Candlestick Park – Now Just a Field of Dreams

At the very south end of San Francisco, at the eastern edge by the bay, along Highway 101 is Candlestick Point. At one time it was home to Candlestick Park, the massive concrete stadium where the San Francisco Giants played baseball and the San Francisco 49ers played football. It has surely been home to many events – monster truck shows, rock concerts, soccer matches. It was a large stadium made of concrete and a place best used to watch the 49ers play their gladiator sport. No soft chairs and few cozy luxury boxes. It was made like a parking garage and had that same lack of warmth.  You could get a seat high in the upper deck and watch the little ants down below. If you missed the amazing play, there was no instant replay – too bad.  You spilled your beer and missed the interception all at once. The accommodations and locker rooms for the players were surely not as they are today. Candlestick was a fitting place to see grown men push and shove each other around for an afternoon.

In the 1960s Willie Mays caught fly balls out in center field. By the 1990s you could get into the bleacher seats in left field for a few bucks, squint your eyes and see Will Clark nervously try to send a runner in from second. Of course, Candlestick is famously known for the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s when the Lomo Prieta earthquake hit and everyone thought for a second the world might end.

In the late fall the weather would often be that Indian summer time of year when the the temperature was at a human ideal, the wind light out of the east and the light would have that warm autumn glow. It was football weather. The 49ers played many classic games at Candlestick. Joe Montana connecting with Jerry Rice. John Taylor running back kickoffs. Steve Young running wild until the doctor said that it may be better just to throw the ball to keep all the marbles upstairs intact. Then there were games in the winter storms when the field would be wet.  The storm coming in from Alaska and a high tide would make the field like a pig slop.

When you landed at San Francisco International Airport and caught a cab into town, you would often drive up 101 past Candlestick and see the stadium there poetically on the point. True to its moniker, at night it would often be lit up. It seemed a bit timeless, like the Parthenon, and you innocently thought that it would somehow always be there watching over the bay. For a time the name would be bought out. The speaker cable company, Monster Cable, purchased the naming rights and called it Monster Park, not realizing that people assumed it was for the job website.  Other large companies, usually in the telecommunications industries, would then take over the naming rights. No one remembers their names now.  People in San Francisco would always just  call it Candlestick.

Which brings me to Candlestick Park. The stadium was torn down many years ago. One day it was there and the next it is gone. Phfff! All that concrete surely broken up and hauled away to be recycled one truckload at a time.  Now when you get off the plane and drive north along the bay, you have to explain to your friend that once a large stadium loomed there. Remember that hill that you would see from the blimp.  That’s the same lonely hill.  Where the stadium was is now fenced in. It is mostly grassy fields and when it rains ducks and redwing black birds hangout in the ponds that once was around the fifty yard line. It is quiet save for the never ending hum of Interstate 101 a half mile away.

The 49ers left Candlestick years ago and now play down in Santa Clara. The South Bay and all the tech money bought them out. On Saturday, January 20, 2024 they will play the Green Bay Packers in a classic playoff match up. Two young quarterbacks will duel it out and try as best they can to not make mistakes. They will push and shove, run, pass, block and kick. People will go into the blue medical tent to see if their marbles are still round. There is rain in the forecast so the field may be a bit wet. No one will care how high the tide will be at game time. All that matters now is which team scores the most points and maybe who gets the ball last.

California College of the Arts November 2022 Ground Breaking Ceremony

On November 15th, 2022 California College of the Arts will hold a ground breaking ceremony for the San Francisco campus expansion over an Ohlone shellmound (named “Project Double Ground”) During legally required archaeological testing on the backlot of the SF campus, CCA discovered fragments of shells, bones and tools located 40 feet below the surface in the bore samples. The samples identify Ohlone activity before the Bay Area was violently colonized dating back more than 7,500 years.
Hold CCA accountable for building over an Ohlone shellmound (change.org)

A few days a week I work programming websites on Irwin Street across from the California College of the Arts. It is a jovial office of designers who produce very good work. Across from the office, on November 15, 2022, CCA held a ground breaking ceremony for a new campus extension, but this was all simply pomp and circumstance as they have been digging, flattening and scraping the ground for many months on  land that last year was a parking lot.  You see large equipment that looks like pile drivers (not looking forward to when that gets started) and the area has been flattened and groomed for construction. We all looked out from the second story windows for a few minutes to take in the special event. It was a bright crisp autumn day.

Map of San Francisco California 1853 - wikimedia.org. From this Map it appears that Irwin Street was under water.
Map of San Francisco California 1853 – wikimedia.org. From this Map it appears that Irwin Street was under water.

What Really Went Down

Irwin Street, like Wisconsin Street nearby is often a place were the unhoused put up tents and hunker down surrounded always by a strange assortment of personal belongings. A week before the ground breaking ceremony, about a dozen police officers and social workers who do homelessness outreach started clearing out the tents and unhoused folks. It was a major operation complete with bobtail trucks to haul away the stuff. Word had it that they were taking them to a hotel – hot showers and some fresh clothes, a fresh start to life perhaps.  I do hope that they find their legs, as it must be a drag to camp night after night on the sordid streets at the base of Potrero Hill..

The following week on November 15th, 2022, Irwin Street, outside the California College of the Arts, was once again closed off. This time there were white canopy style event tents and various tables, chairs organized in rows, a lectern and about a half dozen people milling around. It all began to make sense. You cannot have a ground breaking ceremony next to a homeless encampment – it is just not a good look. The largest canopy faced the new campus extension and there was a lectern. It looked like a set up for a wedding or maybe some sort of graduation ceremony.  Caterers were nowhere to be found. Food would not be part of this celebration. The sidewalk where the homeless were was all clear and  smelled of bleach.

In the middle of the day, about a hundred people gathered. From our second floor window, we heard speeches which we could not make out.  On the periphery there were protesters holding professionally printed signs that said “SHELL MOUND.” They stood and listened and were entirely peaceful. A few round of applauses, more speeches  and then a multi-racial and multi-gendered New Orleans style second-line style brass band came marching out of the main CCA building playing a joyous tune. They marched around the crowd and played for about five minutes then returned to the main California College of the Arts building from whence they came.  It was all a bit surreal and felt a bit odd. Mercenary horn players are always easy hires for well-paid five minute gigs. The band was indeed very good.

Then you had applauses and the whole thing was over, people mingled for a bit and then the staff started taking down the canopy tents and packing away the chairs.

ORDER OF EVENTS

(For those wanting to do a ground-breaking ceremony on native grounds in San Francisco)

STEP 1:  Clear out the homeless encampments the week before.

STEP 2: On the day of the ceremony set up tents and chairs.

STEP 3: Give speeches and thank people. (Not sure what they said about the history of the spot)

STEP 4: Hire a New Orleans style second-line style brass band to make everyone feel better about the whole shebang.  Have the band march around to spread the joy.

Who are the Ohlone?
Ohlone is a collective of around 50 separate tribes with related languages that were collectively placed under the umbrella term: Ohlone. The Ohlone are Native American people located in the Northern California Coast, tribes inhabited areas from the coast of San Francisco through Monterey Bay to lower Salinas Valley. The Ohlone family of tribes have been living in the Bay Area for 10,000 years

CLOSING THOUGHTS

San Francisco map composite. 1856 -2022
San Francisco map composite. 1853 -2022
San Francisco map composite. 1856 -2022 - Close Up Mission Bay
San Francisco map composite. 1853 -2022 – Close Up Mission Bay

San Francisco is Ohlone land and over the last 300 years has been completely transformed.  It would be amazing to go back in time 300 years and stand at what now is Irwin and 7th Street and just look around. You probably would need a canoe. According to a map from 1853, Mission Creek flowed into the San Francisco Bay (see map above) and the area was probably wetlands and underwater. Humans have completely changed the geography of San Francisco, filling in the bay, making more space for development. This has been going on for hundreds of years. It is Western Civilization’s obsession with conquering, not living in harmony with nature. We see this same ethos today with notion that we must “fight climate change.” Sunrise on Mission Bay must have been a sight with certainly a lot of wildlife and from early accounts huge flocks of birds.

Where the California College of the Arts new extension building is being built is along 7th Street and towering above is Interstate 280. If the Ohlone time-traveled to today, and attended the ceremony they probably would not recognize anything and many would probably be perplexed and perhaps terrified of the brass band.  However, that the area in question, the Shell Mound is now the place for an Art School is probably a good thing. It could have been turned into unsold luxury condos, an IKEA or perhaps a headquarters for some tech company with the latest get-rich scheme.  Maybe one day the California College of the Arts will make a plaque to acknowledge the Ohlone and their history.  Perhaps, a student looking for meaning to their art will stumble upon the Ohlone basket tradition and incorporate the designs and ideas into their work. But one thing is always true. When you are feeling down and out, and perhaps need to smooth over a tricky political situation, or simply want to feel good about something – anything, simply hire a second line brass band.  They even do funerals.

EDITED 11/22/2022 – Added images and updated some text for clarity. Fixed typos. Map composite an approximation.

Remembering Robert Altman 1946-2021

Robert Altman, known mostly for his years photographing musicians and counter-culture icons in the late 1960s and early 70s has passed.  He was a staff photographer for Rolling Stone for a bit. I read his obit recently and and was saddened to hear of his passing.

In the late 1990s I took a class that was taught by Robert Altman at San Francisco State College of Extended Learning on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. It was a basic HTML class for this new thing called the World Wide Web and in order to get on board the first thing you had to know was HTML. People made websites mostly one page at a time. Robert Altman was the teacher, and probably the only reason he knew anything about this stuff was that he had built a website to sell prints of his photographs. This was the early days of the internet, when for a brief time the idealism of the 1960s took hold in this new digital era. Perhaps the playing field would level out and artists, writers, photographers and musicians could sell their work directly, cut out the middle-men, control their work and get paid their fair share.

Of course, in many ways this was one big pipe dream as over time the internet became more corporate and the monopolies of our day began to dominate the system, control the politics and narratives and literally write all the rule books. And as Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented about sexism “I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” the same can be said of the stranglehold on smaller players by the big tech monopiles today.

Back when I was taking this HTML class with Robert Altman he was in his mid-fifties and always had his reading glasses at the ready, perched on the top of his head. He was passionate and generous. He dove right into the more advanced aspects of HTML at the time. We started learning tables, rowspans and colspans on day one. This is back in the day when all websites were made with tables and single pixel gifs to lock designs into place. If someone would have spoke of responsive design then you would have gotten a blank stare. People still made phone calls with payphones and your answering machine was perhaps the most important tool for any freelancer. Robert was this middle-age guy – vibrant, fearless, creative and giving. He was like – “look, if I can learn this coding stuff, anyone can do it!” So we all looked on at this new markup language, most everyone there because it was the unavoidable future and eventually it would lead to a decent job and some sort of economic stability.

Now when people are choosing a career in programming, there is this idea that if you do not start young it is not worth the effort. The notion of the child genius creating something miraculous in the digital world is a common theme.  The college dropout who creates an app that disrupts entire industries. If you are in your late twenties, it is too late. However this is silly.

Robert Altman, putting borders on all his tables, creating something beautiful out of nothing is evidence that anything is possible.

Read the San Francisco Chronicle Robert Altman Obituary

 

Bernal Heights Library – Yesterday and Today

Bernal Heights - 1940
Dedication of the WPA built Bernal Heights Library, October 20, 1940
Bernal Heights Library, Cortland Street, May 12, 2021
Bernal Heights Library, Cortland Ave., May 12, 2021

The Story of Two Photos

The photos above are looking west down Cortland Avenue in San Francisco. The top one is from the parade for the opening of the Bernal Heights Library. It is October 20, 1940 and is like traveling in a time machine. Who are these people? What is that band and what did it sound like? Who is the woman in front, seemingly running the show? Why do the cops don’t have guns and look like they actually know people? Why is everyone in the crowd white? So many unanswered questions.

Bernal Heights is one of those neighborhoods that resembles a small village. Many of the homes were built soon after the 1906 earthquake with lumber scraps from down at the shipyards. Cortland Ave is similar to a main street in small town America with all the shopping essentials available in walking distance. It is still quaint in this way however has changed a lot in the last twenty years as it has been gentrified, often beyond recognition.  Needless to day, there are a lot of fine dining options.

However, the Bernal Heights Branch Library is still standing. It has changed over the years, but it does not seem to be going anywhere. The inspiration for this post is from an awesome website that I stumbled upon –  https://livingnewdeal.org/. It is a website or wiki of all the projects that were created from the New Deal. The list is long and the buildings and projects are impressive. Americans, to this day, can appreciate and benefit in many ways from all these projects. It is truly amazing what was accomplished  in such a short period of time considering the circumstances. All these awesome libraries made of stone, with east facing windows to catch the morning light. What a great place to read!

While my grandfather on my mother’s side, the hard driving businessman, admonished the WPA, and called it “we poke along” thinking that the whole project was a waste of taxpayer money, nothing could be further from the truth.  He may have been perturbed that program funded those “lazy artists” and other creative people.  Interesting, that that while the Buicks and Cadillacs that he financed are all in  rusty graves, the WPA projects are probably mostly standing. The incredible murals by Diego Rivera and other artists are sprinkled all over San Francisco.

The Bernal Heights Library has had a history of murals. When we lived there in the 1990s the mural was by Precita Eyes and was explicitly political. There was a homage to the Native People and the great Chilean activist and musician Victor Jara was there singing a protest song with his guitar.  In the last ten years, the mural was redone and like the neighborhood was toned down with a  much more generic and oblique looking approach.  Fortunately, there is a display in front of the former mural for historical purposes I guess. The Bernal Library was built according to the times of what I library should be.  Later, like all buildings, it was made ADA compliant and a ramp was put in. To improve upon it I can see not too many upgrades except for the fact that as with all the libraries they forgot that pigeons love all those little nooks. The usual metal pointy deterrents where installed. But pigeons always get their way until they get hit by a car.

When Joe Biden says “Build Back Better” you have to really wonder how that is going to all work out. Is he imagining the creative projects of the 1930s? Is he talking about putting artists and other creatives on salaries? Or he mostly talking about pouring money into large construction companies and corporations with a lot of overcharges. Time will tell. The concept of building an infrastructure for renewable energy could be the lasting and most profound achievement. Time will tell. It could take a parade down Cortland with a strong woman in front and lots of drums in the rear to get the ball rolling.