Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Samuels Clock

856 Market Street

Heaven only knows how many times I’ve walked down Market Street and hurried by this clock without really seeing it! It makes me wonder what else I might be missing along the way – too distracted to notice a beautiful treasure in my own city! And yes, I do see the irony of me missing the Samuels Clock all because I scurried too fast along Market Street trying to “beat the clock!”

Well, one glorious April day, this clock finally had enough of my inattention and said, “Hey, look at me, OK!” When the gold and stunning blue edifice came into my view, I felt as if I’d been transported into another city. Of course, I stopped and took pictures. The entirety of the clock is beautiful and intricate - with a rectangular base featuring two little windows on either side, which show the inner workings of the timepiece. I was mesmerized ~ and soon traipsing off to do a little research.

It turns out, the clock was designed by Albert S. Samuels of Karlsburg Austria, who grew up in San Francisco and attended school right down the street from where the clock now stands. As a young man, Samuels worked as an apprentice to a watchmaker and soon became a jeweler and watchmaker in his own right, opening a business on Market Street very near this location.

By the time the 1906 earthquake hit, Albert Samuels was already an established businessman. He and his business obviously survived the quake, and Samuels himself probably helped to rebuild from the rubble of the city. In the process, Samuels designed a clock and commissioned the building of it to Joseph Mayer, an engineer and clockmaker in Seattle. The Art Deco-meets-Autstrian-craftsmanship clock was installed in front of A. S. Samuels & Co. in 1915, the same year of the Pan Pacific Exposition, which was a world-renown celebration of the city having completely recovered from the devastation of the earthquake and fire.

Therefore, a lot of pride went into this gem of a clock. Many Mayer street-clocks exist all across America, but it has been noted that the Samuels clock is one of the most beautiful. On a bronze plaque you can read the dedication to the public of San Francisco.

The clock was given landmark status in December of 1975, {SF landmark #77}, and the entire work of art is insured by Lloyds of London.

One More Tidbit: Novelist, Dashiell Hammett worked for Samuels a short time as copywriter for the store and used pictures of the clock in his ads. Also, the clock played a small role in at least one of Hammett’s stories.

So, with a mystery writer connection to add to its fascination, this is definitely my kind of clock!

{photos taken with my BlackBerry}

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Janis Joplin's City Migrations


North Beach Nesting Instincts

Most people who have an inkling of Janis Joplin associate her with the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, the throwback hippie-colony of the 1960s. And it is true, the misfit girl from Port Arthur, Texas, who would become rock and roll’s iconic queen did live in the Haight-Ashbury during the greatest few years of the counter-culture era. But when Janis Joplin arrived in San Francisco in the early 60s, she first alighted in North Beach, the Italian district of quiet streets and salty air wafting up from the Wharf, bustling Italian restaurants and cafes, lofty church spires and such famous Beatnik writers of the previous decade as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

I spotted this poster in the window of a vintage shop along a very quiet street in North Beach. Joplin’s energy seemed to reach across the decades, into the 21st century and through the paned glass straight to me. I suddenly had a feeling of what it must have been like during the Summer Of Love in San Francisco, when people were focused on different things than they are now. When folks were happy just hanging out in the park, reading poetry and listening to all of the new music which would become classic.

That particular “flower-child” energy still drifts here and there in the city. Wisps of it can sometimes be felt on a warm, sunny day in the park, when everyone is lying around taking a break from the hectic world and just being mellow.

Recently, I did a more in-depth search of Janis Joplin and started listening to her music, watching documentaries and viewing concerts… and what a woman! All of her songs truly stand up to the best in pop music today. Her influence continues to reverberate through the decades, as Florence and the Machine will attest:

"I learnt about Janis from an anthology of female blues singers. Janis was a fascinating character who bridged the gap between psychedelic blues and soul scenes. She was so vulnerable, self-conscious and full of suffering. She tore herself apart, yet on stage she was totally different. She was so unrestrained, so free, so raw and she wasn't afraid to wail... I think she really sums up the idea that soul is about putting your pain into something beautiful."

~ Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine

from Why Music Matters

Joplin did not even really need a band, in my opinion – her voice and her energy were that powerful. To read about her incredible yet tragic life or watch a documentary about her music is to experience what she gave to our culture. Her amazing spirit was so exuberant – and even now breaks all of the usual boundaries of space, time and sound.

She was more than a hipster… She was a hippie, a rock and roll goddess, and certainly the first female singer/song-writer of her kind… but I think now she is an angel of light-years.

This is a much later poster for The Grateful Dead, but Joplin did tour with the Dead and other bands in the summer of 1970 for a Canadian rock festival.

In 1969 Joplin toured Frankfurt and London, playing the Royal Albert Hall, which is said to be one of her very best performances. Conversely, at some point, the English band Cream performed in San Francisco. Evidently you could see the band for $3.50.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Unique Place To Stay In San Francisco

The San Remo Hotel

I love the entryway of The San Remo Hotel; it has an inviting, homey charm that tells the world, you will be nice and comfy staying here. The hotel is tucked away in a quiet, little section on Mason Street in one of my favorite neighborhoods, North Beach, just a few blocks from Washington Square Park and within sight of historic, Coit Tower

The neighborly exterior, of white trimmed windows and brass sconces, opens onto an interior of European charm-meets-San Francisco Victorian. It is quaint but also worldly as the hotel attracts quite the European following! A narrow staircase leads up to the open area of the main lobby floor where a friendly desk-staff greet you. All of the staff is required to speak at least one European language; hence, a multitude of accents sprinkle the hallways, enlivening the place with a certain flair.

The d├ęcor creates a relaxing ambiance with its polished brass, floral motifs and flouncing fabrics of the Victorian style, alongside 1960’s San Francisco, music memorabilia. The bathrooms, which can be found down these Alice in Wonderland-type hallways, are European bed and breakfast-style and feature things like vintage bathtubs and light fixtures and a pull-chain for the toilets, a novelty for adults and children alike!

I love that the hotel is so close to everything, including a Fior d’Italia restaurant right next door at street level. It is always a treat for my family and friends when they check-in at the San Remo. I would definitely recommend the hotel to anyone who wants to stay at an out-of-the-way yet convenient place with lots of charm. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The City of Paris in San Francisco

the rotunda of a season

In those surreal days between Christmas and New Year's, this season, when everyone rushed back to Union Square to return Christmas gifts or find what they really wanted with their new gift-cards - I walked through revolving, glass doors to gaze upon this magnificent tree, and imagined what the famous rotunda was like over one hundred years, or even forty years, ago. 
Today the City of Paris is Neiman Marcus and still graces the corner of Geary and Stockton streets. Much of the merchandise has changed from the old City of Paris days, but the gorgeous, Louis XVI, circular, dome roof, above the fourth level, was preserved when the original building was remodeled in the 1970s so that a forty foot Christmas tree still welcomes shoppers at the door every Christmas. 

Some people, my mom for one, remember when the aisles in the old City of Paris were filled with goods freshly shipped from France: high quality silks and wool, chic coats and hats, beautiful scarves, shawls and lingerie along with enchanting scents like lavender and rose petal wafting through the quaint departments, which were reminiscent of the charm of Paris markets - complete with festive awnings and flowers.

One aisle was called Normandy Lane where meats roasted on a rotisserie and breads and pastries were baked fresh - sending out a delicious aroma up through the open floors along with the lilting, French romance music of old Montmartre ~ I imagine some seductive, French singer accompanied by an accordion and perhaps a fiddle.
Back then, the City of Paris extended all the way down to O'Farrell Street where, as a child, my mom would browse through children's books and magazines to her heart's content, while my grandmother shopped. I can just imagine the cafe atmosphere and music and the bustle of the 50s and 60s shopping era, when more street cars and cable cars limned through the city streets, women wore hats and gloves and things were a bit more affordable. Although, my sense is that the City of Paris always attracted an exclusive clientele.

Neiman Marcus cosmetics counter today.

Founded in California's Gold Rush days, Felix Verdier, of Paris, started his business on a chartered brig out in the middle of the San Francisco Bay in 1850. He hoisted a flag and the family crest and called his establishment,Ville de Paris. Sailors would paddle out from the docks to buy perfumes and lingerie for their wives and girlfriends. The demand for French sundries was so high that Verdier was soon sending a ship back to France for more goods.
The City of Paris saw several retail spots in San Francisco, mainly in the downtown shopping district, and finally, in 1907, the Verdier family set up shop at Geary and Stockton streets in Union Square.

When you compare the architecture of the two buildings: the old City of Paris vs. today's Nieman Marcus, you can see that there were more windows all around in the old building, providing plenty of light to stream in and light up the aisles.

In the name of progress, a similar thing happened in 2003 when the magical toy store, FAO Schwarz at Stockton and O'Farrell, gave up the ghost, along with its central-escalator, to the likes of Barney's - a transformation that broke my little heart! I'm glad that Neiman Marcus at least left the open dome for the annual Christmas tree!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

San Francisco Noir

A Transformation Film - Dark Passage

As classic movies go, I never quite appreciated Humphrey Bogart as much as the rest of the world seemed to until I saw Casablanca, the quintessential Noir with a political–worldly flair. In Casablanca,(1942), Bogart is cool, aloof, even a bit sexy. Ingrid Bergman, with her beautiful, lisping Swedish accent, melts my heart, while Director, Michael Curtiz, allowed for the soft close-ups and cheeky one-liners that make Casablanca a great, classic movie.

Dark Passage, however, is in many ways a moodier flavor of Noir. Set primarily in San Francisco, with sweeping views of Marin, the Golden Gate Bridge and familiar streets in Telegraph Hill and along Market Street. Much of the landscape and street scenery are recognizable, even though it is 1947. Bogart portrays Vincent Parry, an escaped convict who was wrongly accused of murdering his wife. In this role, Bogart depicts a man who is acutely vulnerable, shedding his hard edges as he sheds his prison attire.

Initially, the film is seen from Parry’s point-of-view. He is behind the camera through the first stages of his escape – a technique that feels awkward at first, but begins to blend with the black & white film-tones and gangster accents of the characters with whom Parry grapples and befriends. His first friend, of course, being Lauren Bacall as Irene Jansen, the San Francisco sophisticate who, like a beautiful, lone wolf, has mysteriously followed Parry’s plight from the beginning of his trial. Irene is tough yet tender, and, befittingly, she lives in a chic, Art Deco apartment-building in Telegraph Hill.

Scenes and dialog between Bogart and Bacall feel smoothly effortless: The two stars were actually newlyweds, having fallen in love on the set of To Have and Have Not,(1944). As Dark Passage evolves, the film-icons strike poses and pirouette through oblique Noir shadows-and-light and into each other’s arms, Bacall with her come-hither sparkle and Bogart with his rough urbanity. Full of possibility, their romance reaches a crisis-point when Irene un-wraps Parry’s bandages: tensions heighten here on deep cello notes and quivering strings, orchestrated by musical director, Franz Waxman. Indeed, when it comes to tension and arm-gripping moments, Dark Passage is surprisingly scary.

All of the classic directors have surely seen Dark Passage; it had to be Hitchcock’s inspiration for Vertigo, also set in San Francisco,(1958), wherein the British director utilized some of the same streets and neighborhoods as well as surreal dream sequences. Conversely, a renowned Hitchcockean theme: The wrongly accused man, who is hunted down and subsequently must discover the real murderer himself, is a theme developed with plenty of intrigue in Dark Passage.  So, perhaps the directors borrowed from each other. Certainly, Woody Allen gleaned ideas from dialog and characters, like the quirky cab driver and wizened, puckish-eyed surgeon.  

As a San Franciscan, I am captivated by the undeveloped city of another era. When watching this film at home, I particularly love hearing fog horns as they are softly blaring from both the T.V. and from outside my window.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cityscape I

Sydney Walton Square Park

"Fountain of Four Seasons" 
by German sculptor, Francois Stahly 

For a meditative walk or a place to take my lunch, this park is an oasis on the eastern edge of the Financial District. Quiet but usually scattered with other people who work in the Jackson Square area, the park is a refuge of rolling grass - and trees that bloom in the spring. 

This Stahly sculpture does not appear to be a water fountain at first glance, but each pillar is flowing with trickling water that runs down into a brick-lined pool, evoking a mossy woodland pond. From this angle, you can see an artful alignment with the top of the Transamerica pyramid. The Stahly fountain is one of several hidden works of art in the park.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Giant Sweep

Savor the memories!

I'll be watching this over and over again to prolong the baseball season - and the Angel-Pagan-happiness. Pagan even stops for that brief moment of gratitude to heaven, and I got that gleam of joy in his eye as he kneels down in the outfield ~ hope this lasts me until spring training!

It was a great season, 2012, and the Giants were not predicted to make it to the World Series, let alone SWEEP the Tigers! What a celebration ensued ~ it was felt all over the City.


Congratulations, San Francisco Giants!!