Category Archives: San Francisco

What was going on at the Whitcomb Hotel

IMG_3625detailThe Whitcomb Hotel is one of these grand-old-lady buildings with a past that’s often forgotten or, at best, remembered selectively. One less remembered fact is that it served as West Coast headquarters for the systematic exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, beginning in 1942.

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Whitcomb Hotel, side view

In a way the Whitcomb’s story is reminiscent of the history at Moscow’s Metropol. It’s not so dramatic — the Metropol was besieged for six days in 1917 and later hosted many of Lenin’s speeches — but there’s something parallel in the buildings’ 20th-century histories as hotels and head offices by turns. Both buildings are huge old piles created at the turn of the last century to serve as respectable long-term residences and meeting places as well as for overnight stays. Each has been an administrative center for painful and harmful official decisions, has outlasted a period of badly faded elegance, and today serves tourists and business travelers who may know little about previous occupants. Continue reading

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Last time around

I wrote this article for the Baffler in mid-2001 about San Francisco on the downward edge of a boom cycle. No boom is ever fully like the last one, but maybe it bears rereading in light of current talk about frothiness in the tech sector.

The article ends by saying J. & I had talked about moving. Funnily enough, we stayed put in our place South of Market.

Meanwhile the former Petopia building at 8th and Folsom, which is mentioned in my 2001 article, went through a whole lot of tenants. It was an a architect’s office some of the time. Sometimes it was hard to tell what exactly was in there.

For a while Lutheran Social Services ran its rep/payee office out of the north end of the ex-Petopia building. I’m nearly sure it was the subject of this 2013 Vice article, the one that said so many mean things about social service clients in “the Tenderloin”. (Brian Brophy and Kevin Montgomery answered that article very well here.)

Now the Petopia building is a tech office again.

Stay tuned.

One world replaces another on 7th Street

SF Mini Storage is about to close down on 7th Street at Hooper. That’s near California College of the Arts, across 7th from the Caltrain tracks and the 280 freeway. The sign in theIMG_5298detail photo on the right says tenants have to get their stuff out by April 30, 2015.

I’m not necessarily complaining.

The replacement plan isn’t for another condo development. It’s for a contribution to the practical bones of the city. JK Dineen reported in January that parts of the site are designed by a nonprofit, SFMade, to become San Francisco’s “first new manufacturing building in more than two decades.” The developer is Urban Green DevCo. CurbedSF has more links. There’s already a HundredHooper.com page with renderings and some nice historical maps.

If you want details, look up any of three addresses at the Assessor’s Office to get info for the same lot: the SF Mini Storage address of 1000 – 7th, and also 100 Hooper St. and 150 Hooper St. On the two Hooper addressesIMG_5302detail, permit applications are shown for “a four story office and retail commercial building” and a “Mercantile/Retail/PDR building“.

This is a new neighborhood going in. It makes sense. The flats along 7th west of the freeway and tracks, north of Potrero Hill, have been some of the most underused space in San Francisco for a long time. Continue reading

Are spikes the problem?

IMG_5280_scaledA South Park neighborhood character who insisted his real name was Elvis Presley died in this alcove in 2012. He was run over by an emerging car, whose driver was cleared of wrongdoing. Another man died the same way in December 2014.

Some transit and bike activists have taken the moral of the story to be that car drivers escape blame easily when they run people over. That may be true in general, but with respect to this doorway I agree with Streetsblog commenter “gneiss”, who wrote, “This is a design flaw not an ‘accident’.”

My old blog has some details about the design flaw that I posted after Elvis died. Also about Elvis himself, who was a skilled street mechanic before his addictions got all the way in the way.

In the meantime, the subject of “unfriendly architecture” has come up strongly in public debate about heartlessness in public spaces, mostly by way of some especially ugly-looking spikes placed by London property owners outside an apartment building and a Tesco’s. A little farther down in this blog is a link to a Storify about that with examples of anti-sitting/anti-sleeping design in San Francisco and elsewhere.

So the reason I mention spikes is, the picture above shows a recent addition to the rain-sheltered garage entry alcove where two men have been run over: they’ve added pebbling to the pavement to discourage sleeping.

And this is why it seems worth asking: are spikes the problem?

Social policing, north bank, Mission Creek

Social policing signs, north side of Mission Creek

As you can see from background views of the viaduct support, the three signs in these pictures are all awfully close to one another. They’re along the promenade on the north side of Mission Creek. Fifteen years ago, the major residential center on the north bank of Mission Creek was a long-term informal encampment. Now the site has a branch public library, apartments, condos, joggers, people walking small delicate dogs. The only visible evidence that this is recently contested ground is in the very many signs reproaching users of this public space to Be Good Neighbors.