Heart of the City Archives

July 25, 2002: Union Square ribbon cutting with Rita Moreno, Mayor Willie Brown, Beach Blanket Babylon's Tracy Chiappone, Robert Shields, Byron Cobb, and Tom Sweeney.

Only in San Francisco
by Hank Donat

Looking on the bright side of things, here's an observation about the new Union Square, which was unveiled for San Franciscans Thursday. The new plaza is so open - okay, barren - that the buildings surrounding it are enveloped into the overall Union Square scene in a way that's unprecedented. The previous design, from the 1940s, had an inset perimeter of tall trees.

Now, the St. Francis Hotel, the Sir Francis Drake, 450 Sutter, Tiffany's, the Grand Hyatt, and other buildings are close and unobstructed. At the opening ceremony I felt like I was perched in the middle of a "Beach Blanket Babylon" headdress. Remember, that's intended to be a good thing.

Rita Moreno, who's taking San Francisco by storm, picked up some decorative mirrors at the Twins Armoire last week, the Chronicle reported. Moreno emceed the Union Square ribbon cutting wearing a Twins Armoire black beret emblazoned with the words, "Bla Bla Bla."  (Before you email me - I know it's supposed to be "Blah Blah Blah," but that's not how it appears on the hat.)  The reason I know the beret was also from the twins' inventory is; they sold me mine. And I thought it was an original! I'll have to speak to them about that. 

The twins, Rozzalynd and Josephine Wiebe, are a class act. On a wall inside the Nob Hill boutique there's a huge photo of one of them in front of the Eiffel Tower in the 1950s. Depending on which sister you ask and whether you ask in a flattering manner, it's a picture of both of them, or either. 

I've popped in for a hello twice since I last wrote about them in this space. Rozzalynd rolls out the welcome mat. Both times Josephine declined to present herself but chatted like mad from the next room, like the Wizard of Oz only with a door instead of a curtain. If I hadn't caught a glimpse of her shirt sleeve through the barely ajar door, I might have thought Rozzalynd was a ventriloquist. Yes, Virginia, there are "Only in San Francisco" moments.

The sisters are a pair you might expect to find along a yellow brick road, or in this case California Street.

Speaking as silently as the "Bla Bla" beret at the Union Square event was Robert Shields, San Francisco's renowned mime. Shields and his partner Lorene Yarnell are inexorably connected to Union Square. It was there that the couple worked out their act and became a draw for the historic shopping district prior to becoming famous around the world. It's hard to believe the robot dance was ever a revolution in live performance, but it was, in the 1970s.

Perhaps owing to the climate in Sedona, Arizona, where Shields now lives and designs jewelry, he doesn't appear to have aged a day since his San Francisco days, or at least his whiteface hasn't greyed. Mine did, just at the thought of living in Sedona, Arizona.

Across town, there's another well preserved institution, the It's Tops Coffee Shop on Market Street near Octavia. A diner since the 1930s and run by the Chapman family since 1952, It's Tops continues to draw the best, most interesting locals. I spied Jennifer Applegate at a deuce - that's dinerspeak for a table for two.

Jennifer represented San Francisco on NBC's "Weakest Link" game show after being chosen along with a dozen or so others out of hundreds who showed up for an open call audition at the Metreon last year. She came in third - no cash prize - but stole the show and got the better of England's ice queen, "Link" hostess Ann Robinson, with a wild take on Robinson's British accent. Jolly good show! Jennifer likes the blueberry pancakes at It's Tops, where all the links are sausages. 

A few blocks away, at the Plan C membership meeting at the Sha'ar Zahav Temple on Dolores Street, selected candidates for supervisor in Districts 6 and 8 were on the menu in a Q&A bake-off. The questions provided the candidates with an opportunity to air their positions on H.O.P.E and Care not Cash. Plan C members helped get both initiatives on the ballot for November. 

District 8 candidates Bevan Dufty and Tom Radulovich participated in the Plan C forum along with Roger Gordon, Garrett Jenkins, and Michael Sweet from District 6.

Plan C says most of the 18 candidates from the two districts were excluded only due to time constraints and availability. Other candidates attended as audience, but only the Libertarian known as Starchild picketed on the sidewalk. Inside, Starchild remained silent but was lurking near the stage during the meeting when he wasn't cribbing email addresses from a Plan C sign-up sheet on a table nearby.

So many observations, so little time, or as my formerly one-of-a-kind beret might say, "Bla, Bla, Bla."

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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat
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