21 August, 2010

Things Are Looking Up

A bit of yarny whimsy on a chain link fence. The K looks a bit like a Q, but I have to admire the effort. It's always nice to come across something like this in an otherwise bleak block. Wishful thinking or vision of the future? Either way, it's a welcome distraction from l'eau de urine.

19 August, 2010

The Clay

It would be very easy for this blog to become some sort of "in memoriam" site for all of the lost landmarks of San Francisco. I don't really like dwelling on things I can't change.
Peering at old photos, wistfully imagining what it would be like to visit Playland at the Beach, Sutro Baths, the City of Paris store or the Fox Theatre, is a favorite pastime... and not a very productive one. What really makes me melancholy, and feel even more helpless, is witnessing the end of an era and an establishment that was a part of my life for many years. Landmark Theatres has just announced that it's closing the Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street at the end of August. The Clay is a very modest place but it's also one of the oldest cinemas in The City. It's been around for 100 years, so it's been part of the lives of many San Franciscans. I've spent an enormous amount of time in the movie houses of this city over the years and I watched dozens of single-screen theatres fade away. After each closing, for some reason, I've imagined that whatever cosmic force is devouring them will finally be sated. Alas, that just isn't so.

15 August, 2010

Fruit Fly (The Movie)

In this blog I generally try to avoid promoting things like movies as there are plenty of sites devoted to pushing Hollywood Product©, but this is the rare exception. It's an exception because the film is anything but "Hollywood" and it's by a film maker who obviously loves San Francisco and its denizens. I had an opportunity to see the movie at the Castro Theatre this last week; it's called Fruit Fly and it's by the very talented H.P. Mendoza. He writes, directs, scores, edits and co-stars in the film (I might have left something out). This combo is generally a recipe for artistic disaster, but in this case, his very real talent and enthusiasm more than carry the day (or the film). The cast is remarkable, as well; especially notable is the performance by the beautiful and gifted L.A. Renigen. The film really captures the flavor and energy of The City and was filmed in locations that you won't find in the usual SF-based RomCom. Also check out his previous opus, Colma:The Musical. It's a joy, as well.
Fruit Fly is currently making the usual indie theatrical circuit and will be available in October from TLA Video.

13 August, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

It happens so often in the BIG (ish) CITY; you're away for a couple of weeks and when you return, a little piece of your world has gone missing. That little bit of San Francisco was Bob's Broiler on Polk Street. Bob's wasn't the sort of place you would recommend to others. The food was mediocre, at best. But it did have something going for it. I don't know whether it was the comfortably-worn gray vinyl booths or the hand-written signs or the mangy houseplants, but Bob's was truly a part of the character of Polk Street. It was the kind of place you ate at because it was there and it was open. A few years ago there was a wonderful essay by Mike Weiss in the Chronicle on the closing on Herb's Fine Foods on 24th Street. I think it captures the sense of loss of a place like Bob's better than I can. Bye Bob's.

29 July, 2010

The Great Star Theatre

The Great Star Theatre on Jackson Street is the only remaining Cantonese Opera House in the United States. The theatre was built in 1925 and is currently being renovated. I watched Hong Kong films here years ago and I'd love to visit the place again someday. It's not much to look at on the inside, but it's still a pretty amazing cultural asset and I'm glad it hasn't met the fate of the other theaters of Chinatown. Here's a link to what's going on with the place (as of March, anyway). It was pretty quiet the last time I walked by.

27 July, 2010

The Last Bus Out or The Last Days of the Transbay Terminal

The once-grand Transbay Terminal at Mission and First Streets opened in 1939. Designed by Timothy Pflueger (other Pflueger projects include the Castro Theatre, the Oakland Paramount and Pacific Telephone Building), the building served the extensive system of interurban trains and buses that was developed after the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The trains of the Key System (predecessor of today's AC Transit) once ran on the lower deck of the bridge while auto traffic was confined to the upper deck of the structure. At its peak, during the post WWII years, the terminal served 26 MILLION passengers a year with 10-car trains arriving every 63.5 seconds at peak hours (take that, BART!).
Today, after years of neglect, the old station awaits the wrecking ball. It's hard to imagine, while walking through the empty corridors, that this place was built to handle 17,000 passengers every 20 minutes. Not so long ago the building had coffee shops, a cocktail lounge, news agents, a shoe-shine man, information booths, you name it. For the last few years, the cavernous waiting halls have been home to scores of homeless individuals and the only passengers that the place saw would scurry as quickly as possible out onto the city streets. A temporary terminal at Howard and Beale (Network!) opens on August 7th. The shiny new terminal is scheduled for completion in 2017 and will be home to the new California High-Speed Railway to Los Angeles (I have a feeling that we will all be VERY old by the time this train makes its debut).
These photos are among the last of this old place. The Terminal is the sort of unloved and oft-ignored urban structure that no one will remember and who's passing few will mourn, but it's important to acknowledge that this place played an important part in the history of The City for the past 70 years.