Heart of the City Archives
All the Town's a Stage
by Hank Donat

David Gauger, who's no square, has an idea for reviving the downtown skyline which flattened out and lost some of its character in the past decade. Gauger's solution: waive the height limit for any new building, so long as it's a pyramid. 

Gauger is an adman with offices on Post Street overlooking Union Square. The much anticipated reopening of the square following an 18-month renovation is set for July 25. That announcement last week had a lot of people on the ground scratching their heads. From above, the project looks a lot closer to completion. 

I wouldn't dream of raining on Union Square merchants' parade, so I'll speak my peace now. Green and gold granite monopolizez the new design, the third in Union Square's history. "Green and gold are symbolic of the dunes and grasses that were once in the area," says April Philips, who designed the plaza with Michael Fotheringham. Indigenous plants are also featured - on tiles! The new square is even more industrial than the 1940s version, which Herb Caen said was "half as soft and inviting" as the landscape that came before it. I prefer actual grass to the symbolic kind, and apparently so did Mr. Caen. The outgoing square is beautifully archived in Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant 1974 film, "The Conversation."

A blueprint by Stan Teng, a finalist in the 1997 design competition, was my favorite. Teng, whose office is on Hayes Street, saw the square as an island oasis in the middle of the downtown bustle. Since there's no use crying over spilled concrete, I'll celebrate along with my fellow San Franciscans next month when they let the hair down on the new square's palm trees, which are represented by actual palm trees.

Also undergoing a face-lift is John's Ocean Beach Cafe on Sloat Blvd. in the Sunset. After visiting the zoo across the street or smiling under the Doggie Diner sign, John's is the perfect place for great American grub. We're assured that the vintage city photographs and autographed George Burns portrait will all be returned when the new paint job is completed. John's has one of the friendliest waitstaffs in town - and that's no whitewash...

Economic Indicator: LaBan Wade, the newest beefeater doorman at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and the first African-American to hold the post, reports that rooms at the Drake were sold out last weekend for the first time in many moons. LaBan is graduating to the occasional night shift after a year and a few months on the job. Mazel tov!

San Francisco Optics on Chestnut Street is fast becoming a celebrity ocularium. Kevin Spacey bought a pair by Alain Mikli a few weeks ago. Robin Williams brought his shades in for repair. Joe Montana is also a customer. The staff there is top-drawer; professionalism is the order of the day. The wearing of stars' specs even by persistent fans is strictly forbidden, especially Williams' Beausoleils, which have yellow lenses that suit me rather well and make everything seem somewhat crisp and closer. Strictly forbidden, got that?

Frank Siletti has been selected among Buena Vista Cafe bartenders to represent the city in the World Irish Coffee Championship in Ireland from July 19-21. The Glen Park resident is the only non-Irish contender in a field of up to 500 mixologists. The contest is being held in the Limerick County town of Foynes with actress Maureen O'Hara among the judges. Best of luck to Frank, who makes what we think is the world's best Irish Coffee - the BV's.

More contest news: Tony and Kimberly Azzollini of Caffe Roma in North Beach have launched a competition to name their twin daughters, due in September. First prize is a bottle of Chianti and two pounds of coffee. Names should honor the family's Italian-American heritage - no Moon Units or Dylans. In 1977 the Azzollini family opened their first coffeehouse on Columbus Avenue. Stop in for a latte and vote. My choice - what are the female for Romulus and Remus?

Driving north on Scott Street in Pacific Heights offers a real-life special effect for passengers lucky enough to ride shotgun. Face east for a few blocks between Pacific and Vallejo and it appears as though invisible stagehands are pulling Nob Hill and Russian Hill in opposite directions. The effect is awfully charming and proves once again that if all the world's a stage, San Francisco is its most enchanting set... 

Don't miss A.J. Davenport in "Sleeping with Straight Men," Ronnie Larsen's new play of lust and murder at the Mission's Theatre Rhinoceros. A.J., a favorite among patrons of Lefty O'Douls and John's Grill, is another of San Francisco's characters with character. 

I don't know a San Franciscan who hasn't lost a favorite restaurant, bar, or moviehouse in the past few years, but losing one's high school is surely a uniquely sad experience. This week's column is dedicated to J Eugene McAteer High School's Class of 2002, that school's final graduates.

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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat
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