Heart of the City Archives

Mister SF Hank Donat with [former Vice] President Al Gore at the swearing-in of Michela Alioto-Pier as District 2 Supervisor at San Francisco City Hall on January 26. The selection of Alioto-Pier was one of a series of well-recieved appointments made by Mayor Gavin Newsom during his first two weeks in office. (Joe Manio photo.)






How to sew a San Franciscan quilt
by Hank Donat

In spite of the rain, or perhaps because of it, the earliest signs of spring are showing in what is sometimes inexplicably called a city of no seasons.

morning last week, just as I wondered whether the copious blooms of jasmine in a plant box on Broadway near Hyde Street had been there the day before, a flock of fledgling sparrows presented itself from around the corner, bobbing along on the sidewalk and chirping up a sweet commotion. City of no seasons, indeed.

It is certainly springtime for Mayor Gavin Newsom, who attended his first national mayor's conference in Washington D.C. following a series of highly praised appointments during his first two weeks in office here at home.

In Portsmouth Square last week for a merchant walk in honor of the Chinese New Year, Newsom affirmed his support for a subway to Chinatown. The project took a step closer with the recent congressional appropriation of $11 million in federal funds for a feasibility study.

A stroll through the neighborhood reveals something to counteract the 7-Eleven stores that are popping up on Market Street. The Chinatown McDonald's, at California Street and Grant Avenue, is history. It closed this month.

Emperor Norton died of a heart attack a few feet from the venue on January 8, 1880, about a century too early to blame Chicken McNuggets.

Even in the current economy, the plum location is not likely to remain vacant longer than it takes to say "chain of fools." However, it is a personal landmark. The first restaurant I dined at in San Francisco was the Cathay House, which is still located directly over the former fast food joint.

In other first-time experiences, Mark Bittner has at last hit the stores with his eagerly anticipated book, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" from Harmony/Random House. Bittner's chronicle of San Francisco's magical flock will ensconce its legend alongside Vivian and Marion Brown, Norton, Beach Blanket Babylon, and all the great San Francisco institutions.

Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker Judy Irving will attend the premiere of her new feature, also titled "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," at the Lumiere on California Street at 6 pm Thursday [02/05].

Irving and Bittner are birds of a feather.

Foreshadowing "American Idol," Hunter S. Thompson once said, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

The ten talented auditioners chosen from thousands who tried out at the ballpark formerly known as Pacific Bell last September may or may not become household names by making it into the finals of the nationwide singing competition currently airing on FOX. One won't-be pop star is already the talk of the town.

William Hung is the 20 year-old U.C. Berkeley student who came to the city to sing Ricky Martin's 2000 hit "She Bangs," for the show's cranky judges.

Hung's performance was truly awful in a hilarious fashion but his attitude bowled over the judges, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and the icy Simon Cowell. Hung would not be humiliated even after Cowell told him, "You can't sing and you can't dance."

Drive-time radio stations and comedians are clamoring for more from the gutsy and guileless engineering major who remained cordial as he told Cowell, "I already gave my best and I have no regrets at all." Words to live by...

Here's one for the Unclear on the Concept file: Has anyone divined the wisdom behind going to Mars but canceling BART to San Jose?

No matter how you look at it, it's sad that longtime activist Cleve Jones and the Names Project are in litigation over the future of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and Jones' function in the organization. Jones created the world renowned quilt in a storefront on Market Street in the mid-1980s not only as an object of grief and remembrance but also as a tool for educating the world about the cost of AIDS in human lives.

Today, Jones says the organization is allowing the quilt to languish in storage when it's needed most. Jones says he was fired from his job as the organization's spokesperson after complaining about the lack of an HIV-positive board member, a charge the Names Project denies. Jones also clashed with Names Project leadership over a plan to bring the quilt back to the National Mall in Washington D.C.

There are currently fewer than 20 local chapters of the declining organization and no chapter in San Francisco. The quilt was moved to Atlanta in 2001.

Questions about the relevance of the quilt and its ability to have an impact in today's culture are being asked in the LGBT community as a result of Jones' lawsuit. His attorney is Angela Alioto.

Does the quilt belong in a museum? Jones says that would be like opening a holocaust museum in 1939, when the danger is far from over. Others have suggested that Jones should take stock, move on, and get a second act.

I have a copy of Cindy Ruskin and Matt Herron's 1988 book, "The Quilt: Stories from the Names Project," that I picked up for a few dollars at the Friends of the Public Library's annual book sale in 2001.

It's inscribed as follows: "Christmas, 1988. David, I hope you love this as much as I do and I hope to God... well, you know. Love, Bob."

What's tragic is that it is obvious that neither David nor Bob made it. The inscription, like the quilt itself, is intimate and confrontational. As it was displayed on the National Mall in 1996, the quilt is a vast canvas akin to Washington's Vietnam Memorial.

For the good of this symbol of San Francisco as a beacon of compassion, let's hope for reconciliation between the man whose vision created the quilt and those who are its custodians, the Names Project

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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