When it comes
to contrasting moods, nothing beats a summer in San Francisco, where
you can watch a young couple walking a pair of unicycles in the rain
at Duboce Park and get a sunburn on the same day.
More than ever, the City is a study in contrasting old and new elements.
During a visit by out-of-town relatives last week I found myself calling
out a growing number will-be landmarks such as the new Conservatory
of Music and future towers on Rincon Hill. Then there are those that
are old and new at once, such as the Old Mint/future San Francisco
One old-and-new treasure of the City is the Palace of Fine Arts. Now
that renovation of the lagoon is underway we've said goodbye to the
chain link fence that marred many a wedding portrait there. The fence,
resembling braces on a beautiful smile, was given its last rites with
much fanfare last week.
A visit to the 1915 landmark Palace of Fine Arts must now include
a stop at George Lucas' Letterman Digital Arts Center just a couple
of blocks away. Not only is the public park there extraordinary, Mayor
Gavin Newsom calls Lucas' big screen pixel factory a "cornerstone
in the future of cinema."
On the heels of these additions to our landscape, the mayor has called
for the addition of 15,000 housing units in the next five years. And
while the City ushers in an era of new landmarks, the neighborhoods
continue to suffer big losses as some longtime favorites pass into
Trevor Hailey has been giving her "Cruising the Castro" walking tour
for 16 years. Now Hailey says it's time to pass the baton. She is
selling her business and moving to San Diego.
Hailey was inspired by Shirley Fong-Torres, who operates long-running
walking tours of Chinatown. After hearing Fong-Torres give an address
on entrepreneurialism in 1989, Hailey was off and rolling with Fong-Torres'
sound advice and encouragement.
Hailey has since become a leading resource for information about the
Castro and the gay community in San Francisco. Landmark buildings
can be restored or rebuilt. The Palace of Fine Arts was restored once
already in the late 1960s. The likes of Trevor Hailey are irreplaceable.
It's easy to overlook the G.F.
Thomas Cleaners, with its location on a quiet stretch of 14th
Street in the Duboce Triangle area. The storefront is the oldest business
in the City continually operated by the same family. According to
some reports it is also the oldest dry cleaning shop in the United
States. After five generations and 119 years of service to San Francisco,
G.F. Thomas will close up shop on September 3.
With a theme of old and new close to mind as I walked through the
City last week, I observed a changing institution in North Beach.
The Condor sports bar, the former historic Condor strip club, is now
a seafood and jazz joint. The Condor sign remains, but purists will
not be consoled. The sign belonged to the sports bar and is not the
Across Columbus Avenue at The Stinking Rose, Lee Houskeeper hosted
a special session of his dinner group, dedicated to the memory of
Chet Helms. Helms, the renowned Summer of Love organizer, passed away
after a stroke several weeks ago.
Throughout the evening of memories and stories of Helms came discussion
of an appropriate way for the City to recognize his influence on our
social culture. "Chet taught Bill Graham everything he knew," said
Momentum exists to have a meadow in Golden Gate Park named after Helms.
PJ Corkery's suggestion was repeated in Rolling Stone magazine and
many think it's a good idea. Now, a faction is growing to have Hippie
Hill, where Haight Street meets Stanyan, renamed Chet Helms Hill.
"The City may be concerned that Hippie Hill attracts drug users,"
says Houskeeper, "but that won't be affected one way or the other
if the hill is named for Chet."
Last week Houskeeper, still mourning the death of another longtime
pal, Dick Hongisto, called me at home before breakfast. "We keep losing
the greats!" he announced. "Oh no," I said bracing myself for the
worst. "Spud Murphy died," said Houskeeper. I wasn't clear on Murphy's
contribution, but Houskeeper set me straight. "He wrote the Three
Stooge's theme music!" Somehow I knew Chet Helms would appreciate
Houskeeper's sentiment and his attempt to lighten his own mood. I
may need to take Houskeeper with me when I visit G.F. Thomas.
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