Friday, December 4, 2009

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

I said awhile back that I would be showing photos of famous places in San Francisco besides the Golden Gate Bridge. Some are not exactly iconic, but I couldn't resist on this one. It's a sight that most tourists never see, and now will be gone in short order. That is not a stop-action photo you're looking at. It's "art." The title of the work is "Defenestration," or "tossing it out the window."

NOTE: In a seedy area of town that the locals pass on their way across town or while headed toward the Bay Bridge, there is an old hotel called The Hugo. It was at first a middle range hotel, but as the area deteriorated, it became a cheap hotel, then a simple tenement. It has been abandoned by tenants for several years now. A local artist named Brian Goggin decided one day to produce what he calls a "sculptural mural" on the facade of The Hugo. It never fails to draw attention from people passing it for the first time.

The photo is merely one small part of the entire building containing furniture of all kinds attached in some precarious manner to the exterior. Chairs hanging from fire escapes. Full sofas upside down on a wall. Bureaus hanging by one leg from open windows. I'm not sure I'd call it art, but it is definitely an attention-grabber. More than a few fender-benders have occurred at the intersection as a result of some poor stranger to town getting distracted (horrified?) by the sight of interior decorating becoming exterior decorating.

This past Tuesday, the city Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously to allow Goggin's artwork to remain in place right up to the bitter end. Gentrified high-rises and yuppie pseudo-lofts are moving inexorably toward this part of town. The hotel, accompanied by the artwork which has been growing on the sides of the building since 1997, will be bulldozed some time in the next eighteen months. The new residents of the expanding SOMA meets Mission District area are going to want parks, monuments and open green areas, so The City plans on providing those amenities on the site of The Hugo and its exterior furniture.

As a San Franciscan, I will proudly point out to the poor citizens of Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards that The City properly exercised its power of eminent domain by condemning the property, paying the owner $4.6 million for it, and preparing to build the park and amenities belonging to the citizens of San Francisco for public use. The project will be built by The City for The City, and any private developers or construction companies used will be strictly contract labor working for the people of San Francisco. Occasionally, we get something right.

NOTE: Having had a moment of weakness in which I praised The City for its public use of eminent domain, I will now take some of it back in describing the evolution of one of the busiest public places in San Francisco. Almost thirty years ago, The City planned and executed a grand plan for redevelopment of historical Market Street. Much of it went extremely well. The former streetcars went underground in a subway we call The Muni Metro (the streetcars were so historical, that they were ultimately brought back as tourist attractions, with old trolleys from all over the world as well as the streetcars from San Francisco that I rode as a youngster). On a level below the Muni Metro, the sleek trains of BART run across the downtown area. The Market Street beautification program didn't work out nearly so well. Despite some beautiful private developments (most notably the Westfield San Francisco Centre), much of old Market remains ugly, destitute and dangerous after dark anywhere from Sixth Street to the Civic Center area.

Ugliest, and least successful of all is Hallidie Plaza. The plaza is named after the inventor and promoter of the world-famous cable cars, which terminate their journeys halfway to the stars at the "turntable" at Powell and Market. It's a perfect example of "it looked good on paper," but on every count has become a major eyesore. Nobody behind the original plan took any esthetics into mind by building motel-modern style architecture right next to the famous Bank of America Building and Woolworth Building (now a major Gap store) which were among the few buildings in the area to survive the 1906 Big Quake and Fire. Beaux Arts/Victorian beauties demeaned by stainless steel elevator towers and dizzying multi-level concrete terraces which serve no useful purpose in the Plaza.

Tourists and locals are regularly assaulted by wandering, crazed homeless people and street hustlers who do bad dances, or sing lousy songs, or play lousy instruments, and then demand payment for their lousiness. Over the years, the three-tiered plaza has become a pigeon heaven, much admired by the resident drug addicts and homeless campers. In the late 90s, many of the trees had to be removed to stop the criminal and bizarre behavior of the unwelcome but tolerated Hallidie residents. One entire tier was designed as a lengthy "view site" complete with benches for tired tourists to rest and reflect. It is now just a lengthy stretch of concrete, blocked off from entry because the homeless and other assorted lowlives had simply made the benches their filthy homes. Regular weekly scrubbings and some new low planting have failed to make any real improvement in the seedy spot.

Plans have been in the works for about five years to revitalize the dumpy plaza. This time City engineers and abstract architects are just pieces in the group of private developers and historical societies planning a revitalized park-like area. There are now planted concourses to replace sterile concrete walkways in the works. One of the useless terrace levels will be converted to a 480,000 gallon cistern which will appear to the public as a reflecting pool. But it has a practical use as well. Currently all that water is merely pumped into the sewer system since there is a large area of groundwater which would otherwise keep the BART/Metro station permanently underwater.

The whole purpose of the Plaza is to move people into the transit system below, or the streetcars, buses and cable cars on the street level. It's a means to an end, not an end in itself. This time the plan takes that into account, and doesn't try to create views that immediately turn into homeless encampments. You will be able to move pleasantly through a pretty park-like area, but there is no need (or provision) for you (and the bums) to linger.

I hope they succeed, and do a better job than they did with historic Union Square which now looks like a mad Bow-Wow House conglomeration of concrete bunkers, oddly planted trees and shrubs. The Dewey Memorial Spire is still in place in the center of the Square looking like somebody forgot to move the beaux arts monument to a more historic-looking site.

NOTE: Many of you read my story about the violence on our public transportation awhile back. Some of you were concerned enough to ask if they had caught the bastard who stabbed and nearly killed an eleven-year old child. I can finally report to you that he was captured yesterday. It was the result of another vicious stabbing on a Muni streetcar. A young woman was stabbed twice by this subhuman, but this time there were clear camera shots and witnesses who could identify the criminal. The police quickly apprehended Bobby Lemont Brown Jr. wandering along the Metro tracks.

The knife used in the attack on Rachel "Ty" Brown (no relative) has been tentatively identified as the same knife used in the attack on the eleven-year old. Young Hatim Mansori was able to give a general description of his attacker, which now matches up to that of the scumbag who is currently in police custody, charged with felonious assault and attempted murder. If you'll remember correctly, the major issue with the boy was that the security cameras on the bus were not functioning properly. In the current attack, the cameras were working properly, and combined with the descriptions given by the current and past victim, resulted in a solid arrest.

The perpetrator, by the way, is a repeat felon, with a previous conviction for assault with a firearm in San Francisco. His sentence on that charge? A suspended three-year prison term, three years' probation and credit for 120 days served in jail. This is punishment? While still on probation, he was arrested for another crime. His probation was revoked, and he finally served the three-year term for the original assault. He followed this up with a string of parole violations, and he went back to prison on four different occasions. Then in 2005 he was convicted of several minor offenses, leading up to his conviction last year of indecent exposure.

On September 12 of this year, he was part of a roundup of known felons after being arrested for possession of an open alcoholic container in public, and was held temporarily as one of the possible suspects in the attack on the boy. Unfortunately the confused and terrified child couldn't make a positive identification, and Brown was released to continue his crime spree in both San Francisco and San Mateo counties. At the time of the current arrest, he was out on bail from San Mateo County for assaulting a San Mateo County deputy sheriff.

How many of you have any faith in the criminal justice system? Let's see a show of hands.

NOTE: The great sage of San Francisco journalism, Mark Morford, has another ramble for us. This time he explains to the misguided fools who oppose Obama's policies that they are wrong claiming that Obama has accomplished absolutely nothing worthwhile. Of course he manages to miss the "worthwhile" part and claims that Obama has at least 90 major accomplishments. Sorry, Andrew Price, apparently you were wrong when you listed Obama's lack of successful plans since taking office. Just ask Mark.

As Morford says: "Conversely, there is all manner of incoherent noise spewing like radioactive urine from the far right, a nonstop wail of childlike panic claiming that, because Obama behaves with unnerving calm, shakes hand with foreign dignitaries and doesn't seem interested in bombing everyone in a turban, he must be a socialist Muslim Nazi hell-bent on banning machine guns and killing all old Republicans in their sleep and replacing them with French-speaking hip-hop jazz musicians." So--what's your point, Mr. Morford?

Morford claims that he had been trying to collect press clippings and dispatches of Obama's accomplishments as they occurred. But the sheer volume of the Messiah's successes revealed the utter futility of doing so, because "there were too many, coming too quickly." I gotta get me some of whatever he's on.

If you want to read the rest of Morford's paean of praise to B-HO and obtain the entire list of accomplishments, here's the link: Obama, the great disappointment? The Miracle President hasn't actually accomplished much? Wrong.

UPDATE: We're number one! We're number one! San Francisco jumped ahead of all its competitors for the title of Surrender Capital of the United States. In less than 24 hours, the nutcases were out in force, marching with professionally prepared signs and union organizers to protest Obama's audacity of hoping that they would just remain silent if he half-heartedly approved a surge in Afghanistan while whole-heartedly approving a deadline for heading for the exits. They have plenty of experience tying up the main arteries in town (Market Street particularly) with their leftist, anti-American marches. The threats and fist-shaking were about par for the course. But the time from speech to march was miraculously short. The police were almost caught flat-footed (sorry for the pun). I am looking forward to the Democratic meltdown that Obama's first attempt at balldom is already producing. Do you remember the great triple play that last Democrat split produced? Johnson to McGovern to Nixon. Oops.


AndrewPrice said...

Now that is quality art! LOL! They should redo the White House that way. Obama could sit outside, balanced just above where the helicopter lands!

Speaking of your subway, I only recently learned that SF had a subway. I saw an interesting show on it on Discovery Channel. Sadly, I guess you'll have to give that up when SF floods. . . at least, that's what Arnold told us all the other day.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I'm not easily surprised, but the first time I drove through that intersection on the way Berkeley, I thought I was having an LSD flashback. Which is no mean feat, since I never did LSD.

Our subway system is actually quite pleasant and very efficient (most of the time). It's not as long as those in many other cities, but it eliminated a lot of the problems with getting up and down some pretty steep hills. And if you're a local, and buy a Muni monthly pass, you can choose to go down one level to Bart and travel within the city limits for no added charge.

It's what makes The City so exciting. You're never sure if you're going to find yourself buried under rubble during an earthquake, underwater when the pumps break down, or barbecued by a fire when all the old gas mains explode.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--I saw a brief clip of the antiwar demonstrations on our local CBS affiliate station. They looked pretty standard except for the numbers and signs that couldn't have been put together that fast. The hardcore left was obviously primed and ready for Obama to act like a president, sort of.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: I'm also willing to bet you weren't shown the full extent of the vitriol. This is going to get ugly. You probably saw a few angry faces and some antiwar signs, but the threats, thrown fists, property damage and general chaos created by mass left wing demonstration is generally left unshown. Trust me, it was there, and it's only the beginning. If it weren't that Obama still walks on water for most of the lefties, this might get worse than the 60s.

alvaro said...

I, for one, loved the art-need more pictures? Very funny, at the very least and as you know, at the end of the day, "we artists" can't agree on what art is.
That was a very interesting and informative post-as usual. "I am looking forward to the Democratic meltdown that Obama's first attempt at balldom is already producing." I'm with you on that, LawHawk-I just hope "We The People" keep up the pressure and our representatives pay attention and heed our warnings!
I never thought it was a good idea by some influential conservatives to watch "elections have consequences" play out-they should have done better then that!

Unknown said...

Hey, Alvaro: Good to hear from you. Don't worry about the artists not agreeing thing, Andrew and I can't even agree on the law. LOL

Ya know, despite Alinsky and others, our consciousness of the need for a civil rights movement in the 60s was originally entirely spontaneous. I see the same thing happening now. The tea parties and other demonstrations of patriotic fervor are still largely spontaneous, but as time goes on we'll develop organization skills to match our words and take our country back.

The left used to be anti-establishment. In too many urban centers today, they are the establishment. But I guess that gives us something to do.

Unknown said...

ONE ADDITONAL UPDATE: The charming felon who attacks children and young women on the Muni buses and trains is now facing two more charges of felony assault. Two young women who had given up on the scumbag ever being caught have now filed formal complaints which clear up at least two more of the open assault charges that Mr. Brown has heretofore avoided.

StanH said...

Lawhawk aren’t you going to go chain yourself to the Hugo, to save it from the wrecking ball.

Maybe this time, the system will keep that scumbag Brown locked away. It’s amazing to me how these habitual offenders are continually released to harm and kill.

Morford the typical leftist. He has so much vested in Barry he must crow of his “accomplishments.” Wow, that’s beyond delusional.

Sometimes, I think it would be fun to show up at the rent-a-mob - anti-whatever protest with a bucket of rocks, and start pelting away. I know that’s ugly but…

Unknown said...

StanH: I'm afraid the hotel will have to go bye-bye without my ministrations. The city plan for the area looks pretty good, but considering what it looks like now, keeping the exterior decorating in place until the wrecking ball hits seems almost sensible.

The scumbag has a couple of pending lesser charges in San Mateo County which in the long run will probably get him more jail time than his more serious charges in San Francisco. He's black, he's "homeless" and clearly a bit nuts. Put those all together, and you have the San Francisco jury recipe for three days in a mental institution, and a San Francisco judge who will put him on probation for the fiteenth or sixteenth time.

Morford probably enjoys the same chemical pasttime as the scumbag. The only difference is one stabs people and the other writes crazed newspaper columns.

As for the buckets of rocks, just be sure to wear your Che Tee Shirt and the police will be too confused to arrest you and the crowd will be too confused to fight back.

Unknown said...

My friends in Los Angeles said that there were some demonstrations there, but nothing significant (pro-immigration rallies are much bigger and unrulier). But the truth is that San Francisco has the advantage of being so radical and yet so small geographically that the nutso leftists don't actually have to expend much effort or travel very far to show up to block the downtown area on short notice.

Unknown said...

CalFed: My experience with L.A. is that it puts on the trappings of genuine leftist sentiments, but in fact is really Democratic only because the masses are in love with illegal immigration, multiculturalism, bilingualism and government handouts. The irredentists are far more powerful than the movement leftists as an ideology, and and they wouldn't know Karl Marx from Groucho Marx. Our radicals are far more married to the Manifesto than to reading Spanish-language comic books.

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