Spots Unknown

Zoom Around a Leveled San Francisco

Leveled San Francisco, 1906

I just spent way too much time immersed in this post-earthquake-and-fire aerial photo of SF. You will too.

Photographed by George R. Lawrence with a kite a few weeks after the disaster:

It is a 160-degree panorama from a kite taken 2000 feet (600 m) in the air above the San Francisco Bay that showed the entire city on a single 17-by-48-inch contact print made from a single piece of film. Each print sold for $125 and Lawrence made at least $15,000 in sales from this one photograph. The camera used in this photograph weighed 49 pounds (22 kg) and used a celluloid-film plate.

Horatio’s Legacy

Horatio Jackson invented the Great American Road Trip in San Francisco in 1903.

1903 was a big year. The Wright Brothers invented the first powered airplane. The first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid. The first wireless radio signals were transmitted across the Atlantic.

These were all advances that allowed humans to defeat distance. But as if these weren't sufficient, 1903 was also the year that a man in San Francisco took a bet, and invented the Great American Road Trip.

The "horseless carriage" had yet to convince anyone that it was anything more than a passing fad. And the $50 wager that Horatio Jackson couldn't drive one from SF to New York was sound, since there were no gas stations, no 7-Elevens, and no paved roads.

But he made it. Ken Burns did a documentary about it in 2003.

I discovered HJ's awesome ride while researching a new project that I plan to begin this summer. Stay tuned for more details.

Urban Tree to Bicycle

Bill Holloway and Mauro Hernandez, of Masterworks Woodworking, salvage condemned city trees, then build beautiful bicycles out of them. The story of these bikes goes from the felling of a family's guardian tree, through the woodworking process, and finally, the completion of art you can ride.

They're self-taught, and the custom bikes are an offshoot of their larger woodworking and detailing business. Bill is a native San Franciscan, and his family has deep roots here. The dynamic between him and Mauro is a compelling, friendly rivalry.

I fist encountered Bill while shooting him at Bay Area Maker Faire. This time around, it was great getting to know him and his work better, and setting him and Mauro loose to ride their creations in some stunning San Francisco locations. (Watch for the daredevil downhill stuff - these bikes are decidedly NOT made for that kind of terrain!)

Thanks to David Molina for the gripping original soundtrack, and to Chris Marino for his dope cinematography skills.

‘The Best Thing Ever Written About San Francisco’


Image from City by the Blog

Is it the best ever, as claimed by Oscar Lewis in the Forward? Debatable. This essay repeatedly commits the sin of calling it "Frisco." At least it does so self-consciously:

Before the crash and flame, Frisco was beginning to protest at being called anything but San Francisco. Yet Frisco clung, it held some winking, sly hint of frisky. Even the great black headlines over the evil news used the diminutive abbreviation like a touch of light in the cloud, a sort of fresh, smiling rose on the pall, speaking of resurrection.

Additionally, it was apparently penned by someone who'd never been to SF. It's still an amazing piece of writing. So there. Read it all after the jump...

Happy Quake Day – Shaken and Stirred

Exactly 105 years ago, the earth shook. Yeah, kind of like that. (Well, not really like that.)

But thanks, San Andreas Fault, for pitching in to help us all celebrate the Big One! We feel you really care.

Happy Quake Day: The Mint

Is that guy in the bowler hat checking his iPhone?

Image courtesy US Library of Congress.

Happy ’06 Earthquake Day: Stanford

This statue on the Stanford University campus just couldn't take it any more.

Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library.

The End of Paper Fast Pass

Muni Diaries reports on a kind of continuity as we mark the end of an era:

Ken Schmier is the man who came up with the concept of the Fast Pass. He’s also the mind behind NextBus. Strange, right? But also, not. This happened around 35 years ago, to the best of our knowledge. The first passes went on sale sometime in 1976.

Image by Cranky Old Mission Guy.

Free Event: When San Francisco was a Port City

California Historical Society is hosting a panel discussion of pure history porn. (Just look at that not-so-subliminal cover image.) The topic: "how the San Francisco port shaped the city and how the city shaped the port."

Michael Corbett, Tim Kelley, Chris VerPlanck and Jim Delgado (author of “Gold Rush Port” and Chief Marine Archaeologist for NOAA) ... will discuss the port’s role in shaping urban form as well as influencing its social and labor history. Through landfill, wharfs, seawalls and pier buildings, the port changed San Francisco’s physical form while serving as a conduit for the movement of goods and people into and out of the city since the 1850’s. Businesses located their offices near the port to house management while workers labored at the wharf loading and unloading goods from ships, driving the city’s economy and underpinning its civic life.

I'll be there. Come out and say hi, and bring all the Freudian references you can gather.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Port City Book Launch, Panel Discussion and Reception
California Historical Society
FREE

Space is limited. Please RSVP to 415.357.1848, ext. 233 or rtorrey@calhist.org

True Teaser: NSFW History of San Francisco Smut

History of Smut in San Francisco

I recognize John Waters, talking about the heyday of the Tenderloin, but that's about it. Without lower thirds it's hard to know who the others are (do you know them?). But there is some great vintage porn/hustling footage in this NSFW teaser vid.

UPDATE: Laughing Squid picked up on this post and significantly expanded it.

Flight of the Huey

Flight of the Huey

The video below is a teaser from a video project I'm working on for a group called HueyVets.com.

The featured aircraft - the Bell UH-1H Iriquois - is the main reason Vietnam is often referred to as the "helicopter war." And this rag-tag group of Bay Area guys is trying to preserve the unique experience of flying one in combat in America's most lesson-worthy military entanglement. How do they do that?

Founder Geoff Carr has sunk a small fortune into acquiring and restoring to combat specs this aircraft, and it serves as a living, flying museum. From its homebase at Bud Field Aviation in Hayward, CA, they buzz veterans events and wow anyone within earshot on the ground. (The Huey makes a distinctive whop-whop-whop that almost anyone can recognize.)

What makes this group truly special, though, are the guys themselves. Some served in Vietnam, some are sons of those who served, and some never served at all. But they're all in love with this Huey and what it represents. (Frankly, after spending a day in the sky with it, so am I.)

This is a war machine, however. The guys who caretake it struggle with the conflict between their love for the aircraft and their nuanced views of war itself, which are very, well, Bay Area. As I learn more about them for a longer-form web doc, I can appreciate the vets' desire to honor their wartime experiences while refusing to deny their complicated feelings about the politics that forced them into adventures both righteous and heinous.

Carr experienced intense PTSD when he returned after combat, and the Huey Vets project is partly a way for him to create positive meaning around a trauma that will never in itself make any sense.

Wayne Terry, the San Franciscan who does PR and fundraising for the group, dealt with the unthinkable experiences of his Vietnam combat days as a Huey mechanic by placing it in a drawer that would not be opened again for over 30 years. Some of his closest friends had no idea he'd been in the military until he got involved with Huey Vets in 2004.

Further complicating this group is the nature of the Experimental Military Unit (EMU) they served in - it was the only fully-integrated unit in the war, with a mixture of US Army and Australian Royal Navy, and they provided a lot of support to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). This meant that Vietnamese infantry flew side-by-side with US flight crew aboard EMU Hueys.

It's a fascinating bit of history. If you know of someone who'd like to contribute funds to keeping this beautiful aircraft and its legacy alive in the sky, send them over to HueyVets.com. Or just go there to get some education for yourself.

Food, Sex, War

Food & Sex, San Francisco

Gianni of Gianni's North Beach reports that local food radio icon, Gene Burns, is pushing the idea of a food war with NYC to settle the issue of culinary superiority once and for all:

He even claimed he once tried to organize a battle, but that NYC declined because they knew they’d lose, for the following reasons:

  • We have great local produce, fish, meats, cheeses, artisan food products and wines.
  • Culinary talent, ethnic diversity, and fabulous food opportunities abound.
  • We’re passionate and serious foodies.

Well, duh.

The panel discussion Burns appeared in was part of the opening of a new food exhibit at the public library.

In the Skylight Room is a collection of ephemera devoted to food and sex. What's more sexy AND appetizing than a mermaid riding a lobster?

Mermaid Riding Lobster, San Francisco

Those Damned 49ers – and I Don’t Mean the Football Team

Those Damned 49ers; San Francisco

KQED's Quest blog tells a story: In Gold Rush times, monied interests quickly depleted the gold deposits on the surface and in the rivers. So, they invented honking water cannons and blasted away canyon walls and hillsides.

The resulting sludge drained into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers where it was strained of the gold. Remaining sediment and water was sent into the Central Valley to flood farmland and generally lay waste to ecological systems as far West as the San Francisco Bay. We've suffered that pollution ever since.

But, good news! A tipping point has been reached, and Bay waters are 30% clearer now than just 10 years ago. But...

There is always a "but." The lack of sediment from hydraulic mining could cause us extra trouble when sea levels rise from global warming.

What I find fascinating, yet also extremely challenging, is how the choices we've made as a civilization over the decades and centuries combine and sum to create the issues we face right now. There are no simple answers. Regardless of how well-intentioned some environmental programs may be there will always be some uncertainty about how natural systems respond.

None of us could enjoy the land we call California without the Gold Rush. Which makes it all the more frustrating to learn about the bad behavior of the nasty dudes who made it all possible.

San Francisco Has Wood – Ladders

Ours is the only fire department in the country that makes and uses wooden ladders. Before the fir used to make the ladders can be utilized it has to sit and age for 15 years. Amazingly, they repair ladders that are close to 100 years old for future use.

This is a fascinating piece. I could do without the cheesy anchorman voice-over, but other than that, I was riveted for the whole 3:55 duration.

The video's been around for about a month now and I don't know how I missed it.

Hot Post-Earthquake and Fire Film Footage from 1906

Seventeen minutes of pure awesome.

(Spotted @ Uptown Almanac.)

The Answer to Betty White Fatigue

The Answer to Betty White Fatigue - Phyllis Diller as Fast Pass Spokesperson! - San Francisco

While we were at a pawn shop on Mission Street, Steve spotted this. (What's with the two jumping fishes?)

MUNI should totally bring back Phyllis Diller for the Fast Pass! At 93, she's got 5 years on Betty White. I even did their graphic design work for them:

Phyllis Diller on the Clipper Card, San Francisco

Sally Rand in 1933: Unfair to Nudism! (NSFW)

Last week I posted some photos by Seymour Snaer from 1939, a couple of which were of Sally Rand's Nude Ranch from the Golden Gate International Exposition that took place on Treasure Island. Rand is worth a closer look, if you know what I mean. Take a peep after the jump...

Photos of San Francisco in 1939

San Francisco 1939 by Seymour Snaer, cover image

1939 was a big year for San Francisco, during which it attempted to convince the world that it had fully recovered from the catastrophes of 1906 and was once again a city to be reckoned with. Completion of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge was punctuated with the International Exhibition on Treasure Island.

For one photographer/photojournalist, that year left a lasting impression.

The photographer's name is Seymour Snaer, and the images were published in 1980 in a book titled, San Francisco 1939: An Intimate Photographic Portrait. Snaer had over 100 rolls of film from that one year, so publisher Bill Owens reprinted select shots from negatives, rescuing them from the bad cropping done by newspapers like the Examiner, who Snaer had worked for.

I've Googled around and not found much mention of the man, nor have I seen any of his images. The (used) book is listed on some sites, but none even have the cover image (above).

I'm including just some of the photos (in low-res format taken with my camera), and the captions that go with them. Additionally, I've excerpted some text from the body of the book. The writing has a raw feel to it; you can tell it was written by someone who doesn't write, but really has something to say.

Follow SU on Twitter.

Some of the highlights: Real fishermen using nets in the Bay; Belt and Southern Pacific trains; view from Twin Peaks; Sally Rand's Nude Ranch (NSFW); ski jumping on Treasure Island; auto polo.

Tip of the hat to Jonathan at Viracocha for gifting the book to me (that was a very kind way to get me to stop bugging you about your fantastic shop).

The above image is from the cover, portraying still and movie photographers capturing President Franklin Roosevelt's motorcade who came to see the Expo before it opened, in '38. Snaer writes:

Two of the guys in the bunch were very famous newsreel cameramen in the '30s, Joe Rucker and Frank Vail. They used hand-crank cameras ... I had big bulbs and all of a sudden - a bulb exploded! Secret Servicemen ran all over the place. It really embarrassed me. [p. 24]

The following images and text are all directly from the book. (Keep in mind that when he says "today," Snaer means 1980.)

Note: I'm pretty sure the copyright, originally reserved by Snaer himself, isn't being actively enforced, but in case it is, I'm only posting low-res images, and will gladly remove them if a rights-holder contacts me. Check out the photos/text after the jump...

7×7 Can Do No Right When it Comes to Maps

Phrenology Map 7x7 Magazine, San Francisco

A post at the San Francisco Citizen blog finds no credit for the above map in the print version of 7x7's current magazine - and suspects it might have something to do with the fracas over this thing.

Indeed, I couldn't find a version of the map on 7x7's website, which is odd. But I'm gonna give them a pass because this new map is pretty cool on a couple of fronts.

First, it's bizarre enough to be interesting - the descriptions applied to the various parts of town are an exercise in willful non-sequiter.

But best of all is its use of actual phrenological terms (philoprogenitiveness? C'mon!), and the probable inadvertent nod to our new favorite historical eccentric, Frederick Coombs, a.k.a., George Washington the Second.

Even before he went Cocoa for coo-coo puffs, Coombs wrote and self-published a book on phrenology called Popular Phrenology: Exhibiting the Exact Phrenological Admeasurements of Above Fifty Distinguished and Extraordinary Personages, of Both Sexes with Skulls of the Various Nations of the World. You can't do much better than that in the "pseudoscience as prelude to insanity" department.

Washington the Second with skulls, San Francisco
Note the skulls. Awesome.

So, hats off to 7x7. (They do lose points, however, for the offensive profile of the goateed hippie that defines the edge of the map.)

Emperor Norton vs. George Washington the Second

Frederick Coombs/George Washington the Second, San Francisco
George Washington the Second beside a bust of his namesake. (I think he looks more like Ben Franklin.) Image courtesy San Francisco Public Library.

His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I, in addition to being the prototype of Frank Chu, is credited with visions of a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate (some suspect this to have been made up by others later) and a tunnel toward Oakland before those ideas were considered sane.

There were other eccentrics who paraded San Francisco's streets in the 1850s and 60s, but for some reason the only one we still celebrate is Norton. It is a monopoly that he, above all, would have cherished; but just like his attempt to corner the rice market in 1852 which eventually sent him over the rainbow, this monopoly may not last.

Submitted for your approval: Frederick Coombs, a.k.a., "George Washington the Second." Learn all about him after the jump...