Posts Tagged 'history'
When I got the news yesterday evening it hit me hard. It hit a lot of people hard, but especially those of us who live in San Francisco when we got the news that Robin Williams had died.
San Francisco hasn’t had many resident celebrities in quite a long time, but Robin loved San Francisco. He had even said in the past that there was no other city he could imagine himself living in and for the people of San Francisco that was pretty cool. He had a mansion in Sea Cliff so it wasn’t unusual to run into him in the Richmond District and he would also frequent the Sunset on his way to The Other Cafe comedy club where he would frequently pop in just to see who might be the next new kid in town and sometimes, if you were lucky he’d just jump up on stage and take over the place. He brought a whole new side to comedy that all you could do is strap yourself in and hold on because you never knew what he was going to throw at you. I think sometimes he didn’t know what he was going to do when he got up on stage either.
For most of America we first met Robin Williams a long time ago when he caught our eye as that weird alien who made a guest appearance on Happy Days before he got his own spin off. Most of the world knew him as Mork from Ork, but even back then he was still Robin Williams, the stand up comedian for us in San Francisco.
It was pretty hard to live here and not run into him. I saw him all the time at the Other Cafe, but ran into somewhat frequently in the Richmond or Sunset Districts. The best part about him was he was friendly to all the people who could come up to him. I’d see him walking down the street and someone would walk up to him and he’d smile and shake their hand. I could never figure out how he could do it all the time without going crazy. Whenever I’d see him someone would be walking up to him, yet he didn’t seem to mind. I really wanted to ask him one of the times I saw him, but I only got to officially meet him once. I had a girlfriend who was very into comedians. I guess I should have taken that as a complement. We wouldn’t go out to nightclubs on the weekends, she drag me to the Other Cafe just about every other day of the week. She got a little giddy the first time she saw Robin Williams walk in and practically dislocated my arm dragging me over to meet him. She then pushed me in front of her to do the introductions because I guess that was my job. Hi Robin, I’m Eric and my girlfriend dragged me over so I could introduce her to you because she thinks I’m someone. We shook hands and she pushed me out of the way and out of the picture for the moment. All I could do at that point was say, you can throw her back if you’d like. I got a small hint of a laugh out of him. Subsequent trips to the Other Cafe when he would show up and I was with her he’d glance over and give us the thumbs up. I think the best part of it was she probably thought he was acknowledging her presence and I thought it was a non-verbal way of saying to me, still on that honeymoon? Who knows what he really meant by it. Robin was always like that weird uncle you had. You never knew what would happen when he was around but you were always waiting to see what it would be.
The best part about Robin was that he never lost his edge. That childlike craziness he had onstage or when he was Mork stayed with him. Drugs didn’t take it away, Alcohol didn’t take it away, Heart surgery didn’t take it away. We don’t know all the details yet, but so far it looks like it was a suicide. Robin died in his home in Marin. I remember him making jokes about people in Marin and how disconnected they were from the rest of the world. I’d just like to think that it didn’t disconnect him from the world that loved him.
San Francisco is known for it’s museums, but some of them don’t get noticed. San Francisco’s Cable Car Museum is one of these, even for people who were born and raised here.
If you’re from San Francisco you probably don’t ride the Cable Cars very often and just sort of take them for granted, but they have a history that is truly San Franciscan and the Cable Car Museum is the best place to learn about this. Andrew Smith Hallidae conceived of a cable driven transport system in 1869 and brought it to life in 1873 starting on Clay Street. The hills of San Francisco were just too much for the horses to pull the cars loaded with people so he came up with a way around it that has become one of the main symbols of San Francisco ever since.
The Museum itself was built in 1974 and is operated by the Friends of the Cable Car Museum as a nonprofit educational facility.
Located in the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse, the museum deck overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street.
On display are various mechanical devices such as grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms, tools, detailed models, and a large collection of historic photographs. You’ll even get a close up look at how the cables work.
The museum houses three antique cable cars from the 1870s. The Sutter Street Railway No. 46 grip car & No. 54 trailer and the only surviving car from the first cable car company, the Clay Street Hill Railroad No. 8 grip car. The museum store offers a variety of cable car memorabilia, books, clothing, cards and even genuine cable car bells! Hours for the museum are 10 am – 6 pm, April 1 thru September 30. 10 am – 5 pm, October 1 thru March 31. Open every day except New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Admission is Free. Phone: 415-474-1887
A friend of mine asked me about the term three dot journalism the over the weekend realizing that I now had something else to explain to people besides Baghdad by the Bay. It was a term coined by Herb Caen to describe his style of writing and it stuck with him to the point that Herb Caen Way… in San Francisco even had the three dots after the name.
Asking my wife, the writer, for a bit of background information, she mentioned that the three dots [called an ellipsis to English teachers just to make you feel stupid, but had no other use] was a technique used by writers to separate the end of one thought they had written before starting the next thought. It was a sort of sledgehammer way of saying I’m done and now I’m moving on. I’m not sure if it’s used much anymore, but it was not long ago because on a Macintosh computer if you hold down the option and his the semi colon you’ll get … .
Herb’s columns had a lot of information on a lot of topics so it seemed fitting to separate them so people reading the column wouldn’t get lost. If you want to see an example of three dot journalism today you’ll have to ready Willie Brown’s Sunday column in the Chronicle. He’s taken to the topic like a pro. Say what you will about Willie, but he’s the closest thing we have to Herb Caen today. Yes, there is Carl Nolte who also writes for the Chronicle, but Carl is focused on the old times of San Francisco that Herb Caen wrote about when they were new. Willie is continuing on to write about current news and his somewhat opinionated take on it. I look forward to reading Willie’s column every week. Sometimes I even agree with him.
Herb Caen would talk about politics, then … then a trip to the symphony … then a guy who he ran into at lunch that asked him a question he had to think about until he got back to the office and wrote about it then … then something else entirely. Everything was different, every day was different, but the three dots held it all together. It was the glue that made it a newsworthy column and not just the ramblings of boy from Sacramento who was enthralled with the city of San Francisco.
For some reason this popped into my mind over the weekend and I had to see if I could dig anything up on this, but back in the late 60’s/early 70’s when I was a young pup the elementary schools at the end of the school year would sell matinee tickets to your local movie theater for a Tuesday or Wednesday showing and each movie ticket cost 15¢. You would buy enough to cover you for the summer and once a week your parents would cart you off to the local theater and dump you there for the day. Life was good back then.
I’d like to say 15¢ was worth more back then and I’m sure it was, but this wasn’t breaking anyone’s bank that I remember. A small box of candy, which would be considered large by today’s standards, at my local Parkside Theater was 16¢ [the extra penny was for tax], so getting rid of your kids for a day each week in the summer was worth the price of a candy bar. I don’t know about other theaters at the time, but the Parkside also served ice cream and sandwiches which was a bit odd for back then as they weren’t pre-packaged, but hand scooped and hand made.
As I remember the movies started at around 11am or so and ended around 4-4:30pm. They’d show a cartoon movie and then a live action movie, all kid oriented of course. You could go in and watch Jungle Book followed by Treasure Island and for a little kid having the big screen to share with his friends and not having your parents around was great. Before every movie they showed a few cartoon shorts for the kids with short attention spans to help hold them over through the movie. In between movies they had an intermission which meant time to buy more candy so you could properly fuel your sugar rush for when you came home. I would be sent off with a dollar in my pocket and always get candy, popcorn and a soda and come home with change.
While I only went to the Parkside, I think the summer movie thing was done all around the city. I seem to remember using my tickets at a theater in the Richmond District once or twice because my Mom’s best friend lived there and I’d sometimes go with her kids. It’s kind of hard thinking back to those times because today you’ve got entertainment available from so many different sources. Back then we didn’t have channels to change, I don’t even think we knew what movies they were going to show. I believe the tickets just had the day and the date and 15¢. Maybe the school name was on it because it was probably a way for the schools to add to their coffers.
Now here’s the funny thing, I found out that the Parkside Theater back in those days seated 1329 people, so on a sold out matinee they would make only $199.35 from ticket sales. You couldn’t buy them at the door, you had to get them from your school. Anything extra they got was from selling foods at the snack bar. I’m sure minimum wage was awful back then since the first real job I got was in 1977 and paid $2.20/hour and at that price I bet they could barely cover the cost of the staff if they weren’t selling lots at the snack bar. Working then wasn’t too much fun because if you did something incorrectly they could cut your pay for the day and I’m sure that was over used because in the mid 70’s they made it so you had to be paid for the hours you worked. No one seemed unhappy working at the theaters back then though, but I was only 7 so what did I know.
Those days are gone now with most of the small neighborhood theaters disappearing [the Parkside was a first run theater that got the movies as they came out] and I’m sure we’ll start to see some of the larger theaters disappear as the home screens keep getting bigger and people like to eat less over processed crap that they can make cheaper at home. It’s kind of sad though because it was a very memorable time for me. I haven’t been to a movie theater now in close to ten years, mostly because I can get close to the experience for a fraction of the price without having to walk across sticky floors to sit in an uncomfortable seat and eat junk food that everyone says today will take 10 years off your life, but when you’re a kid you don’t notice those things.
I read an article on SFgate today that the Tosca Cafe may be closing. While I wasn’t a frequent visitor, I’ve been there enough times that it feels like home when you walk in the door. It has quite a history that the SFgate article doesn’t cover so I’m going to give you the details today.
It turns out that Tosca opened in 1919 and it was the first place in the United States to serve espresso and cappuccino. Started by three Italians who came to San Francisco after World War I, they wanted to create a bar like they used to frequent in Italy. This made Tosca a keystone of North Beach. Their drinks that they were known for were their cappuccino [which unlike Starbucks has brandy] and the White Nun [steamed milk, brandy and kahlua]. Tosca is also known for it’s Irish Coffee which many people say is better than the Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe where it was started.
Carol Doda was known to be seen sitting in the front window sipping White Nun’s in between her acts at the Condor club. Many other celebrities from around the world have been known to stop in at Tosca’s. Jerry Brown is a regular customer as is Willie Brown. It’s the place to go in San Francisco to find celebrities and it’s a same that the strip club owner landlord wants to shut down a piece of San Francisco history.
The Beach Chalet occupies the top floor of the old Golden Gate Park Visitor’s center with stunning views of the ocean, great food and a microbrewery that in addition to making beer also makes a great root beer [more on that later]. I’m not sure when the actual building was constructed, but I do know that they artwork downstairs was done as part of the WPA project in the 1930’s by artist Lucien Labaudt. It spent most of its years a vacant empty shell during my youth until Gar and Lara Trupelli and Timon Malloy bought it and started to restore it sometime in the early 80’s.
The place is filled with that “outside lands” vibe that I always talk about. It’s a great place to kick back and relax while enjoying some great food. When the weather’s good I usually like to skip the Beach Chalet and go around back to the Park Chalet. Same general food, but to replace the view of the sea you get a very open area where the windows that also serve as walls can be turned and moved to open up the space to the well kept up garden area where you’ll usually find a few kids running around on the weekends.
Now let’s talk about the food. The prices are in the $10-$32 range for main courses and the variance depends on what time of day you go and of course, what you get. I think the prices are pretty reasonable considering what you get. They have a range of dishes covering the beef, pork, chicken and fish departments and each one has a favorite for me. THey also have a Prime Rib Monday special that while I haven’t tried that yet, I think I’m going to have to.
For beef I have to go with the flat iron steak & frites. I’ve learned to love flat iron steak ever since Chef Bruce Hill [Zero Zero] introduced it to me at a restaurant he previously worked. It’s got a meaty flavor, but is also very tender served with a caramelized onion sauce and the frites are crispy to perfection.
For pork I have to go with their Carolina style pulled pork sandwich. I’m a sucker for pork and this is a juicy sandwich to bite into. You get a really good taste, but not overpowering flavor of the Carolina style sauce in the meat and the fried onion strings [always a favorite with me] are just icing on the cake.
Chicken is tough with me as it is in most restaurants, but they put it to good use in the west coast carbonara. The fettucine, chicken, english peas, bacon, thyme and shaved parmigiano-reggiano cheese all blend well with the sauce to create a dish that won’t leave you feeling weighed down when you finish like some pasta dishes can.
For the fish I have to go with an old standby because they do it so well and that’s their V.F.W. beer battered fish and chips. The flavor is intense, but not fishy nor overly greasy.
Now one thing you always have to remember when you come here is that it’s a micro brewery so you have to try the beer. They have five regulars on tap, V.F.W. Light, Presidio IPA, Riptide Red, Fleishacker Stout & Dee’s Bitter Ale. They also have specials that pop up like their Ocean Beach Oktoberfest beer and I honestly can’t pick a favorite. They’re all good and there’s something for every beer drinker there. They offer a circle of ales where you get a small glass of each of the beers to try and compare.
Now about the root beer. Funhouse Root beer is unlike any root beer you’ll ever taste. I tell everyone who goes there that they have to try the root beer and they all say the same thing, Damn, that’s good root beer! It is and brewmaster Aron Deorsey hit the nail on the head with this one. It’s got a bit of a thicker and heavier taste than most store bought root beers and the flavor will stay with you after you’ve finished it. Best not to switch over to beer afterwards unless you like your beer tasting sweet. I wish they did sell it in stores, but unfortunately they don’t. They did used to sell what they called a growler that was basically a gallon jug they’d fill up with whatever beer or root beer you wanted and you could take it home with you. It really is that good. TRY THE ROOT BEER!
Tuesday’s and Fridays they have live music and there’s always the 3-6pm and 9pm-closing happy hours with $3, $6 & $9 drinks and appetizers Monday through Friday. Since it looks like we’ll be having some nice weather for a bit I suggest you head down to the beach and check out both the Beach and Park Chalets.
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I decided to go for a bit of titillation for today’s story, but it’s something that many of you may not know about it’s “titillating” background. Coit Tower was built in 1933 by the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit to beautify the city as well as to commemorate the firefighters of the city. In particular she was apparently rather fond of the firemen at Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5.
It is said that the rather tall tower was to replicate in an art deco, abstract way a fire hose nozzle. Now I like firemen myself as they’ve helped us out on numerous occasions when my elderly parents and grandparents were alive. I am not leaving one-third of my estate to them though.
Lilian had a bit more of a how do I put this…”devotion” to the burly firemen of company No. 5 and some have said that it wasn’t a representation of a fire hose so much as it was a representation of, well, uhm, uh, a “fireman’s hose” if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
Lillie was a bit of a randy sort of woman who was a character that made San Francisco what it is today in many ways. She was an avid gambler and cigar smoker and even dressed as a man to be able to get into gentlemen’s only gambling establishments. She wore pants before it was fashionable and loved to thumb her nose at the establishment. People forget that the 20’s was the decade of “free love” before the 60’s and there was lots of naughtiness going on around the country and especially in “Baghdad by the Bay“. Her “appreciation” of the fire department even earned her the title of “Honorary Fireman.” In addition to Coit Tower she also had a statue of three firemen carrying a woman, presumably her.
[mappress mapid=”31″]OK, enough about the randy old lady of San Francisco. Let me tell you a little bit about the tower itself. Well, it’s a tower, a big one and that’s pretty much it. But if you take a closer look when you walk inside you’ll notice murals on the walls that were painted as a part of the Public Works of Art Project that was to help employ artists during the depression. One of my aunts was an artist that painted the murals there.
While I’d love to say it’s free to ride to the top, it’s not, but it’s still pretty cheap. $4.50 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and $2.00 for children 6-12, under 6 is free. So why should you pay to ride an elevator? Well, when you get to the top you have a view of San Francisco that you won’t get anywhere else. 360° of pure beauty and you can stay and take pictures for as long as you want. It’s an open air rotunda that I’m surprised they haven’t put up anything to keep people from using it as a great place to have a last view of the city before jumping off to end it all. I guess it’s such a view that you don’t want to leave it all behind once you see it.