Heart of the City Archives

Signs of change at the Royal Theatre.
How the winds of progress blow
by Hank Donat

I was minding my own business recently when I suddenly found myself watching workers demolish the Royal movie house on Polk Street. A huge hole was opened up where the screen was, on the California Street side - a hole where the great icons of American culture used to be. 

Next, I heard details of development plans for Rincon Hill, which potentially include lots of towers. Days later I witnessed the mainstreaming of my beloved gay community at a jubilant yet conservative LGBT Pride Parade. Last week, I toured the fantastic and much needed restoration project for the Music Concourse at Golden Gate Park.

Throughout these travels I felt like the comedian Arj Barker, who does a hilarious impression of an Amish mime, "running against the winds of progress." Or is it just that so much is changing so fast in San Francisco, USA?

Most people would like to freeze-dry San Francisco just as it was the first moment they laid eyes on the place. We've had two forces at work here for more than a hundred years. One would pave the Presidio to put up a parking lot; the other wants to take you to court if you try to pick a dandelion. ("Empower the middle!" says the middle.) It's a pervasive source of civic anxiety and conflict. 

Like Sunset District resident Diana Scott, who helped save the Doggie Diner sign on Sloat Blvd., I think landmarks should be kept on the land they mark.

Extreme preservationists are commonly known as NIMBYs. To me they're the dandelion people, and maybe I'm one of them. I documented thousands of San Francisco landmarks on this web site because I believe vibrations move through places. San Francisco, in and of itself, is a seismic memory. 

My suspicion is that most of us are dandelion people, probably protecting a memory of falling in love with someone in San Francisco. We haven't figured out that love's fingerprints are indelible. 

Following are a few beats from the heart of the city. Some have changed, some have stayed the same, others are only opinions. 

Car #5148 where are you? Muni bus #5148, the only coach in the stable with carpeted seats, is being taken out of service at the end of the year. The unique bus is aging. Already relegated as a fill-in, it's sometimes seen as a 30 Stockton or 45 Union. Some riders thought the carpeted seats were disgusting, all agreed they were strange. 

Use it or lose it. In no other city could you visit a park the size and caliber of Golden Gate Park and find a free shuttle bus. One of the best kept secrets in town is that you can go from the Conservatory of Flowers to the Beach Chalet and everywhere in between, every fifteen minutes, for free. Spread the word - empty shuttles don't stay funded.

Don't miss the Kinsey Sicks at the Herbst Theatre July 19 and 26th. The Kinseys, a Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, is one of the best acts ever created by gay culture. "We love coming home to the very people responsible for setting us loose upon the world," says founding member Irwin Keller. And, no, Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is not gay culture. (www.cityboxoffice.com)

The Phantom of the Opera is back for a "limited engagement" at the Orpheum, tomorrow (7/16) through August 7. Get ready for the shortest review of the year: Not limited enough.

Has the odd San Francisco heat wave got you down? Try cold soup. "If you can make a Bloody Mary you can make Gazpacho," says Bruce Brennan, aka the Hippy Gourmet. Brennan's access cable show is a hit. Don't be surprised if Brennan, whose hippie credentials are substantial, goes national from the Haight in short order. Someone has to fill Martha Stewart's shoes.

The Zaricor Flag Collection at the Presidio has just acquired one of two surviving flags from the World Trade Center in New York. This unprecedented exhibit of historic American flags at the Presidio Officers' Club is free to the public through July 31. The collection is still without a permanent home and needs your support.

"I can't guarantee parrots," Mark Bittner said. Bittner hadn't seen the cherry-headed conures known as the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill in a couple of days but welcomed the opportunity to meet Spider Saloff, the cherry-headed jazz singer from Chicago who makes a splash wherever she goes. San Francisco was no exception. 

When we met with friends in Cow Hollow, some parrots were overhead. It seemed like a good omen. Shortly thereafter, at least a dozen of them flew past us at Union and Montgomery, heading us off at Calhoun Terrace. 

The parrots landed in Bittner's garden seconds after we arrived at the cottage on the Greenwich Steps. After twenty minutes the rowdy birds dispersed. They left all at once when Saloff said good-bye. The Chiacagoan was somewhat in disbelief, but not the San Franciscans in our party, all accustomed to enchantment.

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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