Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Photographic Essay on San Francisco by Dan Benbow

Christal Cooper 1,712 Words

*Written by Dan Benbow and Christal Cooper 
**Photography by Dan Benbow unless otherwise noted

Guest Blogger Dan Benbow
Crystal Blue Persuasion

“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art.  Every block is a short story, every hill a novel.  Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal.  That is the whole truth.”
American Dramatist/Author William Saroyan
August 31, 1908 - May 18, 1981

For years I imagined taking a daytime walk from the Embarcadero to the Pacific Ocean, both for the visceral experience and the bucket list feat of traversing San Francisco from one end to the other. On Tuesday, December 3, 2014, the elements finally conspired in my favor. 

The tour started in the viewing area of the San Francisco Ferry Building, a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay. 
From a glance I could see the back of the San Francisco Ferry Building, which was designed by American architect A. Page Brown, in the Beaux Arts style in 1892.  The entire length of the building on both frontages is based on an arched arcade.  Six years later, in 1898, the building had its opening and was the largest project undertaken in the city up to that time.

The Embarcadero Center Four, a separate building, is within one hundred yards behind the San Francisco Ferry Building.

The clock tower on top of the building is 245 feet tall with four clock dials, each 22 feet in diameter.  The clock tower can be seen from Market Street.  Brown designed the clock tower after the 12th  Century Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain.  During daylight, on every full and half-hour, the clock bell chimes portions of the Westminster Quarters.
I glanced at the waterfront sign that greets ferryboat arrivals, here in isolation, here in concert with the buildings in the background.

The next stop of my journey was the ice skating rink behind Embarcadero Center Four, a seasonal San Francisco treat surrounded by green tall palm trees and 60-degree weather, courtesy of the oyster of a sun.

I walked from the skating rink to the nearby cable car turnaround on California Street.  I couldn’t help but notice the soaring buildings of the Financial District.  It made me realize that no one is really alone even if we may feel like it sometimes. 

Soon my camera eye was drawn to this little boy in the cable car who gazed in wonderment at the skyscraper canyon.  I realized that wonderment is not only in the eye of the beholder but the focus of the beholder as well.

Working inland, I approached the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline, on Merchant Alley. 

The 843-feet high Transamerica Pyramid was commissioned by Transamerica CEO John (Jack) Beckett, who is believed to have commissioned the structure for the purpose of allowing light in the San Francisco streets.  

The Transamerica Pyramid was designed by architect William Pereira and built by the Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company.  Building began in 1960, and, upon its completion in 1972, it was the eighth tallest building in the world. 

       I passed a catwalk, similar to the kind San Francisco’s most famous police detective, Dirty Harry Callahan, was known to climb in pursuit of criminals.

My field of vision shifted from the contrast between the little brown buildings and an off-white tower into a concrete bank of off-white.  

       At the base of the Transamerica Building, is Glenna Goodacre’s ( famous sculpture Puddle Jumpers, depicting children, playing within the safe shadows of the Transamerica Building.  For a moment, the city become quiet as I observed their hands clasped together, their bodies in midair like birds, and their laughter almost became so real to me; but only for a moment.  

       Soon, the soundtrack of the city returned as I continued along Sacramento Street, climbing a precipitous incline to the block-sized plateau at the top of the hill, where a treasure trove of landmarks and views surround Huntington Park. From this vantage point, I glanced down at Taylor Street, which leads to the San Francisco Bay.

       As I took in the bay and its beauty I thought of the famous saying by New York City mayor (1935-1945) Fiorello Enrico la Guardia:  “God took the beauty of the Bay of Naples, the Valley of the Nile, the Swiss Alps, the Hudson River Valley, rolled them into one and made San Francisco Bay.”

       A stone’s throw away, I walked the steps of the Grace Cathedral, which is famous for its mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen, two labyrinths, stained glass windows, and its 44-bell carillon. 

       Grace Cathedral has also been the backdrop in American pop culture:  photographer Ansel Adams produced a series of paintings of the uncompleted Grace Cathedral in 1935; the legendary Duke Ellington performed his televised Concert of Sacred Music on September 28, 1965; and it is the place where Alfred Hitchcock filmed an abduction scene from his final film Family Plot.  

Next, I walked by the entrance of the world-class Mark Hopkins Hotel, which rests on the southeastern peak of Nob Hill. 

The site was originally purchased by Central Pacific Railroad co-founder Mark Hopkins, who built a mansion for his wife Mary.  The mansion was not completed until 1878, after his death.  Mary Sherwood Hopkins willed the mansion to her second husband Edward Francis Searles upon her death in 1891.  

Two years later, Searles donated the property to the San Francisco Art Institute, only to have the estate destroyed in the 1906 three-day fire that followed the famous San Francisco earthquake. 

Mining engineer and hotel investor George D Smith purchased the Nob Hill site and constructed the Mark Hopkins Hotel, which had its opening day on December 4, 1926.

From the Mark Hopkins Hotel, I hoofed it down this Mason Street sidewalk, crossed Mason and Bush and walked into the Tenderloin, a rough neighborhood given to fits of beauty like this mural (at Eddy and Taylor) by artists Darryl Mar and Darren Acora which reflects the magical diversity of San Francisco and makes me feel hopeful about the multicultural tapestry of America's future.

       I continued along Eddy until I reached Boeddeker Park, a diamond in the rough.  From Boeddeker Park, I took a left through this charming crosswalk at the intersection of Leavenworth Street and Golden Gate Street.  Several blocks down Leavenworth, I observed the mural “The Gifts You Take Are Equal to the Gifts You Make” by Catalina Gonzalez and Marta Ayala.

       A mile west, I stopped at Alamo Square, a popular tourist destination, and observed San Francisco’s famous  “Painted Ladies."  

       I got a closer look of “The Painted Ladies” from the intersection of Grove and Steiner Streets.  The Victorian at 716 Steiner Street was bathed in sunlight. 

       A few yards away is 712 Steiner, with its simple, elegant front porch and exquisite window frames.  

       I reversed the typical perspective as I sat on 712 Steiner Road’s front porch and viewed two of countless thousands who have captured snapshots of the Victorian sisters from the hill across the way.

       After leaving Alamo Square, I encountered this sidewalk stencil from street artist Éclair Bandersnatch, and a door mural at Scott And Fell.

       Soon, I found myself in the Panhandle, on a winding trail which cut through abundant green space crisscrossed with lengthening mid-afternoon shadows.

       The Panhandle took me to Golden Gate Park where I entered Hippie Hill from the back and breathed in the glorious expanse at the ridge.

       I continued west to the de Laveage Dell in eastern Golden State Park into the Aids Memorial Grove, which was envisioned by Isabel Wade and Nancy McNally in 1988.  In December of 1994 the first official observance of World Aids Day took place at Aids Memorial Grove.

       I explored the tunnels of the Academy of Sciences, which has its first origins as far back as 1853.  The Academy of Sciences building covers 400,000 square feet and continues to carry out original research with exhibits and education.

        I passed Rainbow Falls off of John F Kennedy Drive.  The waterfall was dedicated in 1930, and during its dedication, was illuminated by nature’s rainbow of lights – thus the name Rainbow Falls.  The Rainbow Falls’ water is supplied and circulated by nearby Lloyd Lake.

       Lloyd Lake is the home to a wide variety of non-native and non-migratory birds:  geese, Pekin ducks, Muscovy ducks, Campbell ducks, mallards, gulls, and pigeons.

       There is an urban legend that luminous, small, floating ghostly figures and globes are also inhabitants of Lloyd Lake.  Early 20th Century Spiritualists warned visitors that Lloyd Lake is “a place that opens the receptive soul to dangerous influences.  It should not be visited carelessly.”

       Next up was the Spreckels Lake Model Yacht Facility, known as Spreckels Lake, an artificial reservoir with an adjoining clubhouse.  Spreckels Lake, completed in March of 1904, was built for the use of model boaters of all ages; it is also home to seagulls, including the one pictured here, who stood in perfect repose while a nearby duck paddled through the water, leaving a “V” in its wake.

       Sunset neared as I closed on the Pacific Ocean, trying to keep up with the trails of sunlight which refracted through tree cover, moving west just ahead of me, reminding me of San Francisco socialite/author Patricia Montandon’s saying:  San Francisco is poetry.  Even the hills rhyme.”

       Thus it seems fitting to end this photo essay with lines of poetry:

       The Pacific was, as ever, grand. 
The big ball in the sky hovered,
Its death glow growing brighter,
Casting orange as it dropped
Low to the water
Going, going, going,

Photograph Description And Copyright Information

Photograph 2
William Saroyan
Library of Congress – Public Domain

Photograph 5
A Page Brown
Public Domain

Photograph 12
John (Jack) Beckett
Public Domain

Photograph 13
William Pereira
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photograph 16
Dirty Harry Movie Poster
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photograph 19
Glenda Goodacre
Facebook Page Photo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photograph 22
Fiorello Enrico la Guardia speaks over WNYC on Grad A Milk from budget room.
March 23, 1940
Attributed to Fred Palumbo
Public Domain

Photograph 25
Jan Henryk De Rosen
Public Domain

Photograph 26
Ansel Adams
Attributed to J Malcolm Greary
Public Domain

Photograph 27
Duke Ellington
Publicity Photograph
Public Domain

Photograph 28
CD cover of Concert of Sacred Music
September 28, 1965
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photograph 29
Family Plot Movie Poster
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photograph 30
James Smith Bush
Public Domain

Photograph 32
Mark Hopkins
Attributed to IW Taber
Public Domain

Photograph 33
Edward Francis Searles
Public Domain

Photograph 34
Looking Down Sacramento St., 1906. [verso:] "San Francisco: April 18, 1906." From As I Remember by local photographer Arnold Genthe:  This photograph shows "the results of the earth quake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people." It was taken the morning of the first day of the fire. Shows Sacramento St. at Miles Place (now Miller Place) near Powell St.
Public Domain

Photograph 35
Top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel
Cocktail Lounge

Photograph 64
Lloyd Lake with ice
Attributed to AL811 from Twitter

Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Lake

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