Heart of the City Archives

Carol Channing brings it home to Bob Pritikin's Labor Day bash.

Where to go when it's too hot in 54° City
by Hank Donat

Days of hot weather are among the times when San Francisco earns its reputation as a haven for wimps. "Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft," goes the Sunscreen song. We like diversity in our people, but not so much in the weather here in 54 City.

As the standard bearers of adult ease and sophistication, we ought to be able to muster a modicum of enchantment over clear skies, cold drinks, and lots of exposed, dewy skin. For survivors of the 1989 earthquake, a hot San Francisco day can evoke a sense memory marked by the anticipation of a power blackout or a temblor.

Anyone one who writes about the weather in San Francisco is asking for trouble, for it changes quickly and is soon forgotten. If it's cold on Tuesday, you won't have any idea what I'm talking about. In a few weeks, when the next heat wave comes, I'll here the refrain, "This is the first hot day we've had all year."

Here's how Heart of the City explains San Francisco weather to newcomers. It's either lovely in every way, or it's foggy, or it's raining - usually in three-day shifts. All you need to know to live in harmony with the elements is as follows: 1. Yokels freeze, locals layer. 2. Wear a scarf or keep one handy even on a nice day. 3. If it's July it's probably foggy. 4. If it's September or October it's probably hot. 5. The rainy season is the calendar winter. 6. It's called a high pressure system. If there is one, it's nice out.

As I prepare for an upcoming vacation in Europe, I know I'm going to miss the warm autumn weather here at home. "How can you leave the City at the outset of the social season," I was asked rather breathlessly before the symphony opening. Every city has its big arts organizations, I explained. They're not among the main reasons I love San Francisco.

Besides, even in a city as rife with natural beauty and endless surprises it becomes necessary to cleanse the palette in order to keep the senses fresh. In other words, and I'm sorry Dame Edna, but we've seen it. Been there, done that, possum.

If the truth got out, it would be known that the social season in San Francisco is all down hill after adman Bob Pritikin's incredibly fun Labor Day party. Once you've seen socialites Bella Farrow and Maureen Kennedy Salaman resting in the shade over a plate of ribs near a giant copper tree that is at once a fireplace and a fountain, what else is there?

Toss in local-gal-made-good Carol Channing for entertainment and you've seen the only dame you need until Donna Sachet's Christmas party.

Contrary to some reports, Pritikin hasn't given his storied Chenery Street mansion to the City. Pritikin has said he will bequeath the house to the City for use as a "mayor's mansion or cultural center" after Pritikin's death. Supervisors Matt Gonzalez and Sean Elsbernd and former supes Tony Hall and Angela Alioto were on stage during Pritikin's big announcement.

Alioto, who became an unofficial vice mayor for homelessness after endorsing Gavin Newsom for mayor last year, says she would like to see the Chenery house become a museum. If it does not, Pritikin may help solve the housing crisis one person at a time, beginning with a future alcalde. Of course, San Francisco doesn't need a vice mayor's mansion. Alioto already has a perfectly charming home of her own.

San Francisco's 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness was spearheaded by Alioto earlier this year and released to the public by Mayor Newsom with much fanfare several weeks ago. Newsom said then that the current "continuum of services" had taken the City "too far in the wrong direction." With the new plan, he said, we would make a sharp turn in the direction of supportive housing.

Caution, Turn Ahead: In the late 1950s, a section of sidewalk incorporating sand from the famous black sand beach at Kalapana, Hawaii was installed on the southeast corner of Geary and Powell streets. Each year a little less remains of our black sand sidewalk, which was created by Matson Navigation Company to celebrate service to Hawaii and the opening of an office on Geary Street.

When I visited Kalapana in 2001, my initial interpretation of the many miles of charred lava fields was one of the ultimate end for this seemingly lifeless land. A closer look revealed tiny trees and plants growing all along the blackened scene. A picture emerged of constant death and rebirth throughout the millennia. It is a helpful perspective from which to observe changing San Francisco. Detail

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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