On Thursday, I attended the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association’s 60th birthday bash. I’m a new member, and so I’m just beginning to learn about this little gem, and the maritime history of SF.
The park includes that bad-ass ship you see at Hyde Street Pier (in the photo at the bottom of this post), a submarine you can go into, and a museum in the art deco building at Aquatic Park with jaw-dropping ship models and other miniaturizations.
This beauty of a machine is shown cleaning the street at Dolores Park, which apparently even back then was regularly trashed by hordes of Missionites. (If anyone knows the origins of this photograph please drop it in the comments so I can properly attribute. I found it here.)
You can buy a vintage ad for the Austin-Western “Model 40” on eBay (and, really, why not?):
Here’s the ad copy:
On any street, there are many things the operator of a sweeper has to watch, and with the model “40” he sees them all. Only with this sweeper does he have unobstructed view of everything around him. There are no “blind” spots for the man behind the wheel of a model “40.”
Children don’t always watch where they’re going. Thanks to front steer and rear-mounted hopper, the model “40” operator can do the watching for them, because he sits in the natural place “up front” where he can see what’s going on.
And there’s another important angle… Not only can he operate Model “40” safely but efficiently as well, because it’s the only sweeper with gutter brooms visible at all times.
Yes, for efficiency’s sake as well as safety’s sake… GET A MODEL “40.”
Not long ago it was a post-apocalyptic den of drug abuse, blood sport, and murder. Now, it has been re-made as a virtual Valhalla by The Mad Viking himself, Peter Vaernet, and is a tribute to the past figures who battled to make something noble out of the parcel of land atop Merced Heights.
Today, Brooks Park is a model for creative land stewardship, urban gardening, and community pride.
Peter Vaernet is a cyclone of positive energy, and has swept folks like gardener John Herbert into the storm. Together they’ve completed the park’s dramatic adventure from its auspicious beginnings with the Brooks family in the 1930s, through its 1970s and 80s descent, to its glorious present rebound.
We took our camera into the fog to Brooks Park last weekend while they were building a temporary tomato greenhouse in the garden, and met Peter and John:
With the mild renaissance of Candlestick Point Recreation Area, you’d think there would be more interest in the conspicuous hill that juts up from the far side of the football stadium. It’s called Bayview Park (or Bayview Hill, alternatively), and it sacrificed its eastern slopes in the 1950s as fill on which to plant the arena.
It has suffered from neglect and harsh urbanization throughout its history, and it it’s barely appreciated even now by San Francisco residents, despite its natural beauty and kickass vistas. But it is getting attention by some for its high diversity of native plant species, including coastal scrub, oak groves, and the largest population of rare Islais cherry trees around.
There are also a number of area and migratory birds that frequent the hill; I spotted a big, fat Horned Owl when I went last weekend.
I also went off-trail a bit and discovered the ruins of a makeshift structure:
I don’t know if it was a kid’s fort or a homeless encampment, but it was cool. I’m not gonna tell you exactly how to find it – because what fun would that be? – but if you decide to go looking, be sure to wear shoes with some tread.
For anyone who claims to be fan of SF’s hilltops, this spot simply must be visited and explored.
Of all the ghosts haunting Golden Gate Park, the most frustrated might be John McLaren.
When McLaren died in 1943 at the age of 96, he’d served as Golden Gate Park superintendent for 52 years, during most of which he lived in the stately lodge at Stanyan and JFK. His was a life distinguished by a devotion to trees and a hatred of statuary – so how did they mark his passing? With a statue, of course.
You might’ve spotted it on a walk through Golden Gate Park. He’s the short man gazing at a pinecone, not far from the weekend roller-skaters.
That statue is more than just a commemoration of McLaren’s decades of work on the park, which was no more than a strip of sand dunes when first entrusted to his care in 1887. It also marks the entrance to the John McLaren Memorial Rhododendron Dell, which has been closed since mid-2009, only just re-opened this month.
The revamped dell seems strangely empty at the moment, since most of the new plantings haven’t had an opportunity to grow in yet. Over the summer, the beds will become much more lush.
Until then, it’s still a lovely place to wander and get lost. Highlights include a winding staircase to a shaded mound with out-of-the-way benches, and various interesting narrow unpaved paths that lead up into the hillsides.
This facelift for the dell is just the latest upgrade in a difficult history. Created in the early 1950s, many species initially died. As more appropriate varieties of rhododendron were planted, the dell began to fill in – only to be decimated in the same 1996 storm that nearly destroyed the Conservatory of Flowers. Various rehabilitation projects have struggled to keep the dell healthy since then.
But it’s not as easy as simply planting a bush in the ground. A number of factors work against the success of rhododendrons in Golden Gate Park: direct sun can burn the plants to death, while strong winds can inhibit the flow of nutrients.
All rhododendrons are not for all people. Reluctantly we are forced to agree with many who have tried before us that the R. griersonianum hybrids are not going to live up to their rating in the San Francisco Bay area. We refused to accept the judgment passed on them and worked up a large stock of many varieties. These were placed in every conceivable location and condition that we could provide. The results have been far from satisfactory.
The article goes on to describe the meticulous breeding of various colorfully-named Rhododendron cultivars, including the R. Van Nes Sensation, R. Fastuosum Flore-plenum, and R. Prof. Hugo De Vries.
Interestingly, one of the few species of rhododendron to thrive in the dell was a clone named R. John McLaren. The ARS article praises the species’ “legginess.”
Today, GGP gardeners are able to ensure healthy vegetation in the dell. Over the next few weeks, the one-time sand-dunes will fill in considerably with blooming rhododendrons – an utterly fitting tribute to the park’s greatest steward.
Matt Baume is a San Francisco writer and photographer covering transit, ecology, and the science of cities.
We met these kids while exploring Fort Miley a couple weeks back, and although they are way too nice and friendly to behave like their Shore-lovin’ brethren from the Tellievision – figuratively, they kind of Snookie-punched our fair town in the face.
This video has all the key ingredients of a superb skate reel: ballsy stunts/wipeouts, great tricks, sweet camera work, SF, and a puppy!
Hat’s off to Joe Zevallos, Kenny DeVoe, Sean Cornetto, and Kevin Makwinski. Look us up next time you’re in town, guys, we’d love to follow you around for a while.
“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.” –Lao Tzu
There’s something about San Francisco’s bodies of water that people just can’t resist. We abuse them, we bury them, we fill them in with rubble and toxins – and then finally when we realize the error of our ways, if we’re lucky we can pull them back from the brink.
Consider Yosemite Creek, a small but crucial part of the city’s watershed. The creek’s entire trip, from McLaren Park to Bayview, takes place in aging underground pipes. But it may not always be that way: the Public Utilities Commission is exploring nifty new ways to “daylight” the creek, ranging from creating new parks to placing watery channels alongside city streets.
Poor McLaren Park. It has a name, but sometimes it seems to lack an identity. Way out in the Excelsior – or is it Portola? – it boasts a head-spinning array of amenities: tennis and basketball courts, a pool, dog run areas galore, barbecue pits and an amphitheater, woodsy trails, and possibly soon a disc-golf course.
But among the Park’s distinguishing features, a spot called Yosemite Marsh may be the most unique. Unlike two nearby asphalt-contained bodies of water – one a reservoir, the other McNab Lake – Yosemite Marsh is a naturally-occurring wetland.
You could be forgiven for walking right by without noticing it. It’s small, and hidden by a thicket of trees. A wooden footbridge crosses through the thicket, spanning a thin gully. Nearby, and for no discernable reason, a concrete sculpture of a dolphin sits across from an always-empty park bench.
At this time of year, the creek is nearly completely dry; but during the rainy season, a steady stream of water emerges from the hillside to feed the marsh. The marsh, in turn, provides habitat to herons, quail, ducks, bullfrogs, lizards, and (thrillingly) wrentits.
Formerly a bit run-down, the Marsh enjoyed an extreme makeover in 2006 [PDF]. The most prominent upgrades are a nice footpath and seating, but there are more infrastructural improvements under the hood: erosion control, enlarged banks, and enhanced wetland plantings, thanks to a $150,000 grant and $150,000 in Rec & Park Department Funds. With riparian rehab projects such as this, it can take five to ten years for plants to mature; the hillside above the marsh still looks a bit scraggly, but you can definitely see where it’s growing in.
Hal Phillips put together this very “electric” edit of footage we shot recently at the marsh:
Of course, the marsh isn’t the only moisture in the area. Various trickles of water can be found throughout the park. (And in fact, I carelessly stepped into one up to my ankle when I visited after a rainstorm.) Why is McLaren so wet? Bedrock. Soil is slow to discharge moisture, so water tends to hang around a bit.
And when the water finally does trickle out of the park, it has quite a trip ahead of it. From McLaren, it winds its way underground past University Mound Reservoir under Portola and the Phillip Burton Academic School, under the 101 and the 3rd Street light rail, and then finally aligning itself with Yosemite Ave – its namesake – before emptying into the South Basin in an area known as Yosemite Slough.
The most complicated step in Yosemite Creek’s journey lies at the very end, in Yosemite Slough. It’s a highly sensitive ecological area, decimated by decades of heavy industry. But there’s reason for hope: a massive environmental restoration is underway [PDF], featuring the planting of thousands of native species, soil remediation, and habitat construction.
But it is only hope at this point. As the video below shows, the area is currently an industrial dumping area. (The song is “33” by David Molina’s Ghosts and Strings.)
The Slough is part of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, which in general is well worth a visit. Don’t let the unseemly history scare you off. Yes, legend has it that it got its name because of all the burning abandoned ships nearby. And yes, for years it was used as a landfill. Okay, and the Navy didn’t exactly take great care of it during WWII.
But! You can’t beat that view. And apparently the birds agree: there’s no better place in San Francisco for spotting herons, loons, egrets, and avocet than nearby Heron’s Head Park. Environmental cleanup – much of it led by students – is gradually turning the area from a garbade dump to prime real estate.
With Yosemite Marsh stronger than ever, Yosemite Slough on the mend, and Yosemite Creek facing a new lease on life, there’s never been a better time to thank San Francisco’s watershed for sticking with us through thick and thin.
Matt Baume is a San Francisco writer and photographer covering transit, ecology, and the science of cities.
I mean, I could weave a clumsy tapestry of ugly logic suggesting that, even in spots that are “familiar,” elements of those spots can still reveal themselves – how much is truly “known” of any spot? And when you’re at Dolores Park, do you have any clue what’s happening a few hundred feet away?
Furthermore, time changes everything. Maybe we’re documenting DP for future times, after The Big One, when the park will have long become a memorial to those brave hipsters who tumbled into a fiery chasm while texting or shotgunning beers. “In Your wisdom, Lord, You took them… So say we All…”
But, to be honest, this is red meat and we know it.
Shot last Sunday, May 2nd, this video is the first collaboration between myself and hotshot local video dude, Daniel Jarvis. Daniel was featured around the blogs a while back for his stunning footage of Dia de los Muertos. Give him some love:
Last Sunday I took my first steps out of the birder closet. I don’t know where this leads, but I seem to have entered into a vibrant community with a love of bold colors and exaggerated mating behaviors. And, of course, they love to watch. More after the jump… Continue reading The Birds of Mount Davidson→
It’s wedged between Mount Davidson and Forest Hill, and it offers some amazing vistas and a thriving natural area, but you won’t find Edgehill Mountain or its open space labeled on any official maps. Yet.
Because it’s San Francisco, there is of course an epic clash between good and evil unfolding on this obscure, scenic bump in the topography. Land developers vs. stewards, citizens vs. city officials, native vs. invasive plants – and stuck in the middle, a humble little hillside that just wants to be who it was meant to be.
Large homes – many of them owned by Italian land magnate Angelo Sangiacomo – are densely-packed right up to the summit, but the south side is too steep. This fact was demonstrated several times in the past when large portions of the hill turned to mud and slid away. In the ’50s a house was taken out entirely, and in 1997 mud crashed into some unfinished homes.
The city refuses to maintain Edgehill Way, the single-lane road that circles the crest. A patchwork of filled potholes and an abundance of foliage make it feel like a country road in the middle of the city. The lookout facing south at Mount Davidson is quite special:
On a clear day you can see the ocean from the park.
Edgehill is easily accessible from the Forest Hill and West Portal Muni stations. Check the Spots Map for exact location, and then visit. Go on a second Saturday for a work party and help local resident Stan Kaufman, president of the Friends of Edgehill Mountain Park, and Randy Zebell of SF Rec & Parks fight the good fight against non-native weeds.
If you’ve ever walked up Bosworth from the Glen Park BART station, you’ve probably glanced at the little cliffside pictured above. You see that strip of greenery on top? It marks the edge of one of the city’s lesser-known parks, named after an early advocate of open urban spaces.
The number one reason to peel off on your way to Glen Canyon Park, or slip over from the Sunnyside Conservatory and visit this little perch is for the South-facing view at the top amidst the charming miniature forest.
Coming in a close second, is bragging rights. I guarantee less than one percent of your local friends have ever heard of it. (My friend Steve gave me his Erskine “virginity” there on Saturday, and he lives just a few streets over.)
If you’ve got half a day some weekend or holiday, and you like a moderately challenging hike, this easily-accessed, 4.5-mile route with a 900 ft. elevation means you don’t have to leave the city of San Francisco. Details after the jump… Continue reading Hillapalooza – an Urban Hike→
I don’t usually have a need for a telephoto lens, but on Saturday while hiking across some of San Francisco’s biggest hilltops, I spotted a coyote in a park. It made me think more seriously about moving beyond my digital point and shoot camera, to SLR, with at least one good telephoto lens.
So, with tax refund season upon us, I guess I’m in the market for a <$1k rig. I've been looking at the Canon T1i and the Nikon D5000. Anyone have opinions on one or both of these? Are there other competitors in this class I should be tracking? Let me have it in the comments.
Gone now for more than 3 decades, it remains one of the city’s lost treasures. Go back in time to see Laffing Sal, the Fun House, the Carousel, the Big Dipper, the Diving Bell, Dark Mystery, Limbo, Fun-tier Town, and much, much more, all through the eyes of the people that were there. The first and only documentary ever made about Playland.