Get Me to Gilroy, Girl

St. Kathy's hand. A wonder to behold.
St. Kathy’s hand. A wonder to behold.

Kathy and Linda like to spend the holidays in Palm Springs. They drive down on Christmas Day because there’s no traffic.

Kathy recently had surgery, however, and it’s temporarily immobilized her left hand. She can’t drive for three more weeks. And you really do need two hands for the 5: one on the wheel and one to give the scumbag who just cut you off the finger.

Linda abhors long distance driving but was ready to soldier through to get the job done. That’s where I stepped in, who better to guide them through the Central Valley? The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh and all of that. Plus, I had a few things left to finish up in Palm Springs anyway.

The girls picked me up at 10:00 a.m. and Linda said she would get us out of the City and down the peninsula. Gilroy, where the drive transforms from urban to rural, is always a good first stop. Mainly for coffee.

But for some reason both Starbucks have recently closed in the Garlic City. We did the driver switch without caffeine. And held out hope the one would be open when we got to Buttonwillow.

I regaled them with my tales of the Barstow-Bakersfield Backdoor which everyone finds fascinating. I did have to interrupt the narrative periodically to let the girls know they were drooling, not just snoring.

Soon the manger-like lowing cattle and their very un-Wisemen-like perfume of methylphenol had us all wide awake. We whizzed by Harris Ranch. They have terrible coffee.

Compared to other travels we’ve taken, there was not much sightseeing today. In the past we have seen some of the major wonders of the world together: St. Stephens’s hand in Budapest; the Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree; driving through flash flood waters the level of the car door in Indianapolis; and the largest bull cojones on Hispaniola.

No touristy moments from this drive. Only the memories of a bittersweet year that saw my experiment in desert living neither succeed nor fail. But whose end result was a new San Francisco home.

That should qualify as a blessed event even though it will not have the mileage of a virgin birth.

Happy Christmas.

The I-5 salute
The I-5 salute


Vissi D’Arte at 55 Laguna

The original Woods Hall facade. Mosaic by Maxine Albro.
The original Woods Hall facade. Mosaic by Maxine Albro.

My apartment is part of a six acre complex of new housing that replaced the UCSF Extension.  Since the 1906 earthquake these two city blocks have been used solely by educational institutions. The original tenant was the San Francisco State Normal School. Normal doesn’t begin to describe today’s occupants.

When the Normal School became the State Teacher’s College, ambitious construction resulted in a hodgepodge of buildings. In the 1930’s, architects Bernard Maybeck and later, George B. McDougall, unified everything with the simplified Spanish Colonial Revival style for which the campus would be known over the next eight decades.

The last two buildings of that era were mine, Richardson Hall, and the one on the northwest corner directly opposite, Woods Hall. They added a moderne element to the Spanish style and are the only two buildings to survive excavation for the new complex.

The Sacred Palm. Why it's sacred and where it's at I'm not sure. Supposedly it was saved from the courtyard to be replanted.
The Sacred Palm. Why it’s sacred and where it’s at I’m not sure. Supposedly it was saved from the courtyard to be replanted.

Work on Woods Hall is just finishing up. Inside there is a WPA mural entitled “A Dissertation on Alchemy” by Reuben Kadish. It is not yet open to the public. And the arched formal entry on the Haight and Buchanan side was once a mosaic by Maxine Albro, a protégé of Diego Rivera.

The mosaic is said to interpret California life but all I see in the photos are wild animals and jungle. Still it’s an interesting piece and was made from marble left over from the 1915 Pan American World’s Fair. The facade was removed during the 1953-1955 remodel and replaced with stucco.

Richardson Hall was used for many years as the Kindergarten Training Building. To memorialize its mission, Hebe Daum Stackpole created a Children’s Mural. Stackpole also worked on the murals at Coit Tower.

The kindergarten work deteriorated badly over the years and was destroyed in the recent renovation. Reproductions of some of the mural’s figures are now hanging in the lobby.

Destroy the Children: this Stackpole mural was deemed too far gone to save.
Destroy the Children: this Stackpole mural was deemed too far gone to save.

Originally the newly habitable Richardson and Woods Halls were intended for senior gays and lesbians. In the eternity it took to get construction off the ground, however, it came to pass that you couldn’t discriminate based on sexuality. Either way.

My building seems to be predominantly gay though it is a mix. And the gays, the most organized of all the special interest populations, have already put out a newsletter highlighting sponsored activities in the public meeting rooms. Mostly discussions groups.

I’ve never been a fan of such groups. They tend to be dominated by oratorical bullies who are in love with their own voices. And who prey upon captive audiences to share that love.

One of my friends who’s aware of my group aversion was browsing the newsletter. He goaded me with suggestions: “Maybe you should join the gay writers group? How about queer spirituality? Crossdressing? ”

Sufficiently irritated I asked, “do they have a group for victims of elder abuse?”

“They do,” he replied in an authoritative tone, “but you are not allowed to attend.”

Lascaux West

Where there is depression era construction of public buildings in California inevitably you’ll find WPA murals. My new home seems to support that. Even if they’re not technically WPA they still evoke the style.

Walking down the hallway to my apartment one can almost feel the presence of the Joads. Get back in the truck Rosasharon!

The Shell

You gotta start somewhere, why not bare bones.
You gotta start somewhere, why not bare bones.

My new building has been around since the 1930s. This is the first time it’s been used for habitable space. It was designed to be a school with a parallel series of large rectangular classrooms separated by a wide hallway.

New construction ate in only at the corners, the central artery remains intact for the most part. To transform schoolrooms into studio, one, and two bedroom units, however, a lot of gerrymandering went on behind the old hall walls.

The carving-up has left some strange configurations. The largest part of my unit is the open dead space that connects the entry, kitchen, and living areas. I don’t know how you’d use it. Since we’re only a couple of rungs away from public housing I’m guessing not a lot was spent on design. Or construction.

The kitchen sink top was originally installed about 4″ lower than the other counters. Some obscure ADA requirement? If you didn’t have a disability before you moved in you would after a couple of weeks hunched over that thing. It’s been fixed.

And there’s the incongruous outlet in the faux kitchen cabinet drawer. Someday I’ll probably find the crack pipe of the worker who put that in.

The windows further complicated the floor plans. To maintain the building’s facade nothing was changed to the scheme, original placement was retained. Architects had to strain at times to include natural light in units, like from the corner of a room. With some of the wider windows walls now extend over the sills, flush to the sash bars,  then split the set between two rooms. Or units.

Despite that, the windows are spectacular. Worthy of Vermeer. In the living area they are seven feet high and nine feet wide. The large rectangle panes trimmed in Delft blue allow tons of morning light to flood in. And the sills are deep enough for planters of Coachellian Cacti. Along with the 10 foot ceilings, the windows are the apartment’s best feature.

The main challenge will be dealing with the odd entry/kitchen/living space. Like a hefty dose of Imodium, one can only hope to make the irregular regular.


Never To Roam Again, By God!

Please, no fuss.
Please, no fuss.

I have returned.

The lease has been signed, monies have been paid, I am once again officially domiciled in Bagdad by the Bay.

In some respects I’ve come full circle. In February, 1974, the first apartment I had with Daryl was two streets over at 14th and Guerrero. Still just B from the block.

Great seeing everyone again.
Great seeing everyone again.

The Safeway by the Mint is my local market once more. I used to visit it often with my booklets of food stamps. Someone told me they now consider themselves the equal of Whole Foods. As if. I intend to avoid it like the plague.

The Safeway by the Mint as seen on November 30, 2016. So close to Whole Foods yet so far.
The Safeway by the Mint as seen on November 30, 2016. So close to Whole Foods yet so far.

As work begins to establish an imprimatur on the new crib, all I can say is: one more time.

Judy knows how to handle these moments best…….