Heart of the City Archives

Fred helps make Mission Bay a neighborhood. (Photo by Arthaus)

Cement and sentiment in the City of Hearts
by Hank Donat

The City is a living, breathing organism. So say those who, over the years, have attempted to describe the changes in urban landscape and social culture as acts of nature. Cities, they would have you believe, are organic.

Never was this description more apt than it is today. Our city is expanding and contracting, churning and gurgling before our eyes - from the startling sight of blacktop on the new Octavia Blvd. to the growing list of churches and theatres slated for demolition. (On the chopping block: Coronet, Harding Theatre, Sacred Heart Church, St. Brigid's. On the rise: Music Concourse [New De Young, Academy of Sciences, garage], Bay Bridge on-ramps, Lucas Digital Arts Center, Helen Wills Playground, New Federal Building, Bay Bridge [eastern span], Lake Merced, Third St. Light Rail, New I-Hotel. Down the pike: Rincon Towers, New Transbay Terminal, Former Navy Shipyard.)

When then-mayor Willie Brown turned over a patch of ground across the street from Pac Bell Park in October of 2000, he promised that a neighborhood would soon emerge. Last week, I visited South of Market's new Safeway near the CalTrain depot then wove my way past the UCSF campus on King Street. After taking coffee out from the Brickhouse restaurant at Brannan and Fourth I met with art dealer James Bacchi at his Arthaus gallery across the street. When Bacchi's basset hound Fred greeted me at the door, ears flopping, eyes somehow sad yet dancing, I knew it was a neighborhood.

That Mission Bay and San Francisco would become a center for the biotech industry may have been inevitable. The birthplace of biotech is a City saloon. In 1976, when 455 Clement Street was Churchill's bar, Genentech founder Robert Swanson forged an alliance with DNA pioneer Dr. Herb Boyer over beers there.

The group Ask a Scientist hosts Bruce Conklin of UCSF's Gladstone Institutes for a lecture on the potential of stem cell research to provide cures for Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, heart disease and stroke. The talk starts at 7 p.m. on February 15 at the Bazaar Café, 5927 California Street. Visit askascientist.com for further information.

Last month, Apple Computer introduced its $99 iPod shuffle and the low-priced Mac Mini at its Moscone Center exposition with the company's usual fanfare. Apple does fanfare almost as well as it does product design and innovation. But, here's something that doesn't make international news during product release campaigns. You can't get either of these new whiz-bang toys, not even at the company's flagship store on Stockton Street. Not yet, anyway. Weeks after Apple's big news, the company is still asking customers to wait for its two hottest products. For a few weeks longer, patience is the biggest must-have for Mac fanatics.

North Beach Leather is holding a big sale at its Post Street store as it too ushers in change. The company is selling off its entire North Beach Leather line of goods. The retailer will soon have a new name, West Coast Leather.

McDonald's Books is back. The self-proclaimed "dirty, poorly-lit place for books" returned after a hiatus for earthquake retrofitting. When I visited the shop, a longtime favorite for bibliophiles at 48 Turk Street in the Tenderloin, owner Itzhak Volanksy was still unpacking some of the thousands of boxes of used books he packed up three years ago. At the risk of sounding positively contrary, I found the place extremely well lit.

In other merchant news, Buffalo Exchange, an institution for used clothing at Polk and Washington, has moved to booming Valencia Street.

Last week, the living, breathing organism that is the City coughed up some of the usual suspects in other-than-usual places. I nearly failed to recognize District 11 Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval at Mollie Stone's in Pacific Heights. Later, in North Beach, only Pat Murphy's big bow tie gave away the online newsman who's usually chasing scoops at City Hall.

Now, finding Craigslist founder Craig Newmark at the corner of Cole and Carl puts things back in sync. Newmark is right at home in his Cole Valley neighborhood, where I ran into him, literally, as he was making another important deal via cell phone across the street from his unofficial satellite office, the Reverie coffeehouse. What was that about a small town masquerading as a little city?

Only in San Francisco can you go to a dinner party in a mansion and one week later attend a dinner party where all the guests of honor are homeless, and see so many of the same faces. That's what came to my coffee soaked mind as woman-about-town Blandina Farley greeted me at Marc Bruno's monthly dinner and mixer with homeless folks at Bocce Café on Green Street.

Bruno's regular dinner night, "Bringing Two Worlds Together" is an unqualified success not just because it feeds dozens of homeless people each time. The evening also helps the homeless to build practical, emotional, and psychological connections with the North Beach community and beyond. Public Defender Jeff Adachi and a rep from the Department of Human Services were on hand with information on City programs. Friends joining in from the neighborhood also included Supervisor Aaron Peskin and his wife Nancy Shanahan, and restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni.

The north side truly cares for tsunami victims. Last week, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers raised some bucks for tsunami relief at the new Café Divine in the Dante Building. Next comes the Taste of Italy Ristorante Crawl, from 5-7 pm on Wednesday, February 23, sponsored by restaurants of Columbus Avenue. The evening will begin at Figaro for appetizers and wine, then on to Steps of Rome Trattoria for pasta, and finishing with tiramisu and cappuccino at the Steps of Rome Caffe. Proceeds benefit AmeriCares. Mangia!

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Copyright 2005 Hank Donat
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