Urban and Urbane San Francisco with Don – 6 April 2015

Union Square in San Francisco became a meeting place for pro-Union supporters who gathered there before and during the American Civil War. Given and dedicated by the first American mayor of San Francisco, John White Geary (6’6” & 250 lb.), it was set aside as a public park in 1850. California like the rest of the United States was divided in its loyalties whether to be for the Union or pro-slavery. The Confederate flag had been flown over the Los Angeles main plaza on a 4th of July. Southern pro-slavery Democrats while a minority in California were a majority in Southern California and had strong support in parts of northern California as well. Into this rising atmosphere of anger and protest came a young minister, Thomas Starr King (5’ & 120 lb.), called from Massachusetts to the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco in 1860. Though unimpressive in size and stature, King spoke with commanding eloquence and was a tireless crusader for the Union cause – that California be a free state and not a slave state. “At one mass rally in San Francisco, 40,000 turned out to hear him speak.” Abraham Lincoln said he was the driving force in keeping California from becoming a separate republic. http://www.sksm.edu/about-starr-king-school/rev-thomas-starr-king/ http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/21/local/la-me-beliefs21-2009dec21 http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/thomas-starr-king.html

Imagine this scene in 1848 – all towering sand dunes with Coyote bushes, bush lupines and California poppies before there was a State of California. Union Square has been a downtown hub and focus for San Francisco from this early time and has gone through many transformations since the years of the California Gold rush. The column in the middle commemorates the United States naval victory in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines in 1898. Atop the column is the 9’ statue of the Goddess of Victory holding a trident for Dewey and wreath for President William McKinley who had broken ground for the monument in May of 1901 and was assassinated in September of the same year. The model for this sculpture was the sensational 20 year old Alma de Bretteville Spreckels remarkable for her beauty and daring in the Victorian society of the day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alma_de_Bretteville_Spreckels
http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=A_HISTORY_OF_UNION_SQUARE http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._Geary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewey_Monument

Don McLaurin was our leader and guide through the streets of San Francisco giving a fascinating historical framework for the hike. He reminds me of one of those college professors whose class you never wanted to miss – down to earth, always exploring new angles and filled with rich detail. We’ve enjoyed previous hikes with him in the Fisherman’s Wharf area and Golden Gate Park. Don is a San Francisco City Guide and also leads groups in the Road Scholar program. But he is most famous for us because he is Inge’s husband. http://www.sfcityguides.org/ http://www.roadscholar.org/

Snapdragons cheer our way http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antirrhinu

The Frank Lloyd Wright V.C. Morris Building now in a new incarnation as Xanadu Gallery. But if you are interested, it can be yours. https://www.savewright.org/index.php?page=33&id=128
Union Square in the 1800’s was surrounded with church steeples and homes but just off the square was Morton Street, a thriving red-light district. Don mused that it wasn’t just happenstance that it was later called Maiden Lane. http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=San_Francisco’s_Sleaziest_Street_-_Yesterday_and_Today

Our next stop was the Mechanics’ Institute, an organization that dates from Gold Rush times organized in 1854. “. . .the Mechanics’ Institute movement, grew in an atmosphere of interest by a greater proportion of the populations in scientific matters revealed in the public lectures of famous scientists such as Faraday. More precisely, as a consequence of the introduction of machinery a class of workmen emerged to build, maintain and repair the machines on which the blessings of progress depended . . .” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanics’_Institutes “The Mechanics’ Institutes were used as libraries for the working class and provided an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs.” http://www.milibrary.org/about/institute

The Crocker Galleria was the site of the old Crocker Bank Building. When Crocker wanted to go high rise part of the deal was to provide public space for shops, restrooms and recreation – here we are. On the Galleria’s site they note it was build by Skidmore, Owens and Merrill who also designed Sears Tower, the Burj Khalifa Tower – the world’s tallest man-made structure and the One World Trade Center Freedom Tower in New York. They also mention that the vaulted glass skylight roof was inspired by Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11, the world’s oldest shopping center.

We’ve climbed to the rooftop garden of the Galleria. Don is talking about the deal making that made this site possible. We seem to be standing beneath what is one on the most substantial pergola supports around. http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/83-getting-high http://www.landscapingnetwork.com/pergolas/garden-structure-definitions.html

Looking up from the other end of the roof top garden Don talked about the removal of all those 8’ finials framed in copper green atop the Hunter-Dulin building at 111 Sutter Street. They were removed for a time until they were able to figure how to resecure them solidly in our earthquake country. http://www.yelp.com/biz/hunter-dulin-building-san-francisco

Looking the other way across Market Street is the Palace Hotel with its famous Palm Court described by the website as “San Francisco’s most prestigious dining room since the day it opened in 1909.” Perhaps as famous is the Mayfield Parrish painting behind the bar. http://thepalacehotel.org/ http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Restored-Pied-Piper-returns-to-namesake-bar-4754251.ph

We get to see the Star Maiden (Star Girl), a sculpture by A. Stirling Calder (father of Alexander Calder) which was a symbol of the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition.

Getting a closer look

Seeking out another privately owned public space by the former Crown Zellerbach Building. It faces Bush Street rather the Market Street which was undergoing some growing pains at the time of the construction. Don said that it was a big mistake not to front on Market Street. http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/tag/crown-zellerbach-building

The Crown Z plaza has no benches for sitting and provides a very minimal welcome perhaps to keep the homeless at bay. Our canine companion (not Pogo, right?), looks in the direction of a lunch truck sporting a large chicken leg on its roof.

Next to the large, gray Shell Building is “The Little Building that Could”. http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Little-Building-That-Could-130-Bush-Street-a-2860009.php
Intrigued, Don took the elevator to the top floor hoping for a view and perhaps a conversation but was met with a very cold shoulder so made a scramble for the down elevator.

Scott checks out the former Pacific Stock Exchange Building that has morphed into a Equinox Fitness Club. The sculptures on either side of the steps are by Ralph Stackpole (1885-1973).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Stackpole http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/293.html

The entry hall of the Merchant’s Exchange Building shows the whimsical faces of eight San Francisco pioneers by Marin artist Mark Jaeger.


Here’s “John W. Geary: the Mayor, who along with his pregnant wife, three-year-old son and 10 sacks of mail containing some 5,00 letters, embarked upon the treacherous voyage across the Isthmus of Panama, arriving in San Francisco in March of 1849. Only 30 years old, Geary served with distinction as San Francisco’s last ‘Alcalde’ in its old government system and as the city’s first elected mayor following California’s entrance into the Union. After Geary’s solitary term as mayor, he left as quickly as he had come, returning to Pennsylvania in 1852.” From the caption below.

Inside an office for California Bank are some splendid paintings of early San Francisco by William A. Coulter. Here in “Arrived All Well” we see both sail and steam as we look out the Golden Gate.


Julia Morgan worked the 13th floor of the Merchant’s Exchange building completing a great number of commissions there blazing her way into a man’s world. She gained respect and admiration for herself as well as a new definition for women in the work place. Here is a really well made documentary about the Exchange that includes a section on her role and her work. This former meeting place for the Commercial Club of San Francisco is now called the Julia Morgan Ballroom.

On the 13th floor in Julia Morgan territory. http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2014/08/20/how_julia_morgan_gave_california_women_space_for_leisure.php

We went by the San Francisco Wells Fargo Museum where there had been a smash and grab robbery in January. Don noted the heavy planters that have been added to the sidewalk decor.


Don is showing a photo of the Montgomery Block which was located on the site of the current Transamerica Pyramid. http://noehill.com/sf/landmarks/cal0080.asp

Our picnic lunch was in a delightful pocket park at the base of the Pyramid surrounded by Redwood trees and enjoying the sounds of the fountain. http://www.aviewoncities.com/sf/transamerica.htm


The frogs seem to be practicing some ballet moves on the lily pads.

Glenna Goodacre’s sculpture PUDDLE JUMPERS, 1989

Some San Francisco four-footed history

Hotaling Whiskey Warehouse on the left survived the earthquake while the churches didn’t . http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hotaling-whiskey-warehouse

The Sentinel Building now owned by Francis Ford Coppola and the tan building down the street the site of the old International Hotel. A sign in front of the Sentinel Building says is the home of American Zoetrope
and in addition to such films as Godfather 1 & 2, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation that other filmmakers have worked here – Werner Herzog, Carroll Ballard and George Lucas. “At this moment, on the floors above us, there are ideas being hatched, scripts being written, and films being edited.”


It seems like so many of these places are holy grails holding rich memories of San Francisco culture and history. http://www.citylightspodcast.com/


LANGUAGE OF BIRDS by Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn
“Historically ’The Language of Birds’ is considered a divine language birds use to communicate with the initiated. Here a flock of books takes off from the plaza to fly the urban gullies of the city, the fluttering pages have left a gentle imprint of words beneath them. These serendipitously configured bits of local literature reveal layers of human culture, nature and consciousness”

Saints Peter and Paul Church on Washington Square: http://www.aviewoncities.com/sf/washingtonsquare.htm

Pre JFK and still going strong.

Historic Focaccia and a distraction across the street

Another group of hikers

Also watching with interest



Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill http://www.aviewoncities.com/sf/coittower.htm

Looking down to the bay with the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge far in the background.

Catching the bay views near Coit Tower

Cruise ship in dock, sometimes they have used these ships for conferences as well as cruising. Straight ahead is Yerba Buena Island anchorage for the Bay Bridge with the lower area of Treasure Island.

One of the WPA Murals inside Coit Tower with ticket seller for the recently opened stairway murals.

Mural showing classic orange groves of southern California

Marin’s Mt. Tamalpais from Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower

We came down many steps from Coit Tower first on the Filbert Street St. Steps and then the Greenwich Steps to Levi’s Plaza and a historic trolley ride back to our start at Union Square from the Embarcadero.

http://www.streetcar.org/streetcars/ What contraband dog was that? Sorry, don’t spot him.

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