Elim Street

I took this photo in downtown San Francisco almost three years ago as an exercise in cityscape photography.

What I did not know at the time was that the most interesting feature was neither the old brick buildings nor the forlorn lot, but rather the alleyway barely visible on the left side of the image. This is Elim Street, the second narrowest street in San Francisco. I explored this tiny alley in detail earlier this month, with both my big camera and iPhone on hand.

On the southwest side (adjacent to the lot), it is wide enough for a vehicle. But beyond that, it narrows down to just 2 meters, or 6.6 feet.

No stopping seems like a good idea. 6.6 feet between two large old buildings feels dark and closed-in as one might expect. I don’t quite have the arm span to touch both walls, but someone only a little taller would be able to do so.

Looking upwards, the narrow slit of sky is especially bright.

The eaves of the two buildings come quite close together at the front of the alley on 1st street.

Here is some pipework on the older brick building in the alley.

Apparently Elim Street has existed this way for quite a while. But it is uncertain how long it will last in the heavy redevelopment of downtown San Francisco. It could get squished out of existence. Or new buildings could celebrate this narrow street with their architecture. I hope it is in fact the latter.

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#OccupySF march in San Francisco, November 5

In this article, we follow the #OccupySF march in San Francisco yesterday through some Hipstamatic photos, with nods to some of the city’s architecture and icons that we passed along the way.

We began at the base of Market Street, the main thoroughfare of the city. It runs diagonally and separates two separate street grids that run at 45-degree angles to one another, some thing confuses not only visitors but many locals as well.

An impressive line of police ran parallel to the march. This was primarily to separate the marchers from traffic, which continued on the other side of Market Street. The interactions my group had with the police were quite cordial. One even helped us with info from the announcements at the front of the march which we could barely hear from our position.

For those who criticize the Occupy movement for not having any sort of focus, it should be noted that yesterday’s march and events were squarely focused on the banking industry and the largest banks in particular. It coincided with “Bank Transfer Day” in which large numbers of people moved their accounts from the large banks to either credit unions or community banks. San Francisco remains a large banking center. Wells Fargo still has its headquarters at the corner of Montgomery and California. We had a demonstration in front of the building.

Bank of America used to have its headquarters in San Francisco as well, at 555 California Street. 555 California is the second tallest building in San Francisco, a large imposing structure of brown granite. It is often derided, but I kind of like it as an example of modernism in an architecturally conservative city. It has a large plaza above street level common for commercial buildings from the 1970s. The march stopped here for an extended sit in.

From there we continued up California Street towards Chinatown. Here you can see the marchers passing one of our iconic cable cars.

We then turned north on Grant Avenue, the main street through the center of Chinatown.

Grant Avenue always feels a bit touristy, though it does have some great dive bars hidden away. For good inexpensive Chinese food go one block over to Stockton Street. We did, however, briefly chant in Cantonese, with the majority of us non-speakers responding with the word “Unite!”, which translates to 团结 (tuan jie in Mandarin, but I can’t find a written pronunciation for Cantonese).

At the informal boundary of Chinatown and North Beach, we turned east onto Broadway. Broadway in North Beach is about as close to a traditional red-light district as we have in San Francisco. As Broadway heads down the hill towards the Embarcadero, the neighborhoods feel a bit more ambiguous and nondescript. I have walked in the area countless times, it’s usually quiet with small buildings and lots and the shadows of the financial district and Telegraph Hill to either side.

On reaching the Embarcadero, we headed south along the wide palm-tree lined boulevard.

It is interesting to note that 25 years ago, this location was the underside of a somewhat industrial double-decker freeway, the Embarcadero Freeway, that ran from the Bay Bridge to Broadway. It was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.

And ended up back at the official #OccupySF camp at Justin Herman Plaza. The camp is at the south end of the plaza. The north side is another iconic modernist space that many people in the city love to hate – but I am quite fond of it. It includes the