Coit Tower and Its Murals

Workers of the WorldHere is a small detail from the great murals of Coit Tower, San Francisco.  A tribute to the firemen of the city, and designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle, or other things more phallic if one prefers, the tower would be merely a tourist attraction were it not for the murals.  Created during the Great Depression by a group of local artisits who were, for the most part, friends or students of Diego Rivera, the murals capture the harshness and diversity of American life in stunning panoramas of great proportion.

The first two images below contrast the news of the day with the information that makes fortunes, and the well-heeled who absorb it. The news isn’t happy making but the library provides little joy either, it seems.

The third below, of a family panning for gold, washing clothes and of the daughter(?) sawing an enormous log, probably for cooking, contrasts this sample salt of the earth group with the leisure bound family of gawkers above them who stand near their car taking in the “picturesque” scene, as some who stroll by the murals today still do.

Cars are less a means of transportation than a threat to human life for the masses, it seems and the fourth image–all these shots are but segments of quite large murals–captures the horror of an automobile accident and the carnage it causes.

To the right of it is a man on the dock. He sits looking off to the left, waiting, hoping, expecting? We can’t tell but the large ship behind him is clearly of less interest than something yet to be seen, and perhaps done, something that will transform this world of contrasts and contradictions, misery and privilege.  Like him, it seems we’re still waiting.

News, Dreary News in Hard Times
Boys and Their Books, away from the newspapers
Tale of Two FamiliesDeath Comes, as it must to allOn the Dock

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A New Stadium for the Golden State Warriors

A slightly modified version of this post appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the 9/4/2013 edition of the Bay Guardian.

Co-owner of the Golden State Warriors Peter Guber, wrote a best-selling book, Tell to Win.  In it he insists, rightly, that story trumps data every time.  The story of “Let’s give the Golden State Warriors a beautiful new home in San Francisco, right on the water front,” sold our city leaders.  But they forgot the facts: no parking, limited public transit, blocked views of the bay, and a loss of proportionality along this priceless stretch of shore.

Let’s try another story line: “Elevate before you celebrate.  Don’t crowd the sea, nest the stadium in the air: put it right above the CalTrans station, just as Madison Square Garden perches above Penn Station in New York. Presto: available parking and unused rail yard space just a block to the south for more; the 280 freeway empties onto surface streets just a few blocks away, BART and Muni have stations within easy walking distance, and CalTrans riders can easily pop upstairs to see a game; sightlines to the bay remain possible, and proximity to AT&T park creates the potential for an extraordinary sports mecca.  The stadium will rise several stories into the air but above that there’s an opportunity to build offices, condominiums and a hotel/restaurant complex that would form the perfect complement.

The exiting story ihas serious flaws in it but the enthusiasm to bring the Warriors to the city made them seem inconsequential, at first. They are hardly that.  Once we’ve heard the story, the facts slowly creep back into view and give very serious pause. Let’s welcome the Warriors by all  means but do we want a Titanic on the waterfront when we can have an eagle in the air? I hope Mr. Guber and his partners bring their pogo sticks with them and take a good look at what awaits them as the ideal b-ball site.

Rebels with a Cause or How to Create the World’s Most Amazing Green Belt

Cities sprawl and drag their inhabitants into the ticky tacky world of suburbia.  The core decays and banality ensues. Then prices draw the young and restless back to the core and a new cycle of gentrification begins.  A familiar tale but not the one told by this astounding film. Rebels is about the creation of vast stretches of preserved shoreline, meadows, fields, and hills in the land to the north of San Francisco, Marin County, and around the perimeter of San Francisco itself.  Many now come to the city and marvel at the splendor of the Presidio and Crissy Field with its spectacular views of the bay and the Golden Gate bridge from ground level.  They come and revel in the beauty of Mt. Tamalpais to the north and the vast stretches of farms and untouched lands surrounding Tamales Bay.  Few realize that this was not the result of enlightened politicians acting to serve the common good but of an intrepid band of ordinary citizens who, over more than 20 years, fought corporations, developers and politicians to save what would have otherwise turned into vast stretches of houses, hotels, conference centers and shopping malls.

Nancy Kelly’s film lets the surviving rebels tell their own story but accompanies it with a treasure trove of archival footage, including Richard Nixon being convinced that there’s more political gain in backing conservation than opposing it.  One of the biggest battles was with ranchers near Tomales Bay who feared government regulation and meddling if their land were turned into a park, not the mention the loss of a way of life.  They favored development that would at least let them cash out at a handsome price.  But a brilliant maneuver saved the day: incorporate the ranches into the area to be preserved but allow the ranchers to continue to use the land for agricultural purposes.  By also forestalling the rise of concessions and hotels, attractions and stores at the periphery of the preserved land, the rebels were able to maintain the fundamentally rural quality of the area and allow farmer, ranchers and visitors to coexist successfully.

A second major challenge was a proposal for the huge city of Marincello, right in the thick of Marin County and just north of the Golden Gate Bridge where breath taking hills and valleys great the modern visitor.  Such a development carried such an aura of inevitiablity in the pro-growth, pro-development oriented 1960s that the corporate giant Gulf + Western bought a major stake in the project. The rebels went to work, arousing wide spread support from the residents of Marin and from key politicians.  After several years G + W threw in the towel and offered to sell the land to the nature conservancy that had been formed for just that sort of purpose.  A similar tale unfolded in the city where citizen leaders fought to establish a string of parks from beaches and former forts along miles of ocean and bay frontage.  With great political support from key figures, they succeeded.

Rebels with a Cause offers a great model of citizen activism.  These rebels clearly relied on vital political allies who took serious risks to back a movement that opposed growth, new businesses and jobs, rural development, and heigthened economic prospertiy at a time when such notions were a virtual mantra for many.  Nancy Kelly captures this effort with clarity and passion.  It stands as a greta model for those who are now rebels in the making.