|Since San Francisco is a city of hills, there are plenty of good vantage points to photograph the skyline|
While the rest of California curls around it, San Francisco is tightly compressed onto a 121-square-kilometer (46.6-square-mile) peninsula. Thus San Francisco can only go up, not out, and that’s a twofold problem:
The populace likes things as they are and doesn’t want a lot of new buildings ─ especially high-rises. And there’s the little matter of earthquakes. More about them in a bit.
|This is a classic San Francisco view, showing handsome row houses against a backdrop of the cityscape|
|It’s doubtful that these beautiful hotels and office buildings along the Embarcadero would not had risen had an ugly freeway run along the path|
Per capita, San Francisco has twice as many neighborhood restaurants as New York, and San Franciscans spend more money each year dining out than do residents of any other American city. One can go from high tea to dinner featuring every cuisine from Zairian to ancient Mesopotamian ─ American chain fast-food joints are rare. They also enjoy a seemingly infinite supply of laundries, corner pubs, coffee and "smoothie" bars, body-piercing parlors, and eclectic art galleries.
|This is one of the newest additions to San Francisco’s museum scene. It’s the Academy of Sciences’ “living roof” with biotic domes that metaphorically lift a piece of the park and put a building underneath it|
Uniquely, San Francisco is also the nation's most tolerant urban place. The city openly encourages mixed-race and homosexual pairings. Indeed, in 2004 in a stunning act of civil disobedience by a top elected official, Mayor Gavin Newsom directed city agencies to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; that lasted a month until state courts put a stop to the practice.
|The Castro Theater is more than a movie theater. It’s a center of activity in the largely gay Castro District|
|San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside Asia|
|The Peace Pagota in the city’s Japantown neighborhood was a gift from San Francisco’s sister city of Osaka, Japan, in 1968|
|Someone took an old hotel in a rundown part of town to display funky “art” out of several windows. But the street scene below, of grimy homeless people sleeping on grates, is anything but artistic|
The problem only intensifies, critics say, because the city is committed to “breaking the cycle of homelessness" rather than instituting a New York City-style sweep to rid the streets and parks of people wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. More recently, locals blame the charismatic, 41-year-old Mayor Newsom, who, they say, is spending too much time out of town, talking up his run for governor, than tending to business back home.
|You’d never know that a counter-culture revolution, albeit brief, took place at this corner and in nearby parks|
|Most San Franciscans loathed the Transmerica Tower when it was designed and built. Now, they adore it|
|The Golden Gate Bridge is said to be the most-photographed structure on earth|
San Francisco temperatures, while averaging out to a pleasant sixty degrees or so, can swing wildly with no notice. "The coldest winter I ever spent," goes one refrain, "was a summer in San Francisco!" Spared the desert winds that can sizzle Southern California, San Franciscans swelter only in late September and early October's Indian Summer, when the air is mysteriously still and humid. Otherwise, dressing in layers is wise advice, for a toasty day can turn dank and frigid in an instant when the fog rolls in. How foggy does it get, and how often? It's notable that there are 26 separate foghorns and other fog signals in the San Francisco Bay alone. In wintertime, waves of rainstorms sometimes roll off the ocean, to be followed by inexplicable periods of climatological perfection.
Perfection? What about those earthquakes? Only tourists ask such questions, as natives are calmly stoical on the subject. Their attitude is: "What will be will be." However, that has not stopped them from strengthening the city's buildings or nailing bookcases to the wall, or staying clear of grocery stores and pottery shops when the occasional temblor turns one's footing to jelly.
Citizens wearily admit that San Francisco lies within trembling distance of not only the great San Andreas Fault but also several parallel fault lines in the earth's crust. You'll sway 10 feet at the top of a downtown skyscraper during a quake. (On a previous trip to town, Carol and I stood on the roof of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, high, high above San Francisco. Carol was photographing the skyline, but all either of us could think about was earthquakes.)
|The Great Quake of 1906 left little standing in the eastern part of the city. Masonry structures, including grand hotels, collapsed, and fires consumed wooden buildings|
But it was the fires from ruptured gas mains and fallen lanterns, not tremors or giant cracks in the earth, that produced such horrific loss of life. What about the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 that flattened part of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, darkened the city for days, and sparked fires that consumed much of the Marina District? More lessons learned, say the natives. And what about the "Big One" that many seismologists believe to be inevitable, perhaps in the foreseeable future? Would downtown skyscraper office space have quadrupled in 20 years if smart money were worried about such things?
What will he will be.
|The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, gorgeous at dusk, wasn’t so attractive after whole chunks collapsed in a devastating earthquake in 1989|
|This old postcard shows Mission Delores, one of a string of Catholic missions built up and down the coast when California was part of Mexico|
Not until Mexico gained control of California many years later did the settlement get a name, Yerba Buena ("Good Herb") ─ not San Francisco, honoring the Franciscans' founder. The Spanish paid the place little mind save to keep a wary eye on the Russians, who had established a thriving trading post 111 kilometers (60 miles) north at Fort Ross. Besides, the land surrounding Yerba Buena was largely covered with sand, including gigantic dunes stretching six miles from the ocean, clear across the peninsula.
By the time Mexico lost California to the United States in 1848, following a brief and disastrous war over Texas, Americans had already settled much of Northern California and changed the city’s name to coincide with the name of the bay that surrounded the peninsula.
|In 1897, streetcars ─ not cable cars ─ rumbled near a new monument marking California’s admission to the Union in 1850|
Though not a nugget of gold was ever unearthed in San Francisco, it was the City by the Bay that was transformed into the true City of Gold. San Francisco supplied the transportation, foodstuffs, clothing ─ including Levi Strauss's blue-denim work pants with copper buttons and rivets ─ tools, whiskey, bawdy entertainers, and financing that fueled the boom.
These were raucous times, during which the city's abundance of singular characters and unconventional lifestyles was most likely born. Boom times, too, from which emerged a self-confident, world-class city that could afford to create Golden Gate Park, a giant horticultural showcase atop those dunes in the western part of the city. In 1894, Golden Gate Park was the site of the first of three great San Francisco world’s fairs.
|One of San Francisco’s favorite tourist attractions, the cable car, turns around prior to another ascent of one of the city’s steep hills|
|The stunning building that houses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit opened in 1905 and survived the Great Quake a year later|
|Alcatraz Island, whose federal prison was deemed “escape proof” because of the cold, fast-moving waters of the bay, looms behind Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill|
|This is one of 20 or so murals painted on fences and garages in a Mission District street called “Balmy Alley”|
|This is San Francisco new and old. Both are beloved|
On one of our stops heading east from San Francisco, Carol got the chance to snap some lovely photographs in and above Sedona, Arizona, an increasingly popular resort area tucked in a valley below some stunning red-rock formations. I thought you might like to see some of her images, so Internet guru Anne Malinee has replaced Carol’s slide show in the column to the right with her Sedona photos.
Got Some ID, Bud?
Finally, in my last opus about the evils of air travel, I forgot to mention a brief but charming moment during our layover in Los Angeles. While Carol was tapping away on her computer, I strolled down the concourse to a little burrito joint and ordered a beer. The perky waiter, about my age, looked at me with what I thought was a twinkle in his eye, and said, “See your ID?” “Yeah, right, sure,” I replied with a chuckle, since it’s been a couple of generations of time since I’ve been “carded” to be sure I was old enough to buy alcohol.
“Seriously,” the waiter replied. I pointed to my gray hair and his, but he just shrugged his shoulders. “Policy,” he said. “Everybody shows ID. Saves us the hassle.” I fished out my license, he gave it the most cursory examination in alcohol-regulation history, and I got my beer. And it put perhaps a bit more spring in my step the rest of the day.
TODAY'S WILD WORDS
(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word in today's blog that you'd like me to explain, just ask!)
Frowziness. Shabbiness, down on its luck.
Hippies. A youth subculture, originating in San Francisco in the 1960s. These “flower children” sang of peace and love, but much of their utopian innocence was lost when drugs infested the movement.
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