SoCha Cafe from the bus stop. My office is the window at the top right. The cafe has free Wi-Fi and live music every night. There's a benefit for Haiti happening there on the 4th. C'mon by.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why I Love Chinatown

I still get a big thrill out of walking through Chinatown, or rather, wading through jammed sidewalks full of people shopping for fresh produce and who-knows-what-those-things-are at outdoor markets that line its narrow streets. During the day Chinatown still feels like what it has been since its start - the densest concentration of Chinese people anywhere in the world living outside mainland China. The alleyways look pretty good - I didn't see a lot of graffiti but I did see loads of people in little shops that seem to be thriving. Out of curiosity I stole a glance under a makeshift cloth awning down a narrow strip between two buildings and saw a peppermint pole whirling away at a tiny barbershop clearly only those living there could know about. Happened upon this scene (look right ->) of a guy unloading live, flopping fish at a seafood market on Stockton. It made my day. Well, that and the steaming bowl of noodle soup I ate on Jackson Street (not Chinese, but Vietnamese Pho, my favorite food of all time - the best five-dollar lunch, period).

I'm a big fan of the Chinatown Community Development Center that takes good care of its community, both its people and the streets and alleyways that continue to make Chinatown one of the City's top tourist draws.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Market Street's F-Line

Carl Nolte has a great front page article in today's Chronicle about Market Street as San Francisco's Main Street. I confess that I have always found most of Market Street a poor imitation of a major city's grand boulevard. Those sad, spindly trees and vacant storefronts give it a desperate, let's-not-walk-here air. Of course that's not at all the case in the Castro, where Market Street is still bustling, or around the 5th Street shopping district where tourists line up for hours at the cable car turn-around across the street, or at its terminus at the Ferry Building, where the Embarcadero has become a dreamy waterfront promenade since the freeway came down (note to tourists at the Powell Street cable car stop: go to California and Market instead, walk on to a cable car that climbs to the top of Nob Hill - no waiting!). The best part of Market Street, the one thing that works from beginning to end, is the F-Line historic streetcars, those museums-on-wheels that harken back to a bygone era, but no sepia tones here. Painted in bright red and yellow and orange, and representing cities around the globe, they bring history and drama, a great splash of color and reliable public transit to Market Street. The non-profit Market Street Railway organization is responsible for this program - they purchase and refurbish the old streetcars from cities around the world and keep them running on MUNI's tracks. We have them to thank for making Market Street worthy of our world-class city's Main Street. Go take a ride on the F-Line from Fisherman's Wharf to the Castro soon - the ticket price may go up to match the exorbitant cable car prices ($5 - egad).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Water Water Everywhere

Holy smokes, the storms are coming one after the other. Thunder, lightening, sudden heavy downpours, high winds, the works. I love it (but my poor cat skulks around the house flat as a pancake, in total terror). As I watch the water flooding my basement, I wonder how the rain is impacting Lake Merced. You might recall that the lake, once one of the finest freshwater urban fisheries anywhere, suffered from years of neglect (not to mention the paving over of our permeable surfaces), until the water level declined so that it went from a cold water to a warm water lake, which altered its ecology, and not in a good way. Rowing, fishing and boating pretty much evaporated (no pun intended, or maybe so). It took years of advocacy from the Lake Merced Task Force, started by several of us in 1999, made up of users, neighbors, environmentalists working alongside the SFPUC who owns it, the Recreation and Parks Department (especially the Natural Areas Program) and lots of other folks (and at least one lawsuit) to establish the lake as a priority. That led to multiple studies, new policies and constant attention that has helped restore the water level and beneficial uses that had once been virtually lost. Rowers, Dragon Boats, birders, fishing folks have all returned. The Task Force was put to bed last year after 10 years of great work as the PUC continues to implement sound plans to assure the lake's longevity. Lake Merced is located in the southwest corner of the City, for those, including many SF residents, who have never seen it. Let's all go and watch the water rise.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let the Light Shine In

Martin Luther King Day 2010. What could be more fitting for this gray blustery day than the radiant faces of Jalisa and Stephanie at Gateway Charter High School? Another Josef Norris collaborative work, it's adjacent to the Sign of Hope mural commissioned by Gateway on Geary between Scott and Steiner to help students heal after someone was shot on the school steps. Details of their lives are painted on individual tiles put together to form their faces (you'll have to get out of your car or off the bus to really see them). Their steady, confident gaze conveys a sense of faith in their future. I'm feeling warmer already.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Best Paintings of San Francisco

This is a shameless pitch for Johnny Musgrove's uniquely observant, not-your-everyday paintings of San Francisco. Neighborhoods like Golden Gate Heights and the Sunset (not typical SF subject matter) are rendered in exquisite detail, the warm and cool colors of our city light perfectly captured on canvas. My favorites are of vaguely familiar SF streetscapes that give me pause...I know that corner, don't I? Crissy Field and Camp Mather are equally rendered with details that only someone who deeply loves those places can provide (who also happens to be a gifted artist). Gazing at his magical painting of Birch Lake (Mather-ites know what I mean) on my living room wall on a gray January day transports me to the hot Yosemite sun (gin and tonics, anyone?). What can I say? I'm a fan.

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Murals

In my post below I write about some of my favorite artists who work in San Francisco's public places. I could rhapsodize for a whole blog post about Precita Eyes, the art center started by Susan Cervantes in the Mission District that is responsible for so many bright and beautiful murals in the Mission and across the City (so I think I will). Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors' Center is located on 24th Street in the heart of the Mission District. Their work, a collaboration with community folks and school kids, can be seen nearby where a lot of the Mission's famous murals are located. You can almost always tell a Precita Eyes mural - depictions of indigenous cultures painted with obvious pride and deep respect in bold, primary colors. Go to 18th Street and Valencia and gaze at "MaestraPeace" on the Women's Building - one of the great wonders of the western world (Susan Cervantes and other artists created this jaw-dropping work 15+ years ago). On a more modest note, Precita Eyes recently created a gorgeous mosaic mural at Crocker Amazon Park with the help of neighborhood volunteers (be honest - do you know where Crocker Amazon is? Could you find it on a map? I don't believe you. Go south on Mission Street, turn left on Geneva, CA Park is on your left at Moscow.). Precita Eyes is one of San Francisco's most venerable and prolific public art centers, and their work reflects and celebrates the history and heritage of the Mission District. Go visit them. Paint a mural with them. Take a Mission mural tour. Donatedonatedonate. (click on images to go to their website)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Murals Can Stop Graffiti

C. V. Nevious writes in today's Chronicle that a "new" scheme has been hatched by the city to abate graffiti by hiring artists to paint murals around town. This is not a new idea by any means. There are several muralists in San Francisco whose work rarely gets tagged. My absolute favorite, bar none, is Mona Caron. Her work displays a heightened reality of everyday things like carrots and bus stops mixed with a magical, dreamy vision of a green and sustainable future of windmills and flying cars and, um, other things that you must look at the details in her murals to see (a constant pleasure). Mona incorporates ideas from passers-by as she works, along with taggers' signatures - that may be why her work rarely gets tagged.

It's been reported that Defenestration at the Hugo Hotel at 6th and Howard will stay up as long as the building remains (it will be razed eventually, as it's been empty for years). I for one am THRILLED by this. Brian Goggin's work of furniture fleeing the abandoned building is brilliant. Who doesn't love happening on it when passing by what would otherwise be a neglected, dismal corner? It doesn't necessarily prevent graffiti but it is one of the best examples of urban art anywhere. Brian's work can also be seen in North Beach at the corner of Columbus/Broadway - look up - books are flapping above you like birds in flight.

I'm also a big fan of Josef Norris and KidServe Youth Murals. Josef works with kids all over the city to create shimmering mosiac murals that reflect a child's artistic abilities with a more serious message of the challenges, dangers and joys faced by children at risk.

As always, you can click on the photos at the right to be taken to their websites. Please consider becoming a patron of our public artists. They need your support to keep doing what they do and we need them to make San Francisco a more livable city.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Beautiful Street Medians

Some of my favorite community gardens in San Francisco are smack in the middle of the street.

Quesada Gardens in the Bayview is the spectacularly beautiful result of what happened when neighbors who were afraid to walk out their front doors got the nerve to plant a garden in the middle of their street. Now they are a tight-knit community of friends and Quesada Avenue is one of the city's loveliest streets. They also painted a mural on the median's retaining wall and show movies at night there for the whole neighborhood. Kudos to Jeffrey Betcher and the gang at Quesada Gardens Initiative for their devotion to this exquisite site.

I've been watching the plantings along San Jose/Guerrero winding up the median over the last couple years and wondering when they'll make it all the way to Market Street (I bet they do eventually). The San Jose Guerrero Coalition to Save our Streets is responsible for this one and I lovelovelove it. Gillian Gillett and her neighbors grew tired of living on a quasi-freeway and are attempting to calm the traffic, and succeeding, with help from Flora Grubb, DPW and donors of plants, $$ and labor. As the winter rains come you can see the plants staggering back to life (they're natives so don't always look colorful and showy, duh).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mt. Sutro Stewards Still At It

Thinking of going for a hike? There's no reason to leave the city. Just head up to Mt. Sutro and take a glorious walk along the historic trails that have been resurrected and lovingly maintained by the heroic Mt. Sutro Stewards. Why heroic? Because in order to keep the trails usable they have to rip out invasive parasitic plants on slopes so steep they're practically vertical. By doing so they've uncovered an amazing trail network that goes back 100 years, and restored the native plants to the hillsides. There's a lovely native plant garden at the tippy-top where a military installation once stood.

Also, on (1/2/10):

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Great Local Recipients For Tax-Deductible Year-End Donations

Here are a couple suggestions of wonderful San Francisco programs that serve youth and the environment that you can support before the end of the year, AND get a 2009 tax deduction in the bargain!

Garden for the Environment:

Located at 7th and Lawton, you've probably passed it a million times. It's across from the lot where they sell the pumpkins and xmas trees. Gorgeous learning garden that's open to the public where kids and adults come to learn about organic gardening and composting.

Alemany Farm:

A working farm off of a dreadful stretch of Alemany as you depart 280, on the lowest level of St. Mary's Park. Down the street from the Alemany Farmers Market. Doesn't look like much from the outside, but walk into it, and you'll be amazed - it's a farm! In the city! They work with kids from the adjacent housing development (and others) to teach them how to grow food. A handful of people came together to save what was once SLUG's major showpiece - it's grown into a much larger endeavor with many, many loyal supporters. Are those bee hives up in them thar hills? Made out of file cabinets maybe? Incredibly cool.

Community Grows:

Barbara Wenger is my hero. Think Hayes Valley Neighborhood Parks Group and all the great work they've done to restore the parks and gardens in their neighborhood. They've morphed into this youth-serving organization with a bit of a broader mission, but retained their core values. And Barbara.

Got any to add to this list? I know you do. Feel free.

Until 2010...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dee Dee's Got a Blog Goin' On

Check back soon for Dee Dee's new blog about San Francisco, off the beaten path.